Tag Archives: slow down

T’ai Chi, energy cultivation & re-energising

Spring, Easter & Passover are upon us, so it seems a good time to think a little bit differently about how we can re-energise ourselves for the benefit of ourselves and everyone around us (including those we are caring for – elderly parents; young children; older children who can be just as demanding of our energies).

Re-energising is so important if we are going to achieve our highest goals and not flake out somewhere along the way (!)

There’s lots of self-help advice out there; but I wanted to share this video footage with you by Eben Pagan (http://bit.ly/1jLyFvE), and to add my own thoughts on how T’ai Chi informs the re-jeuvenation process.

T’ai Chi, energy cultivation & re-energising

In T’ai Chi, we very much recognise life’s cycles; it’s interesting that Eben Pagan refers to our individual “wave patterns” of energy, since recognising those can be really incisive if we tune into our bodies and their natural cycles. On many occasions in the T’ai Chi Form, we make a posture called “Holding the Circle,” which encourages us to think about our energies, and to cultivate our internal energy. In this way, T’ai Chi gives us an opportunity to become aware of our energy & our energy flow; I think it’s for this reason that T’ai Chi never feels exactly the same – it’s very dependent upon how we are feeling at that particular point in time.

Eben’s video footage is largely about “how successful people re-charge” and he hones in on our rest resistence/ rest anxiety (how we may continue to feel agitated when we try to rest, because we’ve not allowed ourselves fully to switch off – and grant ourselves that permission to fully relax). Here’s where T’ai Chi practitioners can look back over the months/years they have been practising and really appreciate a deep sense of achievement – since this is one of the main goals of T’ai Chi, I think.

Letting go; let it be

I say to my students that they should relax, let go of any matters which they have been concerning themselves with before the class; not to worry about what needs to happen after the class – the hour or so in practice is an hour just for them… just to “be.” Some students may nod; but it’s those students who believe this is ok who will benefit the most. There’s a “test” movement I like my fellow T’ai Chi practitioners to experience at the end of our warm-up. We call it “lifting of air.” The palms are facing upwards, feet hip-width apart and the lower arms to the elbows are gently lifted – and slowly; then the lower arms are allowed to fall back to the sides of the thighs (again slowly and under control), as the weight sinks into the legs. The test is to do this movement really quite slowly and to believe it’s ok – it’s called “living in the moment.” If students are forcefully holding themselves back, desperately straining to slow the movement down, then it doesn’t feel right – in fact, it feels pretty silly to be doing it! It’s only once students have fully grasped the notion that “just being” is ok, that any of the slow movements in T’ai Chi feel “right.”

Wired to win??

I sound very wise – but there’s still a big part of me which is “wired to win” – that persistent drive to press on, to give more, to put in yet more effort. However, such drive has its place; and that’s not all of the time; we can’t keep delivering if we’re running on “flat-out” all the time – we need this time to rest and refresh.

Monkey Steps

It would be remiss of me not to mention our wonderful “Monkey Steps” movements in T’ai Chi – Eban Page talks about the “monkey thoughts” which come and interrupt our peace. In T’ai Chi we deflect these monkey thoughts in true martial arts style – walking backwards we yield, and deflect such approaches with the arms, remaining strong and dignified in ourselves – confident in who we are and what we are about. So, we need to recognise our “monkey thoughts” – acknowledge them as such, and then dismiss them since they don’t serve us in our quest for rest & rejuvenation.

Resolve to rejuvenate!

I hope you get to see Eban’s 16-minute video – it’s full of great ideas to make rest a daily habit, and to build in a proper weekend, and take scheduled time away from our all-consuming businesses every quarter. In these small chunks, that’s very do-able – and YES! – it’s ok to be offline every once in a while :)

T’ai Chi – is it really something for everyone?

I love week 5. New beginners are really start to “find their feet” both literally and metaphorically, relaxing into their new-found Groove. And those who have perhaps kept a brief T’ai Chi diary can start to see the progress they have already made since their first class.

So what does progress look like? What have students learned in just 4 weeks? What have been the tangible benefits of learning from scratch this ancient Chinese form of exercise?

What is T’ai Chi and how will it benefit me?

T’ai Chi is many things – it has been described as a form of meditation, a martial art, a means of relaxation for body and spirit, as well as a system for developing good posture, physical balance and co-ordination. This means that each student’s experience will be unique to them.

T’ai Chi: an ancient exercise form

If taken as a “pure” exercise form, T’ai Chi helps to strengthen legs and arms. The easy postures, when practised correctly, help to build strength and tone muscles. When coupled with being mindful of supporting full and empty legs, this also improves balance. In some, the improvements to balance are remarkable.

T’ai Chi: develops good posture

As a posture-corrector, T’ai Chi first starts with encouraging an awareness of the body, and concentrates on the body’s alignment. In class, students are now used to running through their posture mentally, and making small corrections throughout the warm-up and meditative walking sections of the class. In T’ai Chi, we tune into the position of our weight, and then progress into concentrating on flow of our weight between right and left, (full and empty) legs. It’s this flow which directs next moves; and focussing on weight and flow of weight provides the meditative element to T’ai Chi practice.

T’ai Chi: getting the body to move as a whole

As a whole-body movement, students start to match movements with their breath. Deeper belly breaths mean that the body is well oxygenated, which leaves students feeling revived, relaxed and rejuvenated. The range of movements is particularly good for improving flexibility in older people, and since in T’ai Chi we only ever move/ stretch within the limits of our own bodies, this doesn’t cause the body any undue stress; T’ai Chi is a gentle exercise system which can be practised well into our senior years. I have even practised (and taught) T’ai Chi throughout my three pregnancies.

T’ai Chi energises and revives
In terms of energy, over the weeks, students are able to generate good energy flow for optimum wellbeing. This starts in the early weeks as a warming sensation, particularly through the palms. Co-ordinating the breath contributes to this feeling of being energised.  Students will also benefit from improved circulation.

T’ai Chi relaxer

In terms of relaxation, T’ai Chi is an amazing stress-buster. So often in the early days, beginners arrive “ruffled” by their day, especially those suffering from stress at work, or those caring for relatives. It takes a few weeks to really “get” the point that we are in the class to really switch off and slow down. Slowing down in fact feels quite unnatural at first, especially when we are learning the meditative walking. (I do smile to myself when I remember a previous beginners’ class in which I was actually overtaken by a student. I can’t remember who it was, and I’m pleased I’ve not “stored” that piece of information – instead – and in a very T’ai Chi fashion, I have simply let that go…)

T’ai Chi: learning how to really let go & unwind

Relaxation also comes from the fact that, concentrating on the class, we leave any preoccupations at the door as we arrive. Any thoughts which do come to the fore during the class we learn to acknowledge and then dismiss for another time. This takes practice and discipline; but it’s worth persevering; it’s such a beautiful sanctuary to know that there is a time in your week when all problems and life’s little challenges are simply suspended. But it’s up to us to allow ourselves to really let go. And in fully letting go, we will find our T’ai Chi practice comes to us much more easily.

This is why T’ai Chi is such a good stress buster and mood enhancer. Students always leave the class smiling.

T’ai Chi: different benefits for each; but something for everyone

So, there’s something in T’ai Chi for everyone. It’s rich in symbolism, which is something I encourage students to explore for themselves – it definitely benefits their T’ai Chi practice to see this ancient exercise form in fresh contexts. In class we cover the principles of T’ai Chi, which are the areas I feel benefit me above and beyond just the exercise. I tap into these principles in both my personal and business life on a daily basis and will be sharing those experiences in this blog… Watch this space!

Simplicity, a spring clean & a shredder!

I’m slowly progressing to a simpler way of life. A life with less complexity… at least I have a drive for a less complex existence. It makes me feel free! It makes me happier. It lets me see the wood for the trees.  In a work sense it undoubtedly makes me more efficient – when you simplify projects, tasks & process, you identify proper purpose and you can then get back on track pretty quickly.  What’s not to like?

Here are a few examples of how striving for a simpler existence has cropped up in my life within the last month:

  1. I have recently finished a large chunk of work – I called it a “sustained peak” (it lasted a while!) When I surfaced the other side I was overwhelmed by all the tasks I had dropped (quite rightly I had prioritised and these seemingly lowly tasks simply didn’t make the “cut”!) Too conscientious for my own good, I had planned to just “dig a little bit deeper” and trawl through it all; but the task was so immense I simply couldn’t tackle it that way. Without giving it too much thought at the time, I simply created a 2013 archive folder in email and moved entire inboxes into their new home.  I have visited a couple of times – but how liberating to just start again!  I also unsubscribed to all emails relating to shopping (did you know most sites actually email you daily? Exactly how often did I think I would need to be buying snow outfits?!!)
  2. I felt so good simplifying my Outlook on life, if you’ll excuse the pun – that I gave my documents the same treatment. Wow, on a roll…!
  3. Next – old (paper) work projects – ALL of them – had to warrant their very existence. That’s where the shredder came in. Actually this is still an ongoing process – the more I do, the more I realise – I just don’t need all the clutter!
  4. Taking “simplicity” in its wider sense – I was planning a day out with grandparents today - we had a couple of ideas and then found ourselves adding to it – “while we’re in the area” – in fact “over-designing” our trip. My children are fortunate enough to get lots of days out – for them it would be much more beneficial to slow down, do less rushing around and spend time just chatting to their grandparents – much simpler! And a much more enriching experience!
  5. I have recently joined Lucy Eckley (marketing extrordinaire) in her Marketing MeetUps. It’s a small group of local sole owners who choose a marketing project they have been meaning to get around to implementing but for whatever reason haven’t yet started.  It’s amazing what some external accountability and a monthly deadline can do for you, ha ha! I’m so grateful to Lucy and fellow punter, Jo – for both giving me the prompt to get on and start this blog (“Thank you”!) I want to relate that to my thoughts on simplicity – there have only been a couple of MeetUps so far and I thought I knew the exact steps I wanted to deliver; however, when I pared back – simplified & clarified – I drew some quite surprising conclusions!

So, here’s my challenge to you this week -

Try and simplify everything for a week – see how much time and effort it saves you.  Also see what you missed in terms of your “old ways” (I’ll bet it’s not much!)

 1392434_99783354 water drop

Here’s what I’ve found since making moves to simplify:

  • I ate better
  • Some tasks didn’t actually need doing (result!)
  • A colleague complimented my clear approach to an email she had been struggling to draft to clients – she actually recognised that her “overload” at the time was clouding her ability to communicate in simple terms (“I’d like to be more like you” was her response – what a compliment!)
  • I started again on some tasks – and did a much better job
  • I have recognised that under (immense) pressure I default to relying on process – quite natural and definitely adviseable to use a “checklist” approach when under pressure – but sometimes a step back, simplifying the task – can get you there quicker.
  • Some things don’t need doing straight away (my priorities may differ from those around me)
  • Saying “no” really isn’t that bad
  • Simplifying things somehow makes me more confident; my capacity for doing “just the right things” has grown

…And just like T’ai Chi’s principles around perspective, confidence & living life in the moment - life’s little concerns just got smaller… and the detail of the simple things just got more important. Simplifying things has left me feeling re-aligned. I have more time for people; I am more connected.  Life’s a whole heap more fulfilling!

What do you think? I would love to hear from you

Warm wishes,

Helen

How would you define wellbeing?

What does “wellbeing” mean to you?

What exactly are we looking to achieve when we say we’d like to feel an improved sense of wellbeing?

The new economics foundation (nef) has developed “five key ways to wellbeing” at
http://www.neweconomics.org/projects/five-ways-well-being

The question of how to define wellbeing has really sparked me. In answering this seemingly superficial question, I have unearthed something of a “window” into all the things which are important to me and my values; what my real drivers are; and from all of this I can map a clearer direction. (Note how I have left actions out at this stage – there’s a reason for that, which I’ll come to later.)

To me, wellbeing is…
1. being “at peace” with myself
2. being “in harmony” with all those around me – family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, community
3. feeling free from overload & clutter
4. being in good health & pain free
5. feeling physically fit, active, exhilarated & loving life
6. feeling close to nature
7. feeling properly connected to those closest to me
8. engaging my “community spirit”
9. feeling able to be “me”
10. feeling able to stop and just “be”
11. feeling equipped and confident so that I can cope with life’s little knocks
12. feeling a wide sense of justice

As someone who has worked from home for the past seven years, it’s no surprise then that getting up at 6.30am on the bank holiday to help out at the Scout Group car boot sale actually gave me such a boost! It was the social interaction/ community spirit “tick” which gave me such a buzz. I already know that when I’m feeling overloaded at work and taking too much time away from the family, one of the simplest “fixes” for me to feel that reconnection, is to have a game of badminton in the garden with my nine-year old boy. Sometimes it’s the simplest things…

T'ai Chi: boosts your wellbeing

T’ai Chi: boosts your wellbeing

Practising T’ai Chi pretty much covers all of my twelve points above. I don’t know how much impact it has on the 12th; but T’ai Chi at least gives me an incredible clarity of thought and a balanced perspective as a darned good starting point for tackling the big things like issues of injustice!

I wanted to share with you how T’ai Chi boosts my wellbeing:
1. At the end of my T’ai Chi practice, I am at my happiest; I feel relaxed and peaceful (I always have the best sleep at the end of my day of teaching)
2. If anything has riled me earlier in the day, after practice it no longer seems important; I can readily shrug it off
3. After practice, I feel strong in myself; I have reconnected within and feel confident in myself
4. I have had a very welcome break from all matters concerning overload & clutter and it feels amazing!
5. I believe that the exercise; breathing and energy flow help to keep my body healthy – the stress-busting, meditative elements undoubtedly help sustain good mental health and practising throughout my three pregnancies helped me to retain a good residual fitness
6. I feel calm, yet very alert after practice; upbeat but relaxed
7. T’ai Chi’s wider principles very much incorporate nature (As Legend would have it – Chinese Taoist priest Chang San-feng witnessed a fight between a crane and a snake and was struck by their movements; how the snake avoided the crane by its flowing, yielding, adapting movements; the crane used too much energy with its linear, aggressive attacks. This is the reason Chang San-feng developed movements to mimic nature and many of the T’ai Chi postures reflect the attributes of different animals.)
8. Some of T’ai Chi’s specific movements build confidence, increase self esteem, deflect inbound negative experiences (“Monkey Steps” are a favourite amongst those of my students who going through particularly difficult /aggressive situations at work. In this movement, students move backwards very slowly and in a controlled fashion “ward off” any external aggressions. Powerful stuff!)
9. Practising T’ai Chi helps to “open your heart” to those around you – forgiveness & compassion are both so beneficial to your inner wellbeing.
10. T’ai Chi’s principles teach the ability to slow down – and to believe that it’s ok not to always put in 120%… not to always run around at a hundred miles an hour
11. On a physical level – T’ai Chi builds strength, flexibility, mobility & balance; and improves posture, breathing, digestion & circulation
12. T’ai Chi is teaching me balance in all things

For this post you might notice that I haven’t provided my list of things you could do to improve your wellbeing – I have perhaps alluded to my T’ai Chi practice, and larking around in the garden with my children – but there’s a good reason for my not providing a lengthy list at this stage. For now, I really wanted to CHALLENGE you to open up to what YOU see is important for your wellbeing. I’ve got so much out of writing this post today, I would love for you to share with me -

What defines wellbeing for you?

And how do you go about nurturing your wellbeing?

Do you:
a) Not give this much attention really (you’re too busy)?
b) Know what you really like to do – but aren’t quite getting around to it?
c) Have a list (either consciously or unconsciously) of things you do to give your wellbeing a boost (shopping trip, night out, weekend away, buy some flowers, book a retreat?)
d) Ever look at those things you might do for a “lift” – and evaluate them?
e) Find that you reach for the “right” fix, or sometimes for an “empty fix”?

I would love to hear from you…

Warm wishes,

Helen