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  • Tai Chi with Healing Words

    In the last twenty-five years an intense interest in the healing power of words has emerged and many of these have entered the mainstream of behavioral health treatments. Some examples of practices that use words for healing include mindfulness, chanting, affirmations, neurolingistic programming (NLP) techniques, and guided imagery. A new arena of exploration lies in examining how the effectiveness of these primarily mental activities can be enhanced by combining them with body-based practices and movement. Tai Chi, a bodymind practice which originated in China, is a natural for such a partnership. An example of this kind of integrative alliance can be seen in the groundbreaking work of Michael Mayer, PhD, who developed methodology which he calls “Body Mind Healing Psychotherapy (Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy, Ancient Pathways to Modern Health, 2007) in which he combines in healing tools from psychotherapy with Qigong practices. In this book, Mayer presents case studies and describes treatment protocols which use a combination of Tai Chi and Qigong and psychotherapy techniques for resolving symptoms pertaining to a broad range of conditions including anxiety, panic, depression, and trauma as well as addictions, hypertension, and pain relief.

    In this same spirit of combining “mind-oriented” modalities with “body-based” traditional Tai Chi and Qigong practices, the focus of this article is to introduce you to Tai Chi as healing art; describe how chanting/toning/primal sound, affirmations, NLP, and guided imagery are being used for healing; and introduce four “Tai Chi with Healing Words” integrative exercises you can do on your own. Each exercise is appropriate for any fitness level and does not require a prior knowledge of Tai Chi. In each case I will give the rationale for the exercise along with a description of a simple “mini-practice” you can try yourself. The beauty of these and other integrative practices is that they work on many levels at the same time. Just as surely as walking on a treadmill while watching TV splits the body and the mind, doing Tai Chi with
    Healing Words exercises brings about a state of teamwork between the body and mind. Every physical health problem has an emotional and psychological component, and vice versa. Just as the corpus collosum facilitates communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, these exercises create a common healing pathway for body and mind together to dissolve old patterns, lay the groundwork for new patterns, embody healthy change, and solidify relatedness to self, others, and the larger world.


    Although Tai Chi is often thought of primarily as a martial art, its ancient roots lie in the healing arts. Often referred to as “moving meditation
    , the Harvard Medical Health Publication (May 2009) says that Tai Chi may more accurately be called “moving medication” due to the long list of conditions which can improve with regular Tai Chi practice: bone density, balance, immune function, cardiovascular problems, hypertension, and respiratory conditions, to name a few. Qigong (sometimes spelled chi kung), which is the primary ancestor of Tai Chi, essentially functioned as the health care system of the people over 5,000 years ago. The practice of Qigong, unlike our current healthcare system, was less a system of compartmentalized treatments consisting of providers and patients, but more like a language through which a person learned to communicate with the elements and energies of nature both within and without in an interactive and mutual way. Everyone was a healer by simple fact of being able to connect with a universal healing system preprogrammed into a vital universe, each part of which was recognized as being alive and intelligent.

    A little known fact about Tai Chi is its long association with the healing applications of sound and words. One of the earliest recorded practices of Tai Chi was the use of what was called the six healing sounds. Many masters taught that one could learn everything necessary to know by sincere dedication to the daily practice of these healing sounds. The healing sounds-- which consisted mostly of subvocal consonant and vowel combinations such as
    sssss, chuu, shhhh, haaa, hooo, and heee—are vibrational tones designed to resonate with the organ systems and meridian flow channels within the body. Each organ and meridian houses an intelligence, a concrete connection with the infinite source which is continually creating the visible world. To use modern terminology, the voice in our head--the constant mind chatter going on within each one of us--comes from the organs and meridians themselves, each of which has a personality which is both archetypal yet personal and unique. These personalities can express themselves both reactively (e.g. emotional states such as sadness, fear, anger, self-criticism, and anxiety) and virtuously (e.g. strength, wisdom, kindness, love and acceptance, and trust).


    Using sound to dissolve old patterns and generate a harmonious healing state

    Maybe you never thought about it, but when you are cheering for your favorite sports team, you are chanting. Whether it is protesters in an anti-war demonstration, marines marching in cadence or monks in a monastery, chanting rituals have been part of cultures around the world. Now modern medical researchers are finding that even the simplest forms of chanting are good for your health. Chanting triggers the relaxation response, slows heartbeat, brain waves, and respiration, stimulates the production of endorphins, and even lowers blood pressure. Several studies from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation have demonstrated that 12 minutes a day of chanting 4 tones (not words) accompanied by specified movements of the fingers improved memory and brain function in patients with mild cognitive impairment after an 8 week period of time. Dr. Valerie Hunt, Professor Emeritus from UCLA, demonstrated that individuals with long term paralysis were able to initiate voluntary movements after using Continuum sound practices, Continuum being a system of using different sounds, tones and vibrations to activate the fluid system of the body (founded by Emile Conrad).

    Using words that are precise, succinct, and specific to allow the conscious mind to set a positive direction for the unconscious mind to follow

    Affirmations have been called a beginners tool to reprogram the subconscious mind. Like it or not, everyone practices affirmations every day. Whatever we say repeatedly, our subconscious mind receives as truth and acts accordingly. Affirmations are based on the Cognitive Behavioral principle that when our thoughts are more positive than negative, our feelings change, and when our feelings change, our behavior follows. Another way to look at affirmations is that they are a “sound/vibrational” version of creative visualization. The affirmative statements stimulate the formation of mental images in the mind which express and make personal the positive goals and aims we have for ourselves. The conscious mind initiates this process, and then passes the ball to the unconscious mind. The individual using affirmations takes an active directive stance toward an issue or problem.

    Using words that are global universals and non-specific to access the unconscious mind and embody a desired internal state:

    In Neuro-Linguistic Programming we can gain access to the broadest spectrum of the issue at hand by using artfully vague universals to access the unconscious mind. The conscious mind always has an agenda. By using open ended non-specific language and a relaxed internal state, individuals can gain access to their unique full sensory experience of an issue, rather than what they think their response should be. When combined with appropriate movement, the individual can take both an open, receptive stance (yin) to the issue or problem, and an active solution-focused (yang) approach.

    Using words in the form of imagery in combination with deep breathing and relaxed but focused attention to connect with positive aspects of self, others, and the larger world

    Good guided imagery functions as a form of meditation. Words become like icons, tangible, audible pointers to a hidden, intangible, but greater reality. Guided imagery uses vivid sensory words and kinesthetic imagery in order to access the neural networks in the brain that store emotional and somatic memory. The amygdala is a part of the brain that scans incoming data for emotional impact and plays a key role in facilitating communication between the body and the mind. As pointed out by Candace Pert in her seminal article, Wisdom of the Receptors: Neuropeptides, the Emotions, and BodyMind,(Advances: 1986: 3(3): 8-16) neuropeptides are the “information packets” that enable this communication, and the amygdala, along with the hypothalamus, are rich in neuropeptide receptors. Guided imagery is highly effective at reframing and re-offering experiences, stressors, and beliefs to the amygdala “to create positive physical and emotional changes in the whole mind-body system” (Belleruth Naperstek, Staying Well with Guided Imagery, 1994).

    Enough said. Reading about healing can be interesting, but it is the experience of healing that moves us in the direction we want to go. Let’s begin!


    Getting ready: Silence
    Turn off the TV, radio, and mp3 player. Put aside books, magazines, and cell phone. Sit or stand for 5 minutes. Observe your inner world. Notice without judgment the thoughts, images, and body sensations that come into your sphere of awareness. Settle your attention on the particular need for healing that brought you to try this practice. Choose one or more of the practices below.

    Tai Chi with Chanting: Opening the water channel of the Microcosmic Orbit
    Removing blocks and circulating chi through the microcosmic orbit is a classic Tai Chi practice. The microcosmic orbit is a pathway which consists of the fire channel which moves up the spine and the water channel which descends through the central front midline of the body. The two channels meet at the roof of the mouth, with the tongue as the connector. Like the head of a serpent, the tip of the tongue is considered to be the top of the water channel that runs through the midline of the body. The following practice, which is inspired by Continuum, opens the water channel of the orbit.

    • Practice #1:
    Tai chi with Affirmations: Invoking the wisdom of the Heart and Small Intestine meridians
    In Tai Chi, each of the 12 major meridian channels which flow through the body has its own unique voice, an intelligence, that when the channel is open brings a particular positive and wise perspective to the internal awareness of the individual. Classically, qigong (movement) and neigong (mind focus) are used to clear blockages from the channel and open the chi flow that allows access to the wisdom and the internal power of the meridian. The exercise below opens the Heart and Small Intestine meridian channels.

    • Practice #2
    Tai Chi with Neurolinguistic Programming: Spontaneous Tai Chi movement from the core
    While there are literally thousands of Tai Chi forms today, originally all Tai Chi was spontaneous, a responding from the internal core of the body to embrace and become one with an element of nature or an animal. Spontaneous Tai Chi is still practiced today in much the same way. To initiate spontaneous Tai Chi, first choose an energy to merge with, focus on the internal felt sense of that energy, and using this felt sense as a guide, allow the body to be shaped by that energy into a posture or movement. The posture and/or movement then becomes a vehicle of connection with the desired energy.

    • Practice #3
    Tai Chi with Guided Imagery: Standing like a Tree meditation with focus on the fire element
    Typical to the Tai Chi way of thinking, if one wants to become more powerful, one must become more still. Standing meditation is considered to be the quickest and most effective way to cultivate and grow one’s own internal energy. The classical name for this practice is called Tree Standing, and it utilizes the imagery of the tree to guide the practice. Like the tree, the practitioner extends his or her roots deep beneath the ground towards the earth’s core and reaches upward through the crown and upper body imbibing the life-giving energy of the sun. As the standing progresses, just as trees gather life-giving energy from the earth and sky, the practitioner gathers the nourishing energies of the five elements of nature to strengthen and energize.


  • GROUNDING: How Tai Chi Reduces Anxiety and Stress

    Given the pace of our modern lifestyle with its focus on speed, mobility, and achievement, most of us spend at least part of our waking day worrying about something—the economy, a family member, a health issue, or how we are going to find enough hours in our day to complete the endless list of tasks awaiting our attention.

    And—as if feeling stressed and worried were not enough!--these feelings are often accompanied by other troublesome symptoms such as tight muscles, irritability, upset stomach, headaches, difficulty concentrating, shortness of breath, forgetfulness, anticipating the worst, feeling tired, and difficulty sleeping. Symptoms of prolonged stress and anxiety actually often mimic disease symptoms. It has been estimated that 85% of doctor visits are at least partially stress related.

    So what causes anxiety and what can we do about it? A typical western view is that anxiety is caused by stress and upsetting events in our lives. Many people take medications to reduce the discomforts caused by anxiety. Tai Chi and Chinese Medicine offer a different view of the cause of anxiety. From this perspective, anxiety is caused by being cut off from the earth. Like many indigenous cultures, the people of ancient China recognized the healing power of the earth. They noticed that when seeds were dropped into the ground, new life began to grow. They noticed that when garbage or refuse was buried in the ground, it was absorbed, cleansed, and transformed by the earth, turning it into useful and fertile soil. They paid particular attention to trees and observed that trees seem to live much longer than humans. They believed that it was the deep roots of the trees that protected them from harm, by offering them endurance, stability, strength, and nurture. Some of the earliest practices of Tai Chi and Qigong emerged as people imitated the trees and initiated practices through which they, like the trees, could benefit from the amazing healing qualities of the earth.

    Interestingly, modern science is currently rediscovering and validating some of the healing properties of the earth, and is also offering some insight into how these work (
    Earthing, 2010, Oschman, Ober, Sinatra, Zucker). Remember in the old days before cable TV how electrical interference would cause “snow” to occasionally show up on our TV screens? We don’t get this anymore because cable TV signals are grounded into the earth and this grounding provides electrical stability as well as protection from errant electrical charges. Dr James L. Oschman, author of Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis, points out that not just electronics, but we ourselves are made up of collections of dynamic electrical circuits. Our heart, brain, nervous system, muscles, and immune system work like electrical subsystems which constantly transmit and receive energy in the course of the many thousands of biochemical reactions needed to successfully carry out their functions within our bodies. He believes that our biological systems need the stabilization and protection of being grounded in the earth and that many modern health problems are attributable to our disconnection from this energy.

    In electrical engineering, electrical circuits need to be grounded in the earth for several reasons: providing safety from dangerous voltage, limiting the buildup of static electricity, and serving as a constant reference point against which other potentials can be measured. Given our current understanding of thoughts and emotions as biochemical, electrical, and energetic events, it is quite easy to see how grounding in the earth could be helpful to someone suffering from anxiety or stress in some of the following ways: providing safety from perceived dangers; preventing buildup of frenetic and panicky thoughts; and a offering a stable and secure constant point of reference.

    Tai Chi is an ancient way of connecting with the energy of the earth and chi, the life force that enlivens all of nature. The practice of Tai Chi reduces anxiety and stress by giving us a way to direct our own life force energy, or chi, and restore our earth connection. When we feel anxious and stressed, the energy rises up through the body into the head. Unconsciously, we actually tighten our muscles pull the soles of our feet up and away from the ground. That is why we are more prone to getting a headache or having digestive problems when we are anxious or stressed. One of the first things you might learn in a Tai Chi class is how to “root” your energy into the ground. To reduce some of your anxiety and stress, follow the sequence below and use these Tai Chi practices to root your energy in the earth, stand like a tree!

    Use your Mind to Direct your Chi
    There is a saying in Tai Chi: “Where the mind goes, chi follows.” The first step in grounding is simpler than you might think. Just use your mind to direct your attention/awareness/chi down through your feet to the ground.

    Relax the Feet
    Rotate the ankle of one of your feet while at the same time pressing the ball of your foot firmly into the ground 8 or 9 times clockwise, then counterclockwise. Stop and place your awareness in your foot. Notice sensation, temperature, movement or stillness. Compare it to the other foot. Repeat on the other side.

    Open the Bubbling Well
    The bubbling well is the first acupuncture point on the kidney meridian and is located on the bottom of the foot, in the center, just behind the ball of the foot. Traditionally this point is viewed as the major access point where the energy of the earth connects with the energy of the human body. Use your mind to imagine that this point is opening. Use an image to help you, such as picturing in your mind a fresh mountain spring bubbling up from the earth and filling your body with flowing energy and vitality.

    Root into the Earth
    Shift your weight slowly from foot to foot. Focus your attention on the weighted foot. With your mind imagine roots growing down into the ground, roots as deep as you are tall. Repeat this process as you shift your weight to the other foot. Keep seeing the roots go deeper and deeper, allowing the circumference of the roots to expand and spread out into the ground.

    Stand Like a Tree
    Envision yourself as your favorite kind of tree. Feel the crown of your head lift up as your tailbone sinks down towards the ground. Relax your knees and shoulders. Focus on allowing your breath to deepen as you breathe in and out of the bottom and back of your lungs. With each breath feel the chi in the earth flow upwards into the bottoms of your feet, and then up through the legs into the belly. With each outbreath release any tension in your body, allowing it to flow down into the ground.

    Finishing Your Practice
    Place both of your hands over your belly button and move them around in a circle 3 or 4 times, then repeat in the opposite direction.

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