Category Archives: Tai Chi

Stress and Disease: An Important Connection

I heard a fascinating radio interview today with Dr. Ester Sternberg, a rheumatologist, researcher, and author of “The Balance Within,” a book about the ways in which the brain, mind, and body interact.  I completely agree that our  minds, brains,and bodies are intimately connected: When the mind perceives something as stressful, a cascade of  hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, are released. This is useful when you need to slam on your brakes to avoid a collision, but harmful if these hormones are not “switched off” when the stressful situation is over. Stress hormones flooding your body for days or weeks at a time depress your immune system, leaving you more open to disease. In the interview, Dr. Sternberg clearly explained the biochemistry underlying the connection between stress and disease.

All the more reason to practice yoga, Tai chi, and meditation and try to reduce the sources of stress in our lives! I must always add, of course, that if one is ill, it is important to recognize that certain diseases are simply beyond our control, and NOT to feel a sense of “failure” about somehow having the “wrong” state of mind. At the same time, there is always hope and the possibility of becoming whole, and living fully in every moment.

This is an excerpt from an article that Dr. Sternberg wrote on the subject with Philip W. Gold.

The brain and the immune system continuously signal each other, often along the same pathways, which may explain how state of mind influences health The belief that the mind plays an important role in physical illness goes back to the earliest days of medicine. From the time of the ancient Greeks to the beginning of the 20th century, it was generally accepted by both physician and patient that the mind can affect the course of illness, and it seemed natural to apply this concept in medical treatments of disease. After the discovery of antibiotics, a new assumption arose that treatment of infectious or inflammatory disease requires only the elimination of the foreign organism or agent that triggers the illness. In the rush to discover antibiotics and drugs that cure specific infections and diseases, the fact that the body’s own responses can influence susceptibility to disease and its course was largely ignored by medical researchers.

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Filed under boosting immunity, Healing, Health, mental health, stress, Tai Chi, Uncategorized, Yoga

Healing Arts for Marfan and Chronic Pain

I recently helped to organize a Healing Arts workshop for the National Marfan Foundation annual meeting, which was held in Boson this year. More than 30 participants heard and asked questions of a panel of complementary/alternative practitioners who discussed managing the symptoms of Marfan syndrome—particularly chronic joint pain—with Tai chi, the Alexander Technique, acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), nutrition, and craniosacral therapy. Combining alternative treatments with conventional care is called “integrative medicine,” and putting together your own personal healing combination is an excellent way to take responsibility for your health. These healing modalities have applications for anyone suffering from chronic pain.

The workshop began with Tai chi and Alexander teacher Jamee Culbertson leading us in the opening movements and breathwork of a Tai chi form that is thousands of years old. Research has found that these ancient, graceful, meditative movements improve balance and reduce falls. As we breathed deeply and moved slowly in unison, the room seemed to transform into a kind of “sacred space,” as the group united with a shared purpose and energy. With two volunteers, Jamee then demonstrated how the Alexander Technique reduces pain and eases body movement through simple awareness of habitual actions that may be restricting activities. Both Tai chi and the Alexander Technique are gentle, non-invasive practices, and do not stress joints or ligaments.

Eurydice Hirsey, a trained chiropractor and craniosacral therapist, then talked about the use of craniosacral therapy to ease pain and improve movement by enhancing the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid. This is done through gentle touches on the head and sacrum, following the body’s own natural rhythms and movements, without force or pressure. While chiroporactic may not be indicated for most people with Marfan syndrome, the light touch of craniosacral therapy can ease tight muscles and reduce pain, even in those who have had spinal fusions, by focusing on other areas of the body where movement is possible.

Acupuncturist and researcher Stephen Cina shared his orthopedic investigations into the nature of connective tissue and its possible relationship to the meridians (energy pathways) used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. A practitioner either inserts tiny needles into “points” on the skin that correspond to the energy meridians (the needles are usually painless), or applies pressure with the hands (acupressure) on these same spots, in order to reduce pain. And naturopathic intern Amanda Daeges–who has Marfan syndrome, talked about maintaining integrity of connective tissue through what we eat and drink: specifically whole foods and whole grains that include nutrients and trace minerals. She also stressed the importance of drinking enough water. (Divide your body weight in half to find out how many ounces of water you should drink each day.)

All of these complementary modalities (and many more) are described in detail here, has well as profiles of practitioners and personal experience stories.

VERY important: Before you try any complementary/alternative practices, always check with your doctor.

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Filed under acupuncture, Alexander Technique, alternative medicine, Chronic Pain, complementary medicine, Health, Marfan Syndrome, Tai Chi, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Paying for alternative treatments

Research is increasingly demonstrating the effectiveness of certain complementary/alternative treatments such as acupuncture, massage, tai chi, yoga, meditation and biofeedback for chronic pain, reduced mobility and other ailments. Why then are more insurance companies not paying for them? I think more of us need to “vote with our feet” by demanding coverage for proven alternative treatments and switching to insurance companies that pay for them. We and the health care system will all benefit. As one study found, support for lifestyle changes that prevent disease is far cheaper than hospitalization and expensive pills!

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Filed under acupuncture, alternative medicine, Chronic Pain, complementary medicine, Health, Massage, Tai Chi

Why I Like Tai Chi

The slow, flowing movements look like a dance, but it is what goes on inside the body that makes Tai chi different: During a class recently, I felt as if my body were getting hooked up to a universal “filling station” and being replenished with energy. The result? Better ease of movement, increased flexibility and a sense of peaceful well-being. I do a “short form” almost every morning that takes all of ten minutes, one of the helpful ways I have found to live with Marfan syndrome.

Tai chi originated thousands of years ago as part of the ancient system of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The movements have their origins in martial arts, but are performed slowly, with controlled breathing and an awareness of the flow of energy inside the body. Tai chi has been called “moving meditation.”

Studies have found that Tai chi strengthens the immune system and can help with pain caused by osteoarthritis of the knee. In other research, Tai chi has been found to improve balance and coordination in older people, and reduce falls. It can also help with osteoporisis by  increasing bone density.

All in all, not a bad ten-minute investment of time. Anyone else have Tai chi stories to share?

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Filed under Aging, boosting immunity, Chronic Pain, Healing, Health, Marfan Syndrome, Tai Chi, Traditional Chinese Medicine

A Christmas Gift Tag

I’ve been meme-tagged for Christmas. I had never heard of this, but my tagger explained the rules, which I am dutifully following, in the spririt of the season:

Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog
2-Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird
3-Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs

(RW note: I view numbers creatively, that’s why I became a writer)

4- Let them know they are TAGGED by leaving a comment on their blogs

Here are my 7 things, with an 8th just because it’s Christmas:

1. My cell phone message says: “She’s off driving again, so for the safety of all, I’ve agreed to take your message.” (This is not a joke.)

2. I’m Canadian, born and raised in Montreal and lived there till I graduated from McGill. I speak French (the Québec kind). Even after 30 years in the US and dual citizenship, I still feel Canadian at heart.

3. That being said, I was thrilled when we won a free couch from the Jordan’s Furniture Monster Deal after the Red Sox clinched the World Series. And now I’m a fan (sort of).

4. Favorite foods: goat cheese, arugula, really good bread; favorite treat: chocolate-covered almonds (which I hide from my husband so he won’t eat them all).

5. My college junior daughter and I are fascinated by Tudor England, read everything we can find (Philippa Gregory, Jean Plaidy, Alison Weir) and watch all the movies about Henry VIII, his wives and daughters. Perhaps in another life we were ladies-in-waiting in the Court of one of the doomed queens (see below).

6. I like to think that the soul survives and has other adventures. I’d like someone to report back on this.

7. I make atrocious sounds on the cello but I keep trying to learn it anyway.

And I just have to add this:

8. Things I try to do every day: a 20-second cold shower after my hot one every morning — even when it’s freezing in Boston — and can’t remember the last serious cold I’ve had. Also, a short (ten-minute) Tai chi form to build up my life force.

Here’s who I’m tagging:

http://thehealthycookie.com/

http://health.tesstermulo.com/

http://www.ericaorloff.com/blog/index.htm

http://www.nickiesnook.com/

http://www.bostonhealingtao.com/

Lindsey Rose Fine Art & Fancies

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Filed under cold shower health benefits, More to read, Tai Chi