Sometimes learning more about the science behind the benefits of T’ai Chi Chih is helpful in explaining the positive benefits so many teachers and students experience. Still, there’s a lovely bit of mystery in considering what the Chi is, and how it works, to bring about the scientifically-explained results.
Beneficial Healing Of Hands
By Diana Daffner, Sarasota, Florida
Reprinted with permission from the Feb. 2014 issue of The Vital Force
For almost 20 years, my husband Richard and I have led a free, weekly T’ai Chi Chih practice session at sunset on Siesta Beach here in Sarasota. Tourists and other visitors often stop by; sometimes they realize that they have encountered the movements before. One such visitor was Dr. Alan Dattner, a physician of Integrative Medicine and Dermatology in New York City. He shared with us this important story about the benefits of Around the Platter Variation:
“On a particularly cold morning on Stratton Mountain in Vermont, my fingers practically froze trying to deal with my skis outside of the lodge. On that day, when I was in my 20’s in medical school, we decided it was too cold to ski. Unfortunately, my hands never seemed to be the same after that. When it was cold, my hands would get cold and the vessels seemed to tighten up so that the blood couldn’t flow to warm them up.
Years later, in the early 1980’s at a T’ai Chi Chih class in Northeast Connecticut, I experienced an exercise of making a ball and pushing it away at shoulder height, and I found that my hands got warm. I realized that something about this movement relaxed the constriction of the blood vessels in my fingers and caused the blood to flow into my hands. I presumed it broke a localized sympathetic nervous system controlled vasoconstriction in my fingers that cut down blood flow and made my fingers cold. I was extremely impressed by the ability of this technique to change the response of my fingers to cold, then, and any time that I repeated the exercise.
As a result, I have showed this movement to patients with cold hands caused by Renaud’s disease and other similar conditions with cold hands. I believe that this maneuver is very important for regulating the autonomic response in the hands and upper extremities, and hope that formal research studies are done to demonstrate this. I have done different forms of T’ai Chi on an infrequent basis over the past 36 years, and have found that doing this particular exercise to be one of my most vivid experiences of immediate benefit.”
When Justin Stone, originator of the moving meditation practice T’ai Chi Chih, died in 2012, hundreds of people who knew and had learned from him came together as communities on Facebook and this blog to share remembrances. To learn more about Justin, TCC and its benefits, just read a few of the comments, posted below. Gratitude, inspiration , love and dedication flow freely. You can read all 165 Justin remembrances posted in 2012 to this blog here.
“My fondest and most profound memory of Justin was one morning after breakfast at his last meditation retreat in Albuquerque when we were the only two people left sitting at the table. The night before, Justin had asked me to share with the group of some 40 people gathered for his meditation teachings the reason why had left the formal ministry in the “Church”. That morning, when we stood up to leave, Justin put his hand on my shoulder, and told me that now it would be time for me to find something else to believe in….and he said, “what that something is, is yourself”. Thank you, Justin for new-found confidence and for helping to re-formulate a new a fulfilling life.”
“The T’ai Chi Chih community will miss Justin very much. There will be many more teachers and students who will continue to practise and teach this life enhancing, loving meditation now and in the future. We owe great thanks to this very special man. Special thoughts are with those closest to him…lots of love to you Justin.”
“Thank you for the gift of T’s Chi Chih. My life is greater because of your gifts.”
“Thank you, Justin. Your chi is still in the universe, and we will continue to share you and T’ai Chi Chih with all we meet. What love!”
” ‘The essence of T’ai Chi Chih is softness and continuity.’ — Justin Stone. The core of my life has been soften by continued mastering the gentle movements of the inner discipline called “T’ai Chi Chih: Joy Thru Movement.” Your legacy to humankind will be passed on by the crowning “jewels of T’ai Chi Chih – its teachers. Thank you, Justin. With deep respect.”
“I never planned to be a teacher, but the Universe provides us a path if we chose to follow. After learning and practicing T’ai Chi Chih I began wanting to be of service to others by sharing the peace and joy through movement I have found when doing T’ai Chi Chih. When I went to Teacher Training and met Justin I was moved and inspired by his desire that T’ai Chi Chih not become a business, that it a gift to humanity. I honor this wish through my volunteer teaching of T’ai Chi Chih, and I am thankful we have been blessed to have had Justin as our Guide and Leader for so many years. May we all continue to honor his gift to humanity through our practices of T’ai Chi Chih.”
“My discovery of T’ai Chi Chih came in answer to a prayer to be of service. I feel so fortunate for the opportunity to carry on a part of Justin’s legacy, the class inside Folsom Prison. His visit there is still remembered fondly, and the class has helped the men beyond measure. So here, I convey their immense gratitude as well as my own. Thank you Justin, for helping to heal humanity.”
“I experience a long list of health and personal benefits. T’ai Chi Chih brightens me, my family and those I touch each day. Many thanks to Justin and the teachers of T’ai Chi Chih.”
“T’ai Chi Chih practice feels like the truth of who we are. It’s a gift that keeps on teaching and giving, and so the gratitude continues.”
“Justin, the man will be missed. TCC will continue to change the lives of all who practice it regularly. I can’t imagine a day without a practice. To be able to align oneself with the harmony of the universe is a gift beyond gratitude. My heart expands to meet you.”
“Having broken my foot a week ago, i have been struggling with patience, self-pity etc. Today, Wednesday, March 28, feeling very stiff all over and in a very low space, I could hear Justin’s voice say, “practice when you want and practice when you don’t want “. I had no choice but to pull up a chair and bingo! Felt the old familiar release of tension and clarity just as I usually do when in standing position. It had been some time since my last practice and I felt like a huge weight had lifted from my body. To hear of his passing today after this experience validates the power of my ‘connectedness’ with him as well as with the greater TCC community. There is no separation in true love. Justin and i had never met in the physical but yet his hand-written note acknowledging my teacher accreditation and his wisdom will sustain me, as well as his gift of T’ai Chi Chih. I tingle all over when I read the quote, which I heard inwardly before the news. My condolences to all those who worked and supported Justin these last few years.”
A newspaper in Albuquerque, NM here interviews Justin Stone, the originator of TCC, then nearly 90 years old. Among the sometimes-surprising health benefits TCC practitioners recount, this article also includes the story of a mother’s problem pregnancy and how TCC helped.
“T’ai Chi Chih Practitioners Believe Balance of Energy Means Balance of Health”
By Rick Nathanson
Albuquerque Journal, July 28, 2005
Judy Hendricks won the lottery. She was 35 years old and six months’ pregnant when her water broke. She was admitted to a local hospital, where doctors told her that 80 percent of women in this situation will deliver their babies within 48 hours. They also told her that babies delivered so early in pregnancy have only a 60 percent chance of survival, “and the ones who do survive are often born with health problems,” she recalled.
Hendricks remained upbeat despite the dreary prognosis. She had been practicing T’ai Chi Chih for three years, and she continued to practice the slow, deliberate, graceful movements each morning in her hospital room.
Three weeks into her stay, the baby still had not arrived. Tests revealed that the rupture had resealed and the amniotic fluid had replenished itself.
“They couldn’t believe it,” said Hendricks, who was sent home, continued practicing T’ai Chi Chih, and delivered a full-term baby girl.
“When I entered the hospital, the neonatal specialist told me the chances of delivering a healthy baby were about as good as winning the lottery,” said Hendricks, 40, a cancer research scientist at Sandia National Laboratories.
Daughter Anastasia, now 5, has begun to learn T’ai Chi Chih (pronounced Tie-Chee-Chuh).
And so can anybody.
The 20th annual T’ai Chi Chih Teachers Conference will be held in Albuquerque— the birthplace of T’ai Chi Chih— from Aug. 4-7 at the Albuquerque Marriott. It is expected to attract more than 170 teachers from across the U.S. and around the world.
An open practice for all practitioners of the system, regardless of level, will be held Aug. 6, starting at 3:45 p.m. Interested observers are invited to attend the open session. It will also be a great opportunity to speak with Justin Stone, the 88-year-old founder of the system, which now has more than 2,000 certified teachers and more than 1 million practitioners worldwide.
The system began spreading rapidly in 1994, when local PBS affiliate KNME-TV produced a 13-part series on T’ai Chi Chih. The series aired on PBS stations around the nation and continues to air in reruns. Tapes and books on the system are now mailed to practitioners around the world.
‘Just do it’
T’ai Chi Chih differs from the more familiar system of traditional T’ai Chi Ch’uan, which has 108 movements and self defense applications. T’ai Chi Chih has only 19 movements done from one stance. “It is not a martial art, so it won’t help in a fight, but the vibration you develop from studying T’ai Chi Chih will keep you from getting in a fight,” said Stone. “It’s more of a moving meditation. When people ask me about it, I say ‘Just do it. Don’t talk about it. Don’t philosophize about it. Just do it.’ ”
Of course, you can’t totally get away from talking and philosophizing about Eastern concepts that are still foreign to the Western mind-set.
Practicing T’ai Chi Chih is about finding equilibrium between the two polarities of Yin and Yang— positive and negative, hot and cold, light and dark, male and female.
Once the Chi, the vital internal energy force, is balanced, it flows easily throughout the body. The mind, body and spirit become centered, and inner serenity, good health and vitality result, Stone said.
Physicians have long touted the health benefits of exercise, and now Tai Chi Chih in particular can cite a growing body of anecdotal as well as scientific studies to prove the point.
Letters received by Stone or addressed to the T’ai Chi Chih Center’s newsletter, Vital Force, from practitioners all over the world claim to have had their lives dramatically altered.
By practicing for about 30 minutes a day, people say they’ve been relieved of knee, back and hip pain. Headaches, migraines and insomnia have vanished. Stress and blood pressure levels have fallen. Mobility has returned to the arthritic, stamina to the asthmatic. Symptoms of depression, menopause, and anxiety disorders have been alleviated, and athletic performance and spirituality enhanced.
Scientific studies published by the University of California Neuropsychiatric Institute, the Journal of Gerontological Nursing and IDEA Health & Fitness Source magazine back up many of these claims.
“It changes peoples lives,” Stone said. T’ai Chi Chih is easy and it’s accessible. I call it ‘the effort of no effort.’ ”
Meet Justin Stone
Justin Federman Stone was always something of a Renaissance man. Born in Ohio, he studied music at Cornell University and subsequently had a career as a composer, arranger and keyboardist with big bands in the 1930s and ’40s. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II and then worked as a broker on Wall Street in New York. He moved to Los Angeles in the 1950s where he hung out with counter-culture figures like Paul Rep, author of “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones,” among other works.
Always interested in Eastern arts and philosophies, Stone met T’ai Chi Ch’uan master Tin Chin Lee during a 1958 trip to Hawaii, and continued to study the art in California under master Wen-Shan Huang. He spent much of the 1960s traveling around Asia and India, soaking up all he could of the different cultures.
During a 1971 trip to Albuquerque to visit a friend, Stone wandered into a bookstore. The owner asked what he did and Stone gave voice to the first thing that popped into his head: “I said I teach T’ai Chi Ch’uan,” he recalled. That comment immediately generated so much interest from the owner and customers that classes were soon organized for Stone to lead.
One of his new students was a local book publisher who asked Stone to write about T’ai Chi Ch’uan. Because a definitive text on the subject had already been written by Huang, Stone was not keen on the idea. Huang, however, had shown Stone three movements that Stone modified and used as a warm-up. These were not part of the original 108 movements of T’ai Chi Ch’uan. The publisher then suggested Stone write about these instead.
“It was just a few movements, so there wasn’t much to write about, but then, over the course of the next week, movements just started coming to me along with their names,” Stone said. Those movements, “Bird Flaps its Wings,” “Around the Platter,” “Joyous Breath,” and more, became the basis for T’ai Chi Chih, along with additional movements that continued to come to him over the next few years.
While certified teachers of the system earn money from leading classes, Stone said he has never financially benefited from T’ai Chi Chih, which translates as “Supreme Ultimate Knowledge.” But there have been other benefits.
Stone’s hand shake is firm, he is sure on his feet, quick of wit and humor, and he possesses 20-25 eyesight. He continues to write music and he supports himself primarily by dabbling in the stock market and selling his own paintings.
And even if it sounds a bit corny, or even pretentious, Stone is completely earnest when he says that the spread of T’ai Chi Chih is about “service to mankind.”
Most people who begin TCC lessons do so for physical reasons, but life-changing spiritual benefits can also be realized, said TCC originator Justin Stone. What may seem at first like a simple set of movements becomes a deeper practice over time. Here’s an article by Justin with an explanation, reprinted with permission from the Fall 1987 issue of The Vital Force.
. . . . .
Most people who come for T’ai Chi Chih lessons do it for physical reasons, either because of ailments or because they feel it will help them in the areas of energy, hypertension, etc. Thus, they think of TCC practice as a form of therapy, which it undoubtedly is. However, they may later find that they have derived much deeper– Spiritual–benefits,which they did not expect.
How do these come about? How does TCC affect our Karma?
We are the products of our Habit Energies (“Vashana” in Sanskrit), and we in turn have built these Habit Energies. Thus it can be a vicious circle. When these Energies grow too strong they become Tendencies (“Samskara” in Sanskrit), and these may last through many lifetimes. These Tendencies are some of the reasons people have uncontrollable drinking problems–which they don’t understand–explosive temper outbursts, fits of despondency, etc. It is hard to fight against such things when you don’t know what you’re fighting.
How does all this begin? When there is a release of energy, accompanied by the mental stimulus associated with it, a “Vritti” (Sanskrit) or shallow groove is formed on the brain. Repeated release of the same energy–as when one finds solace in drink and therefore imbibes each time a disappointment is encountered–develops the shallow groove into a deeper Habit Energy. This in turn takes over our lives. If you will introspect, you will find that most of our actions are habitual. We practise piano to develop these Habit Energies so our playing becomes “muscle memory”. We learn languages this way. Some actions become so habitual, such as shaving in the morning, that we often don’t remember whether we performed them or not.
So we are a product of these Vashanas, which we ourselves built! We are, in a sense, our own creators! We build our own Karma.
I have often spoken of the “Reciprocal Character of Mind and Chi” (“Prana” in Sanskrit). The character of the Chi greatly influences our State of Mind, and our State of Mind greatly influences ‘our’ Chi. How can we break into that circle to change influences for a more desirable effect? We do T’ai Chi Chih, circulating and balancing the Chi. As the Yin-Yang elements are brought into better balance, this not only balances the Chi but it also influences how we think. Ultimately we are what we think; this creates our Karma.
The state of someone’s Chi creates “vibes”, as we all know. Sometimes we meet someone and get “bad vibes” when that person’s Chi is out of balance. We can’t explain it–and we often ignore it–but we are reacting to that individual’s energy field. Such reactions are usually reliable.
By changing the quality of the Chi (thru TCC practice) we are actually performing the deepest Yoga, going back to the cause and erasing it so the affect will be improved or will disappear. This is, in a sense, “de-hypnotization”.
In this respect TCC has the same deep purpose as Yoga and Zen, but it is a much easier practice. Few are capable of following either Zen or Yogic life to its deepest levels, particularly in our busy society. But we can practice TCC and have the deepest Spiritual effect on ourselves.
Reprinted with permission from The Vital Force, Fall, 1987
A UCLA study shows that practicing TCC improves physical immunity. This study looked at the effect of TCC practice on improving immunity to shingles in older adults, but the lead researcher said this work may also have importance for preventing flu and penumonia.
T’ai Chi Chih Boosts Immune System in Older Adults
(Excerpted from an article in Science Daily, available here.)
T’ai Chi Chih significantly boosts the immune systems of older adults against the virus that leads to the painful, blistery rash known as shingles, according to a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study.
The 25-week study, which involved a group of 112 adults ranging in age from 59 to 86, showed that practicing T’ai Chi Chih alone boosted immunity to a level comparable to having received the standard vaccine against the shingles-causing varicella zoster virus. When T’ai Chi Chih was combined with the vaccine, immunity reached a level normally seen in middle age. The report appears in the April 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The results, said lead author Michael Irwin, the Norman Cousins Professor of Psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, confirm a positive, virus-specific immune response to a behavioral intervention. The findings demonstrate that T’ai Chi Chih can produce a clinically relevant boost in shingles immunity and add to the benefit of the shingles vaccine in older adults.
“These are exciting findings, because the positive results of this study also have implications for other infectious diseases, like influenza and pneumonia,” said Irwin, who is also director of the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology. “Since older adults often show blunted protective responses to vaccines, this study suggests that T’ai Chi Chih is an approach that might complement and augment the efficacy of other vaccines, such as influenza.”
The study divided individuals into two groups. Half took T’ai Chi Chih classes three times a week for 16 weeks, while the other half attended health education classes — including advice on stress management, diet and sleep habits — for the same amount of time and did not practice T’ai Chi Chih. After 16 weeks, both groups received a dose of the shingles vaccine Varivax. At the end of the 25-week period, the T’ai Chi Chih group achieved a level of immunity two times greater than the health education group. The T’ai Chi Chih group also showed significant improvements in physical functioning, vitality, mental health and reduction of bodily pain.
The research follows the success of an earlier pilot study that showed a positive immune response from T’ai Chi Chih but did not assess its effects when combined with the vaccine.
The varicella zoster virus is the cause of chickenpox in kids. Children who get chickenpox generally recover, but the virus lives on in the body, remaining dormant. As we age, Irwin said, our weakening immune systems may allow the virus to reemerge as shingles. Approximately one-third of adults over 60 will acquire the infection at some point.
“It can be quite painful,” Irwin said, “and can result in impairment to a person’s quality of life that is comparable to people with congestive heart failure, type II diabetes or major depression.”
The study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Aging and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.