mindfulness

Every now and again ( 10 years or so) I ask myself “why am I practicing martial arts?” and usually I get a fairly simple answer – this time I am grateful to a student who prompted me to ask it once again and this time to come up with a very much more complicated answer – for interest it was essentially a list of things I have found over the years in and around martial arts and continue to work on, in no particular order:

Co-operative working, working with partners, group working, appropriate response, flexibility, strength, resilience, difference between reaction and responsiveness, commitment and over commitment, balance, relaxed movement, falling into emptiness, leading and following, physically listening and asking questions, the language of physical contact, empathy, compassion, patience, modelling an activity, learning about the mind body emotional linkages, learning about the body – how it works and how to use it and how to look after it, awareness of self and others, respect for self and others, personal development, communication, negotiation, sensitivity, the art of listening, observation skills, understanding use and abuse of power, good/evil,  a mirror to myself, humility, developing a true lens to view reality, physical development, co-ordination, congruence of mind body and emotions, honesty, forgiveness, personal defense, fitness, health, openness, desire for learning.

To become comfortable with and learn to manage physical contact, to learn to deal with conflict and intimidation, to learn self-awareness and self-discipline and self-control and self-expression, to improve proprioception/special awareness, neuro-stimulation, circulation/metabolism, change management, learning to deal with bullying, managing personal space and intimacy, training in a place of safety/sacred space, training partners trusted persons, friendship/companionship, maintaining contact with our ancestry as human animals, finding the true meaning of our humanity, becoming a balanced human being – personal development, change habits of stress into habits of relaxation, managing health issues, develop strength and understand personal power, spiritual development, Taoism, Zen Buddhism, understand the breadth and variety of human activities and relations, giving others the opportunity to learn some of this for themselves, receiving the positive feedback of others who have benefited from my passing this on, potentially making a difference in helping others to look after themselves and to consider society from a wider perspective.

Also I enjoy it, so no doubt not a complete list – and with many overlaps – but a useful one. Good luck in finding your own answers.

Healthy exercise from Tai Chi and Alexander Technique

The following article was recently published by Kindred Spirit magazine:

Over my many years of studying and teaching Tai Chi I have recognised that much of individual movement stems from habit – we learn to walk at around 1 year old and then pay it little attention to it until some 60 or so years later when, having accumulated many random poor habits of posture and movement, we notice a certain lessening of physical ability and vulnerability of balance usually coupled with physical and emotional tensions.

Along my journey with Tai Chi I came across Alexander Technique which also refers to habits of body use and of the way each part of the body relates to the others. Indeed, I have heard it expressed that “Tai Chi is Alexander Technique with movement.” So it is not surprising that when I met Judy Hammond – an experienced teacher of Alexander Technique – there was a meeting of minds around a shared interest in understanding and teaching healthy ways of moving and healthy living – helping us to live more comfortably and more capably with reduced pain, facilitating the body’s natural healing processes. Helping us to deal with the stresses of daily living. Common approaches include: relax and move, light upright posture, movement from the centre, a connected relationship within the body, passive elastic movement, mindful attention, thoughtful consideration of movement, sensitivity and awareness of body and emotions.

Such a common understanding led quite soon to us teaching joint seminars and now joint weekend retreats. Drawing on my own Tai Chi background from Yang Style to Chen Style and Judy’s Moving Mindfully approach, we have developed a unique synthesis – a way of working with exercises inspired by the two disciplines.

Further drawing on dance, meditation, visualisation and martial arts experience with a good measure of humour, these Alternative Health Exercises are suitable for beginners and experienced people who will also recognise common themes from other areas such as Yoga and Pilates. Our aim has been to bring together a simple and fun way to develop easy movement as an investment in self.

It is our observation that developing a skill in movement leads to a healthier mind and body with enhanced proprioception that enhances static and dynamic balance. Exercises work to develop inner awareness around the centre line of the body, head floating up, lower body sinking down (heaven and earth), a lithe connectedness, good posture at all times whether seated, standing or in dynamic movement. Meditation and visualisation are used as aids to this awareness and relaxation.

In a world where we every day experience the spectrum of life from the fun and enjoyable to the aggressiveness of simple conflicts – as one of my teachers once said: “It is easy to be enlightened on the top of a mountain with no distractions – just come down here where life comes at you like a conveyor belt and then try it!” (Vince Morris). In such a world many people find the natural relaxed movement of Tai Chi to be very therapeutic – both calming and healing. For some the isolation of quiet meditative movement enhances this experience as in solitary practice or individual sessions with a teacher; for others the physical and emotional closeness of group work keeps them grounded in human contact.

Whatever suits each person the core of Tai Chi movement provides a centre – a structure on which to develop a very special way of being – with at its heart a dedication to resilience, strength and understanding of change leading to a stronger body, mind and spirit. Big claims – but ones which many have found fulfilled.

In seeing Tai Chi as therapy, leading to personal development in its widest sense, we should be wary of thinking this might be an “airy fairy” program. On the contrary, it is – or at least can be – a very practical down to earth skill set derived from much practice and hard work with its full measure of fun and challenge. Tai Chi viewed in this way can be understood as a very personal investment in oneself – an investment in future old age and learning to look after yourself – physically, mentally and emotionally. Whatever you are looking for the Tai Chi is the same, it is just a question of how far and how wide any one person wishes to take it.

Learning about ourselves and others, we learn to survive and to survive well into long and happy lives by developing our spiritual and emotional growth path. Tai Chi is fundamentally linked to the world views of Taoism and Zen Buddhist meditation and so is a very practical and pragmatic approach with connections to modern day psychology/psychotherapy as well as neurophysiology. As one student explained: “I’d suffered with sciatica for over 10 years and working at a desk bent over a computer screen really didn’t help. I had to have expensive back manipulation and decompression once a month, just to reduce the pain enough for me to function. Tai Chi was suggested to me as something that may help, so I thought “give it a try, what’s the worst that could happen”. By the end of the first month my back pain diminished, and I’ve never needed any treatment since starting. It worked for me, but I didn’t stop then because I thought, “what else can this do for me?” I look at Tai Chi as an insurance policy for health and wellbeing as I get older. Don’t believe for one moment that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, or course you can, as an old dog myself I can vouch for that. I’ve been learning Tai Chi for over 4 years and every lesson opens a new door to understanding how I function now, and gives me the tools to become better.

The classes are structured but with no pressure on you and you learn at your own speed. Every teacher I’ve met, including my fellow students, who I also learn from, have been friendly and supportive. People at the classes are not judgemental on how well you perform, because we are all still learning. Every lesson has left me feeling good and given me something to think about for the next week.”

My colleague Judy Hammond explains a similar viewpoint: “As a result of decades of dance, movement and Pilates studies plus the Alexander training, I began to acquire a more immediate understanding of and “feel” for the movement qualities embodied in the great classical techniques of yoga and tai chi as well as other movement and dance forms. Tentatively at first I began to experiment with new teaching methods in an attempt to convey the essence of the appropriate movement quality, employing a multidisciplinary approach, gentle partner work and vivid imagery. Many students visibly and rapidly integrated a broader range of movement qualities plus increased awareness and confidence in moving, and many reported ongoing benefits in everyday life.

It’s my heartfelt belief that the opportunity to move mindfully and be conscious of our alignment and breathing patterns is one of the key resources needed to flourish and feel positive and sometimes joyful, even in the face of difficult circumstances.”

A long term student of Alexander Technique explains: “When at 30 years old I was diagnosed with poly- arthritis and poly-myalgia … I was warned that I could be in a wheelchair by my forties. I am now 65, on my feet and leading an active life, due, I believe, to the benefits of the Alexander Technique throughout this period.”

It is our joint belief that when we feel anxious, depressed or traumatised most of us tend somewhat to absent ourselves from our bodies – the mind races, breathing may become rapid and shallow, neck and shoulders become tense, and we often lose awareness of our legs and feet. These phenomena will be most radical in shock/trauma, but even everyday levels of anxiety may evoke some degree of these responses.

One of the most effective and fast acting remedies for these distressing and all too common reactions is to apply mindfulness to our alignment, breathing and movement quality – it can be quite extraordinary to experience how quickly we can regain more comfortable levels of calmness, centeredness and resourcefulness.

This year – 2017 – we will be hosting an Alternative Health Exercises weekend at Belsey Bridge in the beautiful Suffolk countryside near the market town of Bungay. This venue has a rich and fascinating history of learning and introspection, being originally a school for orphans run by the neighbouring nunnery. It was at the time also a school, a hospital and home for “fallen women”. The building was later used as a boarding school and now as a religious conference centre – it is ideal for a quiet weekend offering excellent outdoor and indoor spaces for practice and reflection, group meetings and country walks.

For details and booking of seminars and retreats contact Ian Deavin at iandeavin68@gmail.com or 07860 218334. For further information see www.sheffordtaichi.org alsowww.alternativehealthexercises.org  and  www.movingmindfully.com

See this article and much other interesting information at Kindred Spirit magazine

tai chi and alexander seminars 2017

Once again in 2017 I am partnering with my friend and colleague Judy Hammond to present a series of seminars at the Letchworth Centre for Healthy Living. 

See here for details.

Ian and Judy Celebrating Spirals in Tai Chi and Alexander Technique

On 12-14 May 2017 at the Belsey Bridge Conference Centre, Suffolk we will be holding our first  Alternative Health Exercises Residential Weekend – of gentle movement and body awareness exercises in a environment of light humour and relaxation.

The weekend program will be based on our popular seminar series of exercises  developed  from Tai Chi &  Alexander Technique with  elements of dance incorporated  into two days of mindfulness exercises  and meditation ‐ developing a practical  way of being.

Widely experienced Alexander teacher  Judy Hammond and long‐term Tai Chi  instructor Ian Deavin have created this  program of physical and mental  exercises suitable for both complete  beginners seeking a retreat weekend,  or for more experienced exercisers  looking to “workshop” their mind and  body development.

Belsey Bridge Conference Centre offers  a delightful mix of space, quietness and excellent hospitality  ‐ the  package includes tuition with full board plus morning and  afternoon tea.

  • an introduction to Tai Chi and  Alexander Technique
  • Relaxing and strengthening  movement
  • Individual, partner and group  work
  • Meditation, visualisations

To book your place contact here

Shefford Tai Chi Festival 2017

29 September 2016
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Each year on the last Saturday of April the World Health Organisation recognises World Tai Chi and Qigong Day – so for 2017 we are planning a Tai Chi festival at the newly refurbished Shefford Community Hall. Entry will be free for all with plans for demonstrations, taster classes, falls prevention discussions, etc through the […]

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Tai Chi and Alexander Technique seminar 13th November

29 September 2016
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Positive daily work – chi kung

20 September 2016
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Recent research has apparently demonstrated that creativity is enhanced by mundane activity – something the Zen meditators have long suggested. Too little activity and the mind stagnates, too much and the task overrides the creative process. So, unsurprisingly, I get many ideas while jogging – so long as I am not too focused on competing […]

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Residential at Belsey Bridge

12 September 2016
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A small group of us with widely varying interest and background in Tai Chi had an interesting weekend at the Belsey Bridge Conference Centre near Bungay in Norfolk – the theme was around the whole idea of movement and how Chen Tai Chi forms and partner work can help us to develop this in a […]

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A Western View of Chi

31 August 2016
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Models for training, practice and life Many intellectual and emotional models all congruent with each other integrated in a body trained in their principles, which demonstrates the sum of those models and physical practice. Physically the ability to propagate waves through the body emanating from the centre by integrated segmental motion. This result could be […]

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Tai Chi – important behaviours

10 August 2016
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I was talking one day with a student about the behaviours that might be considered advantageous in a physical conflict – and gave him a homework project to think of a list of 5 or 6 – then to write about them – and of how they might also have positive aspects in constructive relationships. […]

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