Tag Archives: culture

Extend Your Life

John Wesley wrote in his book “The Desideratum: or, Electricity Made Plain and Useful”, published in 1759, “there cannot be in Nature any such Thing as an absolute Panacea: A Medicine that will cure every Disease incident to the human Body.” Today, 254 years later, we still find our culture obsessed over panaceas–ways to cure all of our ills, especially that of mortality.

Tai Chi, that wonderful set of Chinese exercises which evokes images of energy, golden health, and long life, is frequently billed as a panacea for many physical issues in modern life. This idea of curative properties of this ancient art is scattered throughout much of the literature supporting the art, and is echoed across the internet.  Search either Google or Bing the words “tai chi cure”, and you find loads of articles about Tai Chi being the best thing for Fibromyalgia, Arthritis, Cancer, and of course, Old Age.

Naturally, many of these headlines are meant to draw eyeballs to the articles themselves, which may go on to explain some new ideas called “yin”, “yang”, and “chi/qi” or reference the use of Tai Chi exercise in some medical study which has subsequently been published in a leading medical journal. The truth of the matter, though, is that Tai Chi itself will cure nothing, other than perhaps the empty purse of the person seeking to teach it.

How can I say this horrible thing, flying in the face of centuries of Tai Chi/Qi Gong practitioners and Traditional Chinese Medicine healers, educating the West on this rich history of cure? While this next statement may appear obvious, it is the last idea that anyone arrives at: Tai Chi and related arts _are_ potentially curative, but only as one facet in an over-all curative lifestyle change or focus.

Ahhh. Lifestyle change. Yeah, that’s what all the soothsayers say. But I’m a modern person. Surely I just need to pop some antioxidant pills to ward off disease and early death. Oh, and a glass of red wine, too, right?

Wrong.  Lifestyle change means more than seeking the latest fad, and Tai Chi can be seen as just a fad, if it is not part of a sweeping change to the way we live and view our lives. Our lives are cyclical month to month, season to season, year to year, and react to environmental effects of water, air, food, climate, and human society. HFCS aside, our children are actually on the right track by pursuing all sorts of sports alongside education – a high level of exercise along with good diet and strenuous mental challenges are the three legs of an ideal lifestyle.  If you include Tai Chi in your “high level of exercise” leg, then it can be seen to be “curative”.  But if all you focus on is Tai Chi, and stick to an unhealthy diet and no mental challenges, the Tai Chi is just as effective as the latest antioxidant craze.

So, here is your recipe for using Tai Chi to extend your life, in three parts:

1. Develop an overall exercise plan, to include
- a continuous movement art like Tai Chi, dancing, Karate (other martial art), swimming, bicycling, etc.
- a cardiovascular-specific workout to enhance heart health, increase endurance/stamina
- some form of meditation to give your mind wakeful rest

2. Develop an overall dietary plan, to minimize heart disease potential and cancer potential
- high in fiber and protein, using least-processed foods
- low in alcohol (1-2 drinks per week, instead of per day, if any at all)
- higher than normal consideration for water

3. Exercise your mind more than average
- learn an art, like writing, painting or Tai Chi (learning the Tai Chi forms can be very challenging)
- full-time employment or volunteering much of your time allows you to interact with other people and accomplish tasks which will keep your mind active
- attend social activities weekly, such as a church, club, volunteer group, or business/breakfast group.

Implementing these three legs, while time-consuming, is absolutely imperative to not only extending your life (whatever that means), but also enhancing the likelihood for you to actually say “Tai Chi did it for me!” or “my new diet did it for me!” or “joining XYZ social group did it for me!”.  The goal here is extending “the quality” of life by building in disease-avoidance.  After all, it’s the journey itself and not the destination that is the goal.




It’s certainly cliche, but change is all around us. If you’re new to Tai Chi, perhaps change brought you to the first step on this path. If Tai Chi is “old hat” to you, then you’re many steps down a path that really has no ending, and exemplifies finding your way without needing to arrive.

Tai Chi represents change in many ways: we study changes in weight distribution forward and backward, up and down, left to right, and between ourselves and our assailant; we study the nature of our body’s movement – how the arms and legs move, how the hips/waist direct movement of the limbs; we study changes in how we perceive our surroundings as we learn the art – at first focusing close to monitor footwork and movement, and then focusing further afield to monitor our imagined adversary; we study how we breathe when we move, as we learn to visualize breath movement and seek to access the meditational levels of Tai Chi; and we seek to study how an adversary moves so that we can learn the self-defense aspects of each and every movement in this art.

Change continues outside of us as we learn Tai Chi, and it is this change perhaps to which we need to pay closer attention.  Tai Chi is hopefully teaching us to be more calm and philosophical in the face of change: the ways in which our family’s grow and adapt, the ways in which we personally grow and adapt to work and society, and the ways in which society changes to ongoing ups and downs.

We each pay attention to different arena’s of change: some have a focus on the social scene, some on politics, some on sports, some on the comedy in life situations, and some the business side of life.  Of course many people are able to blend a couple or several of these areas, in varying depths of understanding.

Looking to the business side of things, I recently heard news that in addition to increased (five-fold) foreign investment, Myanmar, a.k.a, Burma, is experiencing workers organizing for better work conditions. Adam Smith’s invisible hand generally needs help from the visible voice of concerned workers. I believe that worker organization will run its course in the Asian economies, bringing about worker-focused reform, while encouraging even more investment.

The “developing” economies of the world are in many cases are only now going through the industrial revolution and work-life revolution that the long-industrialized sectors of the globe began to work through long ago.  This is change on a huge scale, on a scary, in-person scale, to be sure, but it is change that must occur: if these economies are to catch up with their peers, they must (or should) also learn to work with their employees for the betterment of all.

Note that the binoculars of social change looks not only outward to the rest of the world, but must also look back to the long-industrialized parts of the globe.  As life is in constant flux, America for instance is not perfect: we have many labor and business issues that are in dire need of resolution, some of which are rearing their heads right here in Pittsburgh, PA as the long road from manufacturing-based employment continues to shift over to service-employment.

Does your study of Tai Chi, whatever the intensity, give you greater perspective as you move through life?


Marketing Tai Chi – Sex Sells?

On his website Tai Chi Master, Bruce Franzis asks his readership what it is that will move Tai Chi into the public consciousness like Yoga, Kung Fu and Karate in the past.  Certainly we’ve heard of it’s relaxation, arthritis and balance benefits…  but is Tai Chi firmly in the public consciousness as a life-extending art, or just as fringe medicine.

Franzis asks in “Tai Chi Tipping Point: Will Tai Chi Go Viral?” if it will take the weight of a Hollywood superstar to push Tai Chi into the limelight…and presumably students more readily to teacher’s doorsteps.  Tai Chi has somewhat been in the US public ken for the past 40 years, but has not risen to the levels of Yoga or Karate/Kung Fu.  This presence in the public’s mind has happened, he points out, with Jane Fonda promoting Yoga and separately with David Carradine promoting Kung Fu.  He does not mention Karate’s surfacing due to the Karate Kid franchise, but perhaps he does not need to.

The real question, though, is that beyond celebrity, what ideas in Tai Chi will benefit those who seek it?  Is it sexy?  Does it provide relaxation?  Can you get a cardio workout from it?  Can you train an army with it?  Will you prolong your life by doing it?  These of course can be applied to any endeavor, and with Tai Chi as any healthy activity the answer is “it depends on how you apply it.”  If you blend it with less smoking, a better diet, a kinder outlook and other types of exercise, then the answer will be that Tai Chi will probably benefit you.