T'ai Chi -- the Ultimate Exercise for
Massage Therapists (and everyone else)
by Bill Douglas, Founder of World Tai Chi & Qigong Day
WORD COUNT: 1,899
I, and my assistant teachers, have taught for several Massage Therapy Schools, for both private and public colleges, and yet I have no training in massage therapy. I am a T’ai Chi and Qigong instructor. Many would wonder what T’ai Chi and Qigong have to do with massage therapy, and the best answer is absolutely everything. T’ai Chi and Qigong are designed to help you avoid future repetitive stress injuries, reduce or eliminate current chronic pain conditions, lower your stress levels, improve your mood, maximize your balance and strength, and focus your awareness in ways that maximize your performance in every conceivable way. They can also widely expand your massage practice and abundance.
T’ai Chi and Qigong provide several benefits simultaneously that enhance the massage experience on many levels. Not only for your clients but also and most importantly for you. Healers must first heal themselves, or else their healing abilities become weakened. Dr. Andrew Weil, the best selling author and Harvard educated doctor now promoting holistic integrative therapies, illustrates this point by directing our attention to the human heart. The human heart first feeds itself oxygen, before feeding any other part of the body. This isn’t because the heart is selfish, it’s because the heart is wise. On some level the heart knows that it can’t truly and effectively serve its clients (the body’s organs) unless it (the heart) is operating at its highest functioning level.
Good T’ai Chi and Qigong teachers quickly discover that the quality of instruction they offer their students, or clients, absolutely depends on if they are taking the time to heal themselves with the tools they teach. This means that we must take the time outside our classes to do our own self-healing. Often we unconsciously think that if we choose a vocation in the healing arts than we will become healthy by osmosis. Actually, there is a kernel of truth to that, because when we are engaged in good altruistic endeavors research indicates this can improve health, however the amount is relative. Whether you are a massage therapist or a T’ai Chi teacher, taking time outside of your practice to “heal thyself” is the key to your quality as a professional.
The human central nervous system is the gateway through which all you will produce or become must pass. If your nervous system is loaded up with stress from the day or week, all you offer clients or loved ones will be murky and cloudy. We all know that on some days you are “at your peak” and clients walk out glowing with a truly altering experience. However, other days we just can’t quite find that place of clarity. In sports they call this state being “in the zone.” We all know what it feels like but we don’t know how to get there. T’ai Chi and Qigong practice are designed specifically to help us, not trip through the zone occasionally, but increasingly move and live within the zone day in and day out.
How does this happen? T’ai Chi and Qigong are aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine, just like acupuncture (now recognized by the American Medical Association) and Chinese herbal medicine. What all three have in common is the understanding that there is a flow of subtle energy moving throughout the body. This is the bio-energy that animates the tissue not unlike the electricity that powers your home or computer. When the natural flow of life energy, or Qi (Chee) as the Chinese call it, gets blocked off our health systems diminish. There are two reasons energy gets blocked. One is through external accidents, of course when your leg is broken the energy flow is affected. But, the number one reason life energy gets blocked is through internal unmanaged stress.
Kirlian photography illustrates this as it shows that the temporary body stress of nicotine and caffeine disrupts life energy flow. A relaxed state is represented by the smooth even flow of Qi or life energy exhibited in the first photograph.
[1st image normal state. 2nd image after coffee and first cigarette. Illustrations of two Kirlian photographs from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to T’ai Chi & Qigong (Penguin Putnam 1999, 2003, 2005).]
So, we know what it feels like to be “in the zone,” and we know that stress and stress producing chemicals can take us “out of the zone.” But, how do we get “in the zone.” T’ai Chi and Qigong practice produce what the Chinese call “smooth Qi.” This actually gives us a way to cultivate the state of being “in the zone.” Daily practice of T’ai Chi and Qigong leaves practitioners with the feeling of being more and more in the zone rather than accidentally finding it occasionally.
A side effect of being in this relaxed state of awareness is that more Qi, or bio energy, is flowing through you. This has been and can be measured with various devices. Not only is energy flowing through you more, but in a more balanced way. The result is that you feel better and think clearer, but also the quality of the energy your client receives from you is clearer and healthier. They may not know why the body work you deliver feels better than another’s, but over the months and years you practice T’ai Chi and Qigong you will find the desire for your personal touch becoming increasingly in demand.
One of my past students has come to such a state of high demand that she now screens her clients out. If after a few weeks her clients are not practicing T’ai Chi, Qigong, Yoga, or some other internal art to manage their own stress she drops them. She says quite rightly, “Why should I wear out my tendons working out the collected stress you ignore all week long?” By having her clients do their own internal energy/stress management work she can take her practice to a deeper and more subtle level. Rather than her clients living unconsciously and collecting the same old loads over and over, she and they work together as a team to continually bring the client to higher and higher levels of personal health and growth.
By being in a T’ai Chi class you will also find a great networking situation. In my public T’ai Chi classes I ask massage therapists to bring business cards to pass out to other T’ai Chi students. I announce that usually the massage therapists in a T’ai Chi class are excellent because they are out to improve their instrument by being in the class. In my best selling T’ai Chi book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to T’ai Chi & Qigong, I urge all T’ai Chi instructors to refer their students to massage therapy and urge all massage therapists to refer their clients to T’ai Chi classes.
Besides maximizing your effectiveness through expanded energy flow and hopefully your clients use of daily stress management tools, T’ai Chi and Qigong can add power and reduce the likelihood of injury in your practice. T’ai Chi teaches you to always stand with the knees slightly bent and the tail-bone (Sacrum) slightly dropped. This takes a bit of curve out of the lower back and transfers the pressure of standing and working from your lower back down into your thighs. This may make the thighs feel a bit strained at first, but that’s o.k. because the thighs are the strongest bone and muscles in the body.
Another strengthening aspect of T’ai Chi and Qigong is it teaches the art of “effortless power.” In T’ai Chi we teach what’s called “the unbendable arm” exercise. After learning how to facilitate the flow of Qi, or life energy, through the body with sitting relaxation therapies called “sitting Qigong,” a physical exercise is learned that teaches you how to resist pressure in a state of relaxation. One student bends the other student’s arm, even as he/she resists with all their muscular strength. But, then the same student relaxes, breathes, closes their eyes, and visualizes a silken flow of energy pouring over their head, through their neck, shoulder, arm, and out through the relaxed fingers. Then the other student again tries to bend their armbut can’t. This allows the student to practice effortless effort. T’ai Chi movements at first seem to cause tension, because learning something new is stressful, but over time the student learns to move through all the motions of life in a relaxed, yet powerful way.
As you learn this art of effortless power, you will find you cannot only work longer and deeper, but with less personal residual damage. The slight postural adjustments T’ai Chi will teach you also take a great deal of pressure off your body during the day. For example, besides the dropping of the tail-bone (Sacrum) as you bend your knees into the T’ai Chi posture of motion called the “Horse Stance,” you will also relieve pressure off your shoulders and neck. For as you drop, relax, or sink, into the Horse Stance, you also let your shoulders relax away from the neck, and think of the head being “lifted” up as the chin is slightly drawn in. You see, the head is an eight or nine pound melon that can put a big strain on your neck and shoulder muscles when it unconsciously protrudes outward away from the shoulders during the day. In T’ai Chi, when you let the head lift, and the chin draw back, the shoulder pressure immediately begins to melt away.
Another repetitive stress injury avoidance therapy T’ai Chi provides is the gently no impact flow of its movements that rotate the body in 95% of the ways the human body can move. No other exercise comes close, even swimming, which only rotates the body in about 65% of possible rotations. This stimulates the flow of energy, circulation and microcirculation, rotates off calcium deposits, and also stimulates the flow of natural oils and chemicals to various joints and tissue throughout the body.
Lastly, and most importantly, the daily practice of T’ai Chi and Qigong cleanse the nervous system, or the mind, of accumulated tension or stress. This is what causes 70% of all illness, most death, and costs industry $300 billion per year in the US alongstress. By cleansing your stress with a T’ai Chi break after work, you enjoy your evening activities more with fewer loads unconsciously loaded on your shoulders and distracting your mind from the pleasures of the evening. Also, with a T’ai Chi break before work, you set yourself up to take on less loads from clients or co-workers. This is important for anyone in the healing professions. Psychologist are the highest suicide rate for professionals, because they collect loads from their patients, who unload on them all day, and are not trained in how to “unload.” T’ai Chi and Qigong are the ultimate unloaders, and pre-emptive unloaders known to man. Of course you also want to get weekly massage therapy to compliment your T’ai Chi and Qigong daily regimen.
By de-stressing, you will find that everything you do will come smoother, easier and more effortlessly. Your body will not only function better, but also alert you of problems long before they become irreversible. Your human interactions will become richer and more expansive personally and in your practice. If people have a choice between an excellent massage therapist who is relaxed and enjoyable, and an excellent massage therapist who is distant and distracted, they’ll take the relaxed one very time. T’ai Chi and Qigong may be the single most effective business decision you can make for yourself.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Bill Douglas is the Tai Chi Expert at DrWeil.com, Founder of World T'ai Chi & Qigong Day (held in 60 nations each year), and has authored and co-authored several books including a #1 best selling Tai Chi book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to T’ai Chi & Qigong. Bill’s been a Tai Chi source for The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, etc. Bill is the author of the ebook, How to be a Successful Tai Chi Teacher (Namasta University Publishing). You can learn more about Tai Chi & Qigong, search a worldwide teachers directory, and also contact Bill Douglas at http://www.worldtaichiday.org