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Reverse Breathing

Surprising to most of us, we don’t have just one breath.  There are several types of breathing that our body employs and it changes throughout the year, throughout our lives, and depending on our emotional state.  Reverse breathing is a natural body process that we can consciously manipulate to improve health.  Let’s discuss the importance of reverse breathing to the internal arts, dispel some negative ideas, and offer some simple instructions to improve our practice.

What is reverse breathing?

Reverse breathing is the process of inhaling as the abdomen constricts and exhaling as the belly relaxes.  It is used in internal arts to:  move energy around the body, heal joints and tissue by focusing intention and breath on an area, deepening a meditative state, and storing energy to issue power (fa jing).

Is reverse breathing bad for you or unnatural?

Reverse breathing has gotten a bit of a bad rap as being dangerous for us because of the manipulation of breath that is included in hard qi gong practices and other more advanced (read: should have a highly skilled guide) internal arts.  However, reverse breathing is a completely normal process that is normally undertaken by the autonomic system and the subconscious.  Here are three examples:

Emotional Reactions

When your emotional mind is amped up your body switches your breathing so that you can flee, scream, or attack.  Think of someone jumping out from behind a door to scare you.  Your whole upper body is tense and your stomach remains taut but you still manage to rapidly inhale deeply to scream.    Belly laughter is also reverse breathing.  Crying is typically fast reverse breathing with your belly expanding on the exhales.

reverse breathingYawning

Did this picture make you yawn?   When we yawn we inhale profoundly and slowly while controlling our core muscles.

Pushing a car

You would not try to push a car while regular breathing or you would injure your back.  Assume a pushing posture and imagine a heavy object you are about to move.  What happened to your abdominal muscles?  They automatically tensed to employ the stable force of the ground.

We can actively engage this natural breathing process for health and martial benefits.

Reverse Breathing Benefits

Mindful breathing is central to all internal practices.  According to internal practices such as tai chi, qi gong, or yoga, when we inhale we are bringing healthy energy (qi) into the body and when we are exhaling we are expelling used or toxic energy outward.

Reverse breathing is the basis for leading qi to injuries to enable healing.  When we inhale we place our attention on the joint.  When we exhale, we bring the breath out to the surface of the skin.

Reverse breathing benefits us by allowing highly oxygenated breath to permeate the body.  Decreased oxygen intake correlates with most health issues:
reverse breathing

  • Weakness from illness
  • Weakness from muscle loss due to age
  • Weight gain realigning intercostal muscles and putting pressure on the chest.
  • Exposure to allergens and toxins (emphysema , asthma, pollen allergies, etc.)
  • Postures related to fear
  • Postures during poor sitting

In the winter we inhale longer than we exhale to retain energy and close the pores of the skin.  Summertime brings the opposite reaction as we exhale longer to lead heat out of the body.

How to practice reverse breathing

Reverse breathing is most easily practiced by thinking about two body parts.  We need to maintain the 1) abdominal muscles and elevate and relax the perineum (Huiyin Cavity).  This Dummies webpage has a really good description of the perineum if this is new for you.

Before we start, it is important to note that we are manipulating the abdomen and the perineum as we respond to the breath.  We are not forcefully moving the body parts to cause ourselves to breath differently.

Secondly, the pressure and pushing involved in reverse breathing is extremely gentle.  Hard Qi Gong styles ramp it up here but this is not what we are discussing.  It is a slow, light, meditative sensation that we are after.
reverse breathing 2

The abdomen

Breathe deeply and maintain the ab muscles as they are.  It will feel as though your breath is actually sliding down your back and filling the abdominal cavity with pressure.  Exhale and relax your stomach.  No one is watching. Embrace your inner Buddha and let the belly out.

The Perineum

The Huiyin (literally: meeting of Yin) Cavity is considered the gate and meeting point of the 4 Yin Vessels.  As you inhale you gently pull up on the anus from the inside.  No puckering or tilting your pelvis.  As you exhale you let the perineum drop and the anus relax.

Know that this process is awkward at first and takes practice.  Newcomers often unintentionally create tension in the abdomen which causes us to hold our breath.  Start small with shorter breathes and in a seated position.  Concentrate on practicing the breathing in isolation before trying to (re-) incorporate the breathing into qi gong, yoga, or martial movements.   Frequent short practices are best.  I first got the hang of it by practicing when caught at red lights!

References:

Reverse BreathingBack Pain Relief: Simple Qigong Exercises for Healing & Prevention:  Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming
Qi in Taijiquan is an Intention Wave:  Tai Chi Magazine.  Vol 39, No. 2.

Science Relating Tai Chi and Happiness:  Movement

The relationship between tai chi and happiness is now being verified by scientific study. A great intelligence can be found in the sequence and movements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the second article in a two part series on happiness.  Check out Science Behind Why Tai Chi Increases Happiness:  Facial Expression for the first installment.

Newcomers to martial arts ride the initial wave of excitement when they begin studying and attend class judiciously.  However, that initial excitement always wears off and we need facts to create the buy-in to keep practicing until results are felt.

Secondly, beginner students follow an instructor’s commands on blind faith entrusting the instructor to lead them through murky progress.  Blind faith will only get you so far though an understanding of why you are doing an activity which needs to be gained to create the stick-to-itiveness that results in tangible progress.[hr]

Unfortunately, we can’t begin practicing tai chi and feel dramatic effects the next day.  It is more an elixir then a drug.  So how do we practice or teach tai chi long enough (I am talking 2 months here) to begin to benefit and stay motivated along the way?

We educate ourselves with solid, reliable research so that we know that we are benefiting from continual practice.

Research on Tai Chi and Happiness

These two research studies addressed the relationship between happiness and movement.  A discerning eye can see this knowledge embedded in the tai chi form.
tai chi and happiness

Study # 1:  Walking

A study at Florida Atlantic University discovered that the way people walk influences their mood and perceived level of happiness.  Psychologist Sara Snodgrass led a group to believe that they were taking part in an experiment on heart rate and physical activity.  Participants were divided into two groups:

Group 1: A 3 minute walk with long strides, head held high and arms swinging.  Think proud.

Group 2: A 3 minute walk shuffling along and watching their feet.  Think depressed.

Participants in Group 1 rated themselves as significantly happier.

How this applies to tai chi and happiness

tai chi and happinessIn tai chi walking and movements we work towards expansion and maintenance of our “gates.”

Let’s pause to talk about maintaining an open posture for a minute.  I am using gates to describe the joints of the body.  When we do tai chi we aim to maintain open joints  and appendages that stay rounded.  We stand as though we have two racquetballs in our armpits.  Our inguinal crease is not collapsed (more on stances) as we step forward, and we are actively pulling up with the crown of the head and down on the tailbone to elongate all of those nifty spaces between our discs.  Describing it even makes me feel better.

The “proud” walk that Snodgrass describes enables increased oxygen uptake to all regions of the body, lifts us into a fearless posture, and orients the crown of our head (Bahui) to the sky.  Internal energy studies postulate that the Bahui/crown is the door to clean chi that is entering from the atmosphere.

tai chi and happinessStudy #2:  Round Movements

An experiment on the psychology of dance undertaken by S. Koch at the University of Heidelberg indicated that rounded movements increased happiness and linear movements stifled a person’s disposition.  Koch conducted an experiment where subjects moved in linear routines or rounded, more flowing routines and then subjectively rated their level of happiness.  The fluid movement produced a higher rating of happiness.

How this applies to tai chi and happiness

In tai chi we learn a pattern in a linear fashion but as soon as the choreography is understood, we round it off.  A good example is Cloud Hands.   Imagine painting a 4X4 foot square in front of you with your hand.  Now shift your weight to paint the square and keep the hand steady in relationship to your body.  Finally, round the corners of the box off and you have a single-handed silk reeling movement.  The straight lines are needed to get the weight shift correct but then they are abandoned.

There is an intelligence embedded in the tai chi forms that is the accumulated knowledge of over 10 generations.  Each new group of students-come-masters learns tai chi, enhances it, and passes it along to the next generation.  It is truly a living art and only now is science able to take single snapshots of portions of its immense complexity.  You benefit from doing the form and the world benefits from you doing the form. 

Resources:

tai chi and happinessThe As If Principle: The Radically New Approach to Changing Your Life by Richard Wiseman.

This is a really interesting book that highlights William James and his original thoughts on “movement causes emotional response” that lead to physiology-driven research.  It is a fun and digestible read.  Two tablespoons of interesting, hold the stuffiness.

Koch, Sabine C. (2011).  Basic body rhythms and embodied intercorporality: From individual to interpersonal movement feedback.  In W. Tshacher & C. Bergomi (Eds.)  The implications of Embodiment: Cognition and Communication (pp. 151-171).  Exeter: Imprint Academic.
Koch, Sabine C. “Testing Fuchs’ taxonomy of body memory A content analysis of interview data.” Body memory, metaphor and movement 84 (2012): 171.
Snodgrass, S. E., Higgins, J. G., & Todisco, L. (1986).  The Effects of Walking Behavior on Mood.  Paper presented at the American Psychological Association convention.

The Science Behind One Way that Tai Chi Increases Happiness:  Facial Expression

Doing Qi Gong and Tai Chi Increases Happiness.  That’s just a fact.  But so do funny movies.  So what can be occurring during internal practice that leads to happiness?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My aim in writing these articles is to increase the number of people who benefit from the internal arts and to deepen the rewards experienced by those who have already begun.

In this essay I will:

  1. Provide research related to your facial composition  and how tai chi increases happiness
  2. Show how one additional focus during and outside of practice will enrich your life

The Inner Smile – A part of History

Tai Chi Increases Happiness

Dating back hundreds of years we have been instructed on the on the importance of making facial expressions. Statues, texts, and instructions on how to hold our face have accompanied meditative practices throughout the millennia.

The term “Inner Smile” is used in specific meditations where the practitioner smiles and then moves his intention to internal processes such as organs, the digestive system, and the spine.  Basically, “smiling down” into the body.  This is not an active mental process used during the tai chi form but the benefits of a relaxed “happier” face helping to improve your emotional state.  I use the term “inner smile” loosely in this article to separate a smile with internal, restful concentration from just a regular unintentional smile.

How do I properly smile?

tai chi increases happiness

Instructions are simple and practice makes it a habit.  When practicing, we don’t want to adopt an overzealous look of sheer bliss unless you crave solitude.  You don’t want to be “that guy” in the park. Simply:

Relax the forehead, specifically the brow point which constricts when angry or concentrating, soften the eyes, and retract your cheeks back as though they are heading towards a smile.

Tai Chi Increases HappinessConcentrate on trying to hear a sound that is right behind your head.  There you have it, your inner smile.

Detailed instructions can be found in Mantak Chia’s book: Awaken Healing Energy Through The Tao: The Taoist Secret of Circulating Internal Power

Modern Research Supporting the Power of the Smile

Tai Chi Increases Happiness

James Laird , a researcher in the 1960s, produced research to answer the question of whether we were happy because we smiled or smiled because we were happy.  An emotional chicken-or-the-egg paradigm.  Volunteers were led to believe that they were participating in a study about electrical activity in the face.  Fake electrodes were placed on the foreheads and cheeks.  Participants were asked to move the electrodes on the forehead together and on the cheeks down (frown) or electrodes on the cheeks back (smile). They then rated their emotions.  Volunteers tricked into smiling were significantly happier.  Several more studies came about that corroborated Laird’s results:

  1. A study at the University of Michigan used photography as a cover story taking pictures of people saying “ee” or “ooo” to exemplify cheer or disgust.  Those who said “ee” (cheese) were happier.
  2. Psychologists at Washington University attached golf tees to participants eyebrows and asked them to move them down and together (unhappy) or keep them neutral. The neutral group rated itself as happier.
  3. German researchers told groups that they were studying responsiveness and attentiveness of people who had to manipulate objects with their mouths because they could not use their hands.  Group 1 held a pencil between their teeth with their cheeks and lips pulled back.  Group 2 held the pencil with their lips constricting the face.  They then rated cartoons for how funny they were.  Guess who found the cartoons more funny?  Constricting your face decreases your enjoyment. 

In each instance, James Laird’s results were proven genuine.  Ratings of happiness or emotional state after each exercise always favored the smile.  Physically manipulating your face into a happy expression caused happiness. Basically, actively producing a smile creates an inner smile.

How the Inner Smile Affects your Life.

Tai Chi Increases Happiness

Tai chi should be respected for both its simplicity and complex nature.  Every small aspect of performing the form has dramatic results.

Our goal is to excel at the tai chi form or whatever internal work we do.  We do also want the benefits gained during practice to generalize outward and positively affect our life.   Practicing a smile during the form, or during your meditation, or in your car makes it a conscious habit.  This keeps us happier more frequently and gives our body a learned emotional state that matches a learned physical posture.  By smiling when you really need it, you will be more quickly returned to the emotional state that you desire.

References

tai chi increases happinessHere is a really interesting book that highlights William James and his original thoughts on “movement causes emotional response” that lead to physiology driven research.  It is a fun and digestible read.  Two tablespoons of interesting, hold the stuffiness.    The As If Principle: The Radically New Approach to Changing Your Life by Richard Wiseman

Koch, Sabine C. (2011).  Basic body rhythms and embodied intercorporality: From individual to interpersonal movement feedback.  In W. Tshacher & C. Bergomi (Eds.)  The implications of Embodiment: Cognition and Communication (pp. 151-171).  Exeter: Imprint Academic.

The benefits of the tai chi long form over the short form

The tai chi long form takes physical and mental dexterity to learn and practice.  New research shows that the extra effort has dramatic effects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most tai chi styles offer at least 2 forms:  long and short.  Some styles like Yang have categorized them into a multitude of sizes 18 – 24 – 48 – 83 – Tall – Grande – Venti…

tai chi long formLet’s talk about the values of the different sizes of the forms.  In this article I am going to commend you for learning a short version of the form but also supply some physiological research as to why eventually pursuing the long form is a great idea.

Depending on how  long it takes to do your short form you might be just short of a threshold of time that will result in greater gains.

Benefits of the tai chi short form

  • Easy teachable
  • Increased retention of new students
  • Easily to accomplish in 1 month (fast) to 3-4 months (average)
  • Most of the main movements are contained in a short form and merely repeated in the long form
  • Can improve your movement and balance with minimal investment of time
  • Fun

tai chi long formBenefits of the tai chi long form

  • Traditionally you are partaking in something great that expands across the centuries
  • A physical workout
  • Increased focus.  Your mind can’t wander during the long form or you forget where you are.
  • Thorough stretching of all ligaments and sinews
  • Greater repetition of important movements which results in greater facility
  • AND NOW! there is on body of science that inadvertently defends/proves why the long form is superior

Modern research supporting the practice of the tai chi long form

Recent scientific breakthroughs are demonstrating that mind-body movement strategies can actually “switch off” or “switch on” gene activity associated with health and disease.  Everyone is familiar with the “Fight or Flight Response” but researcher Richard Benson asked a very significant and unique question:

If your body can ramp you up to respond to physiological needs, can it also ramp down?

The answer is yes.  People can reduce heart rate, stress, and biological markers present during trauma and tension.   So how did they do it?

tai chi long formThe Relaxation Revolution

Can a human alter their health through relaxation techniques? Yes.

Benson’s studies began by employing experts in meditation and eastern practice to see if 1) their emotional states differed from the norm and if 2) they could actively change their states as measured by biological markers upon request.  Yes: experienced meditators had healthier states and could alter biological markers such as mental states, breathing, sweat, and hear rate.

Can novice practitioners alter their health? Yes.

After proving that biological markers could be moved, he created experiments to test un-experienced people. In these studies they used progressive relaxation techniques where a recording (the Olivia Recordings) led a person to concentrate on successive body parts.   The goal was to arrive at a state which mirrors the relaxed state that we experience upon waking or is actively obtained by accomplished meditators.  Novice practitioners achieved this state in 12-15 minutes and then were free to concentrate on whichever aspect of health they wanted to improve.

How does Benson suggest that we replicate the results?

In Benson’s book he goes on to say that you do not need to use the Olivia recording but recommends it if you don’t have another practice.  Practitioners of yoga, eastern practices, and meditation all equally acquire this state.  What was the constant in each set of studies was the time:  12-15 minutes were needed to achieve the healing state.

clock 15So how long does it take to complete the tai chi long form?

You guessed it:  12-18 minutes.  Just enough time to incite the relaxation response.  Secondly, styles like Chen Tai Chi routinely do the long form two times back-to-back.  Yep, about the same amount of time that Benson found was necessary to fully engage the relaxation response and then promote creativity or healing.

One reason that I love tai chi and the eastern arts is that I will undertake an activity because “I am told to” or “because that is the way it has been done for X-hundred of years.”  So often these assertions are millenia ahead of the science that prove it beneficial.

But can I just do the tai chi short form twice and get to 12 minutes?

Definitely.  You have put a of time into learning a form and can immediately benefit from Benson’s research by pushing yourself into the 12 -15 minute window.  And of course, if you meditate or do yoga, apply this to your practice.  It is the window of time that is important.

Why would I learn the tai chi long form then?

The long form takes physical and mental dexterity to learn and practice.  There is a higher education embedded in the longer sequence that we are only on the cusp of understanding.  Movements are repeated but sequences vary in a specific way.  Finishing the long form feels like having received a gently but intelligent massage of the entire body.   Additionally, if you suffer from a racing mind or difficulty concentrating then the long form is for you.  Giving something physical your full attention for 15 minutes enables one to focus throughout the day more easily.

Full Reference and Further Reading

This is a (very) summarized version.   To read about the complete study I invite you to read Benson’s Relaxation Revolution.  If you do venture into the book, at least know that Benson is a serious researcher and his results are verified.  Here is a bit about him:

tai chi long formHerbert Benson (born 1935), is an American medical doctor, cardiologist, and founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute atMassachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He is Mind/Body Medicine Professor at Harvard Medical School and Director Emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute (BHI) at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is Founding Trustee of The American Institute of Stress. He has contributed more than 190 scientific publications and 12 books.

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There has never been a better time to learn tai chi

Prominent scientist and lecturer Alan Leshner stated that “we have probably learned more about the brain in the past twenty years than in all of recorded history.”  I find this to an apt metaphor for tai chi too.

More has been learned about tai chi (by Westerners) in the last 20 years than in the previous 2000 years combined.

We are on the crest of an informational wave that is not only increasing the numbers of people who want to  learn tai chi but is also raising the level of tai chi throughout the west.

Who and what do we have to thank?

The Almighty Internet and Youtube Tai Chi Videos

learn tai chiWith the proliferation of video streaming, nearly any style and form is at your finger tips for free.  Fights, demonstrations, images, or vintage clips can all be validated, studied, discussed, and made fun of.  Gone are the days of learning forms from someone who earns our trust and commission only to find out that it is not remotely close to anything that was originally taught.  Instructors benefit from online resources the most, access greater communities, and are held accountable.  Students (which still includes instructors) have examples and feedback for their progress.

The Red Thaw

southeast chinaThe Chinese position took a dramatic shift in the early nineties.  Some credit or blame Tiananmen Square in 1989.  I think that an answer that is more acceptable and truthful to history is that President Jiang Zemin  opened the southeast region of China to function as a limited trade zone to compete with Taiwan and Japan.  It was so successful that by the end of the 90s, other states were granted the same trade rights and it blossomed into the China we see today.  With this came the loosening of travel restrictions and greater access to China as a whole.  Westerners could now travel to China to learn tai chi and Chinese Practitioners could now travel within their own country to train and abroad to teach.

A Shift in Thinking on “Martial Arts Secrets”  Ssshhhh!!!!!

learn tai chiAt one point in history, protecting the secrets of your family’s fighting art meant the difference between life or death.  Practitioners in China maintained great secrecy for very good reasons.  Being bested by rival schools brought shame.  Governments and colonizers finding out that you were training resulted in unmentionable atrocities.  Today this is not so.

Now these long protected arts are national treasures and there are two main reasons to hope your art proliferates.

1)  There is an economic incentive to yourself and your town/village if the world values your art and wants to learn tai chi.

2)  Enough masters see their longtime peers die of old age and all the prowess that they possessed in their youth was never passed on.  Despite how cool we think Martial Arts are in the west, the Chinese are dealing with their own youth’s attraction to the modern and new.   On a trip to Shanghai recently I was surprised at the number of gyms and yoga studios.  I also sat at dinner one night as a professor and a tai chi teacher lamented the loss of calligraphy in their culture and debated how to get young people interested in it again.

An Increase in High Level Training in the West

The number of seminars and workshops provided annually is absolutely amazing.  Using the U.S. as an example, this year I counted 18 national workshops and that was just a cursory look through the internet and two magazines.   This year, you can travel a few hours or less from you house and have the highest level of instruction!  Isn’t that amazing?

But are they teaching us the real stuff?

learn tai chiThere are still some people who argue that westerners receive a watered down version of the martial arts.  The Asian cultures are still protecting it!  I don’t believe it for one minute.  Here’s why:

I personally attended events with the same visiting teacher across numbers of years.  As I progressed, so did his sharing.  Recently I worked and received great correction on how to release internal strength power (fa jin).  In another teaching session, I was coached successfully to build up internal energy that I could feel and move within my body.  I am western just like you.  So how did this happen?

Simply put, I am only taught what I am ready for.  In previous visits I didn’t have the stance, posture, understanding, and stamina to understand or demonstrate any skill.  I have to admit to myself, them, and you dear reader that I too am learning.  Tai chi masters have an amazing teaching lineage and they know inherently where you are and what morsel of information is your next step.  The alternative (and where I think the real stuff-fluff comes from) is to think I am a great fit fighter who can do anything, if only they wouldn’t be so stingy with the knowledge.

There truly has never been a better time to learn tai chi.  The world is open to those who seek it.

Can you learn tai chi from a book or video?

Let me start by saying that this is one of the most charged topics within the tai chi community.  Practitioners endlessly debate the benefits of teachers, styles and methods.

Can you learn tai chi from a book

 

 

You have groups that are incensed by the mere idea of learning tai chi from a book.  On the other hand you have people who credit pursuing forms or information that they found in a book or video as their initial catalyst for progress.

Let’s unravel each argument.  Hopefully by the end you will share my opinion that both are necessary.  What is unnecessary is the argument itself because it is contributing to negativity that is keeping tai chi inaccessible to the masses.

tai chi from a book

Argument 1: There is no way to learn tai chi from a book or by watching a video.

Their thoughts go like this:

“There is no way that you can learn the true essence of tai chi without having a teacher.  You miss out on all of the subtleties, your moves are empty and there is no one to correct you.  Eventually you grow so frustrated you quit OR you finally see real tai chi and have to abandon everything you thought you knew. ”

Can you learn tai chi from a book Argument 2: You can learn tai chi from a book or online resources.

This side might postulate:

“Tai chi IS self-study.  You learn a movement and derive personal meaning from it.  If you want to see “empty movements” walk into any tai chi class and see A) any student who has been practicing for less than 6 months and B) any student who believes their teacher is great when he is actually only just figuring things out for himself.  Why not try it out and learn how to have your own mind.  Then, if you are truly interested, seek out a class and begin to make an investment of time and money.”

Who is right?

Can you learn tai chi from a book Most great schools and teachers have direct lineage and/or experience working with someone who had demonstrable skills.  It is true that direct teaching through class or workshop rockets someone’s progress forward. On the other hand, the number of books and videos on tai chi proliferates and many are written and produced by great teachers.  Why would they bother to write a book if they believed that there was no way to transmit their knowledge?  Secondly, we have records of tai chi dating back 2000 years specifically because it was transmitted through writing.

Neither side is right or both sides are right depending on your degree of optimism or pessimism.

First, we need a place to start from.

What the “No Books or Video!!” crowd may not tell you is how they heard about tai chi in the first place.  Here is a great ABOUT US paragraph taken from the website ww.taichido.com.  In full disclosure I do not know Mark Allen, the author, but it appears that he has been practicing a long time, publishes on tai chi, and therefore has helped many people along the way.  He writes:

“I started practicing tai chi in 1995, primarily from a variety of ‘how to’ books. On a pivotal day in 1996, I saw an advert for local tai chi classes run by Ray Wood, a 7th Dan Kyushindo (plus more Dans for other martial arts) and I decided to go along. One of the first things that Ray did to this new class was to demonstrate Part One of the Long Yang Form, and I realised very quickly that I could either walk away and ‘pretend’ to do tai chi with my book, or I could forget everything I thought I knew.”

Then we have an interest and seek out more information on the topic.

What the “No Books or Video!!” side may also not tell you is how much they read.  Yes their reading may have come after they have practiced for a while.  This actually gives their argument credit.  If you are to practice first before learning from resources then your comprehension might be better.

What is the best book on tai chi?

The best book on tai chi is hard to define.  If you look on Amazon you will see that there are a lot of books on tai chi.  The answer depends on where you are in your study and what style you have chosen to practice.  There are two categories of books.  There are books on specific styles and books on general aspects on tai chi.  You can limit the first search to your style and the second to what you are most interested in at this point.

Follow your Instinct

Can you learn tai chi from a book If you are interested in the history of tai chi start there.  Martial application?  Qi Gong? Energy flow? Improving your Health?  You get the point.  All information will enhance your progress.  What is important is that you continue to read or study because the impact of your increasing knowledge is like the impact of your practice.  It is all cumulative.

Access to top resources are limited

A tai chi school does not exist in every city on earth.  Yet, everyone can benefit from tai chi.  I am not adopting a teacher-free stance.  Anyone who does not have access to a teacher should invest money (that is not being spent on class) on a workshop in a nearby city because your progress will explode.  However, the absence of a teacher does not equate to the absence of pursuit.  Do not deny yourself the benefit of practicing this art form.

Self-practice is mandatory

Regardless of whether you have a teacher or school or do not, progress is extremely limited if you are only practicing in the hour or so that you attend class in a week.  I see a difference between new students who arrive “to check out tai chi” and then stay and students who “worked out with a friend or used a book/video” and now wanted to find a class.  The second group sometimes has an advantage initially because they have already developed a self-practice and come back making gains every week.

Can you learn tai chi from a book or video?

It would be difficult to learn tai chi exclusively from a book. However, many have used books as a catalyst for their progress or as a continual way to deepen their knowledge.

Here are some Amazon Searches laid out for you:

Tai Chi Books  Specifically, this book is extremely popular to learn tai chi from a book

Tai Chi Videos

Qi Gong Books

Qi Gong Videos

 

The Benefits of Brainwave Entrainment

The benefits of meditation are amazing. Yet, the number of people who attempt meditation and quit is high, usually due to initial difficulty focusing, lack of results, and limited access to quality teachers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We introduced brain entrainment in the first of these two articles : Quickly Reap the Rewards of Meditation: Introducing Brainwave Entrainment

What is brain entrainment?

Brain entrainment uses an external stimulus such as sound or light to cause brainwave frequencies to correspond with an intended brain-state for the purpose of inducing sleep or a deep meditative state. It is based on research showing that the human brain has a tendency to move towards a dominant frequency.

The argument for brain entrainment

Benefits of Brainwave EntrainmentThe benefits of meditation are amazing. Yet, the number of people who attempt meditation and quit is high usually due to initial difficulty focusing, lack of results, and limited access to quality teachers.

Brain entrainment has the ability to reduce the learning curve and allow novice practitioners to quickly access the power of meditation.

See the best provider for brain entrainment

The science behind it

For sound localization, the human auditory system analyses time differences between both ears. Typically, when different frequencies are presented to each ear, the brain provides directional information. When the sounds are low in frequency and continual, an integration of the two signals takes place, producing the sensation of a third “beat.”

Evidence suggests that the auditory signals are generated in the brainstem’s superior olivary nucleus (Oster, 1973) or the inferior colliculus (Smith, Marsh, & Brown, 1975). The goal of binaural technology is to have the new beat match a desired brain wave state.

What are the Benefits of Brain Entrainment?

A person’s dominant frequency determines one’s current state. Stress and lack of sleep contribute to higher frequency ranges. These higher frequency ranges are necessary in life but if we don’t get a break then sickness and injury result.

Frequency range Name Usually associated with:
> 40 Hz Gamma waves Higher mental activity, including perception, problem solving, fear, and consciousness
13–39 Hz Beta waves Active, busy or anxious thinking and active concentration, arousal, cognition, and or paranoia
7–13 Hz Alpha waves Relaxation (while awake), pre-sleep and pre-wake drowsiness, REM sleep, Dreams
8–12 Hz Mu waves Mu rhythm, Sensorimotor rhythm
4–7 Hz Theta waves Deep meditation/relaxation, NREM sleep
< 4 Hz Delta waves Deep dreamless sleep, loss of body awareness

Table adapted from Wikipedia: Electroencephalography

Quick Neat History

Brain entrainment technology is the result of three principle researchers building on each other’s findings. Heinrich Wilhelm Dove was a Prussian researcher primarily interested in the relationship between energy such as sound and magnetism and the earth. He discovered binaural beats in 1839 and “produced a unique perception of interfering beats.”

In 1973, Gerald Oster published the collected studies to date on auditory brainstem response, studied animals ability to locate to sound, and discovered that Parkinson’s patients could not create an independent tone when hearing binaural beats. This set the stage for binaural beats to become the subject of cognitive and neurological research.

Robert Monroe, et. al., of the now famous Monroe Institute in Virginia began using auditory soundtracks to facilitate exploration and replication of specific altered states of consciousness. Their research has included an estimated 20,000 participants and has advanced the specificity between auditory tones and cognitive response.

Enter stage left the Internet and digital media and now we don’t have to travel to Virginia to get the same benefits.

What are the benefits of brainwave entrainment?

Google that question I dare you. Wow, and I wonder why people think that meditative practices are followed by nutters. Many, many claims have been made about the benefits of brainwave entrainment. Three have been substantiated.

  1. Enhanced meditation practice using brainwave entrainment:

    1. Specifically: Further movement along the spectrum from a negative state and erratic thinking toward focus and a state of bliss.
    2. Why: Meditation states are quantifiable through brain imagery. Deeper meditation reaches Alpha and Theta states which is akin to happier and healthier awareness.
  2. Increased mental abilities from use of brainwave entrainment:

    1. Specifically: Increased problem-solving and creative abilities.
    2. Why: They create a synchronicity between two hemispheres enabling you to think more holistically.
  3. Reduction in stress from use of brainwave entrainment:

    1. Specifically: Cut down on mental chatter and align yourself with positive thought.
    2. Why: Alignment with cognitive frequencies that promote a calm nervous system.

Are there side effects to brain entrainment?

No side effects have been reported from brain entrainment use.  Most producers of the technology warn against the use of brain entrainment by children under age 18, people with seizure disorders, and pregnant women.  Studies have not been conducted on these populations to date.  Additionally, (and this goes without saying) it is suggested that you do not drive while listening to brain entrainment due to the relaxing effect.

What does brainwave entrainment look like?

Brain entrainment looks like meditation with headphones on.  15 minutes of use are suggested but benefits have been registered after 7 minutes.  Here is what you do:

  1. Find a comfortable place free of distraction.
  2. Close your eyes or if your eyes are open focus on something like a candle or point.
  3. Play the audio file and begin your meditation.
  4. Try it out for two-to-four weeks.  The company listed below has a free trial period.

Which brain entrainment program do you suggest?

Benefits of Brainwave EntrainmentThis really depends on your goal. What is most important to you in life (e.g. focus, relaxation) determines which audio file you choose.

I have been researching different options for binaural beats. There are several companies out there offering many products at different price points.

The best to date is Trypnaural Meditation. Not only can you choose different meditations based on your own goals, but there are:

1. Different, affordable price points

2. Downloadable documents to help improve your meditation

3. Assistance with the products as well as support to get the most out of your meditation.

4. A 60 day money-back guarantee. 30 days like the other companies offer is too short for you to truly benefit from the meditation and make sure it is right for you.

Successful meditation is readily achievable

If you have considered trying to meditate or have been unsuccessful in the past, it has never been easier to experience the benefits.  Meditation is one investment of time that serves ALL of your life’s goals. Price, accessibility, and technology prove that now is the time.

Resources:

Blauert, J.: Spatial hearing – the psychophysics of human sound localization; MIT Press; Cambridge, Massachusetts (1983), ch. 2.4
Griffin AL, Asaka Y, Darling RD, Berry SD (2004). “Theta-contingent trial presentation accelerates learning rate and enhances hippocampal plasticity during trace eyeblink conditioning”. Behav. Neurosci. 118 (2): 403–11.
Gu X, Wright BA, Green DM (1995). “Failure to hear binaural beats below threshold”.The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 97 (1): 701–703.
Saxby E, Peniston EG (1995). “Alpha-theta brainwave neurofeedback training: an effective treatment for male and female alcoholics with depressive symptoms”. Journal of clinical psychology 51 (5): 685–93.
Wahbeh H, Calabrese C, Zwickey H, Zajdel J (2007). “Binaural Beat Technology in Humans: A Pilot Study to Assess Neuropsychologic, Physiologic, And Electroencephalographic Effects”. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine 13(2): 199–206.
Additionally, this site:  Transparentcorp Research  has a collection of over 75 research articles substantiating the benefits of brain entrainment.

 

Meditation: Quickly Reap the Rewards using Brainwave Entrainment

With new science behind the benefits of “brainwave entrainment” a novice meditation practitioner can rapidly enter the brain states achieved by seasoned practitioners. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When people ask me why I do qi gong, tai chi or meditate, I always start by explaining the benefits you receive after practicing for awhile.  People are genuinely interested in beginning but there is often a hesitation because of the commitment of time and learning that is needed before you really start to reap the rewards.

I always wish that I could jump the skeptic ahead so that they could immediately feel the difference that internal work causes: better health, better sleep, calmness.  I know they would be sold.   Meditation using brain entrainment now has the potential of doing this.

In this essay we are going to provide an introduction to brain entrainment and links to get you started.  In the next essay we will share more about the science and history behind brain entrainment.  Commit yourself to doing this a few minutes a day for a few weeks.

Why am I advocating the use of technology to enhance internal development?

brainwave entrainmentI am a pretty strict Luddite when it comes to the use of technology to hasten internal development. However, in this case:

  1. practitioners I respect have achieved great results using brain entrainment
  2. the science behind it is longstanding and  pretty solid (see below).

What is brain entrainment?

Brain entrainment uses an external stimulus such as sound or light to cause brainwave frequencies to correspond with an intended brain-state for the purpose of inducing sleep or a deep meditative state.  It is based on research showing that the human brain has a tendency to move towards a dominant frequency.

What does brainwave entrainment sound like?

How do you use brainwave entrainment?

Here is the beauty of brainwave entrainment.  You can really “stink” at meditation and begin to benefit from the process.  I still meditate in quiet but have found the entrainment audio can make my meditation deeper.  Additionally,  I think I am more productive creatively at work when I use the beats regularly.  I can’t prove this scientifically but there is a definite correlation between writing output and entrainment use.  The how is easy.  Here is what you do:

  1. Find a comfortable place free of distraction.
  2. Research shows that you only need 7 minutes (!) to reach entrainment but people benefit the most from crossing the 15 minute mark.
  3. Eyes closed or if your eyes are open focus on something like a candle or point
  4. Try it out for two-to-four weeks.  The company listed below has a free trial period.
  5. If you need help to stop looking at the clock, set a timer for 5 minutes and increase the meditation time by 30 seconds each day.

What is the best system for brain entrainment?

brainwave entrainmentThis really depends on your goal.  Depending on what is most important to you in life (e.g. focus, relaxation) you would choose a different audio file.

I have been researching different options for brain entrainment.  There are tons of companies out there offering many products at different price points.

The best to date is Trypnaural Meditation.  Not only can you choose different meditations based on your own goals, but there are:

1. Different, affordable price points

2. Downloadable documents to help improve your meditation

3.  Assistance with the products and support to help you get the most out of your meditation.

4.  A 60 day money-back guarantee.  30 days, like the other companies offer, is too short for you to truly benefit from the meditation and make sure it is right for you.

Now is the time to try meditation

Meditation is one investment of time that serves ALL of your life’s goals.  If you have considered trying  to meditate and have been putting it off.  If you have tried unsuccessfully.  If you meditate and want to raise the bar.  Price, accessibility, and technology prove that now is the time.

Tai Chi Clothing

Do I need special clothing?

One huge monetary benefit and reason for the proliferation of tai chi is that you don’t necessarily need facilities or materials in order to train.  That being said, once you have been practicing for a while, certain purchases make a lot of sense.

Uncomfortable pants limit stance work and typical athletic shoes can impinge on the ankles and stick to the floor when pivoting (more on tai chi shoes here).  When you join a class or eventually present your form to a crowd, the tai chi clothing can be quite striking.

Tai Chi Pants

zumba pantsYou would think that picking pants for tai chi would be easy.   Was it easier in the 90s when zumbas were in?  It has to be the right combination of length and spaciousness to remain comfortable.  There are pants that are specific for tai chi but athletic pants can work well with the following considerations:

 

  1. Roomy tai chi pants are essential.  Having more room at the crotch allows for the deep postures.  Also, you will be moving into seat-like postures so a longer torso area reduces the likelihood that you will be mooning your classmates.  For women, wearing athletic tights is fine too.
  2. Long pants can get tripped on and stepped on. We move slowly and often stand with our feet together. Trendy long pants can get pinned down as you try to lift the other foot.  Additionally, in pushhands your opponent will step right inside your foot and can pin your pants to the floor.
  3. Blood flow is essential for tai chi. I wish I didn’t have to point this out but jeans might not be the best option for tai chi.  Coming right from work occasionally?  No problem. Choose tai chi pants that are not excessively restrictive at the waist or thighs.

Here are some tai chi pants that work well.

Specifically:

tai chi clothingProforce Brand:  If you want something specifically designed for martial arts, Proforce makes some strong comfortable tai chi pants.

tai chi clothing

Tai Style Fisherman Pants:  If you are looking for something flowing and comfortable this is a good option but watch the length.

 

 

We combined the best and most affordable tai chi pants that you can find on Amazon.com here:  Tai Chi Pants

 

Tai Chi Uniforms

tai chi clothingPurchasing a tai chi uniform depends on so many variables such as: what tai chi style you practice, what style uniform you like, how much you want to spend, your body, what event it is for, etc.  Know that 99% of the world practices with comfortable tai chi apparel and use uniforms for special occasions.

On the other hand, they can be beautifully crafted clothing and a nice uniform gives you the sense of participating in a historical tradition.

 

tai chi clothingHere is an example of a nice simple tai chi uniform or one that is super fancy

tai chi clothing

 

 

 

 

 

We have organized the best clothing options available on Amazon.com.

Click below to see how varied your choices are:

tai chi clothing

 

So do you need to buy tai chi clothing?

I really can’t answer this question.  There! I am rendered opinionless for the first time.  Mark this date on your calendar and let me answer this with a spectrum of answers.

No, you do not need special clothes for tai chi

tia chi clothinngTo be honest, in China I watched four grey-haired gentlemen perform incredible pushhands in plain white T-shirts and cigarettes hanging out of their mouths.  One’s white pants were so transparent you could see his greeny-tidies through them. How’s that for confidence?  So no, focusing on which clothes is a distraction.

Maybe you need to consider clothes for tai chi

Do not split your pants. That’s the bottom line.  Wear comfortable clothing that any gym store could offer you. Please no jeans and birkenstocks. See Tye-died Tai Chi for more information.

Yes, buy specific clothes for tai chi

Part of the beauty of studying this art is becoming part of the tradition.  The amazing uniforms that are available are inexpensive and aligning yourself with a class of people who are working towards something greater by wearing their tai chi t-shirt is great.  Go with the whole experience.  If you need to be convinced about what a uniform can do, watch the 2008 Olympics opening ceremony again.

You definitely need specific clothes for tai chi

Wayne Dyer had this great quote to the affect of:  “This is weird, and I am not telling you so that you know it is weird.  I am telling you so that you know that I know it’s weird.”  There is kinesthetic feedback that occurs when you do the form.  What you see, who is next to you, and what you feel shapes your form.  We have all had the experience where you do the form well in class as you always face the same direction and then do poorly in your backyard.  This is because you eventually incorporate your surroundings into your memory.  Or, you do the form well, turn around in the same room and struggle.

Personal note:  In full disclosure I am slowly moving down this spectrum.  I had an experience where I was working on a form during a visit from someone from China and struggled with it for sometime after.  However, a cold day came around when I was practicing and I nailed it!  What happened?  The workshop was in February and I attended in long sleeves.  When I practiced on that cold day I had a “memory” of my sleeves dragging and tightening on my arms at certain points and my shirt instructed me where to go based on what constriction or freeness I was anticipating.  Bizarre and also true.

tai chi clothingWay out on the wing-wing spectrum.

Some argue that your clothes become imbued with chi.  Continual practice in the same garb collects chi in the fabric and you benefit from consistent wearing.  Sure, poo-poo this.  But tell me you don’t have that favorite t-shirt, wubbie, or stuffed animal.

 

Tai Chi Shoes

“It’s the shoes.” You were wondering why you didn’t obtain enlightenment after your first tai chi class?  Perhaps it is your footwear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing the best footwear for tai chi is actually very important because the wrong shoes can lead to injury.

Why can’t I wear my athletic shoes for tai chi?

Tai Chi ShoesWearing athletic shoes is okay to begin with but understand that the soles of these shoes have been designed not to slide.  Your foot is rotating frequently throughout taichi which can put strain on the knee if there is any drag.  When you step in tai chi, eventually you don’t have weight on a foot that is rotating but initially this takes a little bit of practice.

Overall you have three primary options when looking for shoes for tai chi.  There is an all-cloth version specifically for training inside; these are much like slippers.  There is a hybrid version which is basically the cloth shoe with a rubber sole.  Then there is a low profile athletic shoe that looks like a soccer shoe.

Below you will find help in choosing the best footwear for tai chi and links to our favorites.

Tai Chi Slippers

I can be a martial arts superstar and wear slippers?  Yes!

How about my bathrobe?  It depends on the school.

 

Tai Chi Shoes

Cloth shoes are very practical for some practitioners.  The chief benefit is that you have immediate connection with the ground.  Second to this, they are really cheap and they pack up flat so they are easy to carry.

Tai chi slippers can wear out on pavement, get dirty, and don’t protect you from rocky ground.  Additionally, if your school has a gloss/slick floor your feet can start to slide out from under you when you begin entering deeper postures.

Cloth shoes are ideal for indoor training where the floor has a rug or provides some sort of traction.  Note that these shoes stretch a bit because they are made of cotton.  Choose shoes with elastic at the entrance and/or heel.  Check out these:  Tai Chi Shoes – Cotton Sole

Rubber Sole Tai Chi Shoes

tai chi shoesRubber sole tai chi shoes are a hybrid of the cloth shoes and sports shoes.  They are often one of the best tai chi shoes for women because of the smaller sizes.

All of the rubber sole shoes seem to be the same regardless of where they come from.   They are very comfortable, last a long time, and are cheap.  Amazon is the easiest place to order them from.

Rubber Sole Tai Chi Shoes Example 1

Rubber Sole Tai Chi Shoes Example 2

 Low Profile Tai Chi Athletic Shoes

Tai Chi ShoesFor those of you getting  your tai chi shoe mojo on, the brand Feiyue is the way to go.  These come in every color but make sure that you get the size right as they are designed for Asian feet and are often listed in European sizes.   Stick with the low profile version.  Prices can range from $16.00-$36.00

Many commercial brands such as New Balance have some great low-profile shoes that do the trick, especially if you have a wide, western foot.

Here are some examples:

Tai chi shoes for women: New Balance Women’s WXC700

Tai chi shoes for men: New Balance Men’s MX00 Minimus 

 

Do we need to buy shoes to practice tai chi?

The verdict is yes.  Protect your knees and hips until you get the stepping and rotation down.  Tai chi is a very inexpensive hobby or sport but this is one place where a few dollars are worth the investment.

Click below to see the best shoes for tai chi currently on Amazon.com