Tag Archives: taiji

Muscle tension and stress

Psychological stress and tension affects us on many levels. A stiff neck and shoulders or back pain are typical symptoms.

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When we face stress the body is flooded by stress hormones such as adrenalin, noradrenaline and cortisol. These cause the muscles to tighten up. In extreme cases the muscle fibres pressure the blood vessels causing circulatory disorder that can trigger inflammation.

A good circulation is particularly important to flush acidic waste or other products from cell tissue. Lack of nutrients and too much acidity typically cause fatigue and pain.

We might feel a stinging pain, sensitivity to pressure and limitation to body movements. Tense muscles or pain causes further tensing-up which puts us into a vicious cycle of stress and pain.

With most people doing office jobs we are top-heavy, meaning there is a lot of pressure and tension in the upper part of the body with the lower abdomen and the feet “losing their grounding”.

Muscle tension is not to be underestimated. A painful back and shoulders are often the first signs that “we are carrying too much”. It is amazing how many people just bear with it and become used to this pain. But the longer we wait in dealing with our stress management, the worse it will get. The quality of life suffers enormously on the long run.

Focusing our mind on slow, deep gentle breathing will help you relax, especially if you breathe out into the region of muscle tension. Take time out for yourself and find a spot where you can be at peace.

In the Taiji body arts we spend a lot of time aligning the three energy centres:

  • The lower Dan Tien below the navel that encompasses the area of the lower back and kidneys. Here we work on loosening the thighs so that energy can flow from the feet and legs.

  • The second Dan Tien from the breastbone to the lower end of the shoulder blades. Opening the chest and relaxing the shoulders

  • The third Dan Tien or “third eye” between the eyebrows. Lowering the chin towards your chest and aligning the centre of your head to a point about 60 cm above you so that your neck muscles are slightly stretched.

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With an improved posture and good vertical alignment of the body your breathing will automatically improve and help you relax, even during times of stress. This takes time and patience, especially if you decide to learn the body arts such as yoga, taiji or qi gong. But the reward is immense. It makes you become more aware of your real needs on many levels and certainly improve your quality of life – pain free.

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Precious Silence

We have the great privilege of living out in the country. It’s winter and the time of the year when there are moments of serene silence. Taking our dog Klara for a walk is a real pleasure. Music to my ears is the odd clump of snow falling from a tree branch, the crunchy sound of my boots on the forest path and nothing else. Even the birds have migrated further to warmer southern Europe with a lonely

Robin or sparrow obviously not wanting to spend Imageenergy chirping against the cold.

When on a trip to the big cities the noise level is by contrast all the more startling. It is a scourge of the modern world that there is virtually no place to find solace. The sirens and other road noise is deafening. Any store you might enter will inevitably bombard you with the vibes of aggressive commercial radio stations. Can you think of any airport or public space without exposure from the electronic media?

Our senses have no time for relief. We are bombarded 24-7 with noise that stresses us at a conscious and subconscious level.

Sometimes I have visitors out here in the country who tell me that they cannot stand the silence. It makes them feel lonely. One person I know even needs the TV switched on all night to be able to sleep. Some kids out there are so addicted to their electronic media that they get aggressive if parents ask them to put the stuff away and to “communicate” . There are so many distractions out there, that there is no room left for contemplation. Alone time becomes “torture” in the same way a drug addict suffers withdrawal symptoms.

Noise stresses the brain and the nervous system on many levels, especially the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) that is also responsible for our ability to connect and to feel empathy with others. Noise and stress is in fact making us less human and can exacerbate psychological disorders such as depression. See this research: http://goo.gl/N7vhSh

The noise pollution caused by human activity is drowning that inner voice of the soul that seeks to tell us what is meaningful in life. Who are we really? What is our destiny at a soul level? Where are we heading in this life?

All the wise teachers throughout the ages recommend taking time out in nature. Natural sounds like bird song, the wind blowing through tree branches, spring water cascading against rock, raindrops falling on dry ground.

Such “time-out”moments can trigger real joy and a feeling of abundance, especially if we are forced to live in a noisy environment out of necessity. It grounds us and makes us connect back to the earth, the elements and our basic needs. One of the body arts that helps us connect with the above and below – of heaven and earth is Taiji. It was developed by Taoist monks in China thousands of years ago who, in observing the natural flow of movement by the animals, began integrating these movements in martial arts. Today more and more people are discovering for themselves these slow-meditative movements as an ideal way of de-stressing and re-connecting with the natural flow of nature.

How change can positively impact our lives

Noise pollution

WHO guidelines on noise levels

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Are we all in stress overload?

The fast-paced rhythm of modern life with all its ups and downs, often gives us the feeling that its too much and that we are really stressed-out. Hardly a day goes by at the workplace without people complaining that they have a “stress overload”. But is stress all bad?

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In principle stress the stress reaction in our bodies is part of our survival mechanism that dates back to the dawn of mankind. The early hunter on the plains of Africa meets a predator. A flood of stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol are released, causing an increase in blood pressure, the heart to pound faster, muscles to contract . All senses are put on alert. We are focused completely on confronting the danger ahead. “Where is the next tree? Do I run or use all my additional strength to throw my spear at the predator?”

 We might feel the same kind of “rushed” energy and focused attention when we are busy doing something we enjoy. Time seems of no relevance. We are in flow with what we are doing and the additional adrenalin gives us that extra push. This is the “stage fright” that most actors, singers or sports stars go through before giving an immaculate performance.

 The problem starts when stress gets out of control. When our body is more or less permanently flooded with stress hormones. We are practically confronting a predator for many days, weeks and even years. The long-term health effects are disastrous with every system in the body affected from high blood pressure, poor libido and even rewiring of brain functions that can cause severe fear and depression symptoms.

 Its all about finding the right balance between what we call the yin and yang.

 One part of the Taiji body art principles is finding the balance between muscles contracting and expanding, inhaling and exhaling, vertical and horizontal alignment, internal and external flow. These gentle movements are ideally suited to bring stress under control.

 So when do I know that I have too much stress and need to wind down?

 This differs from person to person. What one person might shake off and forget immediately another person might carry around for days severly stressing him/her emotionally – the worst kind of stress. Much is dependent on the personality. Are you an outgoing, joyful person at heart with a big family and support network? Or are you a pessimist. Can you deal with setbacks? How do you catch yourself again? What gives you strength and energy?

 The “collective burnout syndrome” we are seeing around us in essence means that something is out of balance, that there is too much yang – too much physical energy, thoughts, distractions, over indulgence spent on things that are harming us. We need more yin to bring that in balance such as meditation, stillness, the ability to be completely alone with ourselves, the ability to downsize and to abstain – seeing the beauty and abundance in small things. Now we can’t all go and escape into a monastery. We have family and other obligations. The challenge is to find that balance in our everyday lives. Here are just a few ways of getting quick stress relief:

 Get out into nature: Taking a short break for a walk in the park just listening to the birds and awakening the senses to smell, sight and sound will do a lot. Nearly all great teachers, leaders and philosophers from varied cultures and traditions have been strengthened by alone time in nature.

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 Thought control: Most chronic stress comes from an emotional disconnection from the world outside and our own needs. This, scientists have recently discovered, has a lot to do with the effects of stress on the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Taking a different perspective and just accepting that life has ups- and downs will help. Meditation exercises can really help.

 Physical exercise and nutrition: Even mild regular exercise will release pent-up pressure and tension. Reduce your white sugar and salt intake and feed your body with fresh organic foods with lots of Omega 3 and 6 nutrients. See also my blog on foods.

 

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