Monday, December 30, 2013

Welcome 2014 and a New Beginning

Life is short! Plan your time wisely and see if you have accomplished your goals by the end of each year. If you have a dream or something that you always wanted to get done, you want to try to get it done sooner rather than later. Things can change if you don’t get it done today. I always wanted to visit Master Ma Hong (He was a tenth generation descendant of Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan and a classmate of three of my grandmasters). Just as I was telling one of my private students a few weeks ago that I am planning to visit him in 2014, Master Ma passed away on December 22, 2013. Master Ma was a kind hearted old man. People said that he always replied to every letter that was sent to him. He was very patient while teaching his Chen Style Tai Chi. His writings on the new frame of Chen Style Tai Chi are also very detailed and informative. He made a big contribution to the Tai Chi society. He had sent many Chen Style Tai Chi materials to me and my father, which we really appreciated. Master Ma, may you rest in peace.

Zengzi, one of the top students of Confucius, encouraged people to have a conclusion of their day and check if the time of their day has been well spent and if they are productive.  As I mentioned above, I believe we should do the same for our year as well.

Looking back at some of the major events that happened in my life in 2013, I feel that my 2013 was well spent while I also need to make some adjustments for the next year.

1. Huan’s Tai Chi and I have done a bunch for our School and community. I have visited my grandmaster, Cai Feng Xiang in Shanghai and my Yang Style Tai Chi teacher Master Xie Bing Can. Huan’s Tai Chi moved to our own studio within the Cambridge YWCA in February, and we got our own entrance and key in July. We had A Winter Evening of Chinese Dance & Martial Arts: Traditional & Contemporary Movement, Performance & Class, Watch & Learn in coordination with Chu Ling Dance Academy in December. In September, we started a new beginner level 2 class in University of Massachusetts Boston and MIT has finally approved our student Cathy's proposal to lead the creation of the new MIT Kung Fu and Tai Chi club which is taught by Huan’s Tai Chi 's staff. In the summer, we taught our Summer Park Tai Chi class again in Backbay, performed demonstrations for Green Fest, and gave a lecture at Spectacle Island Boston. I also made my first video of Yang Style Tai Chi to post online to benefit my students. I want to thank Dave Watts, Yael Marshall and the other Huan’s Tai Chi staff members for helping to accomplish some of the efforts above. I also want to thank Marie for organizing the summer park Tai Chi to benefit the local seniors.

2. I have spent more time with family and friends.
I also visited a lot of family and friends in a trip to China in January. I no longer feel bad for not seeing them for so long. I also went to two friends' weddings in February and September. I met a lot of close friends individually in October. I did try to squeeze enough time to see my godson as much as possible. I would like to thank all of them for staying good friends and warm family members even though I don’t see some of them often.

3. I traveled to many places which I was eager to see.
In March, I visited New Orleans, the hometown of one of my favorite singers, Louis Armstrong. I also went to Bobsled in Olympic Style and ski at a White Face mountain, where I always wanted to go. In May,  I visited Smokey Mountain and Shenadoah National Park.  In June, I visited Mount Rushmore, Yellow Stone park, and Arches National Park.  I then made my 6th trip of the year to Alaska.  

4. Stay with a natural and peaceful life.
In August, I got offered a piece of land in Somerville community garden after 2 years of waiting period. I did a lot of gardening.   In October, I traveled to New Mexico to experience the green living life in Earthship and volunteered to setup a hot air balloon at Albuquerque’s hot air balloon festival upon a friend’s suggestion.  In November, I made my 8th and last trip of the year. I escaped the cold and visited St Thomas and St John, went kayaking for hours to an island and learned about the environment on the island. I also begin to present Chinese tea ceremony at my Tai Chi studio for another way to relax and calm people’s life.

Life is short. Being healthy and close to family and friends and close to nature will fulfill your life. Here I concluded my year of 2013 and I wish and plan to have an even better 2014. Happy New Year everyone! I hope all your wishes come true and that you will have a healthy, relaxed year filled with joy and spent with your family and friends!

Copyright Huan's Tai Chi 2013

Monday, May 13, 2013

My 1st Tai Chi video: 1 set of Yang Style Tai Chi

Finally, I did the first 13 movements of Yang Style Tai Chi on video clip. Hope it will help some of our students to remember the movements and also for our blog readers whom are curious about Tai Chi. Enjoy! P.S. I will try to get some applications of the movements up on my blog/youtube in the near future.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

5 Chinese Daily Habits That May Extend Your Life

As many of you may know, I was in China over the New Year to attend my grandfather’s funeral. Every time I travel, I always try to learn some of the benefits of a particular culture and try to bring them into my life, so I can appreciate the culture of the place where I have just been and perhaps my friends and students here in US can benefit as well.  This time, I realized that many Chinese daily life habits could really benefit us in the western world.

How do people’s lives in China differ from those of Americans? Here is a daily routine schedule that compares a typical Chinese and American daily routine. (Of course, this schedule may differ from individual to individual, but I think it is a fair example.)

Get up at 7:00, woken by alarm clock
Get up at 6:00, naturally
Take shower. Eat cereal or quick breakfast and take the train or drive to work, or stop for a fast breakfast on the way (maybe Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks). Drink lots of coffee.
Quickly wash face with warm water. Do Tai Chi or other exercises in the public park. Cook breakfast or buy street food. Go to work. Drink tea.
Eat a quick lunch, maybe take-out or fast food, perhaps sitting at desk (one-hour lunch break)
Go home to eat with family and take a nap (two-hour lunch break)
Back to work right away. Work until 6:00 or 7:00.
Back to work after nap. Work until 5:00 or 6:00.
Go to the gym after work
Cook at home or go to a restaurant. Dinner around 6:00
Cook at home or go to a restaurant. Dinner around 8:00
Engage in relaxing activities such as watching TV or having tea.
Engage in relaxing activities such as watching TV. Go to bed around 11:00.
Take shower and go to bed around 9:30.

If we compare these two schedules, we see some major differences in lifestyle.  Even though many American habits have become part of some Chinese people’s lives, especially in big cities where people tend to be more Americanized, most Chinese still adhere to the five major habits below.

1.   Time habit: Get up early, go to bed early

“Hear the rooster, it’s time to dance!” This traditional Chinese idiom that almost every Chinese person knows originated from the Western Jin dynasty. Five thousand years of history have taught Chinese people to get up early.  The Chinese believe that after an entire night of breathing indoors, the oxygen level in the bedroom becomes very low.  It’s essential to get out of the house as soon as possible to breathe some natural air. The air quality is considered to be the best in the early morning since there is less traffic and human activity at night, and less dust in the air. It’s healthier to walk outside, exercise and breathe fresh air in the early morning. Once the city starts moving, dust, and the noise level, will go up, making it hard to concentrate and do exercise.

Depression and high stress levels can shorten one’s lifespan.  Many studies have been done on the people of Okinawa, Japan, who are known to enjoy both the world's longest life expectancy and the world's longest health expectancy. They found that the people of Okinawa have surprisingly low depression and stress levels, as a result of their relaxing lifestyle that includes low-impact exercise, such as Tai Chi, and supportive bonds within the community. Most Chinese people live close to their workplaces.  When they get up early, they have enough time to enjoy their morning and get to work without feeling rushed. They don’t start their days off with stress. As I often mention to my Tai Chi students, a good starting stance leads to a good form. Similarly, a relaxed morning can lead to a positive day.

Before Edison invented the first electric light bulb, people tended to go to bed early because candles were costly; thus it was natural for people to go to bed early. The Chinese are very good at following this natural way. Most (perhaps not all) Chinese avoid socializing or drinking too much late at night to avoid a headache in the morning.  An early bedtime will result in a natural rise in the morning without an alarm clock.

2.       Exercise habit: Do exercises such as Tai Chi in the morning

As I mentioned, the people of Okinawa regularly practice Tai Chi as a healthy habit in order to live longer. Tai Chi is a traditional exercise that originates in China and people usually do it in the early morning.  If you go to bed early, you have a long, relaxed night to rest your body. Morning is the best time to exercise. Plenty of oxygen and clean, low-dust air are very beneficial for an exercise that involves slower breathing. Some Americans like to go to gym in the evening, before or after dinner.  Recent studies have shown that exercising while your body is low on food may be a good way to trim excess fat. Working out in the morning is therefore a better choice, even for vigorous, fat-burning exercises.

3.       Rest habit: Take a nap
As we can see, most Chinese take a nap in the middle of the day. Recently, I read a Chinese news article that stated that many Chinese who recently moved to the US and started work can’t stand the habit of not having a noon nap. To remedy their situation, many try to go to bathroom and take a nap while sitting on the toilet. Napping on the toilet may sound very extreme, but I have to say, napping is one of the best Chinese habits.  Ever since ancient times, the Chinese have had this habit of napping at noontime.  It is built into the Chinese schedule, which is why the Chinese have a two-hour lunch break,  compared to Americans’ one-hour lunch time. Sarah Medneck, author of  Take a Nap! Change Your Life, mentions that taking a nap “… increases alertness, boosts creativity, reduces stress, improves perception, stamina, motor skills, and accuracy, enhances your sex life, helps you make better decisions, keeps you looking younger, aids in weight loss, reduces the risk of heart attack, elevates your mood, and strengthens memory…” So I ask my fellow Americans, why are we not napping?

4.       Eating habits: The importance of food

In China, people think breakfast is very important, so they try to eat plenty, enough to fill their stomachs. It also considered important to eat breakfast slowly by getting up early, so you have enough time to eat and then go to work. Eating quickly makes it difficult for your stomach to absorb food.   The Chinese usually meet with family at noontime, and they want make sure this is the best meal of the day.  For dinner, the Chinese try to eat less because they don’t want put too much pressure on the stomach before going to sleep. They want the stomach to rest at night. In the US, we usually eat in hurry in the morning, we eat a smaller, faster lunch, and our meal with our family is usually dinner, which is often too large, and we often eat it too close to bedtime.

5.       Shower habit: Shower at night
I once read a funny article about how to determine whether you are a “real” Chinese or an “Americanized” Chinese based on some of your habits.  One habit is whether you take a shower in the morning or at night. Showering before bed is another good habit that the Chinese have.  Night showers save you time in the morning to have a leisurely breakfast and get to work without feeling rushed. They also relax your body and permit a better night’s sleep.  After a warm shower, the body’s temperature drops, which signals your body that it’s time to rest, and slows down essential metabolic functions including heart rate, breathing, and digestion. Perhaps that’s why we give babies a bath at bedtime to calm them and help induce sleep.
Will adopting these habits make you a Chinesized American?  I don’t know, but try them out and see if you enjoy the benefits!

If you like this article, you may also want to read Lao Tzu's Secret to Extend your Life
Copyright Huan's Tai Chi 2013

Friday, January 25, 2013

Progress in Tea, and Tai Chi

I have been traveling these last few months which is why I took a short break from my blog.

After the New Year, I was in Shanghai visiting my friends, family and my Tai Chi grandmaster. One of my elementary school classmates has been very successful in business. He retired in his early 30’s and opened a small private tea shop just for treating his friends and business partners. He told me to make time for a half day because he wanted to invite me for tea with few other friends.

“Half a day? Do we really need half a day?” I asked.
“You will see,” he smiled. “I have invited a very famous tea master from Beijing to show you a tea ceremony.”

The tea shop is located in a small alley in the Xuhui District, a very quiet place tucked away inside the big city of Shanghai. After opening the door, I saw a nice garden with many green plants and little stepping stones shaped to look like lotus leaves. After entering the tea room, I saw a special display shelf with a collection of different kinds of tea pots. My friends and I then sat down next to a very traditional red wood table made just for making tea.

The tea master was there. He looks very young, but he is famous in China and has extensive knowledge of different kinds of tea. We started with white tea, then green tea, then Oolong tea, then tea made with smoked wood, then black tea. We even tried some very special handmade tea of which only eight bags exist in all of China, and whose maker recently passed away.
Warming the cups, distributing the tea, waiting for the water to boil at the right temperature, introducing the tea, smelling the tea when it’s dry, making the tea, sipping it, tasting it, smelling the tea in the cup, discussing the tea, noticing the difference between two teas, and pairing light cookies with the different teas; these are all things that must be done slowly. No wonder it took half a day to taste them!

I felt very relaxed during this whole afternoon, even without doing Tai Chi! Even though we felt we had a relaxed and lazy day, we learned a lot of tea history, and found quietness in such a busy city.

Confucius tells us “the more you hurry, the less progress you are going to make.” When we are not in a hurry, we make a lot of progress. In tea, and in Tai Chi.

Copyright Huan's Tai Chi 2013