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Tai Chi and Qigong for Pain Management

I have always felt strongly about how well Tai Chi and Qigong can strengthen and heal the body, mind and spirit. Whether the pain / injury is acute or chronic, many, many people have found relief and even resolution within the halls of Tai Chi and Qigong training. This week it was my turn to put these theories to the test... again.

Zig, zag, bam!

On Sunday I installed a new back tire on my motorcycle and proceed to take it around the block (on side streets) to make sure it was mechanically sound. With 25 years of riding experience I know that new tires can sometimes be slippery but in this case it was like ice. I barely made it out of my driveway when the bike decided to throw me left, then right, then down to the pavement. Don't worry, the bike is fine, only minor damage. I, on the other hand, ended up with a scraped up elbow and a deep contusion to the right hip that I honestly thought might be broken. A Monday visit to Dr. Chen (our Tai Chi Master and family Doctor) assured me that it was just a deep bruise.

While Dr. Chen examined me, something profound happened that I felt compelled to share with my students this week and so will share here as well. Being a Chinese Orthopedist, I trust him implicitly but my hip was not so sure. As he moved my right leg through its range of motion to determine the extent of the injuries, I struggled to relax using my deep breathing to help ease the pain. At one point he wanted to move the joint in a direction that my body would have none of. He had clearly found the deepest damage and was trying to release it for healing. Pain and tension abound, sorry doc, no dice.

Relax Your Heart

We had reached an impasse until he spoke three simple words to me "relax your heart". Literally within that moment I reached for my smiling heart, relaxed into the exam table and my hip released. The pain was down from a 8-9 level to a 3-4 level just like that! He and I were both surprised that I was so quickly able to reach for my smiling heart and relax so completely. I have been working on this training for over 6 years under his guidance, this was the first time I have been able to present it so quickly and effectively. Smiling Energy is a high level Tai Chi and Qigong practice that starts early in training but takes many years to integrate effectively. While I am clear (and certain he will remind me) that this is a baby step in my training, using Smiling Energy and feeling that release under such physical and mental duress / pain was definitely a step in the right direction.

Creating your Tai Chi Toolbox

Being able to use Deep Breathing and Smiling Energy to help manage this injury has again shown me the profound value of my training. There is a caveat, however, in that it takes dedicated practice to be able to use these tools (and many others) when your body, mind and spirit are under duress. Trying to learn a deep breathing meditation technique while you are in severe pain or emotional stress is significantly more difficult, in my opinion. Consistent practice is the only way that you can be assured the tools will be ready when you need them, period. No short cuts. Just imagine the amplified frustration of learning to tie your shoes for the first time while in severe pain. Whereby if you had been tying your shoes for years, prior to the pain, you might have a hard time with it but your chance of success would be greatly increased.

I'm already in pain...What now?

Many of the students that come to us for training and support are already in pain. Tendencies towards depression, stress, anger, deep frustration and significant amounts of physical tension are amplified when one is experiencing chronic pain. All three levels (physical, mental and emotional) will be affected to some degree. Using a pain medication (pill or injections) to "mask" the symptoms does little or nothing to help alleviate the problem it only gives the patient a false sense of relief that has them "up and moving again". Often in a way that (if they were able to feel it) aggravates their original problem. In my Eastern medical training the goal is to use the pain as a path to the source of the problem. Work to resolve the problem and the pain will very often subside or disappear altogether. So we approach students in pain very carefully to avoid further damage.  

First we need to understand where the pain is and if at all possible what is causing it. Then we can suggest slow range of motion exercises coupled with the deep breathing to help increase circulation while not over working the area currently experiencing challenge. Our goal is to create an environment of trust within the injury so that the healing process can be enhanced. If the injury feels threatened by the students movements (pushing past the pain) then it will very often increase the pain signals and further restrict range of motion through the injured area. Typically it takes more time to train a student in pain to better manage their condition(s) with these tools, however, the results are long lived and often life changing in nature.

The 8 Qigong principles we teach in our Tai Chi and Qigong classes are merely tools for your toolbox that you can reach for when you need them to attain strength, focus and harmony within your body, mind and spirit. Practice consistently and your toolbox will always be at the ready.

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