Saturday, December 28, 2013

Separate the Hips and Waist

This week, I would like to talk about turning at the waist. All styles of tai chi have some type of turning movements. Push off with one foot, start to shift your weight, and turn. This type of movement should have some movement of the hips, but even more movement of the waist.

One of the things we learn in our tai chi practice is to turn our waists separately from our hips. Beginners to tai chi generally don't even know that the hips and waist can be moved separately. These students have a certain "board-like quality" to their movement. I know. I've been there.

How do we learn to turn properly? Start by sitting in an upright chair. Not on a soft cushion, but a chair where you can sit up straight. Place your feet flat on the floor. Turn from side to side. Play with it a bit. Loosen your upper body and swing back and forth. Tighten your upper body and turn at the waist.

With a little bit of playing around, you should notice that you can turn at your waist even though your hips can't move because of the chair.

Now stand up and try it that way. Play with it as you did when sitting. You should begin to feel the separate movements of the waist and the hips. If you are having trouble with this, stand with your hips against a counter or against the back of a chair. This will help you learn how to turn your waist without turning your hips.

Now that you know what it feels like, start to pay attention during your forms. You can easily figure out how to apply this type of movement whenever it is needed.

© 2013 Eric Borreson

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Physician, Heal Thyself

I recently started writing again after a couple of months without much happening. It's a great feeling to be back at it.

So why had I stopped? Stress, busy lifestyle, and feeling too tired. I have a full-time job that pays the bills. It has these things called deadlines. And I have a micromanager for a boss that creates lots of stress for everyone when he is unable or unwilling to plan ahead.

I have been teaching part time (3 evenings a week). I work at promoting classes and teaching beginners. Beginners are hard to teach because they don't know anything about anything. I have to explain everything. Over and over again. I love to do it, but it's tiring.

My meditation teacher wants me to spend more time meditating. My tai teacher would like me to spend more time practicing tai chi. My boss would like me to spend more time working. I have taken on new responsibilities with the Tai Chi for Health community. I have a thousand books that I want to read. A few minor medical issues have come up recently that I needed to deal with. I have a self-imposed deadline to write for my blog. I haven't been sleeping enough because of all the stress.

I was tired and worn out and I needed to do something about it. I teach people to live a healthful lifestyle, but I wasn't practicing it enough myself. Physician, heal thyself.

I took a couple of months off from my teaching and writing. I do have a few students that are more advanced. These students are so much easier and much more fun to teach, so I kept on doing that. But no more beginners during that time. I survived a major deadline for a project at work. I got caught up on some of the things that had piled up on my desk. I read a lot. I watched a lot of movies with my wife. But mostly, I got back in the habit of practicing my tai chi.

We all know that "it takes time", and it did, but I am finding the energy again in my own practice. One way to express that is to start writing again. I recently purchased a new tai chi DVD, Dr. Lam's Chen 36 and started working my way through that. One new form each week. I sat down for a couple of hours today and wrote enough to get me a couple of weeks ahead in my writing.

I'm loving it.

Metta and blessings to all as we near the end of 2013 and get close to starting the new year.

© 2013 Eric Borreson

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tilt the Pelvis

A common saying in tai chi is to "tilt the pelvis" or alternatively to say "tuck the tailbone". What does this mean? Simple. It's a way of straightening the lower spine by pivoting the pelvis and pulling in the tailbone. Unfortunately, this is often misunderstood to mean that we should use muscular force to put our body in a particular posture. Have you ever seen someone trying to do this? They push their pelvis forward, lean back, and end up in such an awkward position that they can hardly stand.

How can we teach this to beginners so they don't get into the outlandish postures we often see? It goes back to "sinking the qi". When we deliver energy, like with the final part of a Brush Knee movement, we shift our weight forward onto the front leg, sink our weight slightly, and exhale.

There are different types of breathing we can do during the exhale. I want to focus on what Dr. Paul Lam calls "dan tien breathing" (dan tian ? I'm not sure of the proper Pinyin spelling - does anyone know for sure?). You can read more about it here (scroll down to "Dan Tien Breathing").
As you exhale, contract the muscles in the lower abdomen (below the belly button). Focus on relaxing your hips and pay attention to the any feeling in your hips, pelvis, and tailbone. You should feel a gentle tugging that tilts your pelvis and brings your tailbone forward. This straightens your spine and helps direct any force through your legs into the ground. Now you know what it means to tilt your pelvis.

It will be very tiring to do a lot of this type of exercise. It will probably feel as though you have never used those muscles before. You can build on this through practice.

© 2013 Eric Borreson

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Day of Thanks

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the US. It is a day to pause and think about the wonderful things in our lives and to be properly thankful for them. The holiday had its beginning nearly 400 years ago as a harvest festival. It represented survival in very difficult times.

In our modern times, Thanksgiving Day is just another holiday. It is a day that most of us don't have to work. Many people travel to visit family. Others travel to take a vacation. In my house, we plan on preparing a feast (and probably eating too much). We plan on watching sports on TV. I suspect that I will take a nap during the afternoon.

I am thankful for so many things. This morning I walked through my house and thought about the journey I have taken to get where I am today. I was fortunate to have been born in a country where I was able to acquire an education that allows me to earn a middle-class income so I can take care of my family. We never have to worry about having a place to live or having enough food to eat.

I stood in the bedroom doorway for a moment. My wife was still sleeping. I watched her for a moment, fortunate to have found someone to journey with me though life. Later today, we will talk to our daughter and her family. We will hear about how they spent their holiday. We are so proud of how she has grown into an independent adult, with her own family and responsibilities. We will check in with our parents later, too. They are aging, but still independent and full of life.

I am so grateful for my many teachers over the years. My formal education prepared me for a lifetime of learning. My education as an adult has been much more informal. I have had teachers that taught me life skills that provide unbelievable enrichment by teaching me to be physically and mentally healthy through my tai chi and meditation. Too many to list without omitting someone.

I have a network of friends and contacts that live all around the world. I am so happy to have met so many wonderful people. Many of them are people that I have only met online, but that really isn't much different than meeting in person. We communicate regularly and share thoughts and ideas. I have worked with and shared with wonderful people from China, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, UK, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, South Africa, Canada, Israel, Ghana, and from all over the US. People from 140 nations have read articles on my blog.

I have truly been blessed.

But for many people, it is a very stressful day. Traveling though bad weather and snowstorms, striving for the "perfect" meal for the family, wanting to have a "perfect" day. Many people are too busy to pause and be thankful. Many people live alone and don't have anyone to share the day with them.

But the stress that we impose on ourselves is trivial compared to the real problems of people. Many people don't have enough food or a place to live. In 2012, about 16% of people in the US had incomes below the poverty line. The poverty line is the amount of income where a person or family lacks those goods and services commonly taken for granted by members of mainstream society. Worldwide, about 2,400,000,000 people live on $2 a day or less.

According to government statistics, about 800,000 people in the US are homeless at any given time. As many as 3,500,000 are homeless in any given year. They sleep in shelters, on the street, or in their cars. It has happened in my family.

Please be generous and find ways to help those that need food and shelter all over the world. Try to find ways to help those that need peace. It is the responsibility of every single one of us to make the world a better place. Who else can do it, if not you and me?

© 2013 Eric Borreson

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Natural Progression of Learning Tai Chi

Tai chi learning has a natural progression. Certain things must be learned before other things can be learned. I came across a quote that captures this idea pretty well:

I believe that this type of natural progression ensures that the body is only training what it is capable of doing and not wasting time on things that are far beyond its ability. ~ Mat Beausoleil (Read entire article here.)

How can you evaluate where you are on this progression? It's simple: observe and listen to your body. Pay attention to how your body feels. Observe how your body is changing from day to day, week to week, and month to month. Don't judge your performance as good or bad. Don't overanalyze. Don't worry about what you think you should be doing. Don't be in a hurry.

There is no rush. Don't worry about how quickly you are learning. Pay attention to how well you are learning. Know what is happening in your body. It's not a good sign if you can do all the forms but it causes you pain in your joints.

Once you can understand better what is happening to you, you can start to learn something new. You just can't rush it.

© 2013 Eric Borreson

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Tai Chi Keeps You Young

Did you know that tai chi can keep you young? I don't mean that it is a Fountain of Youth. However, tai chi can improve functional fitness as we age. This is important because I don't know anyone that is not aging.

Doctors know that our coordination and reaction time decline with age. Researchers decided to study the effect of tai chi on these aspects of aging. They set up three groups. One group was young college students. One group was aged tai chi practitioners. The final group was an aged control group with no tai chi experience.

The researchers set up a system where a colored dot appeared on a screen and they had the study subjects move their hand from a desk top toward the screen and touch the dot. They measured the reaction time, hand speed, and touch accuracy.

It wasn't too surprising that the young college students were faster and more accurate than the control group. However, the aged tai chi practitioners were equivalent to the younger group in touch accuracy.

Surprise, surprise. Tai chi is good for you.
The abstract is at
"Effects of Aging and Tai Chi on Finger-Pointing Toward Stationary and Moving Visual Targets"
Volume 91, Issue 1, Pages 149-155, January 2010
© 2013 Eric Borreson

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Meditation As It Really Works

"I was first introduced to meditation during yoga classes when teachers would discuss the benefits and invite the class to join a guided practice.  Upon hearing the word – that terrifying, icky word – a flood of anxiety rushed through me.  ”Ew!  Meditation.  Bleck.  No thank you.  Ercnhr.  I’d rather not.”  A moment later, the teacher would instruct us to close our eyes and to start paying attention to the breath.  I would comply while patiently waiting for the meditation to start, so I could internally criticize the stupidity of it." by "Rob Complains"

You can read the entire article here: