Recreation vs exercise: Tai Chi, Qigong, Yoga

Show video: Standing hanging stretch

Remember that ‘exercise’ is a whole science, and a profound and ongoing life-long journey. I think in our western culture people think ‘exercise’ means ‘recreation’, e.g. cycling, kayaking, golf, etc. Although ‘recreation’ can have excellent cardiovascular fitness and weight-loss benefits, here I am describing specific exercises. If, of course, you are a younger person or your focus is on general fitness and weight-loss then there are many activities that will help achieve this. To find what you enjoy best try: Sport New Zealand

Show video: Side stretch for RIBS

By ‘exercise’ I mean a whole system of physical training. My own background from my youth was training in the martial arts, and particularly the Internal Arts — mainly Tai Chi and Qigong. This whole body (or bodymind) training is still an essential part of the martial arts, Tai Chi, Qigong and Yoga. Body and mind integrated training was also the approach of the Greeks ‘gymnasium’.

Show video: Tai Chi rotation exercise — to relax and stretch back

It can be heartbreaking when we are advised or told not to do the sport or exercise we love: not to go climbing with a shoulder injury, or cycling with a disc injury. It is true that during an acute flare up then rest is best. But part of pacing, moderation and mindfulness is to get to know your body, physical capabilities and limitations very well. You can only push (train) so far — then rest and recovery — for so long.

Show video: Frozen shoulder rehabilitation exercise

We would not thrash a machine beyond its limitations without thinking about the consequences — yet our sport psychology seems to encourage this. How bizarre. For the professional athlete — pacing, moderation and mindfulness are key components and skills to training. We can train effectively and enjoy our favorite recreation (with or without injury) with mindfulness and fine-tuning. It works. Try it and see how it is for you.

Show video: Standing side stretch disc pump

One practical way to ‘remember’ not to overuse or strain an injured shoulder or arm is to wear a sling — so we don’t habitually use it. Even around the house, we use the other arm to open doors, lift the jug, etc.

Show video: Stand side stretch 2 disc explanation

This focus on mind as well as body was also part of Joseph Pilates development of Pilates as a training method. Every athlete knows that the mind and metal focus is just as important as the physical aspect of training. Yet, in our Western culture, with its (often aggressive) emphasis on competitive sport, I think that we can learn to be a little more moderate with ourselves. There is a ‘middle-way’ between excessive motivation, enthusiasm and drive and its opposite (not doing anything!): moderation, grace, ease, a harmony and integration of body, heart and mind. Mindfulness: life with full attention. Paying attention to what we are doing in each moment.

Show video: Piriformis muscle stretch (using chair)

Exercise requires conscious attention and works gently, yet precisely. We are not engaged in competitive sport — but working with ourselves. The focus is ‘within’ not external.

Although every precaution is taken here to present this material in as safe a way as possible, I must add a disclaimer that I cannot be held responsible for any injury or exacerbation of any symptoms from the practice of anything demonstrated here in these videos.

Show video: Hip flexor (psoas) lunge stretch

Please find an exercise class to go to if you can. If not please find someone (e.g. personal trainer) to check your movements. If something doesn’t feel right — please stop — or back off, and listen to what your body is telling you.

Suggested Resources:

For yoga:


For Pilates:


For Qigong:


For Tai Chi:


Perhaps one does have to exercise some judgment and caution, when getting involved in any circuit, class, or ‘movement’ that appears to have a ‘top-down’ hierarchy. You will intuitively know when you are in the right place, with the right people, and the ‘right’ teacher will have a warm and benign personality. You’ll probably feel that they seem like good people with good ‘vibes’. Hopefully you find an egalitarian ‘community class’ where all are equal, and there are no ‘games’ or personality cult, and nothing too weird or cultish. Of course, we are group animals, and I personally like the ‘atmosphere’ of training at my local gym, and yoga groups — and I work harder in this atmosphere, and enjoy the stimulus of the group.

Admittedly, I also find it sometimes easier to meditate, practice yoga and qigong, etc, and have deeper experiences, when in a class or group or on retreat (Christian, Buddhist, qigong, yoga, etc) and working with other like-minded people (the energy field, the atmosphere) and a charismatic ‘teacher’ can certainly inspire, guide and help others. Yet, there is some issue here in that the teacher also recycles the energy of the group, and focuses it, and, of course the real danger is that we want someone (some magical ‘healer’ or ‘master’ of our own projections) to do the work for us. Of course this magic can and does happen, and it can be life-changing. Genuine friendship, and connection and human relationship is profoundly important on any path, and for all of us. And we all need a peer-group also.

In my youth, I did a lot of spiritual ‘window shopping’ and dipped into many things, and had the privilege to train over several years with high level Tai Chi and Qigong ‘masters’. And I could say that this no doubt helped me develop and strengthen my healing skills (yet I would have done this anyway — in spite of, not because of the ‘input’ I received). Anyone with any true ‘spiritual’ level, will always exhibit humility and generosity and a desire to help their community and other people, rather than someone (a lesser individual no doubt) trying to ‘enroll’ you in a particular discipline. Of course, there have to be teachers and novices, and we are all students, and yes, things do cost money. Things have to be organized (and someone does have to organize them) but most of all, we have to work with ourselves genuinely to get anywhere.

The Chinese schools (Tai Chi and Qigong) seem to have an overly formal approach. I was respectful, yet found it a bit ridiculous to hear about the ‘so and so’ grandmaster, and ‘so and so’s’ teacher. Some groups I studied with took themselves very seriously, and their ‘lineage’ and their ‘tradition’ and sometimes this did feel at times like some kind of ‘spiritual mafia’ which of course is totally unspiritual. If you are a Christian, the same teaching is in the gospels (gnosticism), yet look at the history, infighting and power structure of what Christianity sadly became. And I sometimes came across a kind of ‘authority trip’ (ego) in not so much the teachers, but their organisers and disciples. Really ‘Who cares?’ Well, I guess this will never change.

Maybe it’s just part of a cultural conditioning (respect for authority, tradition etc, not necessarily all bad). Maybe I was just young then and arrogant and a maverick (maybe I still am) but as educated egalitarian intelligent westerners, well ... good to keep our own counsel.

No one ever attained ‘enlightenment’ until they left the group and the tribe behind. Think about this one. And, of course, they’ll never actually say so, but the tribe never really want you to ever leave. Buddha’s final words (so we are told) were something like: ‘be a light unto yourself’. He understood this all, and knew what would happen.



christchurch   osteopathy   acupuncture

mike inman   osteopath


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