The exercises contained and taught in this book are designed to be easy to learn for the general population, but there can be times when a particular movement causes undue pain or discomfort. When this happens, STOP. Don't keep pressing on in hopes that the pain will subside, or because you have to "tough it out."
T'ai Chi and Qigong are exercises that are supposed to be relaxing while being energetically stimulating. Students often comment on how much more "alive" they feel after their practice. So why should you experience pain? One reason may be that you are performing the movement incorrectly. Often, the simple re-adjustment of a shoulder or wrist can be the difference between relaxation and stress, so you might like to review the instructions and photos, and determine if this is the cause of your problem.
Another possibility is that your medical condition simply does not allow the movement to be performed. In advanced cases of arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome, every movement can feel like a fire burning in your joints. In a case such as this, once again, STOP. Think about where the pain is located, if it is a "flare-up" or a low-key type of pain. Have you experienced this pain prior to doing the exercises? If so, take a rest for a while. Then come back and try the exercise again, this time slowing the movement down and decreasing the size of the motions. If an exercise requires you to lift your arms over your head, and that is the point at which the pain begins, modify the movement so that the arms only come up halfway.
There is no hard and fast rule concerning Qigong, other than that you should enjoy it. Don't feel like you are "cheating" or not getting any benefit by going halfway. Remember, "If there's pain, you're not using your brain."
Finally, there are some practitioners who simply cannot stand up in one place long enough to complete the exercises. For these students, I have devoted a separate chapter to seated adaptations of Qigong and T'ai Chi (see Chapter 8). It is true that you won't be able to work on your balance problems while seated, but let's take it one step at a time, shall we? Get the blood and Qi moving, and focus on your breathing while you do the seated exercises. Many of the benefits of these movements are aimed at the upper body, so you will lose little by practicing seated forms.
Remember also not to fixate on perfect form. Often in my classes and demonstrations, a person will comment, "I could never be that graceful," or "Oh, he makes it look so easy, but I'm a complete klutz." Wrong. The goal is not to look like Fred and Ginger, but to get healthy. Some people have a native elegance to their movements, an elegance that seems to have run out by the time you got to the supply window. Don't worry! Work on the movements without thinking how it looks. Many students will comment, "I don't want anyone watching me—I feel so silly." Rubbish. No one is looking at you—they're all trying to figure out how to do their own movements!
In time, with conscientious practice, you will discover that you are suddenly moving in a more graceful manner, that your body seems to work more efficiently, and that you can go for longer periods without tiring. That's the true magic of these movements.
Remember that one of the benefits of doing T'ai Chi is that you learn to relax your body, to feel comfortable within yourself, and to move in a whole new way— a relaxed and graceful way. Fighting the movements when you are learning will only become counterproductive: You will strive and try your hardest, but the movement will seem to recede faster and faster, until you get discouraged and quit altogether. Then you will never gain the benefits that millions of others have.
A note here for students with physical disabilities such as being confined to a wheelchair, or those with fibromyalgia or arthritis who cannot stand for long periods of time. Again, do what you can in a comfortable manner, and if you start to feel pain, stop immediately. Don't push it beyond your limits. Remember that you can adapt every one of these movements to your own particular circumstances.
As always, it is a good idea to check with your doctor before you begin any exercise program. While T'ai Chi is probably the least strenuous exercise that you could practice, it's still vital to know your state of physical ability. In more than 30 years of practice, I have encountered two cases in which a student was advised not to practice T'ai Chi. The first was a kidney-transplant recipient, fresh out of the hospital. It is understandable that there was a necessary recuperation period after such an operation. The other instance was when the student's doctor did not understand what T'ai Chi was, believing it to be, in his own words, "jumping around like a maniac and getting all sweated up."
Not being one to let the good name of T'ai Chi be dragged down, I promptly arranged a visit to that doctor, where I proceeded to demonstrate the exercises involved. The doctor had thought T'ai Chi was a kissing cousin of Karate, and had visions of his patient in white pajamas, breaking boards and screaming like a maniac. The good doctor learned about T'ai Chi that day, and I gained a long-time student.
But do listen to your doctor's advice, and if he or she is not familiar with T'ai Chi (an increasingly rare occurrence), then offer to bring in some printed materials or arrange to have the T'ai Chi teacher contact the doctor. You'll be doing yourself, and T'ai Chi, a world of good.
On Your Mark, Get Set,
Preparing for T'ai Chi Play
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