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Health Benefits

Tai Chi Therapy

TAI CHI THERAPY written by Carolyn Ridding

As winter is rapidly approaching, we are all looking for ways to boost our immune system and hopefully fend off any nasty bugs and viruses. Therefore, I thought now would be a good time to share some research I have done on our body’s Lymphatic System.

Your lymphatic system is crucial to keeping your body healthy; it is a major part of the immune system. 

The lymphatic system is a complex network of vessels that transport lymph fluid around the body. Lymph nodes are the filters along the lymphatic system, their job is to filter out and trap bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, and other unwanted substances, and make sure they are safely eliminated from the body. Your lymphatic system is crucial to keeping your body healthy; it is a major part of the immune systemUnlike the circulatory system the lymphatic system is not a closed system and has no central pump. Lymph movement is maintained by: 

1.       Smooth muscle tissue in the lymphatic vessels spontaneously stretching and contracting.

2.       Pressure changes caused by breathing also help pump the lymph. As you breathe out a vacuum is created in the chest cavity, which forces the lymph on and draws it into heart and the circulatory system.

 3.  The contraction of skeletal muscles compresses the lymphatic vessels propelling the lymph along.      

TAI CHI AND THE LYMPHATIC SYSTEM 

Understanding how lymph is circulated in the body immediately shows us how Tai Chi can be beneficial to the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is stimulated by the gentle muscular work in Tai Chi, the soft relaxed movements of Tai Chi massage the lymph nodes improving their function and flow and in turn leading to a boost in the immune system. Regular gentle movement can help to prevent fluid accumulating and so reduce lymphedema.

 Abdominal breathing, encouraged in all tai chi and qigong practice, and our unique ‘middle path’ breathing, (encouraging the involvement of the whole torso in the breathing process), also improves the flow of lymph fluid

ARTHRITIS literally means ‘inflamed joint’, ‘art (h)’ meaning something joined or put together, ‘itis’ meaning inflamed

There are more than 200 forms of arthritis (most being quite rare).

Arthritis causes persistent pain, stiffness and difficulty in using the affected joints. Sometimes there is swelling, tenderness or heat in the joints and you can feel tired, sluggish or unwell.

Osteoarthritis  is the most common form of arthritis. The cushion of cartilage at the end of the bone becomes thin and flaky and begins to split, the amount of fluid in the joint increases, leading to swelling, stiffness and pain.

Rheumatoid arthritis-     inflammatory arthritis Rheumatoid translates from the Greek as ‘similar to flowing pain’, and it is the most crippling form of arthritis. Inflammation starts in the membrane surrounding the joint, ligaments and tendons that surround and support the joints then become stretched and destabilise the joint.

Gout – a breakdown in body chemistry the joint becomes inflamed because the body fails to break down harmful crystals of uric acid, which form inside the joint causing extreme pain. Commonly affected joints are the big toe.

 

Medical research tells us that movement is necessary for the proper nourishment of joint cartilage. When properly performed exercise enables the synovial fluid, which lubricates the joint, to carry the needed nutrients to the joints and to remove waste products. If you don’t use a muscle or joint, you’ll lose strength and mobility, and thus, function. All joints should be put through their full range of movement other than acutely inflamed areas. Improvement in power and tone of muscles and flexibility of joints will make it easier and less painful to move about.

 

‘One of the most important things you can do to help your arthritis is to exercise, if you do it right. Unfortunately, many people with arthritis think exercise is harmful. Others think discouraged because progress is slow or their exercises are painful. Maintaining a proper balance between rest and exercise, and exercising properly, are keys to successful arthritis exercise program’ Kate Korig ‘the Arthritis Help book’

Stress. Some people tend to develop arthritis after periods of prolonged worry- or sufferers can experience 'flare ups' at stressful times. Stress or worry interferes with the body's ability to produce its natural cortisone. The amount of stress and tension in your life can affect your pain. Emotional stress, for instance, becomes physically ingrained in the muscles; these tensions often contribute to cause weaknesses in your general health, resulting in aggravated joints and pain.

Deep relaxation (relaxing from a tai chi perspective means more than just sitting down and taking it easy for a while). Deep relaxation naturally benefits many arthritic and related rheumatic conditions, including inflammatory, degenerative, and muscular types. Being calm promotes a feeling of well being, just as stress makes everything worse.

Pain relief

By stimulating the meridians and clearing any blockages in them we can stimulate the body’s endorphins (natural painkillers) to kick in and encourage the body’s own ability to heal.

Tai chi and qigong helps to relieve joint pain by relaxing the muscles, enabling blood to flow freely. An increase in circulation also brings more oxygen and other nutrients to affected areas. And when our blood and energy are circulating properly, we experience not only a natural decrease in pain, but also a greater sense of aliveness and well-being.

When chi is flowing unrestricted throughout the body, when a natural balance has been achieved in mind as well as body and a persons spirit is raised, their pain and stress levels will be not only reduced but their ability to cope with pain and stress will be increased.

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ACIDITY / ALKALINITY

ACIDITY / ALKALINITY

written by Celia Brown

 

Balanced body chemistry is not merely a recipe for keeping calm and collected, but a fundamental necessity for health.

 Over acidity lies at the root of many illnesses, particularly arthritis and rheumatism. Every food you eat tends to be either acid-forming or alkaline-forming. If your diet contains a lot of sugar, coffee, meat (especially red) and other concentrated proteins, processed foods made from white flour, fizzy drinks and alcohol, and only a few fresh vegetables and fruits, you are consuming foods which are mainly acid-forming and you will tend to feel stressed very easily. You get this nervy feeling because your body has used up its alkali reserves in an effort to balance the acid producing foods you have eaten

Unfortunately the compounds that the body produces in response to stress and anger are also acidic. A combination of acid forming foods and periods of stress sends the body’s acid levels up and up, so it is important, for overall health and as an antidote to stress, to eat plenty of alkaline forming foods.

Keeping calm and breathing deeply will also re alkalise the system, so here Tai Chi is very useful.

In general, your diet should be made up of about 70% alkaline forming and 30% acid forming foods,(80% to 20% recommended in ‘Raw Energy, Leslie & Susannah Kenton, who also recommend a high raw diet) as cells function more efficiently when they are predominantly alkaline.

If the blood becomes too acidic, the body can start withdrawing alkalising minerals such as calcium and magnesium, mainly from our bones. Conditions such as arthritis, gout, osteoporosis and fungal infections can all reflect an overly acidic system.

Honey, mango, melons, lemons, figs, cabbage, watercress, asparagus, spring greens, parsley, alfalfa, celery, broccoli and green beans are all excellent alkalisers. Young dandelion leaves are notably alkaline and therefore good for arthritis sufferers, and anyone addicted to white bread and alcohol! They are digested very quickly and have a tonic action  on the liver and kidneys. They contain many nutrients and the youngest leaves are delicious raw in salads.

Drinking 1 tablespoon. Apple- cider vinegar, mixed with honey and warm water, re-alkalises the system and can increase the amount of alkalising minerals you absorb from your diet.

Excess protein is damningly implicated in premature ageing. A diet which supplies more protein than the body needs actually causes deficiencies of many essential minerals. During protein breakdown, complex by-products are formed, some of which, ammonia and amyloid for example, are highly toxic. These toxic residues deposit themselves throughout the body, predisposing it to degenerative illnesses such as arthritis. Dr. Myron Winick of the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University School of medicine states that, for maximum protection against ageing and degenerative disease the recommended daily intake of protein for healthy adult men and women of almost any age is 56g and 46g respectively. 

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MEDICAL CONDITIONS AND TAI CHI THERAPY PARKINSON’S DISEASE

MEDICAL CONDITIONS AND TAI CHI THERAPY

 

PARKINSON’S DISEASE

 

Many people affected by Parkinson’s disease decide to try Tai Chi and present to us with a range of challenges which we are able to stabilise and improve. It is vital to be aware that for many of the newly diagnosed fear and stress are major factors. They fear they will rapidly fall into the role of ‘cripple’ with no life quality. Whilst working with them we must seek to instil confidence that they are able to achieve improvement through their own efforts and to enjoy the experience of Tai Chi.

 

DEFINITION

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, degenerative, condition of the nervous system for which there is no cure. There is increasing difficulty in moving the arms and legs, often with the development of tremors and facial tics. There is often a fear of falling and gradually sufferers become less mobile.

Parkinson’s affects  both men and women with onset usually around 65.  Each year 10,000 people are diagnosed with the disease in the UK., of which one in twenty will be under 40. It develops slowly over time with trembling of the arms and legs, stiffness and rigidity of muscles and slowness of movement. Because it is gradually progressive most people have many productive years after diagnosis and do not always realise this.

 

CAUSE AND EFFECT WITHIN THE BODY

It is thought that the disease is caused by a chemical imbalance in the co-ordination centre of the brain, called the Striatum. There is cell death in another area, the Substantia Nigra which produces the chemical Dopamine. As the cells die, there is less Dopamine produced and taken to the Striatum which results in co-ordination problems

 

PRESENTATION SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Symptoms vary between patients and many years may pass before the early symptoms progress to the stage where they interfere with normal activities. A third of Parkinson’s sufferers also develop senile dementia.

Tremor usually begins in one hand or arm and is more obvious when that part of the body is at rest. It often becomes more noticeable when the person is anxious or excited. The tremor will usually decrease when that part of the body is being used.

Common things to look for are:

Ø      A walking posture that is bent forward with a shuffling gait.

Ø      A stiff facial expression, finding it difficult to make facial expressions.

Ø      Slowness in starting and completing a movement

Ø      A persistent tremor at rest, sometimes with Head nodding

Ø      A ‘Pill rolling’ motion of the fingers

Ø      Difficulty with balance and co-ordination (including getting out of a chair)

Ø      Problems with swallowing

Ø      Muscular rigidity or stiffness. They may experience problems turning round,

getting out of a chair, turning over in bed or making fine finger movements.

Ø      Standing posture may become stooped.

Ø       Depression, around half develop this at some stage.

Ø      Sleep problems and tiredness

Ø      Bradykinesia, slowness of movement: People often find that initiating movements becomes more difficult or takes longer to perform. Lack of co-ordination can also be a problem.

 

 

WESTERN MEDICAL TREATMENT

Patients are given Levodopa which is converted to Dopamine in the brain. This is often accompanied by physiotherapy, speech and occupational therapy aimed at maintaining independence

 

QIGONG EXERCISES FOR THE CONDITION

Tai Chi gathers and moves energy around the body, unblocking bottlenecks and massaging internal organs. It unites body and mind and reduces stress, all essential in Parkinson’s.

As posture is a major problem, Tai Chi is particularly appropriate as the exercises balance the body, develop the middle path, encourage rooting to the earth and enhance flexibility. At the same time Tai Chi relaxes yet energises the body.

It is essential to address the symptoms, aiming to produce a ‘feel good factor’ through the exercises and release of endorphins. We hope to produce a feeling that they are ‘fighting back’ doing something for themselves and under their own control.

The following are basic areas to focus on in respect of the particular difficulties:

Ø      Balance                                    Footwork, Knees, Hips

Ø      Co-ordination                           Chinese Arm Swings, slow

                                                            One hand up one hand down

                                                            Side bending from waist

Ø      Forward bent walking               Middle path posture

                                                            Rolling round middle mountain

Ø      Shuffling gait                             Rolling shoulders, Big bear

                                                            Swing arms whilst bouncing

                                                            Wave hands like clouds

Ø      Muscular weakness                  Abdominal breathing

                                                            Tai Chi Circle and Loi

                                                            Cardiopulmonary breathing exercises

 

EFFECT OF THE QIGONG EXERCISES

There is evidence suggesting that Tai Chi slows the progress of Parkinson’s.

The gentle movements of Tai Chi improve balance,  and move the body about 95% of the ways it can move. The likelihood of ‘losing’ movement is diminished. The phrase ‘Use it or Lose it’ is very relevant in this condition. In many major studies Tai Chi was found to be twice as effective at reducing falls as any other balance exercises.

The slow flowing, graceful movements not only strengthen muscles and joints, maintain flexibility, balance and relaxation but appeal to those who fear they are losing physical ability but also fear what they see as normal exercise including high impact Gym routines.

Tai chi has a calming yet uplifting effect on the mind, the feel good factor of releasing endorphins. This helps Parkinson’s sufferers feel better about themselves. This concept of the mind promoting ‘self health-improvement’ is being widely recognised within western medicine but has been known within Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 2000 years and is a key factor of Tai Chi. Meditation, another aspect of Tai Chi has been shown to produce significant increases in left sided brain activity, which is associated with positive emotional states

 

EXERCISES OR MOVEMENTS WHICH SHOULD NOT BE USED

Do not overextend or flex the neck, such as tipping back too far, bending forward too far to compromise balance or Leaning too far to the side.

Tell the student to move within their sphere of confidence and comfort, not overextending in any direction or causing discomfort.

 

SUMMARY

Tai Chi is not a cure for Parkinson’s Disease but can significantly slow it’s progress and enhance life quality.  It increases flexibility, balance and co-ordination, posture and improves muscle and joint strength and tone.

 

Ian V. Begbie. April 2010

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