Here is the issue:
- I practice tai chi.
- Tai chi has purported health benefits.
- Am I healthy? Am I healthier than average because I practice tai chi? If not, can I change this?
Last summer I was on a vacation with my family out of the country and caught the flu from a 6-year-old boy staying in the same place we were. Vomiting, diarrhea, knocked out for 48 hours. Plus add on two days of a slow climb back to the land of the living. I don’t want to beat myself up because it is hard to avoid exposure to the flu. Plus we were gone for two weeks and at this point and had eaten exotic and at least uncommon foods. BUT!!! And this is a REALLY BIG BUT and the reason why the whole event upset me.
I had the pleasure of being ill in paradise, staring at a beach I couldn’t swim in, trading beautiful meals for crackers, avoiding my wife and daughter when the entire purpose of the trip was to spend time with them. It…stunk…
So I asked some questions about health:
Are their people who never or minimally get sick? Lots
Do they have specific behaviors? Umhum.
Is it rocket science? No. The first few decisions are easy but you can deep dive on these subjects as far as you want to go.
What is my specific problem? Me.
Researching how to be healthy
I read tons of really great books identifying people and entire populations that are not sick. For example, The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick by Gene Stone identifies dozens of people who do not get sick and chronicles their often bizarre behavior. It is a good read although he shies away from any concrete conclusions. The main take-away? People exist who never get sick.
What was paramount for me was that two common threads that were present in all the literature. People made progress when they were honest with how healthy they actually were. They also were religious about taking data. Here were my two main take-aways:
People think they are healthier than they are.
All of the different resources brought to light that we may have a skewed idea of what healthy is. When asking people if they were healthy a common response was: “Oh yeah! Now that I am on X medication for my Y I feel great…I am probably only sick two times per year and take Advil for the headaches…My allergies are better too.” Wouldn’t a healthy person be free of medication and not visit the doctor?
We need good data on our specific health if we have any hopes of becoming healthier.
I was embarrassed by how simple this was. We are all different. I had to figure out what my level of health was, numerically, and then try to make a shift.
My experiment: Being your own llaboratory
I put a calendar by my bedside and each day recorded my health for six months. I highlighted the date with a color and made a note.
Green = good, high energy, my health did not stop me from doing everything that I planned today.
Yellow = I did everything I planned today but was: tired/groggy/achy, etc. This could be related to a work out, bad eating, social event, etc. In each case I had to do something or take something extra to boost myself. I made notes.
Red = I had to alter my plans today, cancel things, or take medication. I made notes here too.
I felt pretty good most days but reacted to workouts, drinking alcohol, stress, or allergies by “giving myself a boost” of some sorts. I quickly saw that I needed to quantify what this boost was that I was using to improve the situation. I started coding my yellow days with activities that improved my well-being:
N = nap: This was usually 15-20 minutes between 430 and 630 on really tired days.
E = EmergenC: This is a vitamin packet that I drank in a cup of water.
S = Sleep in: I normally wake up at 5:15 to practice guitar, meditate, read, or do tai chi, before I get the family and dog up at 6:30. These days I skipped this.
Things that did not work? Eating bad food due to stress, eating more or greasy food in the morning if I drank or was out late. You mean to tell me that doing bad stuff doesn’t elevate bad stuff? Data doesn’t lie. Sometimes it is ridiculous to see your behavior when it is written down. I was excited to learn that some of my old cure-alls were not effective.
Change happens rapidly when you focus on something. I detected a pattern to my yellow and red days and began to
PREemptively, PREvent non-green days.
I napped before evening workouts. I allowed myself 2 days/week to sleep in if I was really tired at night.
By month 3 I was extremely accurate at responding to a yellow day so that a red day never happened. This was good. No medication, no altering my schedule. It is also amazing how calm things are when you are never having to “make up” work or cram things into a day because you couldn’t complete them the day before. When I was really taxed I called them my NES-days meaning I preemptively Napped, took an EmergenC , and Slept in.
Can I use Tai Chi to Prevent Illness?
This is the point in the story where you say BIG WHOOP! I said that too. I study tai chi remember which offers outstanding health right? Was there a path to purely green days with no preemptive work needed?
The answer is YES. The epiphany came in the next three months and from information I learned in a seminar with Master Chen Bin.
Month 4 brought really great results. Two days with naps and Emergen-C because we had social engagements in the evening and I got up early the next morning for work. Being proactive and preventative was paying off. I saw another bonus: Winter came and I didn’t catch what anyone else had. I believe I just wasn’t susceptible.
All green days and no need to support my energy with vitamins or naps. By this time in the process, I started sleeping in on both weekend days and also drink a big glass of water each morning. I have continued both of these habits without effort because I am just naturally my tired and thirst at those times. The biggest change came after I attended a lecture-style seminar with Master Chen Bin and he spoke on “How to Judge Other People’s Energy.” Being in the place I was in, I read this as How to Judge MY energy. Here is what he shared.
The pie graphs of month five and six are identical. However, the big difference is that in month 6 I didn’t need the naps, vitamins, or extra sleep. This process has made me more highly intuitive and I am making micro-adjustments throughout the day to alter may water intake, food intake and need for sleep.
So I conclude that Tai Chi can bring extraordinary health. I feel that it led me to ask if great health was possible, address it objectively, and refine it after the heavy lifting of changing my habits was in place. Tai Chi teaches a high level of attunement and without it (for me) I don’t think that the shift experienced from month 4-6 would have been possible.
Author’s note: Sickness and low energy does still occur and it is not completely avoidable. In month 7, I experienced cedar allergies that got up into my head for a few days. Somewhat manifested itself as a cold. However, neti pots, steam treatments, and patience resolved it. Work and family obligations all stayed the same. I find this to be an incredible improvement to my life.