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Taiji in the Workplace
A wise company knows that its success is dependent upon its most valuable resource: its employees. The number of wellness programs springing up throughout our country's corporations today is a testimony to this fundamental truth.
Ironically, the timeless holistic fitness system of Taijiquan (T'ai Chi Ch'uan) meets the modern criteria for keeping all employees healthy in mind, body, and spirit. At the same time Taijiquan, which some translate as "Supreme Ultimate", complies to the needs of the bottom line of a company. Taijiquan can be inexpensively implemented while keeping employee productivity levels high.
One of the main problems that companies deal with in the competitive marketplace is stress on the job. A Newsweek magazine cover story was devoted to this insidious problem of stress. The article stated that stress is costing our "economy as high as $150 billion a year-almost the size of the federal deficit."(1) Within the same article they mentioned that the "Cambridge Research Lab in Boston offers a class in the oriental art of Taijiquan to help its workers blow off steam."(2)
Stress can be a killer and a culprit for disease. It is responsible for much waste and devastation in our society. Stress also robs us of other important factors on which companies need to thrive, such as innovation, flexibility, motivation, endurance, and creativity. The principles of Taijiquan are an embodiment of these essentials for achieving success, but not at the cost of tension or anxiety.
With the reduction of stress, the practice of Taijiquan has proven to reduce high blood pressure. In a low bent knee position, Taijiquan has shown to be a cardiovascular stimulating exercise without stress or strain on the joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.(3)
What is Taijiquan? (T'ai Chi Ch'uan)
Taijiquan has been described as "swimming on land". It also is comparable to slow motion walking, but with gentle, soft, and rounded movements performed slowly and with precision. A centered mind directs the flowing graceful movements that makes this fitness discipline aesthetically pleasing to watch as a "moving meditation". Taijiquan principles are based on the premise that since life is constantly moving and changing we need to learn to cope and "roll with the punches", so we don't get stuck or get knocked off our center. Through the practice of Taijiquan one can cultivate a strong center, an open mind, and flexibility at the same time. Taijiquan is for health and self-defense. But this is an internal martial art, and does not profess brute strength or muscle in its practice.
Taijiquan In China: Past and Today
If Taijiquan is so good, then why don't we know more about it in this country? Part of the reason is that for centuries Taijiquan was practiced in isolation by the Chinese. Not until the Cultural Revolution did Taijiquan become better known to the rest of the world by Master teachers who were fleeing their beloved homeland and emigrating to other parts of the world to teach their soft internal martial art. Fortunately for the Chinese people, Taijiquan was found to be such a healthy discipline possessing both preventive and curative benefits that Taijiquan was adopted by the Chinese government to be taught in their public schools. Today, foreign visitors to China can watch millions of people practice in parks and plazas, performing this graceful dance-like discipline in the early morning hours.
Taijiquan is based on the philosophy of Lao Tzu. This revered philosopher believed that life is in constant flux, and in order to live productive, healthy, and balanced, one needs to understand the importance of yielding and going with the flow of life. Westerners have been more often than not taught to resist, persist at all costs, overcome, and "go for the burn" in our struggle to tackle our problems at work, in exercise, sport, or in our personal lives. Taijiquan emphasizes the power and the value of relaxation, yielding, and flexibility.
Ideal for the Workplace
Taijiquan makes the most practical of choices for fitness in the workplace, because you are practicing important principles needed for making clear thinking decisions while at the same time securing a complete and sensible workout. Taijiquan is based on natural law. The dynamics of a healthy productive organization incorporates these laws also. You can avoid burn-out through balanced, well thought through procedures and good defensive and offensive strategies while keeping the mind and body in a responsive mode.
Taijiquan is so simple to incorporate that it is surprising that more companies have not instituted this sensible program for keeping their employees fit. On a practical note, there is no need for expensive gymnasiums, equipment, showers, or uniforms. An employee can come dressed to work in easy to move in clothing and low flat shoes the day of Taijiquan class. A forty-five minute to an hour-long class refreshes, relaxes, and re- energizes you without the pain or strain of more bombastic kinds of exercise programs.
Taiji vs. Walking
Recent findings demonstrate that workouts that are not tough on the body and that last approximately twelve minutes in duration have positive health benefits. This description fits Taijiquan to a tee. Dr. James M. Rippe, a researcher at University of Massachusetts medical school has been "the leading researcher on walking, helping to legitimize its use as an exercise".(4)
The dropout rate for most offered exercise programs today is high according to an article in American Health. According to the study, "25% don't appear for their first session while another 25% quit within a week."(5) It's understandable why so many companies find that they end up catering to only a small number of participants over and over again while the "couch potato" types refrain from getting actively involved.
Rippe's research demonstrates that we can get immediate benefits from less exercise than originally thought to be true. It is impressive to see that positive results have been experienced on even the first day for reducing stress and blood pressure when moderate forms of exercise, such as walking, are used. This information directly correlates with performing the Taijiquan short or simplified forms which last about ten to fifteen minutes depending on how slowly you perform the integrated movements.
Taijiquan is a very sophisticated and intelligent exercise program. It uses the power of the legs to shift your weight while the arms raise and lower in various full rounded movements. The long held exercise prescription of about 20 to 60 minutes a day, three to five days a week to get positive results proves too intimidating to many persons. Unfortunately, the result is that these individuals don't get involved at all and become spectators in life.
Taijiquan is a perfect alternative choice for those reluctant individuals, the older employee, the overweight worker, as well as the triathlon type of individual who is seeking perfection in his/her technique and performance. All participants receive benefits for obtaining good health practices that can be practiced daily for a lifetime.
You can perform Taijiquan well into your eighties and nineties and receive its life sustaining health care benefits. Could the same be said for jogging, weight lifting, and aerobic dancing?
In the Organization
An organizational environment is like a microcosm of life. Taijiquan is performed solo, but often practiced in group unison. The company that has harmony, yet respects the individual, is a desirous place to work. This "soft martial art" provides a safe activity that promotes these important aspects for an organization and its people to thrive. There have been a growing number of places over the last number of years that have successfully implemented Taijiquan into their employee wellness programs. For instance, in Los Angeles, city workers have taken Taijiquan literally by rising above their daily stress. Classes were conducted on the roof of one of the city hall buildings(6) . City employees who participated benefited greatly from the program, and it was said that it gave them renewed physical and mental strength in a gentle safe manner. Some of the participants mentioned that they didn't even have the strength to climb the stairs prior to taking Taijiquan classes. After taking the class members said that the classes have increased their strength to do so.(7)
Even the army has joined the act. The Walter Reed Army Hospital's Wellness Center in Bethesda, MD has taught Taijiquan exercises to staff and patients. The goal was "to demonstrate the importance of using the mind as a therapeutic tool to soften the impact of stress on the immune system-and other body functions.(8) The American Health magazine article went on to say "the main mission of the Army corps is to maintain a healthy fighting force. The more we stress prevention, the closer we get to that goal."(9) The concept of a strong self-defense organization parallels the workforce of a company.
Strength Through Relaxation
I have had the good fortune of witnessing first-hand a demonstration of a master's "push hands" technique (a two person self-defense exercise using Taijiquan principles) with a young man in his twenties. At the time of the demonstration the master was in his late seventies. Not knowing what to expect, I was flabbergasted to see that from nowhere the young opponent was suddenly propelled off his feet into the air and smack into a mat placed against the wall to break his fall. (He wasn't hurt; only his pride).
There was no sign of exertion or even movement that I could see on the master's part. I can assess that the movement at the moment of impact could have been much like being hit by a Mack truck, but prior to that fraction of a moment, the master was completely relaxed and playful as he was after the impressive shove. I was just about two feet away from this remarkable demonstration. The young man was dazed while the master seemed to be totally enjoying himself. The master was not a huge 250 pound muscle bound bully. This was an older man of small proportions who without seemingly any effort literally "blew away" his opponent. This demonstration was what I consider an illustration of Qi. Taijiquan magnificent strength without muscular force.
Power of Qi
These kinds of demonstrations are somewhat theatrical, but the impression has long lasting effects. How could something that relaxed and casual have such profound focus and force? "Qi", or "prahna" as expressed in the East Indian culture, means life force. In the practice of Taijiquan the Qi, which is the intrinsic life force, becomes refined like steam.
Steam as we know has the power to move such massive things as trains and boats. In Taijiquan the Qi moves freely throughout the body. The body holds no tension, thus, the body feels almost transparent. The body can be likened to an empty vessel in which the Qi can flow in and out. You become "plugged" into this universal Qi energy by focusing your mind at your center (located in the lower abdomen-approximately two inches below the navel) and relaxing the body while standing in perfect alignment. These kinds of visual impressions have a marked effect on the quality of the movement and the thinking of the individual. To empty your mind is a freeing experience and one that enables you to be open, flexible, and capable of responding to a situation in a calm and appropriate manner. These abilities are valuable on the sports field as well as the in the business environment.
The brilliant Master Chang San-Feng (who some honor as the founder of Taijiquan) over 700 years ago believed that "muscular strength was not in harmony with nature and the theories of meditation.(10) Thus, he developed a school of soft martial art and meditation. Perhaps, because of these seemingly conflicting aspects, meditation, health, and self-defense, many Americans are confused about what Taijiquan is and does for an individual. Frankly, the most important aspect is that Taijiquan principles work. Whether in the class, in the boardroom, working on a project, or in sport, Taijiquan principles can enhance your performance without the tension and anxiety that inhibits you from doing your best. By being totally relaxed and concentrated at the same time, you can enhance your achievements.
Taijiquan and Breath
One of the most essential ingredients for performing at your best is to understand the proper and most efficient way to breathe. Whether you simply walk, or are more active like a baseball player, golfer, or aerobic dancer, proper breathing is essential for success. Taijiquan incorporates this necessary ingredient through full deep abdominal breathing and knowing when to inhale and exhale for each movement. This factor is vital to your performance, and yet is overlooked in so many fitness regimes. Unfortunately, most people do not know truly how to breathe. The art of breathing is one of the most overlooked subjects in the study of movement.
Weight lifters know the value of proper breathing, and singers do too. Their careers depend on it. But the average person half the time doesn't take the time to think, "Am I breathing correctly"? They are cutting off one of their best assets for achieving excellence in execution when they don't mind their breath. Wasting breath is like wasting your most valuable commodity. It's squandering your life giving force. A baby is like a real-life breathing machine. Their little bellies are pumping away giving them optimal energy. Their arms and legs move freely with ease. As we get older many people tend to restrict their breathing. They begin shallow breathing from their chests only. This limited kind of breathing puts a harness on life potential. Breath is life. The value of deep abdominal breathing as we practice in Taijiquan is essential for increasing your quality of living.
Lately, Westerner's have been hearing more and more about experimenting with visualization for improving one's physical performance and mental attitude. Books on using visualization for improving one's success in business and the power of imagery in healing are also gaining acceptance in our present day literature. Taijiquan has been using imagery since Taijiquan began around 1200 A.D. When practicing Taijiquan the colorful descriptions that describe different passages, such as "wave hands in clouds" or "stork spreads wings" conjure mental images that influence the quality of the movement. Since the practice of Taijiquan is precise and also imaginative, both hemispheres of the brain are drawn into play. The use of the right and left brain draws out the most potential in an individual. A relaxing, yet strengthening technique such as Taijiquan develops the whole person: in mind, body, and spirit. It is not something that can only be talked about in theory, but needs to be experienced.
Taijiquan and Health
Taijiquan provides a healthy gentle and safe way that totally relaxes the practitioners and teaches us how to use our energy more productively and efficiently. I have coined the expression "Taijiquan is the Great Granddaddy of Low Impact Aerobics". Tests have shown us that when the Taijiquan form is done with knees well bent, more oxygen is burned and it becomes an aerobic conditioning exercise. When the Taijiquan form is performed in the low position, great cardiovascular (heart) stimulation occurs (between 60-80% of M.H.R.)(11) Unfortunately, research in this country has been sparse. Cardiologists, respiratory specialists, orthopedists, sports medicine practitioners, physical and occupational therapists would find Taijiquan to be a most enlightening discipline to do research on due to its multi-faceted health preventive and curative benefits.
Allan Ryan, M.D.(12) on a trip to Taipei looked into the value of this profound system. "He checked the pulse rate of a 45 year old man before and after 13 minutes of Taijiquan and found it went from 64 beats per minute to 160, a good training rate for his age. At the same session he checked the pulse rate of an 80 year-old retired general and found he was able to increase his pulse rate to 120." These and "other encounters" led Ryan to write: "[Taijiquan] can be performed at any speed for any length of time. It exercises every part of the body if a complete set of exercises is carried out, and it develops coordination and balance."
The Overweight or Less-Active Employee
I also suggest that persons who are overweight or less active by nature would find Taijiquan attractive and enjoyable to do. Companies do not get participation of overweight individuals, because the exercise programs available may be too strenuous or prove embarrassing to individuals to have to put on leotards or shorts to participate. Participants find that Taijiquan replenishes them and is easier to stay with than an exercise program that leaves you exhausted.
Easy and Inexpensive to Implement
You don't have to change your clothing to perform Taijiquan. Thus, it is more convenient for practitioners and efficient for the company, too. Less time is wasted for both. It is recommended that you wear clothing that is easy to move in and wear low flat shoes for class. The model is ease and simplicity from beginning to end. You don't need a huge amount of space to have Taijiquan classes. It can be done outdoors as well as indoors, which makes it an ideal program that can be enjoyed by all throughout the changing seasons.
10 to 15 Minutes a day to Health
What also should be emphasized is that once someone has learned the short or simplified form, they can perform the exercise in ten to fifteen minutes. This depends upon the slowness of the practitioner's movements from one transition to another. There are numerous other styles, including the long Yang style and the increasingly-popular Chen style. No matter what the stylethe principles are the same throughout. So here is a complete conditioning system that takes relatively little time to do. Taijiquan could not be better suited for a company and their employees as part of a wellness program.
Rehabilitation and the Older Employee
I have had students in my classes with such conditions as hip replacements, pacemakers, and individuals with hypertension, arthritis, lupus, and back problems. The students were advised by their health care practitioner to remain active, but to find an activity that wouldn't aggravate their condition. Taijiquan was a perfect solution. There are persons of all ages and levels who make a contribution to a company's success. Taijiquan is perfect for the youngest member of the office to the eldest. As a matter of fact, in a local hospital where I have taught Taijiquan as a preventive health practice for several years, there was a long-term student of mine over 80 years of age. Her sense of humor and active participation has been a joy and an inspiration to everyone in the class.
In the Summer of 1988 there was a first time ever United States All-Taijiquan competition held in Virginia. A lovely Chinese woman of 73 years of age won not one, but two medals of outstanding achievement in the categories in which she competed.
She was held at the same standard as her younger competitors. We were told she had demonstrated Taijiquan for the 1936 Olympic Games in Munich - here is a sport where you can compete and win into your seventies. With Taijiquan one improves with experience and age instead of the typical reversal that happens in most other activities. So fitting is the expression: You're not getting older, you're getting better.
Finding Time in the Workplace
Instruction can fit within an organization easily. A class in the morning before work, lunchtime, or after the workday is recommended. I have designed a "One Minute Taijiquan Mini-Break" which can instantly help a person feel better and more relaxed. The mini-break can be interspersed throughout the day for relaxing and re-energizing when needed without fuss.
I have incorporated Taijiquan principles into a warm-up phase and encourage my students to use Taijiquan principles throughout their everyday lives. This is the importance of Taijiquan. Living life as a moving meditation has tremendous power and significance. The common misconception is that Taijiquan is some esoteric dance could not be further from the truth. It is both beautiful and practical. Nothing lasts from one generation or dynasty to another without having some universal and timeless truths incorporated in it. Taijiquan embodies these truths within a system of health and self defense.
Principles Improve Other Fitness and Sports Programs
Another important aspect is that the Taijiquan principles can help improve your other exercise programs and aerobic activities such as running, tennis, racquetball, golf, baseball, dance, etc. One does not have to do the Taijiquan form to benefit, but you can improve your performance by learning how to properly use Taijiquan principles, such as correct breathing, moving from center, and knowing how to relax with the movements. All great athletes use Taijiquan principles, even though they may not know that is specifically what they are doing. But when a technique is honest, it doesn't matter what its origin is or what name is used to identify it. A technique that ascribes to basic fundamental truths can be adapted to enhance everyone's' performance from the Little League to Major League Baseball.
During the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, in an "Up Front and Personal" segment the sportscaster introduced the television viewers to a wonderful Chinese diver. In the course of the mini-documentary about his life, the program showed the young Olympian hopeful doing Taijiquan as a part of his training. This talented diver, said he didn't study Taijiquan just to improve his sport, he practiced it to improve his whole life. He had it right. (Interestingly enough, Taijiquan is now under the process of developing International standards of judging, so that by the year 2,000 it may be an Olympic competitive sporting event). You can't help but to improve your golf swing or running when applying Taijiquan principles of centering, rooting, flowing, breathing, relaxing, and using the mind to move the body as one.
Today's Changing Marketplace
Taijiquan is a holistic practice. When an individual feels and acts in harmony with him/herself, the person's abilities are unified. In its simplicity are the seeds for profound achievement. Because today's sudden changes, shifts, mergers, and stressful demands are rapidly accelerating our lives we depend on the health and well-being of each individual to be the most focused, creative, and powerful person as they can be in and out of the office.
Taijiquan holds for us the ability not only to endure, but to do so without the casualties of stressful living.
We all need to learn how to make the best of what we have without squandering our talents and energy. Through Taijiquan an individual can "confront change in a relaxed balanced mannerThrough being centered, individuals can confront crisis situations with calmness."(13)
We have come a long way from "going for the burn". Now, perhaps we are ready for "going for the whole".
For additional information or inquiries, contact: Harriet Lynn, Communications Health/Network, Inc., 116 W. University Parkway, Penthouse 3, Baltimore, MD 21210 (301) 235-9194. Harriet Lynn, President of Communications Health/Network, Inc., Baltimore, MD. is a national lecturer, author, communictions/fitness consultant, and professional performing artist.
1. Miller, Annetta, Stress on the Job, Newsweek, CXI-17, 40-45, April 25, 1988.
3. Galante, Lawrence, T'ai Chi - Supreme Ultimate, Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1981.
4. Higdon, Hal, Exercise Breakthrough: Twelve Minutes Does It, American Health & Fitness, VII - 5, 41-46, June, 1988.
6. Fitch, Lisa, City Employees Rise Above Daily Stress, Downtown News, Los Angeles, CA, 1983.
8. Blau, Melinda, The Army's Newest Weapon, American Health, II-6, 59, Sept/Oct '82.
10. Chang, Edward, Ph.D., (translated), Knocking at the Gate of Life, The Official Handbook of the People's Republic of China, Rodale Press, 1985.
11. Galante, Lawrence, T'ai Chi: Supreme Ultimate, Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1981.
12. Perry, Paul, Grasp the Bird's Tail, American Health, V-1, 58-63, Jan/Feb, '86.
13. Lynn, Harriet, T'ai Chi: Ancient Traditions for Promoting Wellness in Modern Times, Aging Network News, IV-l, 8, May, 1987.
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