Wednesday 27 July 2016

True to our Roots: External exercise versus Internal exercise! A new insight, yet to be digested!

     A garden fence can offer a good support bar
    to assist in stretching!

When I was a fitness instructor teaching gruelling high and hard impact aerobics,  (I was regarded as such a tough teacher that a big guy who was captain of a local rugby team, asked me to give them physical training sessions!), I also started to incorporate the gentle Qi Gong forms into my daily practice and a state of confusion started to arise within my psyche!  What was best for me?  Western keep fit which gave me a high, or Eastern Qi Gong which made me calm?

A Chinese Qi Gong doctor asked me once why I was still teaching aerobics while in my forties?  He pointed to the fish-bellies of my hands, which connect to the lung meridians and said:  "Your lungs are depleted, you should just practise Qi Gong and replenish your heart and lungs QI or energy, or you will die prematurely!!

His words stayed engrained with me until now, when I can at long last share them with you with a much deeper understanding.  The words which will follow may really rock your belief system, but they come from an internal place of wisdom as I understand my body and energy system so much better.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine based on the 6,000 years old Taoist philosophy of how "we are all moving forward along the path of life, gathering a greater understanding, longevity and spiritual development:
                           "When you do external exercise
                             you must do internal exercise
                             When you do internal exercise
                              you may forget to do external exercise."
(Excerpt taken from Dr Stephen Chang's book "The complete system of self-healing internal exercises".)

So in Traditional Chinese Medicine we learn that our energy or Qi courses through channels or meridians (like blood does through our veins and arteries), of which the main 12 channels are connected to our internal organs.

When we learn to allow our body to do its own fluid stretches, giving us an instant feel-good factor, and once you know these channels or meridians run along the full length of your body, legs, feet, arms, hands, then you will understand that our natural stretches, which vary from individual to individual are actually clearing blocked energy and helping to re-harmonise our internal organs.  Our bodies have such an intelligence which we have forgotten!

How often when we keep fit do we heed our internal organs?  Yet without the "background operating system", or our involuntary Central Nervous System our organs would cease to function and we'd be dead!

We think as we suffer for example, from heart failure or lie in a hospital bed, inactive with a pulse of over 160 beats a minute and poor circulation that it might help to start running?  Do you think it would do the heart a favour by punishing it some more rather than teach it  to relax and improve the way we breathe? (Dr S. Chang)

Stress today is the major cause of illness and death.  It affects the way we breathe as it becomes more shallow, consequently oxygenated blood is not being carried around the body as efficiently or carbon dioxide filtered efficiently from the blood either.
According to Dr Chang, throughout its lifetime the heart is stimulated more by the "sympathetic nervous system,  the voluntary nervous system, which originates in the spinal cord, than by the background operating system, or the involuntary nervous system, for example: anger, smoking, ball-games or horror films watching, stair-climbing and stimulating drinks, all accelerate the heart-rate - if exercise is added on to the burdens of the heart its chances of resting and gathering nutrients are greatly diminished."

True to our Roots or internal exercise is different as their main purpose is to relax the entire body so that the afflicted part can receive nourishment and heal itself.

Stress, anxiety, hypertension can be relieved by meridian stretching which we encourage through activating our fluid system, and enjoying deep and delicious fascial stretches, just like cats, dogs and other animals in nature.

Having been the strictest aerobic advocate for years I now finally begin to understand what the Chinese doctor told me when I was in my forties, at the height of my fitness career, that my cardio-vascular system was depleting itself.  That my heart and lungs needed a rest from all their over-activation.  He was right, though at the time I didn't want to admit it as I used to run 400 meters in under two minutes daily, I developed asthma.... I healed myself simply by practising gentle Qi Gong exercises and by stopping the running!!

It is as if we live in an era of the "fire" element.  We need to exert ourselves, we have to sweat and get hot, otherwise we haven't done enough to ..."look thinner, fitter, younger....."

The heart is connected to the fire element in TCM - too much fire causes high blood pressure, heart attacks, congestion in the chest area, which also affects the lungs and the breath.  This in turns affects the transportation of oxygenated blood to the rest of the body, when rigidity begins to set in.  All because we have become stress junkies and thrive on excitable activities to feel alive.

An interesting note from a letter I received from The Finchley Clinic, London:

"Did you know?
Exercise causes gut toxins to enter the blood and may make one feel lousy.  Athletes who run for twenty minutes elevate their body temperature by 2 degrees Celsius.  This increase in core heat increases gut permeability by 250%."

While we are young it is evident that we are physically highly active and competitive, however this could be enhanced if children were reminded of good posture and how to use their feet when walking/running, therefore addressing the knee and hip alignment, which will also affect the pelvic and spinal health.

Posture is the basis of this ancient self-healing art, Qi Gong.  When we hold ourselves well at all times, our fluid and energy system will flow undisturbed offering us better performance and avoiding possible future injuries.

Competitive sports is not something one should stop, but True's message is, incorporate the internal fluid work at the end of the sport, instead of forcing the cool-down stretches on already tight muscles.  Recovery and flexibility will happen more efficiently while smoothing the accumulated lactic acid away.

Introducing this method into cardio-vascular rehabilitation centres, and schools would be so precious!  But then True to our Roots is a precious "tool" of which we only need a gentle reminder, as it is an inherited ability which we as the human race all possess.

How to activate this system?

A little tip!  Try stretching your arms above your head, as in our waking up stretch, and instead of putting your arms down to get ready for your day, let your arms guide you into different stretches, and surrender to the lovely sensations.  It can trigger off large movements throughout the body, or small internal or facial micro movements.  

The trick is to allow your body to show you how well it can move without your mind telling it how to!  Therefore, a total letting go and surrendering!  Eventually you will understand the feeling which is normal and natural and rarely symmetrical, and you will learn to trust your body's ability to heal you and make you feel great!

Welcome to True to our Roots Qi Gong or self-healing magic!

Sunday 19 June 2016

My Son, My Teacher

1979.  Our son was born and five months later he was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, and I was told he may never walk!

Something I never really wanted to talk about is the fact that our little 5-month old son was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy in early 1980.  I realise, however, the strength of impact this has had on both my husband's and my life.

We had just begun our lives as a young adventurous little threesome out in the Central African bush of Zambia, where Roger (my hubby), took his first overseas teaching contract at 24 years of age. As a young family, we were warned during a week's briefing about our new life in the bush at Farnham Castle, about the hazards of accompanying wives becoming “excess luggage”!  The possibilities of boredom driving them to become alcoholics and suffering from neurosis!  Fat chance of that happening to me!

Our first month there, we had to make a home out of a very dirty house on the compound, after which I set out to teach myself how to cook, make my own crafts, sew and be a mummy!

This was short-lived as our baby developed infantile spasms within our first month there.  I returned  to the UK by the end of that first month in Africa, with our little one to get treatment and medication.  That is when our world shattered when receiving his diagnosis.

Back in Zambia after our first visit to the hospital in the UK, 
Ashley being jolly despite a high dose of steroids. 

For the next seven years, I became his full-time occupational and physiotherapist and delved into my creative vault to find ways of stimulating our adorable and jolly little boy.  To help him gain some sense of balance when sitting, to see and focus on objects and us from a distance, to get him out of his long blank spells when he seemed to off into another “dimension”.

My job as “excess luggage” was cut out for me and I embraced it with love and joy and a real drive.  I learned how to become wife/mother/cook/therapist during those six years in Zambia.  We adored our little boy, so this was a challenge we faced together and Roger learned to be a real handyman and carpenter.  He built our boy walkers, standing frames and corner seats.  He became an adept Landrover mechanic, electrician and all-round protector.  We both learned the skills of self-sufficiency and adaptation to the various circumstances which offered themselves to us.

1982.  Our second little son was born while out in Eastern Province of Zambia.  He was very premature, at 28 weeks, born at the nearest mission hospital 20 miles from where we lived.  He popped out so quickly, unlike our first boy who took three days, and who was born at 36 weeks.  This little one cried, and was very much alive, but still waxy and didn't look “quite ready”. He was whisked away from me and put in a little wooden box surrounded by hot-water bottles.  Roger kept the heaters on full blast in the Landrover as our baby had to be rushed to another bigger mission hospital 56 miles further, where they had incubators.  Our German nurse friend who held my hand during the birth, decided it was better for the baby to hold him against her skin during the long journey, which is what she did.  I was told by the midwife Sister to stay behind to be looked after!

The next day my hubby drove me to be with my little baby, and when we arrived the exhausted European doctor/midwife, who had been on duty for over 72 hours without sleep, told us they'd had to resuscitate Laurie (we gave him a name of course!) already twice.

That day and night I spent either wandering around helplessly in the cattle-shed type ward, with the wind howling through, wafting smells of cabbage all around us, and visiting my little boy in his starched hospital gown inside the incubator, with cockroaches running around inside it.  The other pass-time was joining the group of Zambian young mothers in a communal room where we sat in a circle expressing our milk by hand.  All I could contribute was a tiny bit of colostrum to add to the rich milk these ladies produced as they were still breastfeeding their previous child!  After our “milking session” we then had to pour our contribution in a common green plastic bowl, which would then be used to feed the premature babies!

Three days after our baby's birth they had one final attempt at resuscitating him when he decided that this earth life was not for him and so he returned to his original home. 

The African staff were very sweet and philosophical, they shook our hands goodbye, and advised us to go home and make another baby!

Now there is a lonesome little grave under an acacia tree, with a home-made cross with its branches, in Katete Mission Hospital.  Laurie's spirit is free. He gave us the opportunity to focus truly on his older little brother.

We returned to our compound home to digest all that had happened so quickly and felt shell-shocked. I spent hours sitting under our mango tree grieving the loss of Laurie, my body feeling cheated as I was now producing huge amounts of milk, but with no baby to feed.  The young Dutch doctor at the mission hospital apologetically gave me the only drug he could obtain to dry my milk production, which made me put on loads of weight quickly, as I was really thin in those days.

Thankfully, our three-year-old son kept us sane and filled our days with love and laughter.  We had also employed a wonderful Zambian lady to be his nanny during my pregnancy, as lifting my 3-year old, who could not walk became a little strenuous, and she was a Godsend!

Ashley's Nanny wearing one of my creations, the dress! 

In the meantime, we continued to gain experiences on survival, as within the first year of our life in the Eastern Province of Zambia, the water stopped flowing.  My new vegetable garden dried out and we programmed ourselves to wake up at 3 AM, to swap the hosepipe from one full white-painted dustbin to fill the other with the trickle of water which is all that reached us at that time of day!  So, water was rationed and this situation became a bit of a nightmare with regards to boiling nappies!  No such thing as disposables!  Bath water was recycled and we kept a paddling pool with water to have a “shower” in!

Every two months we would travel at the crack of dawn to the Eastern province capital, Chipata, to go to the market.  That was an entire expedition in itself, as we needed to prepare in case of a breakdown with the Landrover and carry jerry cans of petrol, water, take food, drink and blankets, as we were travelling through the desolate bush with few clusters of mud huts along the way.  Of course, these were the pre-mobile phone days!

We arrived at the bustling market at around 7-8 AM, after a three-hour journey, to stock up with fresh vegetables, fruit and meat, all commodities which were rare in our village.  This trip always turned into a special treat, as we would go and have a curry in one of the local restaurants, not always guaranteed to be safe on our stomachs!

Then followed the long trip back home, and of course with our little one, who accompanied us everywhere.  Once home and he was safely tucked in his cot, we spent several hours blanching and freezing our fresh supplies, and butchering the meat, to have food for the next two months.

Our little local supermarket in the Boma (the village centre), had mainly empty shelves and mostly stocked ominous looking coloured squash, called Jolly Juice.  Cooking oil, sugar, flour were rare commodities and no sooner as the lorry arrived in the Boma, everybody would rush to the supermarket to stand in queues for hours to buy their rations.  We would get a 25 KG bag of flour, which I would then bag up in smaller quantities and freeze, and the rest would stay in the sack, to be sieved to get rid of the weevils, before making bread!  During bread-making days, I also made pizzas, which we would eat that day, and then freeze the rest.  Everything we wanted we had to make ourselves, including tomato ketchup!

We also employed a house-boy, called James, whom I taught to cook basic meals and bake our bread.  He was worth his weight in gold!  Both he and Nanny stayed with us for the six years we lived in Africa.  We needed their help as there were no washing machines, and I spent all day either preparing food in advance, occupying my baby, making crafts, curtains, clothes...

Very often we went weeks without electricity, so then we learned from both of them how to use the local charcoal fires, which were cylindrical shaped and the size of a large paint pot.  Once I cooked food for 36 people on two of those!  Whenever we had a power cut for more than three days, we would cook the entire contents of the freezer and have a party for our local friends!  It was a great excuse to socialise!

This is how as a young family we learned to be self-sufficient, how survival's necessities helped us cope with the loss of our second little boy and how it made us question our purpose on this earth.

We moved for the last three years in Central Africa to the southern province of Zambia to my mother's farmhouse, by the Zambezi river, which set the new pattern of me becoming a fitness instructor and amateur artist.

It was during 1982-83 that I became a devout... Fitness fanatic and instructor.  Creating a real stir in Livingstone, Southern Province, Zambia, for three years, while putting significant groups of people through their paces to terrific music.

So, the pattern was set as far as my physical activities were concerned and I became ultra fit!

1986.  We returned to England, after those momentous six years in Zambia.  Roger's contract ended, and he did not want to renew it. Moreover, we needed to find new ways of helping our 6-year old son.

Circumstances and deep heartache forced us to deal with these challenges to the best of our abilities.  We both were given a book by a friend while in Zambia, “Out on a Limb”, by Shirley Maclaine, which created a massive shift within us both, and helped open our eyes to spirituality and our purpose.

This is an excerpt from my yet to be published book - 'How did I get these?'. 

Friday 6 May 2016

What exactly is Fitness? Does it mean Healthy?

For years I worked as a Fitness Instructor in a "Health and Well-Being" Sports Centre.

Its manager, during my time, had long-term spinal problems, his assistant had obesity issues, and very few clients who attended were happy with their appearance or self-image, and most suffered of some kind of ailment for which they were medicated.

So, what exactly are we addressing and why?

During my life in Africa, where I grew up and went to school, and lived as a young mother, I never heard any of my African friends complain of their appearance, or of aches and pains (I am NOT talking about the Aids or Malaria epidemics!!).  They did hard manual labour, walked, cooked and socialised as a community.

Our society has become more sedentary, and as technology advanced and took over from our manual labour, aerobic work-outs and gyms established themselves.

The media played a big part in "brainwashing" young people to become "dedicated followers of fashion".  Gradually trying to eradicate individualism and contentment.

We have become a society of worshippers of "false gods", i.e. Celebrities and rock/pop stars, whom young people wish to emulate, in the process of which identity loss occurs, and self-dissatisfaction arises.

Armed with these self-deprecating values we go off to the gym or attend tough work-outs, as if the need for self-punishment is the only solution.  Then interest wanes, people in general do not persevere and get injured, stay at home to continue their never ending dream of "perfection", comforting themselves with sugary "treats", fast foods, alcohol etc, in front of the TV -waiting for the next vantage point in life when they will start afresh, to fail again and again.

The other people who persevere become addicted to their exercise regime, but again to quench their own deep-seated dissatisfaction, anger and frustration at some other reasons in their lives.

One of the reasons I retrained from Fitness Instructor/Personal Trainer to become a complementary practitioner, was because of the underlying causes which brought people to my classes or gym, and through my own process of self-discovery.

We have lost touch with our true selves and nature, so much so that we have lost our natural senses, on which for example, Aboriginals, Native Americans and other indigenous people rely.

We have desensitised ourselves and allowed outside forces to influence and swamp our natural senses, i.e., our intuition, our telepathic abilities, and our olfactory, auditory, visual, gustatory and kinaesthetic  senses.  We have lost touch with the natural cycles of our seasons, for example, and the types of food which nourish us at different times of the year.

Our focus, unfortunately, has become very superficial and as we have forgotten about the rest of our body, our internal organs, our skeleton, our nervous system, and our natural second brain - our belly - we drive ourselves on, in gyms or work-outs, to look and feel better, at the expense of true awareness of self.

So, disease, aches and pains develop and we make appointments to see the local physiotherapist, osteopath, doctor, etc.

The answer to this is not to stop an activity we enjoy, but to tackle it from a deep bodily awareness, from a place where we honestly question ourselves why we do what we do, and listen to our own answer.  To start by looking into the mirror and loving our own reflection, to begin to understand that we are complete, and that it is all right to forego this work-out today, or this trifle, or cigarette.

We believe that as we age we're bound to get stiff, rigid, shrink or forgetful.  What we have forgotten as a society is that we are approximately 85% water, which gradually dries up through our way of thinking, which causes us to being afraid and so rigidity sets in!

There is another system within each of us that we have forgotten to explore, and that is our fluid system, and our "energy" or life force.  This is a discovery made thousands of years ago, before any form, discipline or exercise regime existed.

It is that part which animals use to stretch, it is that part which helps babies to move, and the part we use for example, when doing our "yawn and stretch", which feels delicious!  It is inherent in all of us humans, we have only forgotten how to access it.  Once you reconnect with it you will activate your own individual choreographer, which will not only tone you, but will also make you feel good and heal you.

True to our Roots Qi Gong is all about this exploration, and when combined with any activity of your choice  can only enhance it.

To introduce this method into the Fitness world would be like giving a diamond away - once received and felt you will never want to lose it, and ageing "disgracefully and stiffly" will become a thing of the past!