Category Archives: Reflections

Staying Hydrated

CTCC thanks Cawood Fitzhugh for this article. Ms. Cawood is a T’ai Chi participant who recently retired as a Nurse Practitioner in Primary Care.
Please note: Any dizziness should always be checked out by your medical provider. The facts on hydration are the same for all, unless there is someone who is medically on a fluid restriction.

In the morning, drinking a warm cup of water before coffee or tea can be quite beneficial for our bodies.  This can provide a nice start for some good hydration, giving our bodies water that is needed early in the day. Sleeping during the night is dehydrating, and sometimes we are already behind already in our hydration. We wake up, go to the bathroom – which dehydrates us – then drink a cup of coffee in which the caffeine dehydrates us more, constricting the blood vessels.  Additional caffeine is added sometimes to coffees and the lighter the roast, the greater the caffeine.  All of this contributes to causes of dehydration which can result in lightheadedness, especially when we exercise early in the morning.
Sometime coffee drinkers can be attached to the smell of coffee brewing and the stimulating good feeling. This is especially true as a younger adult — coffee can make you feel happy to drink it. However, as we age, coffee may actually exacerbate jitters, increase anxiety, increase our blood pressures and cumulative effects may interfere with sleep.  Switching over to a good organic tea brand is beneficial because of the antioxidants in the tea which decrease inflammation in the body and may help to minimize blood pressure as well as anxiety.  If you are attached to coffee and it brings you joy, try making a cup with 1/2 decaf and 1/2 regular coffee decreasing the total amount of caffeine while still enjoying the same amount of cups.

If you want to try a tea, many coffee drinkers seem to enjoy Masala Chai for the “kick” of flavor, being a little pungent and spicy for the dark roast coffee drinkers. The “Rishi” tea company makes a Masala chai that people seem to enjoy. It is found online through Amazon, locally at Whole Foods and Wegmans and is organic.  Green tea is even better, but Americans have traditionally only had bad teas growing up and tend to shy away from tea.  Black tea is a way to transition over from coffee and then move into the other wonderful world of teas with their anti-inflammatory effects.

For early morning exercise, it is important for all of us to enjoy a large glass of warm water when we first awake.  This hydrates the body, will get the digestive system moving and makes us feel better overall for the rest of the day and enables our bodies to perform our intention by paying attention to what is needed.

Hydration is accumulative.  So sipping water or an herbal tea throughout the day, provides flavor, vitamins, minerals and an overall sense of well-being.  Of course if you are under any medical care, please follow the seasoned advice of your health care provider.  And always remember, there are many reasons for some lightheadedness when standing for long periods or with any exercise. This always needs to be further evaluated by your healthcare provider in an expedient manner.  

T’ai Chi in the Dentist Chair

Many thanks to Ferrell Mercer for this unique application of T’ai Chi principles.

Recently I have been undergoing a sequence of complex dental procedures. At one point I spent three hours in the dentist chair. As usual, I used my T’ai Chi training to consciously relax during the process and I am certain that doing so led to my having less discomfort both during the procedure and afterward.

The process of even simple dental work is pretty much designed to cause tension. There is the expectation of pain, even though modern dentistry has greatly reduced or eliminated the actual pain of most procedures. Then there is the fact that generally two people have their hands and a variety of tools in your mouth and around various parts of your face. There are also vibrations, strange noises and strange odors that all can make us tense.

T’ai Chi teaches us to become aware of tension in our body and to relax that tension. Over time we can achieve conscious control over our instinct to tense. I found T’ai Chi push hands particularly helpful in learning to relax with someone else in my ‘space’. Continue reading

Taiwan 2019 – Reflections by Josh Lowry

The problem with the task of writing a brief reflection on the CTCC trip to Taiwan is
deciding what experiences make the cut. There is a desire to include every detail.
How could we leave out encounters with robots in Korea? The Rainbow Village. The
stunts our cabbies were pulling flying down the highway over 90 mph with a death
wish and us in tow. The food mosh pit carnival light show sensory explosion
madness, that is the Taichung night market. The best damn breakfast buffet in the
East at the Evergreen Laurel hotel. Those memories and more won’t soon be
forgotten, but what will stay with me are the relationships formed and the chance to
really immerse myself in training for the first time. Continue reading

T’ai Chi and Tennis

Many thanks to Qian Cai for sharing how T’ai Chi has helped her on and off the tennis court.

“Relax the body,” “bend the knees,” “turn the center,” Sensei Hiromi’s soft voice spoke to me in my head, as I tried to remind myself of a few fundamentals. No, I was not practicing T’ai Chi. I was on the tennis court, body lowered, eyes on the ball in my opponent’s tossing hand, and getting ready for the next point.

An enthusiastic tennis player, I tore my ACL a few years ago on the tennis court. The surgeon told me firmly that without an ACL replacement surgery, I would not be able to play tennis anymore. My physical therapist, on the other hand, suggested that I might be a “coper”– someone who could bypass the surgery by improving the leg muscle strength and balance to compensate for the lost function of a critical knee ligament.

I thought of trying T’ai Chi – a series of slow movements I deemed an “old person’s pastime.” As a young child growing up in China, I watched my grandpa do it every morning at the community park with many other seniors. But at that moment, T’ai Chi’s gentleness, or old-people-friendliness, beckoned to me and seemed to be exactly what I needed.

From the 14 steps, to 33, 66, and 100 steps, four long years passed. What a learning and enriching experience! Despite several internal struggles to give up at the beginning, I stuck with it and gradually noticed the mental and physical benefits, including the keen recognition that it was having an amazing, unexpected positive effect on my tennis game. I considered myself, in hindsight, truly fortunate to have stayed on long enough to experience first-hand the beauty and wisdom of T’ai Chi.

Because of T’ai Chi’s slow and highly deliberate movements and the emphasis on correct posture and stance, my quadriceps become stronger, which has helped to significantly control my knee movements and reduce knee stress. My posture is more aligned with the energy flows, known as “qi”, which, when the paths are cleared, nourish and soften the joints. My mind has become more relaxed, calm, and clear and less reactive.

In addition to these great health benefits, T’ai Chi taught me valuable tennis lessons I would never have imagined. As a direct result, not only am I able to continue to play tennis contrary to my surgeon’s prediction, I play better, rising from 3.5 to 4.0 last year in the United States Tennis Association ranking. I was thrilled to realize the similarity and connection between the two seemly opposite forms of exercise.

  1. With an ACL rupture I may not run as fast or pivot/cut as sharp, but I learned to be more strategic and purposeful with every shot, or “move” as in T’ai Chi. I also learned to be more relaxed, focused, and not hurried on the court.
  2. I learned that “bending the knees” and “sinking the body low” are good preparation and make it easier to move around on the court more quickly.
  3. I learned in order to generate power and speed, “center turn” is much more effective and critical than swinging an arm or shoulder.
  4. I applied the rule of “70-30” often. Instead of going all out and playing aggressively, I remembered to save 30 percent of the energy/effort for the situations when more is needed.
  5. Through T’ai Chi, I came to appreciate my tennis coach, Jim Labinski’s motto of “zen tennis”, which is also his email address. For a fast-moving sport like tennis, “zen” is, surprisingly (or not surprisingly), the key, not “faster” or “stronger.” Often before a match, I do a quick T’ai Chi warm up and when I anticipate a highly competitive match, I make myself mentally ready with a standing meditation. It is amazing how effective these techniques are.

I love tennis, and I love T’ai Chi. I couldn’t be more grateful that through a knee injury, I discovered and developed a new passion, which in turn, quietly helped me to further another.

What Next?

Many thanks to Leonard Tuchyner for this wonderful article about T’ai Chi and rehabilitation after medical procedures.

At my age, I have friends who have gone through serious operations, including knee replacements. Some have done well and others not so much. The difference, as far as my observations go, is what happens after the medical services are finished.

Throughout my life, I’ve relied on physical activities to maintain my health, but gradually my aging body forced me to give up many of them. I had been an avid bicycle rider, but eventually, advanced retinal deterioration caused legal blindness. I could no longer determine where the edges of unmarked roads were. Consequently, I was forced to hang up my riding helmet. By the time I was 68, I had to abandon martial arts. My joints could no longer bear the stress of these activities. Even gardening was becoming painful. I knew vigorous physical activity was essential for good health, but what was I to do?

My wife had signed up for a round of classes at the Charlottesville T’ae Chi Center, so I decided to attend a demonstration. When I witnessed the smooth, seemingly effortless routines people of all ages were doing, I decided to give it a try. I was particularly enamored with the school Master’s demonstration. She moved with the grace of flowing water. Continue reading

An Orthopaedic Surgeon’s Take on T’ai Chi for Seniors

Frequent Problems with Aging

  • Decreased activity
  • Gradual weight-gain
  • Muscle loss and weakness
  • Osteoporosis/bone loss
  • Loss of balance and unsteadiness
  • Frequent falls
  • Fractures of wrist, spine, and most seriously, the hip (80% over 65 and 70% in women)

Effective Exercise Program for Seniors

  • Aerobic conditioning
  • Strength training
  • Flexibility and agility exercises

T’ai Chi

  • Flexibility/agility program of exercises, breathing, and movements based on Chinese practices
  • Integration of mind and body in slow, circular movements and changes in the center of gravity
  • Though not all are unequivocally proven, there is a growing body of scientific literature reporting a multitude of psychological and physiological long-term health benefits
    • Increased self-confidence and sense of well-being
    • Statistically significant improvement in self-assessed health
    • Significant improvement in self-efficacy for arthritis symptoms
    • Significant improvement in level of tension
    • Significant improvement in satisfaction with general health status
    • Reduced somatic symptoms of depression
    • Improved physical functioning
    • Reduced fatigue
    • Significant improvement in glucose control, diabetic self-care activities, and quality of life of patients with type 2 diabetes
    • Improved diet quality and coronary heart disease risk factors, such as LDL particle size (when T’ai Chi added to diet education)
    • Positive impact on cardiovascular fitness
    • Reduced blood pressure
    • Positive impact on muscle strength
    • Increased muscle endurance
    • Increased bone density
    • Improved postural stability
    • Improved body balance
    • Decreased fear of falling
    • Decreased falls and reduced risk of hip fractures (according to OrthoInfo from The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons)


Now that I’m a senior myself, I recently decided to practice what I’ve preached for years.  In addition to aerobic and strengthening exercises, I’ve been doing T’ai Chi at Farmington Country Club with Hiromi Johnson, a very well-known and respected, internationally certified instructor from Charlottesville  T’ai Chi Center.  I recommend that others, especially seniors, do everything possible – INCLUDING IMPROVEMENT OF BALANCE – to prevent a hip fracture and its often dreadful consequences.  To complete a fully effective exercise program, if possible and available, START T’AI CHI!

Michael Kovac, M.D.
Fellow, The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Poem From Leonard Tuchyner

The following is a poem written by Leonard Tuchyner. Many thanks to Leonard for sharing such a personal message.

T’ai Chi, an Abiding Teacher
Leonard Tuchyner

Friends now for seven years,
introduced at a Chang Ming school,
you an ancient, sage teacher,
I a new naïve student,
antique by human standards.

Your slow steady ways were strange,
showing strength through balance and grace,
balance through timeless patience,
patience through flowing motion,
power through quiet presence.

You were a demanding teacher,
requiring my dedication,
rewarding me with inspiration,
a sense of internal focus,
a bounty of satisfaction.

Affliction pushed us apart.
My aortic valve was closing,
too much for my struggling heart
to breach across the narrowed gap.
Surgeons split my breast asunder,
restrained my heart from beating,
removed the ailing valve
and replaced it with bovine tissue.

I longed for you in my exile.
You were never far from mind.
I tried to recall your touch,
the wisdom in your lessons,
fearing you might be lost to me.

When I dared to stir my arms again,
free of fear for a ripping sternum,
I returned to your abiding school
and found that you were still there for me.
The skills and lessons you taught remained,
residing in my deepest reaches.

Too many times life draws me away
from your sacred place of learning,
but T’ai chi now resides in me
and holds out a hand of welcome.
There is much work to be done.
My path is a road without end.
Every step is a refinement,
every juncture an extension.
Even when I’m beyond repair,
Our partnership will still be there.
This union is deeper than
my corporeal existence,
which is simply a tool for learning.

Poem From Ferrell Mercer

The following is a poem written by Ferrell Mercer about the importance of in-person instruction in T’ai Chi. Thanks to Ferrell for sharing!

Body to Body
     Why t’ai chi cannot be taught
     by a video or a book.
          – for Grandmaster Wang Fu-Lai
          with gratitude

The Zen people say
“The finger
that points at the moon
is not the moon.”

A picture of a feast
does not make your belly full,

just as the map
of my valley
is not the beauty
of my valley.

To know precisely
in each particular body
the right posture and movement
in each moment
a living teacher
who can over time
show the way.

Even the great Yang Lu Chan
who it is said
secretly watched the Chens
and learned enough t’ai chi
to be accepted as a student
when he was discovered
studied with a Chen master
to reach his own mastery.

We know
no other way
that works.
Would you be
the first patient
of a surgeon
who learned the craft
solely by watching video?

Would you
consider yourself a surgeon
if you had learned your art thus?

T’ai Chi For Healing and Growth

Many thanks to Leonard Tuchyner for this wonderful article about his journey with T’ai Chi and Master Hiromi.

So there I was, seventy years old with no clue as to how I got to be a septuagenarian. What I did know was that my body must have been driven by a maniac. Miraculously, I was still standing and functioning, despite the fact that my medics wanted to replace my knees because I’d worn out all the cartilage.

I had survived life, but I didn’t do it without a lot of bumps in the road. I was legally blind, had a back that had been broken twice and a leg three times. I also earned a torn rotator cuff on the left side, a shoulder surgery on the other, and arthritis had found a welcoming home in my well-broken-in body.

Leonard_WarmupWhy am I going into this long laundry list of woe-is-meisms? It’s to show you how T’ai Chi has helped keep me healthy and fit despite this baggage of aches and complaints. It’s a highly adaptive physical and mental health resource that can work with and through almost any list of age-related groans that we have earned through the years. In fact, you can do variations of T’ai Chi on crutches or in a wheelchair.

Continue reading

Ed and Betsy Reflect on T’ai Chi

For the past seventeen months Ed and I have been students of Master Hiromi Johnson, Director of the Charlottesville T’ai Chi Center. We are learning the Cheng Ming form of T’ai Chi Chuan which we started in our late sixties. In the following article, Ed as a former physician of Internal Medicine focuses on the health benefits of T’ai Chi as well as other aspects of our shared learning experience. My focus, with a background in Recreation and Park Management, is on my personal experience and how I feel T’ai Chi is beneficial to growing older.

Ed and Betsy Doing Deflect Right and LeftEd:
At the beginning of each class we do a series of warmup exercises to loosen and stretch our muscles. This has improved our flexibility. Each member of the class sets their own limit on the extent of their warmup, so there should be no major pain or injuries. These exercises gently work the upper and lower back muscles, shoulders, hips, and thighs. This is followed by two sequences of specific T’ai Chi exercises which consist of movements that we perform throughout the formal 100-step T’ai Chi form. These exercises have more martial applications, but are mainly demonstrations for learning the proper form for positioning and moving our body when we start the formal T’ai Chi sequence.

Once we learned the gross movements and positions, we gradually started refining the details of each step. Only as we began the refinement process did we realize that a minimum error in our form would result in a major loss of strength and force. When we finish our warmups and the T’ai Chi Exercises, we do a T’ai Chi standing meditation. This helps to relax and calm our minds before we begin the 100-steps. The effects of this relaxing meditation persist for the rest of the day.

When we first see a new movement it is very confusing, and I think it will be impossible to remember, but by carefully observing our instructor as she moves gracefully through the process of each step, I learn the individual components of the movements.

The key to the enjoyment of T’ai Chi is to commit yourself to the process of concentrating on the information in class, taking it home, and practicing each day until your next class. At first we had only one movement to practice, so it didn’t take very long. As we learned a new movement, we would focus on it, and add it to the preceding one. The most important movements are the first fourteen because subsequent steps are built on these steps as you go further into the form. These fourteen movements improved my strength, especially in the legs and back. The increased strength and flexibility helped improve my balance.

Additional benefits we personally discovered as we progressed in T’ai Chi were weight loss, mental calming, better posture, increased flexibility and decreased pain from sites of prior injuries. Additional benefits suggested in The Harvard Medical School Guide to T’ai Chi written by Peter Wayne and Mark Fuerst include: fall prevention, lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure, reduced back pain, reduced stress, improved psychological well-being, and improved breathing efficiency. There was also improvement in diabetes mellitus, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, coronary artery disease, stroke and cholesterol levels in some patients. Most of the patients who benefited were enrolled in a twelve week program of beginning T’ai Chi. These patients with regular daily practice completed the first fourteen steps of the program by the end of the twelve weeks.

First of all T’ai Chi with its gentle movements is a wonderful way to exercise, especially at our stage of life. We both have had previous injuries from other forms of exercise and T’ai Chi enables us to exercise without injuring our bodies. Although I am not a natural student of Tai Chi, and I lack flexibility, Hiromi encourages me to progress within my capabilities and my limitations. Her encouraging words, “Inch by inch many things are possible” point me in a positive direction.

Initially I was drawn to T’ai Chi to help reduce my stress levels and to experience its many health benefits. Now I practice daily for many other reasons. To me practicing the Cheng Ming style with its various nuances and subtleties is like learning to solve a moving puzzle. My brain seems to want to try to fit the pieces together. This is a surprise to me because focusing is not a natural habit of mine. .

I am learning new forms, repeating some forms, learning variations of forms, and continually learning to place the forms in a sequence of moves. All of this challenges my ability to not only learn but to remember. My brain gets a good workout in addition to my body. I also appreciate that Tai Chi helps me to become more spatially aware of my body when I place my feet, knees, hands, elbows, shoulders, and hips in various positions. This is important for many reasons including learning how to keep a better sense of balance as I travel through my daily activities.

The principles of T’ai Chi such as alignment, harmony, awareness, intention, relaxation, centering, the integration of opposites, and living in the present moment all appeal to me. In addition to our forms, each of our warm up exercises has health benefits as well. My instruction in how to break down complicated tasks into manageable steps, how to persevere when I struggle with a form or forms (in my case this is often!), how to become more patient, and how to learn to just “Be with what is” (Hiromi’s sage advice) can carry over to my daily life. The wide variety of learning opportunities through classes, lessons and workshops is another motivating factor.

T’ai Chi has introduced me to many wonderful kind, positive, and encouraging people. Practicing T’ai Chi with my husband Ed has given me an opportunity to share something with him that we enjoy so much. Having three young grandchildren, and feeling I am doing something that will help me engage with them in an active way, is priceless. Finally, the joy of practicing T’ai Chi is very important to me. I cannot express it well in words, but there are times something opens inside me when I practice T’ai Chi creating a space for possibilities. At my age I am well aware of my limitations, and it is such a good feeling when I become aware of these possibilities.

Ed and I appreciate our opportunity to learn T’ai Chi from our teachers who have encouraged us each step of the way, and we especially want to express our deep gratitude to Master Hiromi Johnson and Grand Master Wang Fu-Lai.