Category Archives: Personal Stories
Being healthy is really important to me — as it is to many of my fellow Tallahasseeans.
But it seems in our Western society, “healthy” can be increasingly based on taking medication — often lots of it. I am a hearty endorser of the right medication and I know that medication can and does save lives. However, I am equally convinced that a good amount of medication, prescribed and over-the-counter, is often only about addressing symptoms rather than the real problem. We often look for quick fixes to feel better, but they don’t typically solve the problem.
There are other ways to address health issues — in collaboration with medical doctors, and sometimes instead of them. I have found that in Chinese medicine, and particularly in practicing the Taoist Tai Chi™ Internal Arts, that these practitioners work to address the root cause of medical problems.
These challenges are often due to such contributing factors as living lives that lack balance and having circulation that is blocked by stress and poor structural alignment. Taoist Tai Chi™ is often not the fast way to address health challenges, but because it tends to address the true causal factors of an issue, the problem often disappears or becomes manageable with far less medication.
Almost eight years ago, I followed my husband in taking a beginning class at the Taoist Tai Chi™ Society on Thomasville Road, and I have continued my Tai Chi practice to this day. I have seen amazing things happen there — to me and to others — and I have heard of amazing things that have happened to others all over the world to those who have persisted in what is called the “dual cultivation of mind and body.” It is for those reasons that I persist.
What have I seen? A woman who no longer has to take heart medication. Another woman – over 60 — with two herniated disks who now is as flexible as a 40-year old. An elderly man who is able to flexibly move what used to be a frozen shoulder. A woman getting taller as she ages. People with MS, Parkinson’s, strokes, traumatic brain injuries — the list goes on — whose lives have been significantly restored because of a series of 108 specific, continuous movements that are designed to work with the body as a system to achieve better health.
Through diligent practices of these 108 moves over time, I have found my Type A personality has become almost a Type B+! Because of my work in Taoist Tai Chi™, I can actually relax, even during stressful times.
There are moments where I feel so connected to life, because I am so much more connected within myself. And as I get older, I know that with Tai Chi I have the best shot at remaining flexible, balanced and healthy.
True change typically doesn’t happen overnight. Turning the clock back on one’s health issues takes time and diligence. Like water over rock, the rounding of edges takes time. But the results I have seen and experienced have convinced me that the Tai Chi can address the root causes of problems, not just the peripherals.
If you’re interested, I hope you will join me at the society’s next open house from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the National Center, 2100 Thomasville Road. During the open house, you will learn how to do some Tai Chi, experience brief lectures on specific impacts of Tai Chi on your health, take a tour of the center and get a taste of this amazing art.
At 1 p.m., stay and join us for a free vegetarian meal (called a “jai”). Consider signing up for a beginning class – they all begin between Sunday and Sept. 13. You’ll be making a modest investment and potentially reaping phenomenal dividends. I hope to meet you there.
On July 17, 2014 Anneli Whyte celebrated her 91st birthday with her many friends at Stratford Branch. She has been a member for 23 years and attends 4 or 5 times a week. Anneli is a fine example of find balance, have fun and keep coming. She attributes her ability to stay active and still do line dancing to her years of Taoist Tai Chi ™. Anneli is an inspiration to us all.
At a hospital in Mexico, after major abdominal surgery, there were two or three tubes draining things out of my body and an IV dripping things in…. Perhaps it was a relatively easy surgery but with stitches all the way up my belly, I was weak and a bit frightened. The nurses encouraged me to get out of bed, to try to walk.
I stood up and held the IV pole firmly, careful not to twist the bag of input-fluid. There was a small bag hanging beside my chin, and I had to support it with my other hand. But I made a sort of sling to hold it up so I could have a free hand. Another bag collected urinary output. It was on the floor at the bottom of the IV pole, dragging along when I moved, big and heavy. My hospital gown flapped open at the back. I was not ready to walk down the hall this way.
The stitches up my belly were bound firmly with a good Mexican swaddle-wrap, the kind they use for babies. That’s reassuring – at least I could be sure I wasn’t really going to burst open, even if that’s how it felt.
Walking was difficult, but it had to be done; this sewn up body had to function again. I remembered the foundations of my Taoist Tai Chi™, remembered the Tor-Yu. This will work, I told myself. And so I stood in the middle of my room, holding the IV pole, and placed my feet carefully. Forty-five degrees for the back one, straight ahead for the front one. I pushed from my back foot, gently-gently now, slowly, and felt the muscles of my wounded belly move diagonally. “Gently,” I told myself, “Be careful.” I leaned onto that front foot, squaring my hips. That wasn’t so bad, I told myself – now go back. And I pushed from the front, pushed my body back, feeling the movement as my torso turned, that gentle pull across the stitches. Felt my legs working, helping to put the blood up and around.
After several days, I was allowed to go home. Not home to Canada – I couldn’t fly until the stitches were removed – but to my Mexican home, where my daughter would take care of me until I could travel. I lay in bed much of the first few days, then sat outside on the patio where there was more space, where there was warm air and sunshine, and shade when I needed it. My body began to heal. To encourage it to function better, I did Tor-Yus every morning, feeling as weak and wobbly as a baby kitten.
One afternoon my daughter went out to the market for more fruit, and while she was away I tried to devise a way to loosen up my insides, to massage that solid pillar of abdominal re-arrangement. An internal massage was what I needed. A belly massage. As I tried out a different tai chi movement, I kept my eyes focused on a small lizard perched in the sunshine on the edge of the fountain. I turned my foot to 45 degrees and stepped forward in a Brushed Knee, to feel the massage running diagonally up and across my abdominal muscles. The lizard kept his eyes firmly focused on me, as I advanced toward him. And so I turned my body, first in one direction, then in the other. Four Brush Knees. Four abdominal massages. The lizard blinked slowly and raised his chest high, lifting up on his front legs, alert to the advancing menace here in his courtyard.
I let the lizard have his territory. I retreated, Warding Off Monkeys, and massaged my wounded belly in a different direction as I headed backward. The lizard sank down into the sunshine, secure in his territory. We did this dance together several times, the lizard and I. I advanced and retreated, warding off lizards in the Mexican sunshine.
My doctor was astonished at how quickly I was recovering, and I told him my secret. “A Bellyful of Tai Chi.”
- Laurie Lewis, Kingston Branch
A year ago (on the blog) I shared some reflections on Master Moy sharing part of his vision with us “that if someone really needed help wherever they lived, they would be able to find a light in the window in our home and come and find help”.
This year we have been able to provide ongoing support for many families with food, clothes, school items beyond the resources of many, and frequent visits to review specific needs and help with them. With the experience and connections of members we have also been able to help some to traverse the complex administration systems needed to acquire appropriate documentation for children and permission to access services which they will need in the future. We have developed links with other organizations to help in shared efforts to bring relief to the suffering of those less fortunate in our communities.
This past Christmas Season we were able to offer parties for families in need that we support both in the Heredia area and Orotina (over the mountains on the west side of the country). For many, these events provide the only opportunity for the families to go anywhere together as a whole just to enjoy being. This year the traditional games were extended to include pinning the tail on the donkey and a “tug of war” and the sitting on balloons to burst them was hugely animated. We offered photos of the children from last year’s party which Mum’s and Dad’s seemed equally delighted to select. There were games and music for young and old, plenty of food and one member’s mother made beautiful festive bags we filled with fruit, nuts and candies for the children to take home. There were supplies of food and hygiene materials to carry families through the season and much cause for joy.
The party in Orotina was in a more rural area and the fiesta was outside allowing us to also make giant bubbles and enjoy the celebrations of life surrounded by abundant vegetation and blue skies. It was great to see the children working together to paint thank you posters to the many members and friends who have provided the support and resources throughout the year. Then the games and piñata outdoors were enjoyed with equal relish to those indoors (from the party at the Clubhouse) and it is amazing the huge quantities of food little bodies can pack away. One or two grandmas we overjoyed to receive fabric dolls as they had never had one in all their lives. The logistics were a challenge but several members were able to offer transport for food parcels, various supplies, prepare food and collect and return the families from a wider area. The experience was appreciated by all and offered the opportunity for more members to share some time with the families in need. The party was during the day but it was late at night before we finished delivering the last of the food parcels and balloons to some families further afield.
We offer a few images that capture some of these moments of pure joy and lift the spirit.
- Peter Turner, Heredia, Costa Rica.
Supporting governments, communities and international organizations to improve their management of disaster, environment and territory issues. This is my passion in over 30 years of continuous work in these fields, since I was a young volunteer in the Costa Rican Red Cross. Simultaneously, for over 20 years, I have been suffering from problems in the spine and joints, at the point of reaching a collection of over 10 herniated discs in the whole spine and needing a series of surgical interventions.
During an assessment mission of housing reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, I was in the riverbed of an urban watershed in Port au Prince when a sudden and heavy rain began. I was there was against all medical recommendations prohibiting me any type of physical exercise that could generate a spine crisis. When attempting to flee from the imminent danger I felt deep inside me that something bad was happening. I left Haiti and began a process of accelerated degradation, which ended at the doors of the operating room, with a perennial pain and almost condemned to immobility. That’s when I started to do Taoist Tai Chi.
Daily practice of Taoist Tai Chi not only reversed the problem and brought me back from the threshold of surgery, but also has been slowly reconstituting me physically and mentally. Today, not only have I been able to return to practice my work, but to forgotten practices such as hiking and walking. Today, when I look at the bright colors of yellow barks and jacaranda I do not have to look them from afar. As in my youth, now I can go into the woods to feel in my skin the bark of the trees and the caress of the wind.
After starting the practice of Taoist Tai Chi, between 2011 and 2013, I have provided training for over 150 young professionals in African countries and in West Timor; I have been over 15 times around the world, passing through deserts and perennial streams, between islands, archipelagos, volcanoes and continents, again, supporting communities, organizations and governments. I have renewed my energy, along with wife Melissa and my daughters and son: Elena María, Gabriel, Sofia, and the newcomer Eva, who – with his 10-month-old – is filling our life with peace and happiness.
In this dynamic, every day and every moment offers me with opportunities for Tai Chi, to fill my column, my tendons and my heart with a powerful energy that resides in me. An energy that I put into circulation, in a perennial spiral leading from the foot to the head, filled with peace and healing my body and my mind. Sitting, standing, walking, climbing a step or just waiting in a line, are no longer routine or boring practices, but opportunities to seek balance, stillness filled with movement, or movement full of roundness and calm.
Taoist Tai Chi is health in community, a connection with the movement of the world, which synchronizes the waves of the sea with the cycle of the flowers; it is to breathe and smile as foot and hand find themselves in balance rotating and rising, while shoulders and elbows favour the impulse of gravity, in counterweight; while we look at the winding invitation of the journey of life … of plenitude.
- Luis Rolando Durán Vargas, 2013.
A Personal Story from Luis Rolando Durán Vargas (Part 1)
“You have ten discs compromised in your spine; you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and other degenerative diseases… actually, you are not able to walk normally and neural pain doesn’t let you to sleep more than three hours. You are about to lose your right foot’s functionality, and in the same leg you don’t have any reflexes or strength. Your lumbar spine requires an urgent and intensive intervention… we should remove three discs and perform a fusion with titanium.”
A devastating diagnosis
Six specialists consulted agree in the general diagnosis with few differences in terms of details. For more than one month I wake up at night with intolerable pain and my capacity of movement is completely reduced. For a person whose work involves traveling the world, visiting remote communities in different countries, and spending long hours in front of a computer, both diagnosis and solution was devastating. It almost implied abandoning the way of life in which I had invested my energy and passion, a lifestyle that allows me to work accordingly with my beliefs: for over thirty years I have dedicated myself to actions in disaster risk reduction, humanitarian assistance, and to the strengthening of human and technical capacities in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa.
Let’s do Tai Chi
My wife, a woman of strength and firmness of mind, most affected by the situation, but with a passionate heart, reiterated her support and solidarity to me, in what it was necessary to undertake. More over, she also made a proposal that was to utterly change the course of events: let’s do Tai Chi – she told me – I have seen many impressive testimonies of its power for healing. Not only did I accept the challenge, but also I decided to do it with conviction, putting apart all reticence and scepticism. When I came to the Costa Rican branch of the Taoist Tai Chi Society for the first time, I did it dragging my legs, physically and spiritually supported on my wife shoulders. The instructor, Peter Turner, explained to me his own journey, that kept him out of a wheelchair, and also how Tai Chi could be the solution to my problem.
A millimeter of difference..
I started a working process specifically to address my spine condition. During weeks, in sessions that seemed eternal, I dedicate myself in doing a single movement – the dan yu – using a bar in the wall and a chair. With almost no mobility in my leg, my right foot enfolded like a cocoon and frequent neural pain, the healthy parts of my body started to inform the weakened ones how to move. Working together every two or three days, or more if necessary, the instructor supported me to correct the position and to strengthen the spirit. I discovered how a millimeter of difference in alignment could generate such a difference in revitalising force and balance.
Energy & Hope
In a short period I could feel the balance arriving, and how tedium, pain and desperation changed into surprise and joy. In two months I was able to walk again, I could sleep and rest, and energy and hope replenished my life. In four months of consistent diligent daily practice, and a glimpse of a wisdom of millennia, the situation change completely. With some bewilderment, doctors concluded that surgical intervention was no more necessary, and that I was able to go ahead with my life. Without analgesics, anti-inflammatories, physiotherapy or injections…
At this stage, the trial by fire was to resume my normal activities. In November 2011, four months after the starting of my Tai Chi journey, I travelled to Africa where I spent one entire week teaching to a group of young professionals of four different countries, in aspects of local development, risk reduction and disaster preparedness and response. Some weeks after that, a MRI confirmed what was observed: the conclusion was that from the three original lumbar discs compromised only one was still slightly affecting the nerve. During my last visit to the hospital I have been discharged and the doctor has confirmed that I am in a very good condition, with symmetrical strength and reflexes in both legs.
Nowadays, Taoist Tai Chi is an element of my life, not something that I do when something hurts or when I remember.
The balance of the body, the round, light, quiet and powerful movements are in my heart and keep taking me by this path of health and happiness.
– Luis Rolando Durán Vargas, 2012.