Monday, July 27, 2009

Observations on Tai Chi, as Presented in the U.S.

I think I should back up a step first to comment on the Qi or Chi energy flows of the body, which are described in Chinese Medicine, Accupuncture (and Accupressure), and made use of in the Martial Arts (which include the art of healing).

These flows go from point to point on the body. The locations of the points are not random. They are the same from man to man, woman to woman. It is interesting that they are also the same from man to woman. That is, any location of a Qi point on a male body will also be found in the corresponding location of the female body, and visa versa. "Non-believers" assume that these Qi points are imaginary, but actually any such point on the surface of the body corresponds to a scientifically verifiable abrupt, localized change in the resistivity of the skin.

The fact that the locations are not random shows that they must be part of the pattern of Creation. Chinese Medicine uses the maintenance, and in some cases the reestablishment of, these Qi flows as a method of maintaining or reestablishing the health of the body. So, the question is why does Christianity, the biggest proponent of Creationism in the west, not recognize this aspect of Creation which can be used to much effect in health maintenance and improvement? Don't they want strong, healthy people who are able to be pro-active in preventative medicine for themselves?

What I find amazing is that something so beneficial and practical as the Tai Chi exercise forms could have been the result of any sort of government activity (in this case, the Chinese government). Usually government fails when it comes to coming up with, or implementing effective solutions that do not cost much money. Here in the west, anyway, if either a lot of money cannot be spent on the solution, or if it is effective in making the individual stronger and more self-sufficient, then the private sector will have to take over the show.

At some point in the last century the Chinese government was looking at the future of national health. They could have gone down the same, expensive route that western countries have gone down, but they had a resource available to them that the west did not-- their long tradition of Martial Arts. One of the arts in the Martial Arts, is the art of healing and health maintenance. The Chinese government decided to go more strongly into preventative medicine and health maintenance by making a greater use of this national resource. They asked Martial Arts experts to come up with a pattern of exercises that would not take very long to do, but which would stimulate all of the Qi flows of the body. They wanted the exercises to not take much time to perform so that it would not be difficult to incorporate them into a daily routine. In this way large numbers of people would be able to perform the exercises daily, which would result in a higher average level of personal health, and a lesser need for more expensive medical services.

The experts did come up with several sets of exercises, or "forms". One that I have used, and that is commonly used in the west is the Yang-Style Tai Chi Sort Form. It takes only about 5 minutes to do.

What I have noticed in almost all of the western literature and media on these Tai Chi forms, is that they are presented as-is, as though they were just a Chinese Line Dance. (Line Dancing is a type of country-western dance, where a group of individuals perform choreographed steps and movements together). There are a couple of things wrong with treating it this way.

First, as far as I know, there are no additional therapeutic benefits to doing the Tai Chi forms in a group over doing them by yourself. The only benefit I can see is that doing it together with others will increase the chances that the individual will indeed do them on a regular basis. That is the key idea-- therapeutic results depend on actually doing the forms regularly. In most of the western instructional media I have seen there is an unexplained emphasis on doing the exercises as a group. This gives the impression that the group approach is necessary or vital to achieve the benefits of Tai Chi, and that doing them alone as an individual is somehow not as valid. In my experience, that is certainly not true.

Secondly, the exercises are applications of sets of basic principles of proper stance and motion of the body. These principles can and should be used beyond the exercises. If you know the principles you can incorporate them on a self-determined basis into the motions and activities of daily life. The Tai Chi forms are a condensed illustration of the application of these principles. So they are a great opportunity for learning and review. Unfortunately these principles are usually not mentioned at all in western media. If they are mentioned, it is usually only in passing, and on an incomplete basis. The only resource I have come across that completely treats these principles is a small book by Paul Brecher called simple, Tai Chi. It is available through Amazon: It is a small hardback. I just checked, and there is a used copy available today for 49 cents. That is definitely a good bargain.

An interesting thing about the book is that the author does not even try to teach any of the Tai Chi exercises. The author treats the underlying principles of Tai Chi as a subject for study in and of themselves. I found this to be quite a refreshing idea. Most of the benefits of Tai Chi come from the application of these principles. To get the most benefit it should be a self-determined application of them, rather than a rote application designed by someone else. If the individual has the principles in mind as he does the Tai Chi forms, he can acquire self-determined understandings of how the general principles relate to a specific action. When he gains a sufficient amount of such understandings he will be able to easily incorporate the principles into the rest of his daily life activities, with greatly enhanced results. Without the principles in mind he is just doing a Chinese Line Dance-- a set of movements choreographed by someone else. There is still some benefit from doing it this way, but probably not enough to motivate most people to continue with it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Another Use of Practical Creationism

I am using the term "Practical Creationism" in reference to my last blog on the healing of a herniated disk. I treated it in more detail there, but basically it is the idea that there was probably a Design Intention for optimal usage of the body, and a positive, validating, or healing "feedback" to the user of the body when the body is used on, or close to this optimal usage. Atleast some of this feedback, for me anyway, is felt through the Qi or Chi energy flow meridians, as listed and detailed in Chinese Medicine and the Chinese Healing Art.

Of course I am only guessing at why such a feedback was used, but probably atleast part of it was that the human body is the only biped optimized for running. To achieve this some of the joints are given a lot of range and leeway, making them a little more "iffy" or vulnerable to misuse than they otherwise would be. So there is more of a priority to make sure that these joints are not used in a way that would result in premature damage to the body.

Now, for another application of Practical Creationism I want to look at what has happened with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome since the advent of the personal computer, and how it could be prevented, or atleast alleviated. Its very simple. Just observe what is usually done with the hands when a person is seated. Aha! Usually in the lap. So, hold onto your seat here . . . maybe it would be a good idea to just put the keyboard in the lap! No desktop or table top keyboards, no special slide-out drawers, no wrist supports-- just your lap. Its worked for me for years, and its happening a lot more these days with, of course, the Laptops!

Why do you suppose this solution has not been promoted? Well, it makes noone any money. Its a poor statement on American culture if that's the reason, but its probably part of it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

How I Cured My Herniated Disc...

.. unintentionally. I am curious if it will work for others.

Anyway, here is the story. Starting as a young teenager I backpacked with my family almost every summer until I was into my 20s. The backpack trips were great, but I just came to accept that part of the experience was that the waist-belt that carried the majority of the weight of the backpack would rub the skin on my hip raw.

Later, as an adult I was visiting Alaska and had the opportunity to backpack the Chilkoot Pass trail. Actually the Alaskan trip was atleast partially motivated by the fact that my desk job combined with poor posture had created a herniated disc in my lower back that I could feel. I was hoping that getting out and doing a lot of walking or hiking would help to correct it. It was not extremely painful, but there was considerable discomfort, and I had the distinct feeling that I had better be careful with my back if I wanted to avoid permanent damage to it. I had tried several methods that all seemed to work for in the short term to alleviate the discomfort, but did not eliminate it.

In Alaska I had the same backpack with me that I had used as a teenager, but had not used it for many years, and had forgotten how painful a raw hip can be. I don't know if my tolerance for pain had decreased, or if my expectations for life had increased, but I re-experienced those rubbed-raw hips and I swore that would be the last backpack trip I would ever use a weight-bearing waist-belt.

I arrived back in California from my Alaskan trip a little earlier than anticipated and decided to try a backpack trip in the Sierras, but with something different. I had read about tumplines being used by Indians, French voyageur porters, and maybe some backpackers in the northeast US, but in all my years of backpacking in the Sierras I had never seen one used. I thought I would try one out. I got some 2" webbing from an Army Surplus store and installed some grommets in the ends of a piece that was about 6 foot long. I drilled holes in my external pack frame, and installed clevis pins that also fit through the webbing grommets.

I retained the shoulder straps and waist-belt of the pack frame, but used them only to keep the weight from shifting when I tried the new rig out around town. It felt so comfortable that I was encouraged to load myself up with considerably more than I had ever carried on any previous trips. On the first day's climb out of the South Fork of the Kings River I was carrying almost 90 pounds, which was 35 lbs more than I had ever carried. Surprisingly, it was not any less comfortable than 55 lbs had been with the waist-belt / shoulder-strap rig. The only exception was that where the tumpline contacted the top of my head did become a little painful, so that I had to stop and change strap positions every few miles. If I did it again I would bring along some padding for the top of the head-- maybe even just a watch cap. I remember thinking to myself, that with this much weight on my head for this length of time I would be lucky if the expected neck-muscle soreness would even allow me to turn my head the next day. The first amazing thing I noticed on the trip was that my neck never became sore-- at all!

I am not sure what happened along the way, or when it happened, but it was the third or fourth night when I was in my sleeping bag that I thought I would see how the old herniated disc was doing. It hadn't been giving me any problems. I ran my hand down the left side of my spine where it had been and I could not find it. It was gone and has never returned!

Now, here is my theory of why it happened:

I believe in Creation. I don't want to go into why here. I will probably treat it in a future blog, but I can suffice it here to say that I do not have the typical Christian view of Creation, but I think the theory of Evolution is ridiculous, except in a very small contributory way. Anyway, if you study anatomy you find that both the shoulder joints are quite "iffy", and we know from our experience with older people that the hip joint has enough stress put on it just from routine life activity. Putting extra weight on the hip does not seem like a smart idea. So, one way to approach the question of how to carry weight with the body optimally is to try to reconcile the weight-carrying activity with the design intention of the Creator. How to discover that intention? Well, a way to take a good guess at it anyway is just to look at a skeleton. Look for a strong structure or connected structure in the vertical plane, and it should preferably be along a main axis of symmetry. Looking at a skeleton hanging there in the Anatomy room, there is really only one structure that fits these criteria-- the spine. On further examination the spine seems to have load-bearing as its main purpose. It is not big on flexibility. It has no "iffy joints". The vertebra, starting from the top and working downwards, become progressively larger, stronger and more solid, until at last they actually become fused together in the coccyx. This progression is in alignment with the fact that the lower parts of the spine are carrying more and more weight of the body. So, the spine seems to be what the Creator was thinking of as the main weight-bearing structure in the body.

Now its time to make a leap of what might be called "faith", but what I prefer to just think of as good design practice. There are many ways that the body can be used and exercised. Some of these ways are not so good for its continued health. What if the Creator wanted a way to communicate to the future operator of the body what the best way or ways were to utilize it? How about a feed-back mechanism designed into the body that allowed the body to maintain or even correct itself to some degree when the operator adheres to, or atleast approaches a useage designed/intended for it by the Creator? If I assume such a feed-back mechanism exists for the useage of the spine as a weight-bearing structure, then I can explain two phenomena of that back-pack trip that are otherwise unexplainable:

1) The neck muscles never became sore, even to the slightest degree. I was not consuming alcohol (atleast in the first days of the trip), nor any other type of medication. This was despite the fact that I was carrying almost 90 lbs of weight, and I weighed at the time less than 160 lbs.

2) The herniated disc, which had plagued me for atleast a year previously, dissappeared permanently.

A possible additional facet to this feed-back mechanism is that there may be a minimum "threshold value" of weight required to "kick it" into effect. If so, I certainly had a good shot at meeting any such weight requirement by hanging well over half my body weight on the spine.

Additional notes on tumpline useage:

1) The tumpline goes over the TOP of the head, and NOT on the forehead. It should really go over the back part of the top of the head, so as to allow the weight of the pack to more closely parallel the spinal column.

2) Always use shoulder-straps as an unweighted "back-up" system. In jumping from rock to rock you don't want the tumpline strap to come loose and wind up with the weight of the pack hanging from your neck!

3) Leave the waist-strap on also, but unweight it. It will keep the pack from swinging from side to side as you walk.

4) I don't know if you can buy a tumpline, but you can certainly make one yourself and attach it as noted above to an external frame pack. You just have to be willing to drill a hole in that nice pack frame.

So, hey, I haven't heard if it will work for anyone else. If you try it and it works, please let me know.