T’ai Chi and QiGong

T’ai Chi is a way of life. It is also a way of living… I am one of the longest surviving HIV+ people on the planet. I believe that there are manifold reasons for this. Also, there are many pieces to my “survival pie.” I stay very fit by lifting weights, riding my bikes, and running. I also try to maintain a healthy nutritional plan and eat the right things. I work closely with my support system (family, friends, community, articles, and so on) to insure that I stay positively motivated and supported as needed. I also challenge myself to create a more balanced life that evenly distributes my time and energy to family, fun, and business. Over the years I’ve struggled with my spirituality, but I still work on a daily basis to build this area. I coordinate with and stay in touch with several specialized doctors and always take my prescribed medication.

Along with these many things I do to keep myself healthy and sane, I also practice T’ai Chi. I know that this fits in the health and fitness category, but I thought a separate article was in order. I have tried many things in this area… Yoga, meditation, martial arts, and a combination of these and other things. However, I keep coming back to T’ai Chi. I believe that it is the perfect combination of relaxation, stretching, exercise, and meditation. And, I feel like a million bucks after each session! So, today is dedicated to this incredibly valuable exercise and art form.

World Tai Chi & Qigong Day is held each year on the last Saturday of April. This year, it’s on Saturday, April 26, 2014. I recommend that everyone participates!

Before we talk about my routine, let’s tackle the primary benefits that I get out of my daily T’ai Chi ritual:

  • Start your day with a powerful inspiration
  • Posture improvement
  • Weight lifting enhancements
  • Balance (physical and mental)
  • Sinuses and allergies
  • Immune system strengthening
  • HIV supression
  • Hemophilia (joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments are all stronger)
  • Meditation
  • Mindset and positive thinking
  • Stress relief
  • Spiritual strengthening
  • Motivation
  •  

    While most of these benefits are self explanatory and easy to understand, I thought I would chat briefly about hemophilia. As a hemophiliac, I have joint issues, bleeding concerns, along with all of the standard worries that folks in general have. I have found that T’ai Chi is very soothing on my joints and helps to strengthen the supporting structure (bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments) for my joints. Suffice it to say that I feel I have fewer bleeds and problems when I’m practicing T’ai Chi on a daily basis. Along with weight lifting and cardio, I believe that T’ai Chi helps me avoid and repair injuries and especially bleeds!

    Let me describe how a typical training goes for me…

    I weight lift four days per week, ride my bike four days per week, and run three days per week. Many of these workouts overlap, because there are only seven days in the week. Also, I take one rest day per week to skip all of these workouts and give my body time to heal. That said, I do T’ai Chi seven days per week, and do not feel the need for a rest day from this relaxing and energizing routine. Also, I prefer to get my T’ai Chi fix the first thing in the morning. I’m talking about leaping out of bed, into my sweat pants, and getting busy! I like this for many reasons, but the primary one is that T’ai Chi is a great introduction to the day. It opens my mind, wakes me spiritually and physically, and gets my blood flowing in a gradual and energizing fashion.

    My session normally takes precisely sixty minutes. It is roughly broken down into thirds.

    I like to start with a sitting QiGong meditation for about twenty minutes. With my eyes closed, I evaluate and venture into each and every part of my body. This is an enlightening way to wake and take control of your mind and body. This time is also used for deep controlled breathing and really ramps you up for an energized day.

    After my meditation is complete, I move into a stretching and moving session of QiGong and T’ai Chi warm ups. This really gets my muscles warmed up and the blood pumping. As my twenty minute session of warm up continues I add to the speed and energy of the stretches. By the end of this session I am amped and ready to dive into the last section.

    Basically (for me) the first two sessions are about waking and opening my mind and body. It prepares my body and spirit for the last section; which is the actual T’ai Chi moves. I follow the Guang (also called: Kuang) Ping Yang (standard long) form of T’ai Chi that is covered perfectly by Bill Douglas in his DVD, Anthology of T’ai Chi & Qigong: The Prescription for the Future, and book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to T’ai Chi & QiGong Illustrated.

    After completing this sixty minute routine, I literally feel like a new man. My recommendation is that everyone practice T’ai Chi on a daily basis. You will be amazed at what it does for your mind, body, and spirit!

    Cheers,
    Vaughn

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    Wednesdays with Jerry

    Walking has been proven to be beneficial to our health. Yet, many of us skip it thinking that it’s either worthless, boring, or mostly a waste of time. The truth is that you can really do some good for your body and joints by walking one or more times per week. And, you can even do some walking on your rest days.

    Recently my buddy, Jerry, said that he’d like to start walking on Wednesday mornings. At the same time, I had been complaining that I don’t get enough Jerry time. It only took me about three seconds to have the light bulb go off. I nodded my head and asked, “I’d like to walk too… Do you mind if I join you on Wednesday mornings?” Jerry liked the idea and we agreed to meet at 5 a.m. for our weekly Wednesday morning walk.

    These days it is tough to find time for many things, and chatting with your neighbor is one of them. Well, when Jerry and I do talk we get all kinds of cool (and hair-brained) ideas. We literally could discuss anything for hours non-stop. However, it is rare that we find the time. Now that we’ve agreed to walk on Wednesdays, we actually get a little bit of time to do just that.

    Obviously you can walk by your lonesome, but why not add a friend to the mix and add to the enjoyment! Also, a friend will help keep you on point. Think about how many times you’ve decided to do something fitness related only to quit a few months, weeks, or even days later. When you have a friend there to support you, it makes it much easier to get up early and follow through. You kind of keep each other in check.

    Jerry and I talk about anything and everything… Nothing is taboo, and it is fun that way. Mostly we discuss business ideas or something related to entrepreneur adventures, but we also tackle health, fitness, life, families, and so on. Shucks, if we want, we might even talk politics or religion! Regardless, the point is we are communicating, enjoying each other’s company, doing something worthwhile for our health, and adding some zing in the wee hours during the middle of the week. What’s not to love about this?

    Now that I have my Wednesday morning walk buddy, my hump day has improved. I feel invigorated and ready to take on the world after a zest filled walk and chatter with my friend.

    One final thing… Let’s pretend for a moment that I wanted to walk more than once per week, and Jerry only wants once. Nothing is stopping me from inviting another friend on Saturdays (or some other day). Then I can get twice the walking, twice the conversations, and twice the camaraderie in a single week. Cool!

    Do you like to walk? If so, do you dig walking with a friend or two?

    I hope this segue was helpful,
    Rip

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    Wiggle Yourself Awake

    Most of you know that I’m a fan of literally leaping out of bed the moment that you wake up. As a matter of fact I recently wrote an article about that very thing: Jump Start Your Day. However, as we all know, some mornings are tougher than others. The day (or two) after a really tough strength training, long ride/run, or race I am pretty tore up and not only feel weaker but also am rarely in the mood to leap out of bed. This post is for those mornings.

    Workouts aren’t the only reason for getting out of bed slowly… Sometimes you might be experiencing injuries or facing an illness. Also, as we get older, our bodies simply don’t respond the way they did when we were younger. On top of that, there will also just be days that you don’t feel like jumping out of bed. Regardless of the reason, I have a few tips on what you can do to help cheer you up and get you feeling great before you even lay a foot on the floor.

    You might find that this is a fantastic way to wake every morning and start adapting your morning ritual to include this. Before we tackle this subject, let’s get the fitness disclaimer out of the way:

    WARNING: Exercise, stretching, sports, and other fitness related activities can be dangerous. You can be seriously injured, crippled, or killed. The opinions, stories, and ideas presented here are my own and do not constitute a recommendation of or endorsement for any particular or general use. I strongly recommend getting a complete physical and doctor’s approval before starting any type of strenuous activity. Especially if you are over the age of 40 or have high blood pressure, genetic heart problems or conditions, or elevated cholesterol levels. If you choose to workout, you do so at your own risk. In addition, working out requires patience, diligence, and above all else, using good form. Never bounce or over strain! Most important: listen to your body…

    I really do hate having to pop that disclaimer into each healthy post, but you know that it’s necessary for a rare few bozos out there that would blame me and others for their stupid decisions. There… I said it.

    Let us begin! When I wake and feel sore or overly tired I almost always start my morning with a wiggle… Thar is to say, I do some calisthenics and stretching in bed, under the covers, before I even attempt to stand up. Here are the types of things that I do:

    1. I stretch my ankles, toes, and feet. Because of peripheral neuropathy and a target joint, my feet and ankles give me some extra troubles first thing in the morning. So, when I first wake, I often stretch them carefully. After a minute of stretches, I do some deeper stretches, circles, and wiggles. This helps to get the blood flowing into your legs.

    2. Flex my butt. Next, I like to tighten and loosen my gluteus maximus. At the same time I tighten and loosen my hamstrings and quadriceps as well. This is a focus on the big muscles of my body.

    3. Calf raises. Finishing off the legs I do some simple moves for my calves. Note that we already hit them some during step one (ankles). Remember to hit all three primary calf muscles (gastrocnemius, soleus, and tibialis anterior). We hit the gastroc when our legs are straight, and we pull our toes toward our knees. The soleus is hit with the same flex of the foot and ankle, but while the knee is bent. Finally the tib (the front of our shin) is stretched when you push the toes down and away from the knee.

    4. Repeat one through three on your arms, hands and wrists. Simply think of your arms, hands, chest, and shoulders in the same way you did your legs and repeat the routine.

    5. Jiggle. That’s right… As I finish up my routine, I like to jiggle my body. Make sure to incorporate the core (abs and lower back) and get a good jiggle on. Vibrate throughout your body and make this a fun experience. This will really complete the blood flow sequence and get you ready to jump up.

    6. Flip off the covers and leap! That’s it in a nutshell… Once I’ve woken my body, I leap out of bed feeling like a million bucks!

    That’s how I do it. Now, I’d like to share some tips and pointers from my mom, Yahna Christensen, who does a more in-depth version as her body ages and struggles (especially during the morning hours). She calls her morning exercise “Rollercise” and this is what she had to say:

    A little over 10 years ago I started recognizing when I stretched in bed immediately after waking the better I felt when I stood up, how I was able to think more clearly, and how I just really was smiling about the day ahead. So I started a regular routine. Over this last 10 years I have made some discoveries and have fine-tuned this wake up routine. Some of my discoveries and lessons learned are:

  • since there are different types of beds some soft some hard etc. I realize that some exercises are not well suited as they may be difficult or even cause more damage than good
  • if it involves lifting the head up, one must be sure that the lift doesn’t come from the head rather from the stomach
  • the First Alert the body needs is to do some deep breathing which I do with my hands above my head … half of the breath into the diaphragm and then pull that diaphragm breath along with the rest of the inhale up into your shoulders… I repeat this 10 times and then start my routine
  • most of my exercises involve a gentle rolling motion… as soon as I finish breathing I put my hands behind my knees and just roll from side to side not very far just a slight roll I started with 10 and now I do 50 of these each morning…which really wakes up the spine. then I proceed with a dozen or so other exercises.
  • my biggest discovery was that if I skipped a day my body quickly went back to unstable, blurred mind, and a so-so attitude for that day, so not having that really great feeling is a tremendous incentive helping me to look forward to my body wake up routine
  • I am currently in the process of capturing this routine as I have had so many ask me to write a book so that they too can get the daily benefits. My goal for the book is to have it done by March 11th, 2014.

    -Yahna

     

    Just like the engine of an automobile, your body needs to warm up before getting out into the day. Think of this as some pointers on how to warm up your body’s engine prior to tackling the day.

    Let me know what you do to get yourself warmed up, stretched, and ready to do the day’s tasks. Please comment and give me some additional pointers that might help me!

    Thank you very much for reading,
    Vaughn

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    Man’s Best Friend and Fitness

    What do dogs and fitness have in common?

    Let’s begin with our standard workout disclaimer:

    WARNING: Exercise, stretching, sports, and other fitness related activities can be dangerous. You can be seriously injured, crippled, or killed. The opinions, stories, and ideas presented here are my own and do not constitute a recommendation of or endorsement for any particular or general use. I strongly recommend getting a complete physical and doctor’s approval before starting any type of strenuous activity. Especially if you are over the age of 40 or have high blood pressure, genetic heart problems or conditions, or elevated cholesterol levels. If you choose to workout, you do so at your own risk. In addition, working out requires patience, diligence, and above all else, using good form. Never bounce or over strain! Most important: listen to your body...

    Many of us have dogs. And, if you’re like me, you might neglect them a bit… What I mean is; I should walk my dog more than I do. I’m spoiled because we have a fenced backyard. And, unfortunately, I often fall into the lazy habit of simply letting him out there to do his business and then fail to give him the walking that he deserves and needs. On top of that, my dog is a yellow Labrador Retriever and has high energy levels. Not only does he need to be walked, but he really should be run. This was recently pointed out to me by my friend, Eden Ellis, who is a “dog coach.”

    This discussion really got me thinking… If Samson (that’s my Lab) needs exercise, why can’t I incorporate it into my daily routine, since I need exercise too. So, I started planning and came up with a routine. Eden told me that Samson needs to run about two miles each day. So, my plan was to do 2.5 miles total with .25 miles of walking on each end of the two mile run. Also, just like people, I knew that Samson needed to work up to this distance. We started with a short half-mile run on day one and did that for a few days before I carefully upped the distance. After a week I was up to a one mile run and I stayed at that distance for an entire week. From there, I followed the same rule that you should follow as a person by adding 10% distance each week. So over the next several weeks we slowly added to our distance and we are now nearing our goal of two miles of running!

    Once we have run our desired distance for a few weeks, I’m going to add one more thing that I like to do… I’m going to sprint the last 1/8 of a mile to roll into our cooldown walk with some serious heavy breathing and sweat.

    My running clothes and shoes are laid out beside my bed and I literally leap into them and head out after a quick pass through the bathroom. You only need to wake fifteen or so minutes early (depending on how fast and far you run) to get this awesome exercise in. If you have a dog this is a great way to start your day! It has helped me with my doggie bonding. And, it’s making Samson and me healthier and happier.

    Eden gave me some great advice and information. She said I could share it…

    Tips and Pointers from the Dog Coach

    Notify Your Vet
    Since dogs don’t complain like us, be sure to tell your veterinarian that you plan on exercising with your dog. They need to pay extra close attention to their heart, lungs and joints.

    Know Your Breed
    Certain breeds of dog are better suited for distance running than others. Shepherds, terriers, retrievers and other working/sporting dogs are built to run long distances, while others are not.

    Build Up Gradually
    If the longest you have walked is a mile, you cannot expect your pooch to run a marathon. Start with one mile the first five times and make sure his joints and pads are holding up well. Add a mile every five times you run. (Run 1-5 do one mile, run 6-10 do two miles, run 11-15 do 3 miles). Pay attention to your dog’s calorie intake if you start doing more than 15 miles a week.

    Watch the Paws
    The pads on a dog’s paws are very sensitive and must be toughened up with gradual increases in mileage. Be aware of the type of surface you are running on. Hot blacktop, jagged ice, glass and other roadside debris can cause injuries. If your dog starts to limp or lick its pads, stop the workout immediately. Salt and dirt from the road can get in between your dog’s toes, causing irritation and even infection. You must inspect your dog’s pads before and after outdoor workouts for cuts. Cleaning your dog’s paws with a warm, soapy rag after your run will take care of this problem

    Weather is Important
    Remember, your dog is wearing a fur coat. In the summer, don’t run in the middle of the day. If you plan on running long distances, bring water with you. Dogs cool off thru panting, their feet and the back of their neck. If possible, plan your run where there is access to creeks or other water features for them to cool down.

    Look for What He’s Saying
    Dogs can’t talk, but foaming at the mouth, heavy panting, glazed eyes and slowing down are sure signs that your dog is being overworked and should take a break.

    Leash or No Leash
    Leashing your dog will keep both of you under control and will ensure your pet keeps pace. Avoid using retractable leashes. A three- to six-foot leather leash should provide the right amount of distance. Able to run off lead is great since it allows him to stop and catch up at his own pace and tell you if he needs to rest. For the first few weeks, bring treats to help them get with the program. When they want to stop and investigate, say “leave it” and reward when they do. This will make a more pleasant transition for everyone.

     

    You can find Eden online at: www.pup-luv.com. Also, drop by and like her Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/pupluvdc

    In addition to Eden’s advice, some of my tips include:

    1. When he poops, I bag it and hide it so I’m not running with a bag full of crap.
    2. Remember to warm-up and cooldown with a walk.
    3. Run against traffic and remember that a car can spook your dog. Stay alert!
    4. If you’re running with the sun behind you, the oncoming traffic is often blinded. Be aware!
    5. Wear light colored and reflective materials if you run during the night/dark.
    6. Don’t forget to pickup the bag of poop that you hid earlier!

    Consider running your dog!

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    Jump Start Your Day

    What if I told you that if you were to give me 13 minutes, I PROMISE your day will be more enjoyable and go smoother!!! What have you got to lose?

    Lately I find that I am slower getting out of bed. Perhaps this is because I’m getting older (I’m 46 years young). Another thing I have noticed is that how I get out of bed affects my ENTIRE day!

    Starting NOW, I am going to improve this battle in the morning. Wanna do it with me??

    Let’s promise each other that we WILL NOT hit the snooze button. I wish I could disable or remove mine. If you find that this is too tough for you, my good buddy Nino Greasemaneli likes to put his alarm clock across the room from him, to ensure that he has to get up and run to shut off the alarm. I do this too… My alarm clock is on a dresser a litte ways away from the bed, so I have to get up and walk some to turn it off.

    Train yourself to jump out of bed immediately, with no hesitation, and start your day with movement. When I say, “jump,” I mean it… Literally leap with excitement and land with crazy eyes and a huge grin!!! (My wife is gonna think I’m nuts… Maybe she already does… HA!)

    The next thing we will do together is to keep our shoes and a pair of shorts beside the bed and hit the ground running!

    I’m going to start walking my dog, Samson, every morning… So, I will simply jump into my shorts and shoes and head down to take him out! If you don’t walk the dog, go outside anyway and do a brisk walk. I am talking about you being outside within two minutes of your alarm going off. No excuses! Don’t stop to take a pee even! Get up and run for the door! (okay… You can pee if you have to, but NOTHING else!)

    Here is the fun part of our walk. Breathing exercises…

    Start your walk with a deep breath holding exercise that I learned from Tony Robbins. Inhale briskly and deeply to a count of seven (7). Hold this breath for a count of 28 (you might not be able to do this the first couple of times you do it). Now slowly exhale to a count of 14. The ratio is: 1 in / hold for 4 / 2 out So if you can only inhale for a count of 5, then do 5 in, hold for 20, and then exhale for 10. Get it? Good! Repeat this exercise three times (this will take just about three minutes total).

    Then, for the next five minutes of your walk, perform “breathwalking.” Essentially, you inhale four times through your nose, exhale four times through your mouth, and repeat continuously for five minutes. During my exhale, I chant a powerful 4-syllable incantation like “my day is great!” Or, you could try, “I will lose weight!” Just make sure you chant something positive! Mucho thanks to Tony Robbins for teaching me this one too!

    Finish the last minute of your walk by calming your body and then do several minutes of easy stretches.

    So in 13 (or so) minutes, we have just sealed the deal for a fantastic day!

    I plan to follow my “breathwalk” with a 45-minute run (after dropping the boy inside the house) and then a more extensive stretch. On days that I don’t jog, I will go right down to my gym and do 45-minutes of “other” training.

    Who’s with me? I want a commitment for at least the 13-minutes to enrichment!

    Because I am a CDO (my doctor calls it OCD, but I didn’t like the order of the letters) planner, here is my morning routine that I have setup. If you dig, use it as an example of how you can do your own.

    4:25 a.m. WAKE UP WITH VIGOR!!!
    4:30 a.m. do the Eagle breathwalk exercise with Samson.
    4:45 a.m. run or workout for 45 minutes.
    5:34 a.m. stretch for 11 minutes.
    5:45 a.m. make and eat a healthy breakfast.
    6:15 a.m. jump in the shower and get ready for work.
    6:45 a.m. drive to work!

    Happy mornings to you,
    Vaughn

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    Sunrises and Sunsets

    This is a photo of my favorite sunrise … I took this photo at ~4:37 a.m. at 11,412 feet (give or take a foot). It’s just above the Ingraham Flats on Mount Rainier.

    Do you take the time to stop and smell the sunrise? I know most folks say “roses,” but I’m more of a sunrise kind of fella. My ride to work takes 61 or more minutes, yet I don’t complain and it flies by. One of the main reasons for this is because I have the pleasure of driving in during the sunrise. On top of that, my drive home often coincides with the sunset. Think about how lucky I am for a moment … That’s right … I get to watch the sun rise and set EVERY SINGLE day! It is a wondrous thing and I do it every day (sometimes twice).

    I often send myself a quick email while watching a particularly pretty sunrise or sunset. Mostly I do this because I’d like to remember precisely what I was seeing when I experienced it. Here are a few of my favorite descriptions of ones I’ve witnessed. If you can, try to focus on my words and actually imagine what the sunrise felt and looked like. You may find yourself imagining a most-awesome sunrise!

    The angry sky looked more like a war torn battlefield, than a sunset.

    Magenta and pink violently fought over control of the sky, while the domineering sun lazily crept into view.

    Grey and pink mingled together as the orangish-yellow sun eased above the horizon.

    Deep purple and orange came together to create an inspiring red lava field on the pale grey skyline.

    Black and grey mixed with burgundy like a tartan pattern on a Scottish kilt.

    Before the sun appeared over the horizon, its fiery light illuminated the bottom of some turbulent clouds and made them look more like cotton candy.

    A brilliant blue sky preceded the sunrise.

    The sunrise enhanced the clouds and made them look like an inverted ocean with rough waves.

    The flesh colored sunrise was added-to by the clouds; which formed sensual shapes along the horizon.

    The clouds lined up along the horizon as if preparing for battle.

    Crimson red glazed the bottoms of a spattering of clouds; which spread across the sky creating bloody faces.

    As the sun rose over the horizon, its bright light pierced through the trees and blinded anyone who happened to look east.

    My sincere hope is that I inspire and motivate you to take advantage of the beauty that comes with sunrises and sunsets. I challenge you to stop and smell the next sunrise that you are fortunate enough to witness!!!

    If you’ve witnessed a neat sunrise and/or sunset and thought about the description, please post that in the comments here.

    *The tall dark stranger walks into the sunset*

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