Saturday, March 29, 2014

Keeping Track of Time

Have you ever been engrossed in something interesting and lost track of time? Sure you have. It happens to all of us. Our conscious awareness of the flow of time keeps changing.

When I am sitting and not paying much attention, I breathe about 15 times a minute. When I am practicing my tai chi, I usually focus on my breath (among other things). I usually breathe slower, about 10 times a minute.

If I don't focus on my breathing, an interesting thing sometimes happens. I completely lose track of time. I don't know if my forms take 7 minutes or 12 minutes. And I never know the difference until I am done and look at the clock. It seems like time moves at a different speed at different times.  
 “I avoid looking at the clock, fearing the slow passing of time that will only seem slower if I watch its progress.” ~Michelle Zink, Prophecy of the Sisters
 Has this ever happened to you? Please leave a comment and tell me what you think about this. ©

© 2014 by Eric Borreson
Photo © Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tai Chi for Falls Prevention

According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 1 in 3 US adults over 65 fall each year. The treatment cost for falls in the US is about $20 Billion each year. Scary, isn't it.

The CDC issues what are called "evidence-based practice" recommendations. This is the highest level of recognition in the medical community because there is evidence that the practice works. The Tai Chi for Arthritis program developed by Dr. Paul Lam is evidence-based practice for reducing falls.

"…the fall rate among Tai Chi participants was one-third lower and the rate of multiple falls was 46 percent lower than the rates for participants who did not take Tai Chi."

Voukelatos A, Cumming RG, Lord SR, Rissel C. A randomized, controlled trial of Tai Chi for the prevention of falls: The Central Sydney Tai Chi trial. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.2007 Aug;55(8):1185-91.

That's a jaw-dropping result! The fall rate dropped dramatically for the people learning tai chi. There are no guarantees for individuals, but this is an official endorsement. Tai chi is a method proven to help empower people to take control of their health.

"Tai chi is especially useful for improving balance and preventing falls—a major concern for older adults. Studies have shown tai chi to reduce falls in seniors by up to 45%, Dr. Wayne says. It can also improve balance in people with neurological problems. Tai chi helps improve balance because it targets all the physical components needed to stay upright—leg strength, flexibility, range of motion, and reflexes—all of which tend to decline with age."
There are three main tai chi practices that are helpful in reducing falls.

1) The practice of being aware of full (substantial) and empty (insubstantial). A substantial foot means that all (or most) of your weight is in that foot. For instance, if the whole body's weight is on the right foot, the right foot is substantial and the left foot is insubstantial, and vice versa. Read more here.

Most often, people fall laterally (to the side). The side stepping of Waving Hands Like Clouds develops improved strength and balance. When we place our foot empty and then shift our weight, we are moving with muscles instead of using momentum to move us. This strengthens the muscles and joints in the legs and helps with balance. In addition, stepping this way is a mind-body practice that builds awareness of posture and balance.

A bent knee stance and movement works to strengthen lower limb muscle, particularly the quads. However, don't overdo it. Always work within your comfort zone. If a bent knee stance is too difficult, then do the movement without bent knees.

Tai Chi addresses gait problems by teaching correct movement of the lower limbs. This is done by lifting lower limbs from the knee rather than the foot and lifting lower limbs without misaligning the pelvis. Tai chi also teaches to place heel down first when moving forward and toes first when moving back.

2. Moving as if against a gentle resistance. Visualize doing your tai chi in water and lower your center of gravity. This increases the load on lower limbs and over time increases sensation and awareness of lower limb movement. It develops a mind-body connection and builds strength. Body awareness means that you are more aware of what your body is doing and helps keep you out of unstable postures where falls can occur.

3. Coordinate the movements of the upper and lower body. Be aware of your posture. Keep your shoulders over your hips and move from the hips (center of the body) to remain vertical. Read more here.

The whole body should act as a unified whole. Motion is rooted in the feet, released through the legs, controlled by the waist, and manifested by the hands through the shoulders and arms. From legs to waist, there needs to be unison of movement. Thus when your hands move, your waist and feet as well as the focus of the eyes must move accordingly.

© 2014 by Eric Borreson

Friday, March 14, 2014

How Do We Become "Good" at Something?

I recently read an article that discussed difference between having an innate skill and the hard work to develop skill.

Here is what the authors say (Click here for entire article)
Talents that selectively facilitate the acquisition of high levels of skill are said to be present in some children but not others. The evidence for this includes biological correlates of specific abilities, certain rare abilities in autistic savants, and the seemingly spontaneous emergence of exceptional abilities in young children, but there is also contrary evidence indicating an absence of early precursors for high skill levels in young people. An analysis of positive and negative evidence and arguments suggests that differences in early experiences, preferences, opportunities, habits, training and practice are the real determinants of excellence.

OK, that was hard to read. The last sentenced was the most eye-opening. Certainly some children display unusual abilities in specific areas, although many of the reported cases are entirely anecdotal. However, there is considerable evidence that suggests training and practice are much more significant causes of displayed talents than any innate skill.

What does this have to do with tai chi? What's the secret? Simple. Practice and you will get surprising results. Get feedback on how you are doing and you will get better at it.

Here's some free advice to help you with it. There is a technique called Directed Practice that helps us develop skill. You can read more about in an article I wrote some time ago. Click here.
Deliberate practice also involves monitoring one's performance - in real-time and via recordings - continually looking for new ways to improve. This means being observant and keenly aware of what happens, so that you can tell yourself exactly what went wrong.

© 2014 Eric Borreson

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Sun Family Tai Chi (Part 2)

Last week, I posted a video of Sun JianYun performing her family tai chi form. This week, I found a video of Sun Peng, a grandson of Sun LuTang. It looks like a Spring day, with the snow starting to disappear.

He is obviously pretty old here. I am amazed at how his movements just flow from one form to the next.

Here is last week's video of Sun JianYun again for reference. 

It appears that YouTube has deleted the original video. This link to the following video no longer works.

It's obvious that they are both doing Sun style tai chi, but they clearly have modified parts of it so that it seems like they are doing something completely different. For example, look at the Brush Knee early in each video. Sun Peng brings his hands down together and then out. Sun JianYun quickly extends her hands out.

This difference really emphasizes the difference between how they interpret the idea of open and close/yin and yang in the forms.

I would love to hear your thoughts on these two videos. What other differences do you see?

© 2014 Eric Borreson

Saturday, March 1, 2014

LinkedIn Endorsements?

Like many people, I have a LinkedIn account. I don't use it much, but I would like to hear from people that use LinkedIn Endorsements. What is the purpose here? I know what LinkedIn says, but what they say doesn't seem to match reality. I have been endorsed for many skills I don't have by people that don't even know me.

Strength training? I don't do that. Anyone that has ever seen my non-bulging biceps would realize that I have no skills here and can't possibly help people with this.

Reiki? No experience with this.

Nutritional counseling? My advice is simple: Don't eat any food that is advertised in a TV commercial. Beyond that, I can't help you.

Yoga? I took a few classes about 5 years ago. Does that mean I should be endorsed for this?

Operant conditioning? I don't even know what that means. Why did 2 people endorse me for this skill?

What is going on here? Does anyone use these endorsements to make decisions about people? I can't figure out any useful purpose to this.

Help me out. Put something in the comments.

© 2014 Eric Borreson