Bernard J. Plansky, MD, Fellow American Academy of Family Practice
Three years ago a chronic ankle injury became acute and on the verge of major surgery for severe post-traumatic arthritis. Three years later I have returned to my athletic activities which at one time did not seem possible - and at a higher level of performance.
As a medical doctor I know that central to this remarkable turnaround was studying Nei Kung, Tai Chi and Eternal Spring with Master Chu. Traveling the four hundred miles from Rochester, NY to Times Square on a regular basis, I continue to take classes with Master Chu and then practice daily in Rochester.
The body's response to injury, if made chronic, can serve to seal in the original injury. Recent neurological research has shown the changes in blood circulation and the flow of attention in relation to the injured part creates the necessary factors for maintaining a state of inflammation. The joint becomes tight and closed and functionally disconnected from the flow of the rest of the body.
The isolated parts can be identified and treated with the intent of enabling joint relaxation, strengthening and opening - but at what pace and in what sequence? What is indisputably needed is an integrative form with time-tested principles of directing attention to the body which when followed enables the intelligence of the body to find its own trajectory for reconnection and healing.
Master Chu's Nei Kung, Tai Chi and Eternal Spring are such treasures. With diligent practice and training they allow a gradual restoring of functioning, reestablishing of connections within the body and healing of injuries.
Chu Tai Chi
By Darcy Sender
I am lucky.
I have had fourteen operations in the past 10 years, some of them major, including open heart surgery and a complete re-building of my left foot. I also developed asthma after being downtown on 9/11, and I had Lyme Disease for six years.
Everything I had was correctable or treatable.
As I said, I am lucky.
But I started to feel as if my luck was the left-handed kind.
I never fully recovered from one operation before I needed another. I spent all my time in the OR or at work; all my vacation days were sick days. I could not keep up with my friends.
After I developed asthma, I coughed constantly for a year. When I contracted Lyme Disease, the doctors misdiagnosed it as rheumatoid arthritis -- it was not treated properly for several years. It became entrenched and left me with systemic tendonitis. I was in constant pain, always exhausted, and becoming increasingly deconditioned from lack of exercise.
I tried to push through it. I went to the gym and followed a light exercise program. I tried Yoga. Everything made my symptoms flare.
It was stressful.
I started to look for a Tai Chi studio to help me deal with this stress, but I needed to find a program that was physically accessible to me. And I had other requirements. I have an undergraduate degree in Asian Studies and a Masters from Columbia University in East Asian Languages and Cultures, so I am something of a purist when it comes to such things. I wanted authenticity -- I wanted to be taught by someone who understood Taoism, even if we never discussed it -- and I wanted this person to be intellectually disciplined, not someone who was going to put a Pop Culture spin on a major philosophy.
What were my chances?
Personally, I did not give myself very good odds. Then I found Master Chu and his studio. I was thrilled: this was someone who knew Taoism, someone who was a scientist, and someone who had developed a program called Eternal Spring specifically for people like me. Unbelievable.
I started classes. I just knew this was going to help me manage stress. I also thought that if I could keep it up without aggravating my tendonitis, I would be less debilitated. All true. But I never expected it would give me a way to control the previously unrelenting pain I experience. It does. Talk about unbelievable.
One more thing. I had given up long ago on the idea of making physical progress because every time I picked myself up, I got knocked down. Progress had become an 'out of the spectrum' concept for me. My goal was not to lose any more ground.
But after twenty Eternal Spring classes, I was strong enough to take my first real Tai Chi class. Now I am learning the Tai Chi form. My pain is under control and I am no longer too exhausted to take advantage of the life my doctors gave back to me.
How lucky is that? Well, it is, but Master Chu is the person who made that luck for me.
If you have a medical issue, check with your doctor, as I did, before starting, then go for it.
You might have the Chu Tai Chi kind of luck too -- it's amazing!
What Tai Chi Has Done For Me
By Randy Bartlett
I've been a lawyer for several years. Litigation has been the main focus of my practice. The stresses of this type of work are well known among lawyers. On the one hand, it is very demanding mentally: a high degree of concentration, constant deadlines, contention with judges and other lawyers, and an unrelenting workload. On the other hand, it's a sedentary lifestyle, involving sitting for hours on end. This combination of extreme mental exertion and physical inactivity had a cumulative effect, which I did not like. Over time, my muscles had become soft and weak, my joints had stiffened, my reflexes had slowed and my ability to work for long hours had flagged. I decided to start an exercise program. Luckily, I found a good teacher and started practicing tai chi.
When I use the term "tai chi", for want of a better term, I am actually describing three sets of related exercises, which complement each other. First, is tai chi chuan, which is the classic fighting form and which many people know as a series of slow, precise movements. Then, there is nei kung, which are positions and movements to increase the body's strength, power and resilience. Finally, there is chi kung, which is the program known in the Tai Chi Chuan center as Eternal Spring. It has many of the same characteristics as tai chi chuan and nei kung plus the added benefit of developing slow and powerful breathing. Tai chi chuan, because of the intricacy of the movements, requires one to spend many years to become an adept martial artist. The other two types are easier to perform, although the benefits from each form become apparent right away.
Although I believe that staying in shape, especially as I age, is very important, I have never been able to consistently perform repetitive exercises, like lifting weights, running on a tread mill or a track, or swimming laps in a pool. However, I enjoy a tai chi workout, probably because is engages my mind along with my body. The benefits of tai chi include my increased awareness of body mechanics, alignment and posture, as well as improved balance, strength and agility. I no longer feel flabby and stiff like I used to.
I can participate in a variety of recreational activities, which many people let go as they grow older. I ride a bicycle and can get on a pair of downhill skis and go because the positions in tai chi are essentially the same used in skiing. After being away from softball for more than fifteen years, I played in a game and hit a home run on my first time up at bat. This was a result of my having learned how to maximize force with minimum effort.
In conclusion, I believe that my becoming a tai chi practitioner is one of the best things I've ever done. It proves to me that just because we have no choice about getting older, we can chose not to become feeble.