How to change your nervous system for better health

In one of the classes last week, I mentioned how many people scoff at t'ai chi as a martial art because of the slow motion movements.

But, of course, they're missing the point (as usual).

One of the reasons you train slowly is so that you can pay close attention to every part of your body, mind, and energy. Becoming aware of how you're moving, thinking and your intent and focus, slowly, will enable you to begin to change your nervous system and the existing programs it uses for movement.

And how does this relate to your health, you're wondering? Hang in there. I'm getting to that…

Doing the t'ai chi set is not about looking pretty, it's about being functional.

You don't do your t'ai chi set just for the sake of doing it, you do it to become more skilful in movement, to open and stretch out the body and to train a way of moving.

Stretching out and opening the body relieves muscle imbalances, moves lymph (your body's waste drainage system), pumps nutrients through your tissues and tonifies the muscles. Amongst many other things, but that's a good start, right?

Once you've trained the body to move according to the rules of t'ai chi then you can start to speed up the movements with no loss of quality, but speed up too soon and you'll relapse back into your old way of moving because you haven't changed the nervous system yet. You can begin to train t'ai chi as a martial art more effectively if you have the basics of movement, otherwise you'll just do your own thing and turn t'ai chi into kung fu. Which many people do, by the way.

And t'ai chi is not kung fu.

All that said, if you're practising as you should be, you'll be aligning your body and posture, freeing up any tension that's hanging about, improving the effectiveness of your body's systems like the respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic and digestive systems and increasing your energy, flexibility and power.

Not too bad for 'slow motion' stuff, huh?

It's useful to bear in mind that you can (and should) perform the t'ai chi movements at many speeds including full combat speed (but only if you're interested in t'ai chi as a martial art obviously).

Ok, that's it for today, I'll catch up with you at a class soon



Being effective and why I'm never doing t'ai chi again...

It's true.

I'm never doing t'ai chi again, its a pain in the backside.


No, not the art, the spelling!

T'ai Chi is a pain, all that apostrophe stuff each time I type. So I'm using the more modern taiji in future.

Did I have you going for a bit there?

Sorry, I couldn't resist it! But, I'm not giving up taiji anytime soon.

Ok, thanks to everyone who came along to the summer social on Saturday, it was great to see you there and it seems that everyone enjoyed the food. Xmas social is next and we've already had one suggestion for a venue, the Swansea Yacht and Sub Aqua Club.

We'll make it a traditional Xmas lunch, so if you have any suggestions for venues please let me know and I'll make enquiries.

And while I'm here, allow me to share something with you on being effective.

When you do your daily practice, what's your goal? What do you want to achieve? What's the purpose, if you like, for your practice?

Once you've got clear on what your purpose is, ask yourself if your practice is achieving that purpose.

If it is, you're being effective. If not, hmmm…

If not, you have to change what you're doing so that your practice becomes effective.

Know that you will have some ineffective practices or habits, nothing wrong with that. But noticing you're ineffective and remaining ineffective, well, that's a different ball game.

So, are you being effective?

It's a simple question to yourself which requires an honest answer (for you to be effective, are you getting the idea?). Don't avoid the question or pretend to answer it, answer truthfully.

And be effective!

There's more I'll say at a later date on the avoidance and ignorance stuff, but notice that there's a lot in what I've said above, short though it may be.

A great way to measure how effective you are is the Cheng Hsin / Taiji martial work, and I know that quite a few have already signed up the the Open Class on Saturday 20th August, but there's still a few places left

Check out Cheng Hsin here and if you fancy having a free lesson, hit reply and book a place for the 20th

Ok, have a great day



Rotating the weighted hip in your moves

My practice this morning has been pretty much all sword work, with some stretching thrown in.

I started to learn the Cheng Hsin sword set yesterday, and while I've done the 32 step sword form for many years, I prefer the Cheng Hsin sets (It was the 32 that I demonstrated at the U3A@30 Anniversary last month)

As with much of the Cheng Hsin work, there's a great deal of focus on 'how' rather than what, which makes it double the fun really. Not only do I have to remember the moves but I have to perform them correctly (or as near as I can at present)

This is what I've covered so far:

  • Commencement
  • Step Up To Close The Sword
  • God Directs The Beginning Of The Road
  • Big Star
  • Swallow Tips The Water 1
  • Swallow Tips The Water 2
  • Swallow Tips The Water 3
  • Little Star

Not much, I know, but plenty to be going on with especially as I'm training for skill with the sword not just learning choreography.

And on the subject of skill, one thing that's come up recently in many classes in the point of "Rotating The Weighted Hip"

Allow me to explain a little more…

In taiji you have a full leg (with most weight on) and an empty leg (least weight). The hip of the the 'full' leg is what we call the weighted hip. 'Cos it's the hip with most weight in ;-)

In Cheng Hsin taiji, rotating the weighted hip allows for us to move the whole body either in space or through space, while staying relaxed and just operating one hip joint.

Think of the weighted hip joint as like the hinge on a door, and the weighted side of your body is like the door frame - stable and fixed.

Next become aware that your pelvis is like a mini-door that can swing easily on the hinge (hip). Got that?

Good. Now consider that as your pelvis swings through space the rest of your body that isn't anchored like the door frame (the empty side, if you will) is connected to this mini door. So, as you swing your pelvis, the free side of your body can be moved with it, as it's connected to the free side of the pelvis.

I'll try and make that a little clearer. If your right leg is weighted then your right hip is the hinge. You can swing your pelvis from this side so that the left side of your pelvis and all that's attached to it (i.e. the left leg below and the rest of the body and left arm above) can swing freely and easily in or through space.

Make some sense? So I can move my left leg, arm, and whole body just by rotating the right weighted hip. Rather than moving all of those independently and disconnected.

I suggest you give this a try in your practice (if you're not already doing it) but one thing to point out…

When you start, you may not be clear in feeling your hip joints so you may need a little time to get in touch with them and feel the horizontal rotations. You can open or close the hip. Start with this, then expand your feeling to include the rest of your body and discover how you can move your whole body from opening or closing your hip joint.

If you have any problems, don't worry, just drop me a line or better still ask me in a class and I'll demonstrate for you and help you feel it yourself.

This point features quite often in the taiji sets (including the sword) so it's worthwhile getting to grips with it and gaining some skill. It's also very useful in a martial context too.

If you'd like to find out more about the martial side of taiji (t'ai chi) then consider coming along to the Cheng Hsin Open Class (CHOC) on August 20th. It's a free session where you'll safely explore some of the martial aspects of taiji and a cross section of basic skills for martial arts.

If you're already booked into the CHOC, you don't have to contact me again, your place is secure.


Throw the body, not the arm

When I was at the Cheng Hsin camp in Holland in 2003, I came across a very useful piece of advice.

At the time we were practicing a technique called Roll Down, where you take your opponents arm by the wrist and elbow and roll them down to the floor (see, it's easy this Cheng Hsin stuff!)

I was with a guy called Rob Van Ham at the time and I had his arm in my mucky little hands and was valiantly trying to roll him down to the floor.

No. Such. Luck.

He simply stood there and looked at me as I kind of huffed and puffed (figuratively speaking) at the side of him. All to no avail.

Then he looked at me and said simply, "You don't have my body."

Eh? What's he say?!

"You don't have my body"

And I have to say he was 100% right, I didn't.

Let me explain a little more…

Ralston has always said that when you throw someone you throw their body. From where you touch their body, in this case an arm, you must connect to their whole body.

So, don't 'throw the arm', throw the body.

I was trying to throw Rob's arm you see and he just stood there and watched in silent amusement and understanding for a while as I continued to fail to throw him to the mats.

How did I remedy this?

Well, Rob reminded me to outreach and connect. So from my hand at his elbow, I reached through to touch his shoulders, spine, hips, legs and finally I touched his heels and pinned them to the floor. All with my hand still on his elbow I should add, in case you think I was moving my hand to these parts.

I reached out through his elbow and 'tapped' into his feet, touching his whole body in the process. Now I could feel his whole body, rock him off his heels and perform the Roll Down technique much more easily.

Outreaching is a primary skill to train in Cheng Hsin and Taiji. And in Cheng Hsin, it forms part of the Principles of Effective Interaction (PEI).

We'll be trying this out for real at the Cheng Hsin Open Class on 20th of this month from 10-11:30 at the WPT Gym in Cwmbwrla if you fancy a shot. It's a free trial and you can bring a friend if you like

If you've already registered you place(s) you don't need to get in touch again, but if you haven't just hit reply to this email with the word "IN" in the subject line. No need to write anything else.

I'll then book your place and confirm it with you

See you soon


How to get past your 'sticking' points

So yesterday we went to Cardiff Bay with Nick, Nina and Lil’ Ava.

It’s the first time I’ve been to the bay and I really enjoyed it, there was something for everyone.

Vintage cars, steel bands, man made beach, boat trips great restaurants and shopping and.. well, you get the picture. It was quite busy too, but if the weather had been better I think it would’ve been chocabonkers.

And I thoroughly recommend the coffee in the Cote Brasserie, lovely, it was!

Since I packed in the cleaning job, it’s been nice to be more productive on many fronts too, but I’m back to not knowing what day it is when I wake up :-). Can’t be all bad..

Anyhow, for today I want to share with you how you can get past your sticking points in a set of movements or when training a skill.

First thing to notice is if you’re avoiding the issue in any way. Like, do you tend to avoid the moment or skill by practicing or doing something else? It’s ok to be uncomfortable remember! That means you’re outside your comfort zone and you’re ‘training’.

Following on from avoidance (or ignore-ance), take the matter head on. Train that one thing as much as you can to the exclusion of all else until it starts to feel natural. That may take a while but you’re trying to get your nervous system on board so that the new move or skill starts to become ‘familiar’.

Repeat over and over, with a view to becoming more skilful each time, making corrections as you go. Practice intelligently.

With regards to the avoidance thing above, it’s natural to want to shy away from something you don’t think you’re good at, as you don’t want to feel you’ve failed somehow. Put that to one side and throw yourself into the practice, ‘cos pretty soon your *will* be good at it.

Then, you’ll probably just show off all the time ;-)

Ok, that’s it for today, apart from reminding you that the free Cheng Hsin Open Class is coming up this Saturday, so if you registered, I’ll look forward to seeing you there. If not there’s still time to get your name down, just hit reply and let me know you’re coming along.

If you’re registered already, you don’t need to contact me again, I’ll see you there!

If you’d like some more info on Cheng Hsin, go here:

Have a lovely day!