For some time now, I have been encouraged to contribute regular articles to the international website of the Taoist Tai Chi Society. Today is the start of that project.
These notes will reflect what I have learned from my instructors, students and fellow classmates over the last 16 years of practising the Taoist Tai Chi™ internal arts of health. And they will connect those lessons to the understandings that come from my work as a family physician.
This enterprise involves a bringing together of two very different worlds. Both of them, the eastern and the western medical traditions, have long and venerable histories. As we go along, there will become apparent definite points of linkage between them, many areas of shared understanding. But we will also be left with the realization that they are indeed two distinct ways of looking at our lives.
Even without any structured knowledge of western health disciplines, we all bring to the practice hall the prevailing approaches of our own culture to the form and function of the body, the response to and meaning of illness, and the maintenance and recovery of health. Melding what we have absorbed from a lifetime of living in our own particular world with the perspectives offered by the practice of the Taoist Tai Chi™ internal arts of health proves a rich, engaging and often bewildering enterprise.
Clearly, what each of us gains from our connection with the Taoist Tai Chi™ internal arts of health varies with the circumstances in which we find ourselves. It turns out, as well, that these benefits inevitably develop and change over time.
For me, it was the obvious grace and stillness of the 108 moves that first drew me to a beginner class. At the time, I was struggling to keep up with a stressful life that was very dear to me – a life of intense engagement with rural family practice and with my own extended family. Realizing that I was struggling, and that a sense of calm was essential to my life, was for me the first benefit.
Gradually, I have gained in many other ways. Accepting where my mind and body are today, developing a habit of practising regularly on my own and with others, becoming more patient, retaining a sense of humour, and learning from the experience of others are some of those benefits. I have used my practice to respond to the effects of aging, to help get through various difficult times, and to maintain an active physical life despite ongoing problems that result from a damaged lumbar disc.
But equally valuable to me has been the developing ability to share the benefits of this ancient Taoist art with people who find themselves dealing with situations for which western medicine has only a partial response. For example, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, stroke, the long-term consequences of severe trauma, and the weakness and stiffness that come from years of physical inactivity. With this art, problems do not generally disappear but students find themselves working alongside others, actively involved in finding solutions.
Assisting others as they find enjoyment once again in engaging their bodies and regaining a sense of balance, structure and endurance provides me with a great deal of perspective and satisfaction.
Years ago, a forensic anthropologist told me during a health recovery week: “Don’t close your eyes, plagiarise.” He was referring to how much we benefit from the understanding and study of others. Sifting through some of the western approaches to anatomy and physiology introduces us to insights from an eclectic group of disciplines. Anatomy, bioengineering, structural integration, plastic surgery, osteopathy, orthopedics, biology, physiotherapy, anthropology, sociology and kinesiology are some of those areas of study. We will be hearing from them over the months ahead.
It is worth remembering that incorporating the insights of these fields into the better understanding of our own discipline always starts in the practice hall. As our practice develops, so does our ability to make use of the concepts of western anatomy and physiology.
Just as our own practice is a work in progress, so are these articles. If you would like to contact me about anything written here, please do so.
I will not be able to respond to everyone’s comments. But I value and will make a point of reading them all.
The references provided in these articles will permit you to delve further into a topic as time and interest allow. An accompanying annotated bibliography will develop over time to assist with any further study you decide to undertake.
Images are essential to the study of anatomy. In these notes, I will refer to specific plates from Netter’s textbook1. I encourage you to first of all find a book of anatomy that suits you and then spend some time getting to know it.
1 Atlas of Human Anatomy, 4th edition, Frank H. Netter, Saunders Elsevier, 2006, ISBN-13: 978-1-4160-3385-1
© 2010, Taoist Tai Chi Society of Canada