Healthy Tai Chi and Alexander movement with Ian Deavin and Judy HammondWidely experienced Alexander teacher Judy Hammond and long-term Tai Chi instructor Ian Deavin have created a program of physical and mental exercises suitable for both complete beginners  or for more experienced exercisers. 

The seminar will cover:
Exercises, Spiralling movement, Qigong, Mindfulness, Meditation, Tai Chi Principles, Alexander Principles

Venue: The Letchworth Centre for Healthy Living, Rosehill Hospital, Hitchin Road
Letchworth, Hertfordshire, SG6 3NA
Sunday 12th November 2017, 9.30-12.30
Cost:
£45 per seminar for bookings up to 1 week before each seminar. £55 after
To book: telephone 01462 678804
Please wear suitable loose clothing and flat soled trainers or similar

Chinese hillside

In Tai Chi we talk about natural movement and tend to think of it in quite specific, almost jargon, terms – as the movement which develops when the body is relaxed and moving from the centre.

But it is worth asking:  doesn’t everybody move naturally? What is the difference and how do we get from one to the other?

Well, it seems to me that we learn most movement by copying others, by modelling. As a baby we see others walking and seek to copy them – we use a hit and miss process to find what works and start to put in place habits of movement that we build on for life in a relatively unconscious way, unless we specifically and consciously choose otherwise.

It may be considered that in evolutionary terms a semi-quadrapedal gait is “natural” for human beings – a bit like chimpanzees – however we have accumulated a long history of upright movement which each new generation takes on for itself.

In this process of learning to walk we necessarily use tension in order to stand upright and move – we then add further tensions throughout our lives from our other experiences and training such as sports or daily sitting at a desk or in a car.

Over many years this unconscious “training” has a cumulative effect on our posture and ability to move easily – our joints become stiff, our muscles lose elasticity and we come to believe that these limitations are “natural” consequences of aging.

We notice, for example, back problems, stiff shoulders, knee problems, etc., inactivity leading to obesity, difficulty in doing things we have taken for granted – e.g. gardening, walking, getting out of chairs etc.

Even “young” people are subject to these negative changes as they use their body less over the years and are subject to more stresses in their lives – actually once we start “work” and don’t have time for relaxed activity, once we become driven about anything.

This is a process which begins at roughly age 1 year old when we learn to walk in a very ad-hoc fashion, and by late teens can already be well advanced. By the time we reach middle-age it is well entrenched and generally unnoticed until we reach our 60s and 70s and begin to feel physically limited and vulnerable on a daily basis.

From personal experience I know that the process is to a certain extent reversible. This reversal is initiated by loosening the body slowly by degrees, enabling improvements in posture and balance. Often by later years this alone takes a significant commitment of soft daily exercise and mindful gentle correction in classes and at home, together with daily attention in all our general physical activities. This can productively include learning to walk again – this time in a very conscious way.

Building on this work we can also seek to re-build elasticity in the released tissues by further gentle, slow, passive working of the fascial tissues.

Tai Chi training seeks to promote this relaxed and passive elastic way of moving – this is not a quick fix – rather it requires much dedicated effort over a long term, probably indefinite period.

However, once the process of loosening, postural correction and development of passive elasticity has begun then we also find growth of what we term connectedness, or connectivity. This refers to the way that once freed from tension the soft tissues can begin once again to work together, each working with its neighbours – in a way somewhat similar to a tug of war team, or any other team, each building on the work of the other. This results in a segmental movement whereby a ripple/wave type of internal action occurs with all parts of the body moving together in a synchronised way – leading to the idea that “one part moves – everything moves; one thing stops, everything stops.”

As this development of new habits of body usage and movement proceeds, it becomes natural, especially in so far as it is relaxed and integrative.

Within the Tai Chi program therefore we learn to:
–    Relax – e.g. informally, massage, stress management
–    Relax in stationery posture, e.g. Chi Kung
–    Relax in standing movement, e.g. exercises
–    Relax in walking movements, e.g. forms
Then we learn to relax when acted on by external forces, e.g. when involved with a training partner.

Ultimately we can then learn to use this relaxed movement in our daily lives and in our martial arts practice if that is our interest.

Alternative Health Exercises retreat 2017

Judy Hammond and Ian ran a Tai Chi and Alexander retreat at Belsey Bridge last weekend with everybody enjoying some relaxing work on posture and movement, connecting with our bodies and learning improved methods of body usage – as one delegate put it:

“What a lovely weekend. Thank you so much for all your hard work and input. I learnt so much and it was all very interesting. I felt pretty tired Monday but very energised now which is wonderful. Need more weekends like that! ”

With the day split up into morning and afternoon sessions each one began on the floor with Alexander Technique “semi-supine” work to relax and feel the body – to align the spine and to lightly engage the muscles of the trunk. After standing up this was followed with some very soft loosening in a Tai Chi format to take the feeling achieved on the floor into the vertical, so that everyone could get the sense of being relaxed while moving softly – which was in turn expanded into Tai Chi walking and other general movement. Good overall posture and good primary control of the head and neck were encouraged throughout with physical adjustments from Judy and Ian.posture adjustments

Greek dance sessionSunday included some Greek dance which gave a fun example of body usage – and some individual posture adjustments photographed or videoed on personal phones for delegates to take home.

The venue at Belsey Bridge was excellent with some lovely staff and delicious food – a wonderful exercise hall and delightful surroundings for strolling or personal meditation.Quiet time at Belsey BridgeA meal at Belsey Bridge

We are certainly planning to go back again next May – so pencil it into your diary and watch this space.

Healthy Tai Chi and Alexander movement with Ian Deavin and Judy Hammond

The following article was recently published by Kindred Spirit magazine:

Over my many years of studying and teaching Tai Chi I have recognised that much of individual movement stems from habit – we learn to walk at around 1 year old and then pay it little attention to it until some 60 or so years later when, having accumulated many random poor habits of posture and movement, we notice a certain lessening of physical ability and vulnerability of balance usually coupled with physical and emotional tensions.

Along my journey with Tai Chi I came across Alexander Technique which also refers to habits of body use and of the way each part of the body relates to the others. Indeed, I have heard it expressed that “Tai Chi is Alexander Technique with movement.” So it is not surprising that when I met Judy Hammond – an experienced teacher of Alexander Technique – there was a meeting of minds around a shared interest in understanding and teaching healthy ways of moving and healthy living – helping us to live more comfortably and more capably with reduced pain, facilitating the body’s natural healing processes. Helping us to deal with the stresses of daily living. Common approaches include: relax and move, light upright posture, movement from the centre, a connected relationship within the body, passive elastic movement, mindful attention, thoughtful consideration of movement, sensitivity and awareness of body and emotions.

Such a common understanding led quite soon to us teaching joint seminars and now joint weekend retreats. Drawing on my own Tai Chi background from Yang Style to Chen Style and Judy’s Moving Mindfully approach, we have developed a unique synthesis – a way of working with exercises inspired by the two disciplines.

Further drawing on dance, meditation, visualisation and martial arts experience with a good measure of humour, these Alternative Health Exercises are suitable for beginners and experienced people who will also recognise common themes from other areas such as Yoga and Pilates. Our aim has been to bring together a simple and fun way to develop easy movement as an investment in self.

It is our observation that developing a skill in movement leads to a healthier mind and body with enhanced proprioception that enhances static and dynamic balance. Exercises work to develop inner awareness around the centre line of the body, head floating up, lower body sinking down (heaven and earth), a lithe connectedness, good posture at all times whether seated, standing or in dynamic movement. Meditation and visualisation are used as aids to this awareness and relaxation.

In a world where we every day experience the spectrum of life from the fun and enjoyable to the aggressiveness of simple conflicts – as one of my teachers once said: “It is easy to be enlightened on the top of a mountain with no distractions – just come down here where life comes at you like a conveyor belt and then try it!” (Vince Morris). In such a world many people find the natural relaxed movement of Tai Chi to be very therapeutic – both calming and healing. For some the isolation of quiet meditative movement enhances this experience as in solitary practice or individual sessions with a teacher; for others the physical and emotional closeness of group work keeps them grounded in human contact.

Whatever suits each person the core of Tai Chi movement provides a centre – a structure on which to develop a very special way of being – with at its heart a dedication to resilience, strength and understanding of change leading to a stronger body, mind and spirit. Big claims – but ones which many have found fulfilled.

In seeing Tai Chi as therapy, leading to personal development in its widest sense, we should be wary of thinking this might be an “airy fairy” program. On the contrary, it is – or at least can be – a very practical down to earth skill set derived from much practice and hard work with its full measure of fun and challenge. Tai Chi viewed in this way can be understood as a very personal investment in oneself – an investment in future old age and learning to look after yourself – physically, mentally and emotionally. Whatever you are looking for the Tai Chi is the same, it is just a question of how far and how wide any one person wishes to take it.

Learning about ourselves and others, we learn to survive and to survive well into long and happy lives by developing our spiritual and emotional growth path. Tai Chi is fundamentally linked to the world views of Taoism and Zen Buddhist meditation and so is a very practical and pragmatic approach with connections to modern day psychology/psychotherapy as well as neurophysiology. As one student explained: “I’d suffered with sciatica for over 10 years and working at a desk bent over a computer screen really didn’t help. I had to have expensive back manipulation and decompression once a month, just to reduce the pain enough for me to function. Tai Chi was suggested to me as something that may help, so I thought “give it a try, what’s the worst that could happen”. By the end of the first month my back pain diminished, and I’ve never needed any treatment since starting. It worked for me, but I didn’t stop then because I thought, “what else can this do for me?” I look at Tai Chi as an insurance policy for health and wellbeing as I get older. Don’t believe for one moment that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, or course you can, as an old dog myself I can vouch for that. I’ve been learning Tai Chi for over 4 years and every lesson opens a new door to understanding how I function now, and gives me the tools to become better.

The classes are structured but with no pressure on you and you learn at your own speed. Every teacher I’ve met, including my fellow students, who I also learn from, have been friendly and supportive. People at the classes are not judgemental on how well you perform, because we are all still learning. Every lesson has left me feeling good and given me something to think about for the next week.”

My colleague Judy Hammond explains a similar viewpoint: “As a result of decades of dance, movement and Pilates studies plus the Alexander training, I began to acquire a more immediate understanding of and “feel” for the movement qualities embodied in the great classical techniques of yoga and tai chi as well as other movement and dance forms. Tentatively at first I began to experiment with new teaching methods in an attempt to convey the essence of the appropriate movement quality, employing a multidisciplinary approach, gentle partner work and vivid imagery. Many students visibly and rapidly integrated a broader range of movement qualities plus increased awareness and confidence in moving, and many reported ongoing benefits in everyday life.

It’s my heartfelt belief that the opportunity to move mindfully and be conscious of our alignment and breathing patterns is one of the key resources needed to flourish and feel positive and sometimes joyful, even in the face of difficult circumstances.”

A long term student of Alexander Technique explains: “When at 30 years old I was diagnosed with poly- arthritis and poly-myalgia … I was warned that I could be in a wheelchair by my forties. I am now 65, on my feet and leading an active life, due, I believe, to the benefits of the Alexander Technique throughout this period.”

It is our joint belief that when we feel anxious, depressed or traumatised most of us tend somewhat to absent ourselves from our bodies – the mind races, breathing may become rapid and shallow, neck and shoulders become tense, and we often lose awareness of our legs and feet. These phenomena will be most radical in shock/trauma, but even everyday levels of anxiety may evoke some degree of these responses.

One of the most effective and fast acting remedies for these distressing and all too common reactions is to apply mindfulness to our alignment, breathing and movement quality – it can be quite extraordinary to experience how quickly we can regain more comfortable levels of calmness, centeredness and resourcefulness.

This year – 2017 – we will be hosting an Alternative Health Exercises weekend at Belsey Bridge in the beautiful Suffolk countryside near the market town of Bungay. This venue has a rich and fascinating history of learning and introspection, being originally a school for orphans run by the neighbouring nunnery. It was at the time also a school, a hospital and home for “fallen women”. The building was later used as a boarding school and now as a religious conference centre – it is ideal for a quiet weekend offering excellent outdoor and indoor spaces for practice and reflection, group meetings and country walks.

For details and booking of seminars and retreats contact Ian Deavin at iandeavin68@gmail.com or 07860 218334. For further information see www.sheffordtaichi.org alsowww.alternativehealthexercises.org  and  www.movingmindfully.com

See this article and much other interesting information at Kindred Spirit magazine

Tai Chi and Alexander Technique seminars 2017

6 January 2017
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Once again Judy and Ian will be running their joint seminars at The Letchworth Centre for Healthy Living – this year coupled with the weekend retreat in May at Belsey Bridge near Bungay in Suffolk.

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Residential weekend – retreat/workshop

17 November 2016
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Alternative Health Exercises Residential Weekend – incorporating exercises suggested by Tai Chi and Alexander Technique, 12-14 May 2017 at the Belsey Bridge Conference Centre, Suffolk – based on exercises  developed  from Tai Chi &  Alexander Technique with  elements of dance incorporated  into two days of mindfulness exercises  and meditation ‐ developing a practical  way of being. Widely experienced Alexander teacher  Judy Hammond and long‐term Tai Chi  instructor Ian Deavin have created this  program of physical and mental  exercises suitable for both complete  beginners seeking a retreat weekend,  or for more experienced exercisers  looking to “workshop” their mind and  body development. Belsey Bridge Conference Centre offers  a delightful mix of space, quietness   and excellent hospitality  ‐ the  package includes tuition with full   board plus morning and  afternoon tea. an introduction to Tai Chi and  Alexander Technique Relaxing and strengthening  movement Individual, partner and group  work Meditation, visualisations To […]

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Tai Chi and other alternative health exercises for 50+ age group

16 November 2016
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As I understand it, there are many aspects to the aging process, for example cellular replication slows down at around 50 years or so, as a result of which the number of stem cells in our body start to run down. The world’s oldest woman who died at 115 years old a while ago was found to […]

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Tai Chi & Alexander Technique Seminar 13th November 2016

13 October 2016
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Covering exercises, spiralling movement, Qigong, mindfulness, meditation, Tai Chi principles and Alexander principles. The seminar will be run by Ian Deavin and Judy Hammond and participants will be engaged in a fascinating mix of meditation and movement, creating inner body awareness and developing a practical and spiritual mind/body link of considerable strength. Qigong is a basic training […]

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Shefford Tai Chi Festival 2017

29 September 2016
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Each year on the last Saturday of April the World Health Organisation recognises World Tai Chi and Qigong Day – so for 2017 we are planning a Tai Chi festival at the newly refurbished Shefford Community Hall. Entry will be free for all with plans for demonstrations, taster classes, falls prevention discussions, etc through the […]

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