Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cultivating a "Not-Knowing" Mind

We enter the world not knowing where we came from. We will eventually leave this world not knowing where we are going. Religions and philosophers have debated birth, life, and death for millennia without actually resolving anything. Where can we get answers? Let's look at the Dao De Jing by Laozi.

The writings of Laozi indicate a different approach than religion or philosophy. He wrote about the "don't know" mind. In chapter 71 of Dao De Jing, he wrote (Byrn translation):
Knowing you don't know is wholeness. Thinking you know is a disease. Only by recognizing that you have an illness can you move to seek a cure.

The cure that Laozi prescribes is given in chapter 48 (Byrn):
1. One who seeks knowledge learns something new every day. One who seeks the Dao (the way of nature) unlearns something new every day.
2. Less and less remains until you arrive at non-action. When you arrive at non-action, nothing will be left undone. Mastery of the world is achieved by letting things take their natural course.
3. You can not master the world by changing the Dao.

Writings in classical Chinese are always subject to varied interpretations. I think Laozi is saying that we need to appreciate the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. Simplify your life. We do not need to aspire to enlightenment. We do not need to study philosophy to understand the world. We just have to live it as it is. This is our greatest treasure.

© 2011 Eric Borreson

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Tai Chi for Fitness

As part of the Tai Chi for Health Community, we have done a good job of communicating that tai chi is good for the elderly to regain function and as a rehabilitation training. But let's not forget the benefits of tai chi are available for people of any age. Tai chi can be useful for younger and middle aged people to help maintain fitness throughout their lives.

There are many people that would benefit from tai chi but they are not interested because of a perception that it is for "old people", that it is "too easy", or that it is a "martial art". We need to communicate better that tai chi is good for everyone. The best way to communicate with health care professionals is with scientific studies.

There was a recent publication, a review report, that looked at several other studies. It was published in a Japanese journal, Nippon Eiseigaku Zasshi, in Japanese, so I have to depend on the English abstract. Their main conclusion was that tai chi is beneficial as a rehabilitation training for older people and patients with various diseases. In addition, they concluded that tai chi is beneficial as an exercise for healthy people.

Hasegawa-Ohira, M., M. Toda, et al. "[Effects of Tai Chi exercise on physical and mental health]." Nippon Eiseigaku Zasshi 65(4): 500-5.
Recently, Tai Chi, which is one of the Chinese traditional martial arts, has been receiving attention. The main feature of Tai Chi is its flowing movements including loosening up, relaxing, and practicing meditation with slow abdominal respiration. Tai Chi is widely taken as part of health-promotion activities or rehabilitation training, and significant mental and physical effects have been reported so far. In this review report, Tai Chi was confirmed to be beneficial not only as a rehabilitation training for old people or patients with various diseases but also as an exercise for healthy people. These findings suggest the potential of Tai Chi as a complementary and alternative therapy.

© 2011 Eric Borreson

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Proprioception and Tai Chi

Tai chi is a great exercise to improve proprioception and kinesthetic sense. What does that mean? Read on. During movement of any kind, we are constantly losing our balance and regaining it quickly. The better our ability to regain balance, the safer and more skillful our movement. Better balance makes athletes less likely to get injured and reduces falls among the elderly. Balance is improved by improving your proprioception and kinesthetic sense.

Proprioception represents your body's ability to react to external forces. A kinesthetic sense is your ability to sense where your body is in space. It should be pointed out that not everyone agrees on the definitions of these terms.

Proprioception is an inner sense that works with the central nervous system. It is the ability of your brain to communicate and manage parts of your body with each other. It is your reflexes working to keep your body in balance. Good exercises to improve proprioception are those that challenge your balance and equilibrium. (That sounds like tai chi to me!)

Proprioception works through proprioceptive nerve endings to sense your body's location. Muscle spindle fibers in the muscles communicate information to allow the muscles to maintain proper muscle tension to support the joints. These nerve endings and muscle spindle fibers degenerate without regular use. Tai chi works many muscle groups to restore and improve function.

Kinesthetic Sense
Kinesthetic sense, or kinesthesia, is an outer sense that works with your body in space and time. It is your mind knowing where each part of your body is in relation to things around you. Good exercises to improve kinesthetic awareness are those that require coordination and movement control. (That sounds like tai chi to me!)

Your kinesthetic sense can improve through practice. Just be aware of every movement in your tai chi forms. Be precise about placing your hands and feet. Check your placement to give yourself feedback and learn from that feedback.

Combining proprioception and a kinesthetic sense improves your ability to control your body's movements. Improving your proprioception and kinesthetic awareness can turn you from an eternal klutz into a skilled athlete. It helps you make more precise movements with less effort. In other words, it improves your balance and coordination. Tai chi is very precise and controlled. This brings the player's focus to the movement and that focus transfers to everyday life.

© 2011 Eric Borreson

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tai Chi and Fibromyalgia

There was a study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that tai chi improves the symptoms of fibromyalgia. There is something that we need to keep in mind when reading medical studies. The word "significant" is used to mean that there is a measurable difference between the test group and the control group. However, this word does not mean that the difference is enough to make a difference in the patient's lives. The word "important" means that there is difference that matters to the patients.

For this study, a total of 66 patients with fibromyalgia were divided into two groups. Half the patients (33) were controls and were given wellness education and stretching for the treatment of fibromyalgia. The other half of the patients (33) were placed in a class where they learned classic yang-style tai chi. Both groups met for an hour twice a week.

The primary measured effect was a change in the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ) score. According to the authors, the tai chi group had "clinically important improvements in the FIQ total score and quality of life."

This is really important. Fibromyalgia is very difficult to treat and many patients do not feel that get any benefit from Western medicine. Tai chi can really change lives for people with fibromyalgia.

Below is the citation and abstract of the article. (I added some paragraph breaks to make it easier to read.)

Wang, C., C. H. Schmid, et al. "A randomized trial of tai chi for fibromyalgia." N Engl J Med 363(8): 743-54.

BACKGROUND: Previous research has suggested that tai chi offers a therapeutic benefit in patients with fibromyalgia. METHODS: We conducted a single-blind, randomized trial of classic Yang-style tai chi as compared with a control intervention consisting of wellness education and stretching for the treatment of fibromyalgia (defined by American College of Rheumatology 1990 criteria). Sessions lasted 60 minutes each and took place twice a week for 12 weeks for each of the study groups.

The primary end point was a change in the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ) score (ranging from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more severe symptoms) at the end of 12 weeks. Secondary end points included summary scores on the physical and mental components of the Medical Outcomes Study 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36). All assessments were repeated at 24 weeks to test the durability of the response.

RESULTS: Of the 66 randomly assigned patients, the 33 in the tai chi group had clinically important improvements in the FIQ total score and quality of life. Mean (+/-SD) baseline and 12-week FIQ scores for the tai chi group were 62.9+/-15.5 and 35.1+/-18.8, respectively, versus 68.0+/-11 and 58.6+/-17.6, respectively, for the control group (change from baseline in the tai chi group vs. change from baseline in the control group, -18.4 points; P<0 .001=".001" p="p">
The corresponding SF-36 physical-component scores were 28.5+/-8.4 and 37.0+/-10.5 for the tai chi group versus 28.0+/-7.8 and 29.4+/-7.4 for the control group (between-group difference, 7.1 points; P=0.001), and the mental-component scores were 42.6+/-12.2 and 50.3+/-10.2 for the tai chi group versus 37.8+/-10.5 and 39.4+/-11.9 for the control group (between-group difference, 6.1 points; P=0.03). Improvements were maintained at 24 weeks (between-group difference in the FIQ score, -18.3 points; P<0 .001=".001" br="br"> 
CONCLUSIONS: Tai chi may be a useful treatment for fibromyalgia and merits long-term study in larger study populations. (Funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and others; number, NCT00515008.)

© 2011 Eric Borreson