Deepening the Mind-Body Connection through Tai Chi

In the very early stages of this blog I discussed Tai Chi as a pathway to mindfulness.  I also highlighted the challenges I experienced in maintaining daily practice of Tai Chi along with meditation and writing this blog, when I still had a range of professional and personal  commitments to fulfill on a regular basis.   I concluded then that keeping the benefits of Tai Chi at the forefront of my mind, aligning my Tai Chi practice with the timing of my highest energy levels (I’m a morning person) and continuously reading and writing about Tai Chi would build my motivation for daily practice.

In 2018, I explored the benefits of Tai Chi for the mind-body connection based mainly on research that had been conducted at various centres of research at UCLA such as those focused on psychoneuroimmunology and East-West Medicine. This current post highlights the work of Dr. Peter Wayne who is associated with the Harvard Medical School.

Peter Wayne, who has spent decades practising, studying and researching Tai Chi, stresses the power of Tai Chi to deepen the mind-body connection.  Peter is the Research Director for the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and the founder of The Tree of Life Tai Chi Center

The eight active ingredients of Tai Chi

In 2013, Peter published a book, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, summarizing the research around Tai Chi and highlighting what he calls the “eight active ingredients of Tai Chi” which he had developed through his own research and the teaching of Tai Chi Masters.   These ingredients focus on the “biological mechanisms” that contribute to the wide-ranging benefits of Tai Chi including those related to cognition, breathing and neuromuscular control.  Peter points out that this focus on active ingredients helps him in multiple ways – in shaping a curriculum for teaching Tai Chi, in communicating with members of the medical profession and in establishing clinical trials.

In an interview with Dan Kleiman about his research and teaching, Peter explained that his early study of evolutionary biology and ecological modelling helped him to develop a systems perspective that is holistic in orientation and strongly akin to Chinese Medicine.  His orientation to integrative medicine and his mind-body perspective on Tai Chi flow from this early academic training and related research experience.  In a technical presentation Neuroscience in the Body: Perspectives at the Periphery, Peter highlights the downside of having multiple medical specialisations that contribute to “reductionist thinking” and blind us to the whole-body benefits of interventions such as Tai Chi.

The eight active ingredients of Tai Chi identified in his book highlight his integrative, systems perspective:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Intention
  3. Structural integration
  4. Relaxation (of the mind and body)
  5. Strengthening and building flexibility
  6. Freer breathing
  7. Social interaction and community (if done in a group)
  8. Embodied philosophy and ritual.

Deepening the mind-body connection through Tai Chi

Peter explained in his interview with Dan Kleiman that the integrative nature of Tai Chi and its capacity to deepen the mind-body connection is demonstrated in the focus on mindful breathing (which is common to all martial arts).  He pointed out that mindful breathing requires improved posture; positively impacts your nervous system, cardiovascular system and mood; and stills what Seth Godin calls the “Lizard Brain” through enhancing the power of focus.  In Peter’s view, an ecological perspective on health recognises that all these processes of body and mind are intertwined and mutually interdependent.

In his neuroscience presentation mentioned above, Peter described Tai Chi as a “multi-component mind-body exercise”.  He stressed the interaction of mind-body through Tai Chi by stating that it “integrates slow intentional movement with breathing and multiple cognitive skills”. The cognitive skills he refers to include body awareness, focus and visioning using imagery.

He illustrated the benefits of the mind-body connection involved in Tai Chi by mentioning several research studies that show two key outcomes (1) the primary risk factor in falls of people over 65 is “fear of falling” and (2) Tai Chi has been shown to reduce the fear of falling by 35%.  Tai Chi achieves this result not only by strengthening muscles and improving coordination and sensation (especially in the feet), but also by reducing falling anxiety, increasing exercise self-efficacy and improving the “executive function” of the brain.  Peter suggests that Tai Chi is a “gateway exercise” – increasing people’s confidence to try other things that lead to overall wellbeing.

Reflection

Research into the impacts of Tai Chi reinforce its power to improve our mind and body and the mind-body connection that is so critical for daily functioning, quality of life and longevity.  I have already identified the personal benefits that motivate me to practise Tai Chi.  However, Peter’s research and presentation has increased my desire to improve the frequency of my Tai Chi practice. 

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, research and reflection, we gain a better understanding of the mind-body connection, the impacts of our thinking and self-stories on our intentions and the blockages that impede putting our resolutions into effect, particularly at this time of the year (with the start of 2020).  I can look forward to improved Tai Chi practice and the multiple personal benefits that can accrue (not the least of these being to improve my tennis game!).

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Image by Antonika Chanel from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Opening to Creativity through Mindfulness

Professor Amanda Sinclair, in her book Leading Mindfully, devotes a chapter to the theme, Opening to Creativity.   She argues that one of the ways that mindfulness releases creativity is through “turning down” the self-judging function of our brain which invariable acts to thwart creative activity.  This negative self-assessment is a major blockage to creativity.

Amanda writes about the negative thoughts and stories that were circulating in her head as she contemplated writing her book – “no one would be interested in reading it”, “it will be just another management/leadership book”, “academics will view it as lacking rigour because it will include anecdotal information”.  These negative messages blocking creativity delayed her writing, and even as she wrote, they took on different forms in a sub-conscious attempt to undermine her creativity.

Once Amanda started writing, she was able to quiet this internal chatter through mindfulness and give herself permission to create the book.  She was able to tap into her research, life experiences and the experiences of her friends, contacts and colleagues to craft a book that was a different contribution because of her original integration of her perspectives developed over a lifetime of insights.

For instance, Amanda was able to draw on the seemingly devastating experience of Jill Bolte Taylor, who suffered a stroke at the age 0f 37.   Jill, a brain scientist, gave a TED Talk, My Stroke of Insight, about how her brain had changed physically because of damage to parts of her brain, including the areas that controlled speech and “self-talk”.   In her presentation, she explains how the stroke and resultant physical damage to her brain gave her the freedom and permission to be creative.  She no longer had to manage the negative thoughts and stories because her brain could no longer produce them and thus they were not able to impede her mind’s creative endeavours.

Amanda’s experience in starting out on her new book writing venture, after having successfully written other books,  resonates with the experience of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray Love.  In her TED Talk, Your Elusive Creative Genius, Elizabeth spoke about the fear-based, negative talk that almost immobilised her writing following the stellar and unexpected success of this earlier book.  Her internal message, reinforced continuously by others, was fundamentally a concern that she could never match the success of Eat, Pray, Love and that her life would be a failure.   Elizabeth described her succeeding book that was about to be published  “as the dangerously, frighteningly, over-anticipated follow up to my freakish success”.

Elizabeth, through developing her insight and self-awareness, found a unique strategy to quiet her negative thinking to enable her to create the follow-up book.  She ascribed her creativity to some divine genius within her that she could blame in the event of failure (as long as she did her bit of daily, disciplined writing).

Seth Godin, author and entrepreneur, considered one of the most influential thinkers in business, maintains that we each have to find a way to quiet The Lizard Brain, the amygdala, which sabotages our creative efforts through fear-based messages.  Mindfulness is one way to address these negative thoughts and to become open to creativity.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can release our creative capacity from the capriciousness and irrationality of our internal negative messages that assault us whenever we risk creative endeavours.  Mindfulness enables us to “turn down” the internal chatter and be open to creatvity.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of lukasbieri on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Mindfulness: Realise Your Potential

This post comes to you from Venice, the city of inspiration, a few days before New Year’s Eve and the beginning of 2018.

The closeness to the end of the year and the beginning of the next, prompted Seth Godin recently to write about the power of the possible in these words:

Next year is almost here.

And doing what you did this year probably isn’t going to be sufficient.

That’s because you have more to contribute than you did this year. You have important work worth sharing.

While Seth was writing in the context of marketing, his words are particularly apt in the context of mindfulness at this time of the year as we approach the beginning of 2018.  Here we want to explore the power of mindfulness and what is possible through mindfulness practice.

As we grow in mindfulness, we enhance our potential.  We break free from the shell of negative thoughts that constrain us and learn the power of the present moment.  We develop greater insight into ourselves, those around us and our environment. With mindfulness, we gain clarity to see our potential and the calmness to make the possible a reality.

As Google has found over a decade with their own staff, mindfulness training releases creativity and the capacity for innovation.  There is something about having clarity and calmness in tandem that opens our eyes and minds to what is possible.

What are you going to do with this new found potential?

It is interesting that at one of the largest technology conferences ever held, the organisers set aside a full day to explore “Mindfulness practices that activate your full potential“.  The YouTube video of this last day, provides the contribution of some of the world’s leading mindfulness experts such as Tara Branch, Chade-Meng Tan, Jack Kornfield and Goldie Hawn.

In her presentation on the last day of the conference, Goldie Hawn spoke of how mindfulness had released her joy and potential from the constraints of panic, fear, anger and other negative attitudes and thoughts.

She studied herself and her own brain and the research on neuroscience and came to the conclusion that she had so much experience and knowledge to share.

Goldie recalled that following the trauma of 9/11, she was panicked and paralysed and unable to function.  On remembering, after a week of inertia, how mindfulness had helped her previously, she resolved that she had to do something with the innate potential mindfulness had given her.  She asked herself:

How old are you now?

How long have you been an actress?

How long have you been working as an actress?

How many years do you want to sit in front of a makeup chair?

Because there’s work to be done.  And I want to help. I know too much now!

Goldie went on to establish The Hawn Foundation that brings mindfulness training to thousands of children in schools through a program called MindUP.  What motivated Goldie was the level of depression, fear and suicide in children

So we need to ask ourselves, “How long do you want to sit in front of the makeup chair, living a life of unrealised potential?”

Goldie encourages us to realise our potential through mindfulness:

And if there is any challenge, it is to remember that the one person you need to challenge – to become better in life for you, and for your loved ones and for  your children and your job – is to go to the University of You and become the best human being you can possibly become.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of congerdesign on Pixabay

Mindfulness – Start Small, Start Right Now

The benefits of mindfulness seem enticing – not the least of which are improved mental health, clarity of mind and calmness.

Yet the change from the habit of busyness seems such a big step.  How do you go from filling every moment with activity – designed to keep up with a racing mind – to the ability to stop and “be in the moment”, fully present to  what is happening around you?

The first step is to change your underlying assumption that busyness will get you what you want – achievement, happiness and success.  Unless you change your underlying assumption, you will not be able to sustain a change in your habituated behaviour – you will keep returning to old habits when under stress.

The second step is to “start small, start now”. These are the words of wisdom from entrepreneur and marketing guru, Seth Godin who writes a daily blog.  Seth’s advice is:

Start small, start now.

This is better than “start big, start later”.

One advantage is that you don’t have to start perfect.

You can merely start.

While Seth is writing in the context of internet marketing, the above advice has application to many facets of life, not the least of which is how to grow in mindfulness.

In an earlier post, I suggested that to sustain mindfulness practice, you can begin with “one breath at a time” – practising mindful breathing.  To start small, is better than not to start at all.  If you begin with one simple mindful practice that breaks your current routine, you will be able to persist and progressively grow in mindfulness.  Persistence then brings its own reward – increasing benefits and reinforcement of your new habits.

The secret is to find a mindful practice, and timing for that practice, that suits you.  Everyone is different, you need to find your own starting point – your next step.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

What Will You Do With the Surplus in Your Life?

Seth Godin – the famous internet marketer, author and daily blogger – suggests that if we have personal safety, good health and food to sustain us, we are living with surplus in our lives – we have spare time and energy to devote to making a contribution to others and to the community at large.

In a recent blog post, he challenges us to think about how we will spend our surplus:

You have enough breathing room to devote an hour to watching TV, or having an argument you don’t need to have, or simply messing around online. You have time and leverage and technology and trust.

When you stop to think and reflect on your life, you begin to see what eats up your time.  Some things become a compulsion – they take over your life.  Meditation and other mindful practices can help you to see how you spend your time and help you to identify ways to expend the surplus that should be in your life.

Mindfulness also enables you to understand the leverage for change that you do have and to appreciate the trust that you have built up over time.  Technology, itself, provides incredible leverage power and opportunities to build trust and relationships. So whatever your surplus situation, as Seth suggests, there is opportunity to contribute – rather than just consume.

When you move into semi-retirement as I am starting to do, you have even more surplus on your hands.  It’s a challenge expressed eloquently by Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners in their book, Don’t Retire, Rewire.  They argue that on retirement you have to find creative ways to expend the energy that you previously used in your work environment.  If you don’t find a way to use this surplus energy, your energy reserves can decline rapidly and you can also find that your life loses meaning.

When I confronted this challenge of using my surplus, I decided that a key way for me to contribute to others is to help people to grow in mindfulness through this blog and mindful workshops I run.  This way of spending my surplus enables me to utilise the core skills I have developed over my life – writing, researching and facilitating workshops – to help others deal with the winds of change in their lives and to build resilience, wellness and mental health.  Hopefully, it will also help others to overcome or stave off depression.

Of course, one of life’s lessons is that true happiness and fulfilment comes from helping others.  While my plan is altruistic, it also has resounding benefits for me – it gives meaning to my life; helps me to learn, grow and develop my mind; keeps the need for personal mindful practice at the forefront of my mind; and staves off depression (that can be precipitated by loss of work identity).

So, how will you answer Seth’s challenge – what will you do with the surplus in your life?

 

Image source: Courtesy of fancycrave1 on Pixabay