Our speaker for November's Support Group Meeting was Kathy Stiffney, a Licensed Massage Therapist and a Tai Chi Instructor from Goshen, IN. She has been teaching Tai Chi for 11-12 years, and this was our topic the evening
Kathy had been a kindergarden teacher for 27 years, and began training as a massage therapist during that time. She later began learning, and then teaching Tai Chi. It turns out that she, like me, has been fond of all things Asian for many years and this has pulled her to this method of exercise and stress-relief.
Tai Chi, she explains is a very subtle art. It developed originally as a subtle form of martial art, and has evolved into its own profund mental and physical discipline, which focuses specifically on promoting health, relaxation and the cultivation of the internal vital energy known as to the Chinese as Chi.
Tai Chi does not focus on the gross motor skills like so many other exercises do. Its purpose is different. It's purpose is to promote:
Thinking & Memory
This method of movement is both gentle and yet demanding. It involves slow, balanced, controlled movements utilizing the whole body in a flowing sequence of positions called, "the form." It is an art of complete inner calm and serene focus. (As I mention in my book, Fibromyalgia Basics, I've been doing Tai Chi, in my own form, for nearly 13 years. I find that focusing on Tai Chi - my movements and the breathing - takes my mind OFF of other things...like pain, or depression, or stresses or worry running around in my mind. And doing this daily, ten minutes every single morning, bolsters me for the long haul.)
Kathy demonstrated about 5 minutes of beautifully fluid movements, explaining that she is deep breathing as she moves, she is moving slowly and deliberately, and showed the muscle strength being used to keep the movements slow. And as she turns this way and that, she is slowly massaging internal organs building up the muscles and strengthening the organs - heart, liver, lungs, spleen, intestines etc. This is healing because strength in these muscles helps them function more effeciently.
Because we were a small group she asked us to join in. We all rose, even the husband of one of our members, FF. It turns out that he pretty much put us all to shame, even with his chronic back pain! Kathy was able to come around to each of us to help perfect the stance and movements as we went along for some very basic beginning movements.
She also showed us how her class "Ohm's." She said they do ohming before and/or after the class to achieve a sort of connection. She demonstrated how it was done. The toning was very calming just listening to her. I asked if we could all do it together. Everyone was up for it, even FF. The idea is to take in a long slow deep breath, and then let it out slowly, as long as you can - all of it - while releasing the word "Ohmmmmm." Toning in this fashion assures all the "bad air" is released, before taking in more "good air." The "mmmmm" sound resonates so deeply, especially with all of us doing it together - one could actually feel it resonating in the bones. It felt really, really nice - soothing on a physical and emotional level, as well as a deeper level yet. And guess what? It turns out that FF is a prodigy, outlasting all of us in the length of letting out the bad air, on several occassions! Whoda thunk?
Kathy then showed us how to "body scan." We all know that tension can create pain. But, she said, we often don't realize when we are tense. She described a personal example. She was laying on her couch watching TV one evening when she decided to do a body scan. She took inventory of her body, from feet, legs, torso, arms, neck and even scalp. She discovered that her legs were tense, so she consciously stretched, then relaxed them.
I would have to say that it could be a real benefit for all of us to do regular body scans. I did this at home and realized that after being on the computer for only 15 minutes my neck was tense. I moved and stretched, and began again on my computer. I discovered that I need to do this body scan about every 15 minutes, and then move and stretch again. I'm certain this body scan prevented a nasty stiff neck before bedtime. It's kind of like taking inventory as to how we hold ourselves. We often hold tension in our body for whatever reason, without even realizing it - neck, shoulders, arms, legs, stomach, back, even our face!
Then we learned how to do stretches ala Tai Chi! Wow, did that feeel good! But you'll have to make an appointment with her to learn how to do it! *:)
There's no doubt about it. Kathy has a lot to teach that can help anyone with Fibromyalgia or chronic pain. Her classes are in Goshen, often at The Retreat Goshen's Women's Health Center, and are set up for six weeks at a time, to learn the basics.
1119 South Indiana Ave.
Gishen, IN 46526
(across from Goshen Middle School)
For appointments: call Kathy at 574-202-7710 or 574-534-4591