Yin and Yang of Joints
Tai Chi, in my humble opinion, is the perfect exercise. As an exercise, it combines relaxation, flexibility, strength training, balance, mind/body connection, philosophy for living, martial arts and socialization. Wow!
I tell my students to read, study, and contemplate, especially anatomy and physiology. The body is a fascinating subject, and just a little bit of knowledge can go a long way in designing your exercise program to help you live a happy and healthy life. Let’s look at the yin and yang of joints, for instance, and see if we can understand why this is important.
A joint is the meeting place of two separate bones, say the lower arm and the upper arm. Where they come together makes the elbow joint. The joint is there to allow range of movement, and to act as a lever in lifting. Think how difficult actions would be if there was no elbow.
The bones are yang – hard. The ends of the bones are covered with a soft, cushion called cartilage – yin. This is so Tai Chi like – firm on the inside, soft on the outside. The cushion is there so where they come together, the hard bones do not rub against each other. As we age, the cartilage starts to break down from usage, and especially if you have negative habitual use patterns, like sitting all day or running long distance. The result is pain and limitation on range of motion, what is known as Osteoarthritis. This is the main problem with hard, repetitive exercise like running or the stress of weight lifting.
Tai Chi uses a wide range of soft movements to stretch without over-stretching, getting the arms, hands, and fingers to perform movements in all directions. Running, for instance uses almost no arm movement. Tai Chi builds balance and strength in the legs without pounding stress of running or over stress of weight lifting. It puts the body through range of motion in a normal and natural way, where Yoga can over stretch joints which can actually weaken them.
Another thing to consider, is repetitive movements can score grooves in the soft cartilage. These are like ruts in a road. As long as you follow the ruts you are OK, but try to drive at an angle and get out of the rut, problems arise. Same in the joints. Keep running and you are OK, but do a movement that uses the rotators (kicking horizontally, for instance), and pain can be the result. This break down of tissue in the joint is called Arthritis. The hip joints are especially vulnerable to age related grooves. That is a beautiful feature of Tai Chi. We do various kicks, from straight forward, sides, high and low, to large horizontal sweeps. We step in many varied ways – straight ahead, back, sideways. Short steps, long steps. We squat shallow and deep. Each helps to eliminate grooves.
During the 60’s we used a phrase – “groovy” which meant enjoyable and excellent. But when it happens to the body, it is not so enjoyable. So vary your exercise. As you age, limit your running, and don’t push your body when it is telling you to stop, when doing Yoga, or any activity. “Stop, Look, and Listen” to your body, and you can expect a long and healthy life.
This is a simplification of why Tai Chi can be a lifetime physical activity. For more detail, search the internet. Also, there was an excellent book on this topic I read in the mid 1980’s called “The Rejuvenation Strategy” by Rene Cailliet, M.D. I recommend it.
Special Practices Workshop
Greetings. The First Saturday Workshop is a great opportunity for instructors and students to get together to learn and practice Tai Chi related activities that will fit in the three hour workshop time frame, and whose study, will augment our primary Tai Chi form practice.
This month – Dec. 1, 1 to 4 PM, I will be sharing what I call “Special Practices”. This is a combination of solo and partner exercises, using bare hands, sticks and other implements to attain a deeper understanding of what Tai Chi is and how it is put together. This will be fun and beneficial for students of all levels as well as other instructors. Most of the exercises are ones that I have made up and evolved through the years. Lots of focus on breathing, sensitivity, awareness. Not restricted to students of our form. I guarantee you’ll come away from the workshop energized and excited to apply the learning to your own practice.
Some activities include: Mentastics (mental gymnastics), Arm Swinging (vertical and horizontal), Circling Arms (solo and partner), Eshrima (use of short sticks – solo and partner), Chan Ssu Jing (solo and partner), and whatever else evolves.