Each month we will be bringing you videos, interviews and more information about our therapies and therapists, this month we start with a short interview with our resident Ayurvedic doctor, Dr Mathew…
I’m not ……… to do arm balances.
I hear this all the time. I’m not strong enough. I’m not flexible enough. I don’t have enough upper body strength. My body is the wrong proportions. The list is endless. One of the reasons I am running a workshop dedicated to arm balances is because most people ‘can’t’ do arm balances because they haven’t been taught. It’s kind of like DIYing without the manual. This often results in brute force and an insecure structure. How do you expect to be able to do crane pose (aka crow/ bakasana) if you don’t understand the pose and your body isn’t prepared?
They might be called arm balances but they sure as hell use the whole body! When you know how to use a balance of strength and flexibility, when you have the tools to explore transitions in and out, stay safe and avoid injury it’s much easier to overcome your fear of face planting and feel empowered.
Class settings often don’t have the time to devote the time to fully prep and explain arm balances which is why the workshop setting is a great place to dive in. Workshops offer more time for playing and exploring. To make progress we need the time to practice and fall out and feel the joy of getting back up and trying again. Don’t forget that arm balances have a much shorter falling distance than in inversions like handstand.
The great thing about teaching arm balances are that there are so many layers to them. As teachers we get to unpack how the body works in the poses and prepare using a combination of opening and strengthening over a longer period of time. It is really amazing how we can practice poses with a real sense of lightness and energy when the pose is set up correctly for us.
So, why practice arm balances?
- We generally spend all day on our feet – switch it up!
- Weight bearing helps to increase bone density.
- It’s a great balance of strength and flexibility.
- Develops focus and discipline.
- While we don’t want to focus on the ascetics, we do know that these poses are really beautiful.
- It’s pretty hard to be mentally on the ‘to do’ list when practicing this set of postures.
- Experience the falling down and getting straight back up.
Fancy practicing some arm balances? Remember you don’t have to be able to do them yet. Come learn and develop your practice. Feel embodied! BOOK HERE
Join Sarah at Alternative HealthCare Saturday 11th February 2-4pm (£24/£20)
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org/07796345404 for enquires.
By Mark Stevenson
(The Alternative Healthcare’s Tai Chi instructor)
We rush around at a million miles per hour, finding it hard to get the time to pause to take a moment for ourselves. Our lifestyles are geared towards sitting in often unnatural positions, driving, being in front of a computer all day long and then slouching on a sofa watching TV into the early hours. We are torn in different directions from commitments to work and family. Unable to get a full night of sleep, we head to the coffee shop first thing in the morning just to be able to get ourselves through the first couple of hours of work!
Maybe just one or two of the above apply to you but they are all symptomatic of a society that is always charging full steam ahead with a head being constantly stimulated but a lifestyle which is often increasingly sedentary.
So what can we do about it, I hear you ask!?
Well…. Funny you should ask.
Naturally there’s more than one way to skin a cat and everyone will have their own preference – yoga and pilates being two other great options at The Alternative Healthcare – but studying tai chi is a fantastic way to attain balance and return to a more natural state of living, without changing your lifestyle in a drastic way.
I like to think of tai chi as the antidote to a modern day lifestyle. Here are just a few reasons why…
The first, and glaringly obvious, thing about tai chi is that it is being done in slow motion. The movements are measured and precise with a focus on the technique being absolutely correct. What a difference that is to the breakneck speed we seem to need to do everything in. It can feel strange for a start to slow down – but it’s certainly needed and the benefits are tremendous!
Synchronising the deep breath with the movements is in contrast to the short, shallow breathing that seems to be the norm for most people. As you develop in your training, so does your lung capacity and ability to breathe deeply, which brings a calmness and sense of peace within the practitioner. How often do you hear the advice, ‘take a deep breath’ when someone annoyed or stressed – well in a tai chi class, you’re taking an hour of deep breaths – which is calming, detoxifying, working your cardiovascular system, increasing your energy levels, stimulating your lymphatic system, increasing the quality of your chi…. among many other things!
Tai chi is extremely grounding and calming, the form should ideally be done with knees bent and a sense of connection to the ground, which is both a source of energy and where we direct our energy down to root our posture and give us stability. In a world which is increasingly knowledge based, we’re effectively balancing ourselves out with our tai chi practice. Most people spend a lot of their time thinking, studying, sitting at a computer, trying to decide which of the 800 TV channels to tune in to … all very ‘head’ based activities. As are stress, insomnia and other such conditions. With too much going on up there in the head, no wonder we’re not feeling rooted or grounded or stable.
Regaining this sense of grounding allows you to feel more connected, centred and at peace with the world around you.
There are just two more important points I want to touch on…
First of all, I’d like to point out how effectively tai chi corrects the wrongs of a sedentary lifestyle. Whether you’re 15 and spend your time sitting down playing computer games all the time, or 85 and have joint mobility issues, training regularly in tai chi will help on a physical level by flushing the joints with synovial fluid as the gently work through a range of motions. It’s particularly good for tendons and ligaments, keeping them both strong and supple. The spine will straighten, the shoulders loosen, the knees and ankles strengthen, the hips release. On an energetic level, the chi which flows through us all inside and outside of our bodies can become blocked and stagnant, also causing immobility and a vast range of health issues, tai chi is wonderful for getting the energy flowing and enhancing our health and overall wellbeing.
Last and not least, tai chi is a fantastic martial art and if practiced regularly and with the correct mind-set is an extremely effective form of self-defence.
Now before I scare off many of my readers, you won’t have to stand around n white pyjamas throwing punches to mid-air and shouting kihais, like in a Bruce Lee movie. It is entirely up to you if you want to train the martial aspects of tai chi – as an instructor I always make people aware of what they are studying and it is up to the practitioner how far they would like to take it, under my guidance. However, I do at least make people aware that they are practicing a martial art, not just performing a relaxing dance!
(As the Chinese say, without the martial side being at least acknowledged, you are taking the teeth out of the tiger!)
The whole philosophy behind tai chi as a martial art is that it is practiced slowly and gently, not using force and not using strength so that you perfect the movements using pure technique. You deflect, yield and use all of your opponent’s energy and momentum against them to gain victory – allowing you to defeat much physically larger and stronger opponents.
Whilst we may not physically fight people in our everyday lives, we do come across ‘challenging’ people – in our family life, in our working environment, on the road, in the street….. basically everywhere!! What a lovely way to walk through life it is yielding and deflecting all of that negativity and not letting it bother you in the slightest. This is one of the most important lessons that tai chi can teach you.
However, don’t let this fool you into thinking of a tai chi practitioner as being a walk over. One of my favourite descriptions of an experienced and skilled tai chi player is a ‘sleeping lion’ – they look very nice, serene, peaceful and graceful….. but you wouldn’t want to wake one up!
Another aspect of self-defence which is not often touched upon is self-defence against disease, illness, injury, poor posture, poor breathing patterns, stress, immobility, inflexibility, insomnia, ageing, weight gain and obesity…… these are all mortal enemies we face and with tai chi, can help defeat.
The list of benefits to a regular tai chi practice, as well as the amount of research behind it, would be as long as your arm. These are just a few of the ways in which tai chi has helped me and how I think it could help you to retain some balance which is often lost in the hustle and bustle we face on a daily basis…. And beyond everything else, tai chi is all about being balanced.
There are regular classes in tai chi at The Alternative Healthcare throughout the week. Please get in touch if you would like more details, or drop in for a cuppa and a chat, you can usually find me there.