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Posts Tagged ‘aging’

MY MOTHER’S INSPIRATION

My mother always wanted to be independent. She lived nearby in an apartment and called my brother and me each day so we could sure she was all right. At about 85 years old, she started falling a lot. Luckily she never broke any bones, but she usually fell in a way that she couldn’t reach the life alert button hanging around her neck.

As she got weaker, she made the painful decision to move to a nearby nursing home; one our family could visit regularly. I also began to adapt a system of chi-gung exercises for her to practice, one known as “animal exercises” or what I now call, “zookinesis”. But I didn’t have enough time before her death to bring back her strength and health.

I continued adapting these exercises for the chair to provide for other elderly people to regain their strength and health, producing instructional dvds and teaching in senior centers and nursing homes.

When I first begin teaching a group of seniors, at first they are not sure what to think and just a few participate. Within a couple of month all are participating and soon they ask me to upgrade the level of the exercises. It always amazes me how quickly seniors take to the zookinesis exercises and enjoy them.

As I teach I always think of my mother who first inspired me to teach exercise to seniors and now I myself am entering that phase of life. I hope the seniors of today have greater expectations of their continued abilities and demand to have exercise as a vital part of their nursing home programs. It is as important medicine as drugs, and I feel perhaps more important because if seniors can remain healthy, they might need a lot less drugs than they take today.

My doctor told me that almost all seniors nowadays take drugs for various ailments. He is surprised that I don’t take any. For me, zookinesis is my substitute for drugs. Basically it is just moving every part of the body in every way to get the “juices” flowing.

BALANCE YIN AND YANG TO STAY YOUNG AND HEALTHY

One of the primary effects of Tai-chi and Zookinesis practice is to keep the body and mind young.  The basic principle about how this can be accomplished is the balance of Yin/Yang energy in young vs. older people.  When a baby is born, according to these principles, it is all Yang energy (expansive).  As you get older you become more Yin (compressed).  Your body shrinks and your mind becomes more rigid.

The body and mind are most powerful when the expansive energy (Yang) exactly balances the compressive energy (Yin).  As an example, if a joint gets injured and the ligaments, tendons and muscles around that joint are damaged, the body starts healing.  If you just sit around and don’t move the joint a little, the repair job will be affected by the immobility of the joint.  The repair will be compressive, which means that you will have little flexibility.  This is why physical therapy is needed, partially to stretch the muscles and connective tissues around the joint so you will maintain flexibility.  When you stretch and use the joint, your body then knows how that joint is to be used and it repairs the joint with that “in mind”.  I healed a torn knee this way, without surgery. 

Tai-chi theory explains that the body does, in fact, have a mind (Body-Mind), which is aware of what needs to be done and intelligently adapts the repair to the needs of that part of the body.  Stretching and using the joint would be considered Yang, while giving the joint adequate rest would be Yin.  You need a balance for a good repair. 

There is another factor for the repair job to come out right.  Children, as noted above, are more Yang than adults (in general).  They will run around without worrying about the possibility of injury.  They love to move and use up energy, while adults like to sit and talk (in general).  If your body is repairing an injury and you are the type of person who doesn’t do much and doesn’t have much to look forward to doing after you get better, then your injury may not heal as well.  We all know about athletes who get injured on a regular basis and have many surgeries.  They want to get back into the game as soon as possible.  This Yang attitude helps their recovery.  They can’t wait to get better.  The Yang attitude of mind helps physical recovery. 

On the other hand, if they cut their recovery short and go back to the game too soon, they can re-injure themselves.  So again, a balance of Yin and Yang attitude is essential. 

When I was a zoologist, studying animal behavior in Central America, there was a troop of spider monkeys that passed by the research station every day.  The alpha (leading) male was battle-scarred.  He had lost two fingers on one hand and three on another.  One of his eyes was missing.  I asked one of the researchers how he could be the alpha male with all those injuries.  How could he even swing through the trees with all those fingers missing.  The researcher simply explained, “Attitude.  None of the other monkeys would dare mess with him.  And his attitude helps him to hang onto the branches with the few fingers he has.” 

Somehow I don’t think that monkey spent much of his time whining about his physical condition.  I resolved back then to always remember that monkey if I ever started whining about anything. 

Another story:  A researcher had just come back from Ecuador where he met a man who kept marine iguanas as pets.  They were housed in a fenced in area in his back yard.  At that time, and even today I believe, zoos were not able to keep marine iguanas alive in captivity.  So the researcher was sent to find out this man’s secret.  What did he feed the iguanas (which normally eat algae on rocks under the water)?   He fed them scraps from his table along with scraps of vegetables he got free from the local market.  “But this is not the natural food for marine iguanas!” complained the researcher.  The man explained that he loved his iguanas and they loved him.  They were very happy.  So it didn’t matter what they ate, as long as they were happy.  Food going into a happy iguana, he explained, turns into a healthy iguana. 

The point of all this is that an iguana or a person who looks forward to and is excited by each day is in a healthy state of being.  A person who whines and worries about each day is in an unhealthy state of being.  The excitement of life adds Yang energy, which can compensate for the tendency to become more and more Yin as you get older. 

In the Tai-chi practice of Push Hands, this principle goes one step further.  (In Push Hands, two people stand facing each other and try to throw each other off balance).  There is a tendency to tense up (to condense) when trying to push the partner.  That tension makes you rigid and your partner can use your rigidity to actually push you over instead.  So you are taught to relax your back and let it sink into the ground.  This relaxation and grounding then sends energy upward and forward, pushing the partner over without needing to tense up.  You are using relaxation to generate force. 

The principle here is turning Yin energy (relaxation) into Yang energy (the release of your energy upward and forward).  You are transforming Yin into Yang.  When your partner pushes you, you take that Yang energy and sink it downward into your “root” and compressing your legs.  You have turned his Yang energy into your Yin energy (compressed legs which is potential energy).  As you are grounding his Yang energy, you are sinking your back into your root again and then pushing him with your own Yang energy plus his Yang energy which you stored in your compressed legs. 

And so Push Hands is the art of transforming Yin and Yang energy in a continuous flow of motion until one person gets the upper hand due to greater skill (not due to greater strength).  You learn to balance and use Yin and Yang so the body stays relaxed yet powerful.  This keeps both the body and mind young. 

In everyday life you can stop for a moment to assess your balance of Yin and Yang.  Do you feel your body and mind compressing or expanding too much?  You will learn to develop a balance that will keep you healthier and younger. 

You may say, “What if I don’t have anything to look forward to?”  This reminds me of an experience I had when in nursery school.  I was always happy.  A girl came over to me and asked, “Why are you so happy?”  I couldn’t figure out why I was happy, so from that time on, I wasn’t happy anymore.  My state of unhappiness led my mind to contemplate unhappy things so as to explain why I was now not happy.  It took many years to remember that turn in the road that led me in the unhappy direction. 

Tai-chi training taught me the relationship between mind and body.  That relationship is more “me” than either one alone.  Identifying with the balance of mind and body then allows you to enter into a balanced relationship with your environment.  By starting with balancing Yin and Yang energy in your life, you are led to the balance of mind and body and then to the balance of yourself with your environment.  This is truly the basis of health and keeping young.

TECHNIQUES TO REVERSE AGING

Tai-chi approaches to health and healing is based on preventing and reversing the aging process.  It is based on understanding the underlying causes of the deterioration of body and mind and providing simple exercises to stay young and active.  The principle of Yin/Yang describes how babies have mainly “Yang” energy which is expansive and growing. 

As you get older, this energy becomes more “Yin” or contractive.  The connective tissue surrounding all your body cavities, bones, muscles and organs, shrinks and loses its elasticity.  Your mind becomes less free flowing and creative and hangs onto fixed ideas and patterns of behavior.  Even the bones condense and lose their flexibility.

Exercises such as the Zookinesis Age Reversal Exercises and Tai-chi Forms directly affect the underlying energy of body and mind, which is called “chi” or “internal energy”.  They maintain the balance of yin and yang of the chi energy so that it can expand or condense when needed.  The result is that you maintain a state of vibrancy and health.

The idea that an underlying energy creates or affects the physical world is common among many ancient cultures. The Tai-chi and Zookinesis exercises are designed to keep chi energy even throughout the body.  As we age there is a tendency to condense this energy unevenly and that distorts the posture and shape of the body.  It can also affect our emotional state and dull our senses. 

A student of these exercises is taught to perceive the pattern of chi in his body, to understand how it has become distorted and to use the exercises to return the energy to an even state throughout the body.  The result is fewer aches and pains, less tension and a more positive, relaxed attitude.  Your body can feel more and you can appreciate every moment of life more. 

The improved state of health gives you a better quality of life and can actually help you live longer. 

So the next time you feel bad, ask yourself, “Is my chi too condensed or uneven?”  Relax your back so that the chi flows behind you.  Relax your hips so the chi flows through your center.  Relax your legs, your head and shoulders so that the chi can flow up and down through the body.  In this way you can become more alive.

Try this exercise the next time you feel bad or tired:  Imagine chi energy flowing through your chest and neck area towards the area in front of you at an upward angle of twenty degrees.  This energy comes from behind you, flows through you, upward and forward at a fast pace.  After a few minutes of this imagery exercise, notice how you feel. 

Both mental and physical exercises can have a profound effect on our health.  Tai-chi and Zookinesis are storehouses of such powerful techniques.

HOW SICK ARE WE?

My doctor told me that it was unusual for a 60 year old man not to be on prescription drugs.  That shocked me.  Apparently most people my age take several drugs on a regular basis.  Does this mean that we are an advanced society because we have invented so many drugs or a very sick society that we need so many drugs?

I recalled a monkey I knew in the jungles of Panama.  He was the head of his tribe but was badly battered from territorial fights or perhaps from encounters with predators.  Three fingers were missing from one hand, two from the other and he had only one eye. Yet he still was the alpha male of his monkey troop.  What he lacked in body parts he made up in attitude. 

One day a potential Tai-chi student walked into my studio with a severe affliction.  He was able to walk only by leaning over and holding his knee with his hands, inching his way forward.  As soon as he made it into the studio he sat down, exhausted from the fifty foot walk.  I thought to tell him that he would never be able to learn Tai-chi but I would never discourage anyone who was willing to try. 

At first he did the Tai-chi Yang form while holding onto two chairs, which I re-adjusted for him with each movement.  He could only last for two or three minutes at a time and then had to sit down.  To make a long story short, he learned the entire sixty movement form without holding onto chairs, the tiger form and the staff form, which are very vigorous.  He also learned the Push Hands exercise and was quite good.  In this exercise you stand facing each other and try to throw each other off balance.

After a few years he told me that he was very discouraged.  He practiced the forms for an hour a day, then did Yoga for fifteen minutes, worked out with weights for forty five minutes and then practiced chi-gung for another fifteen minutes. 

So what was the problem?  He told me that after all this he was so tired he had to stop and sit down.  I reminded him that he used to be tired after two or three minutes and could barely stand up without holding onto something.   He had gotten so used to being healthy that I guess now he expected that he could leap over tall buildings at a single bound.

To some degree we can determine whether we slide down the slope of increasing sickness or lift ourselves up to greater health.  It largely depends on whether we focus on our ailments or our potential.  This is not to so say that we don’t all have some legitimate medical problems.  While modern medicine makes our lives better with great advances, it can also make us lazy.  We reach for the pill or the operation rather than trying exercise first. 

Many doctors will encourage their patients to try exercise to alleviate their problems before trying drugs but unfortunately many people don’t want to be bothered with the exercises.  It is easier to pop a pill down their throats.  But remember that each drug has side effects and you may start taking drugs to alleviate the side effects and then more drugs to alleviate the side effects of that drug and so on. 

I am suggesting that if your doctor suggests exercise rather than drugs then you probably have a caring and knowledgeable doctor.  While the television ads push you to ask your doctor for drugs, I suggest you ask him or her for exercise alternatives. 

Your body and mind are powerful when they work together cooperatively.  Even if you do take drugs, exercise itself can help to alleviate the negative side effects.  Drugs can only really help your body cure itself.  But the body also needs good food, rest and exercise.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR SKIN YOUNG

Healthy skin is an important part of staying young and avoiding the normal process of aging.  The ancient Chinese Taoist healing systems describe a secret training specifically used to keep the skin young.  It is an important part of Tai-chi and Zookinesis training.  Since lung tissue originated from skin tissue in fetal development, proper breathing is essential for healthy skin. 

The dynamics of the transition between the in-breath and out-breath are considered to be especially effective in preserving young skin.  I will describe this training below in a way that anyone can practice on their own.  A full program of rejuvenating the skin would also include a special type of massage I call “Zookinesis Massage” or “Tai-chi Massage”.

Following are some simple descriptions about use of breath to rejuvenate and preserve the skin.  You would practice this breathing for five minutes at a time, twice a day.  These suggestions assume a basic training in Tai-chi and its principles.  In Zookinesis training, this is called “Dragon Breathing”.  Mythology is used to describe internal processes.

1. As you breathe in, bring your attention to the inside of your whole skin, as if your skin was a balloon and the incoming air fills the balloon evenly.

2. At the uppermost point of the in-breath, prepare to breathe out by relaxing all the muscles of the body (especially the back). 

3. Just before actually breathing out, take one extra in-breath very quickly and then breathe out.  Even though you think you have breathed in completely, there should be a little more space in the lungs to get that extra breath in.  The extra in-breath comes as you are relaxing the muscles of the body.

4. Then breathe out slowly and continue to relax the body.

5. Take one normal breath in between each “Dragon Breath”.

6. Just before breathing back in for the new “Dragon Breath”, relax the bottoms of the feet, the lower back and the glute (butt) muscles as well as the back of the head.

Pointers:

It is important to relax all the muscle of the body near the surface of the skin as you are finishing the in-breath and are about to breathe out.  This includes the skin all around the head (especially the top of the head) and neck, your back and front of the body.

As you are about to breathe out you should feel as though energy from your surroundings are falling back into the center of your body and then down into the earth. 

When you are about to breathe in, fill the lower part of the lungs first.  Your belly and lower back will expand.  Then fill in the middle and upper part of the lungs.  Fill the back of the lungs as well as the front so that the whole torso expands.

This process will bring energy (“chi”) up from the earth, through your body and out the skin.  It is very important to allow this feeling of energy to move through the skin as you take that extra breath.  Release the energy that has moved through the skin.  Let it go! 

The energy that remains within the body will then sink back into you and down into the earth as you breathe out.  This in turn, will draw more energy into your body from the environment

This movement of energy through the skin keeps it refreshed and energized. 

This process is called the “Dragon’s Breath” because when you transition between the in-breath and out-breath, the relaxation of the muscles causes a feeling of the breath “igniting”.  You feel instantly supercharged.  This is why you must take a normal breath in between the “Dragon Breaths”.  The normal breath calms the energy.  Going from charging the breath to relaxing the breath is an important component of this training.

When you are receiving Tai-chi Massage you are practicing this breathing.  The masseur paces his massage according to your breathing.  This allows the flow of energy in and out of the body to penetrate all the body’s tissues, reversing the aging process throughout the body.  It greatly magnifies the effect of the “Dragon Breathing” to reverse the aging process of the skin.

Another effect of these practices is that the eyes become bright and energized.  You can see the vibrant energy in the eyes of a person involved in this training.  It creates a feeling of emotional calm yet an energized, positive outlook on life.

Dragon breathing is easy to learn and takes very little time to practice. It is also a safe practice.  Before you begin this practice, feel the quality of your skin.  Then feel your skin again every month to notice the improvement.  Also pay attention to the improvement in your attitude, your energy levels – your general outlook on life. It is sometimes hard to remember what you used to feel like before this training

IMMORTALITY

Your body does not need to degenerate as you get older.  In fact, it can continue to get stronger, more flexible and more agile throughout life. The exercise systems of Tai-chi and Zookinesis explain how to keep the body young and avoid aging altogether.

According to Chinese medicine, all the cells and organs of the body communicate with each other through a system of biological energy called, “chi”.  They know how to regulate their activities according to the activities of the other cells and organs.  This system of chi is not isolated within the body alone, but is connected to this same energy that serves as the basis of life throughout the earth.  In this way each cell and organ is aware of the environmental conditions in the area and can adjust its activities according to changes in weather and time of year.  In this way the body can stay in the optimum internal condition for health. 

The loss of flexibility is another factor associated with aging.  Connective tissue (fascia) surrounds each organ, bone, muscle and the body cavities.  It provides an interconnected, flexible web that allows the body to act in a rubbery manner.  Its looseness, for example, allows the rib cage to expand when you breathe in.  If the connective tissue were to lose its elasticity your breathing would become shallow.  This would result in a poorer exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen and the cells would be oxygen deprived.

Tighter connective tissue interferes with joint mobility so that your movements become stiff.  The proper flow of blood and lymph requires movement of the body.  When the body can’t move properly, the blood and lymph cannot do as good a job at getting rid of body wastes such as lactic acid and carbon dioxide.  The body remains constantly filled with waste.

Aging is also the gradual dissociation of the mind and body.  As children we relish in movement and using energy.  As we get older we move less and think more.  Our thinking is not connected with movement (as described in previous articles) and so becomes a world within itself.  Gradually we “live” more and more in our thinking and not in our bodies. 

The thinking mind becomes the center of the flow of energy and the body is deprived of energy, creating an unbalanced situation.  According to Chinese medicine, both an excess and a depletion of energy is harmful.  Too much chi burns the mind out.  Too little chi allows the body to deteriorate. 

Yet if we live in our minds we have no sense of perspective about the balance of energy.  Most people cannot even feel chi let alone know how to balance this energy.  This is why Zookinesis explains that consciousness itself is another type of energy, which also has dynamics and qualities and which needs to be balanced as well.  Only by becoming aware of the dynamics of consciousness (or what I call the “dynamics of attention”) can we ever hope to affect the balance of chi.

Consciousness (attention) is what makes us aware.  The unique perspective of Zookinesis is that consciousness is not isolated within the body.  It is a universal energy, much like gravity that pervades all things.  As it flows through each of us, this energy takes on its unique flavor.  The physical stiffness of the body tends to distort the flow of attention and created the imbalance of attention.  The exercises reveal this relationship between the tightness of the body and the imbalance of attention so that it becomes obvious. 

We can then notice how, with each relaxation of the body, the attention becomes more balanced and more connected to the body.

The result is a complete integration, not only of your attention with your body, but of your attention with the greater flow of consciousness of the world around you.  You feel less isolated.  You also feel less vulnerable because you now can see this interconnection and can understand how to strengthen yourself and prevent the deterioration of your mind and body.

You can also understand how these factors of deterioration affect other people and cause their behavior patterns.  This allows you to be more empathetic to them.  A student recently asked me how I can stand to live in this world when I see the destructive behaviors of other people.  When you see things from a healer’s perspective, all the anomalies you see are an education.  They are not aggravating but are just interesting and educational. Yet, I do feel sad, knowing that healing is so easily available yet so many people will live their lives in misery.

In both Tai-chi and Zookinesis, it is essential to understand and to feel how the connection of your consciousness to the general flow of consciousness around you is essential to prevent aging.  It is so easy to see the bad things of the world and to withdraw, not wanting to be connected to this world.  You then feel as if it’s you against the world.

The clear flow of consciousness and chi through your body is essential to prevent aging and to keep healthy.  The exercise of Push Hands allows you to practice extending your energies into another person and to allow theirs in.  It is set up as a battle, each trying to push the other over, so that it duplicates what you perceive as your life situation.  You are battling against the world.  Yet you learn in Push Hands, to connect the flow of force of the opponent (or partner) into the flow of forces within you so as to end the feeling of battle.  If you stiffen up against him, he will easily push you over.  If you absorb his force, combine it with your own and flow back towards him, you become more effective.

You learn that by ending the feeling of battle you become effective.  Your strength lies in allowing yourself to connect with the rest of the world.  You can then enjoy life.

The world will still be the same crazy place it was but you can see the mechanisms behind the behavior of people and cultures and not get trapped in them.  Instead of identifying with a particular world culture you identify with the long line of people throughout history who were aware of these mechanisms.  They were able to free themselves from the destructive habit patterns of the people around them. 

Imagine yourself in a smelly, mucky swamp.  You curse having to walk through this mess and concentrate on the smell and the muck.  Soon you discover beautiful birds and insects.  You feel the warm breeze and smell some flowers.  Your attention is gradually drawn to the beauty of the swamp until even the smell and the muck seem an integral part of that beauty.  You then enjoy being part of this scene.

In the same way, the world we live in is, to a large extent, the result of what we pay attention to.  The news on television calls your attention mostly to the negative and horrifying part of our society.  Yet the Public Broadcasting programs call your attention to the beauty.  How do you feel after watching the news?  How do you feel after watching  nature programs?  What factors in our society direct your attention to its horror? 

The question of aging really is about your power to remain young and healthy.  Having control over what you pay attention to is vital to prevent aging.  This does not mean that you become oblivious to the problems of our world but that those problems don’t destroy you.  You must regain control over the dynamics of your attention and the balance of energy.  This is where you start in Tai-chi and Zookinesis.

I know that in modern times Tai-chi has become just memorizing a series of movements and Push Hands has just become a shoving contest.  This is true even in China itself.  But the movements and the pushing are just the surface level of a very deep and beautiful teaching.  The teaching of “immortality”, as it used to be called, is about how to stay young and healthy and thereby actually extend your lifespan. It teaches you how to become connected to the world around you so that your consciousness may remain connected to the world even after your body dies.

Don’t give in to the images of aging.  Don’t let those images implant themselves within you and direct your consciousness.  Instead look to the agility, strength and beauty of wild animals and of athletes and allow those images to direct your consciousness. 

I teach seated Zookinesis exercises to a local senior community.  When I began six years ago, they could barely move.  Now we are beginning to do seated acrobatic movements.  Each time I show them what exercise we are working towards, they laugh, feeling they could never do that.  Yet a month or two later, they easily do the exercise.  Most of them are over 90 years old.  I think Zookinesis has given them a new perspective of what they are capable of.  They are now headed in a positive direction – stronger, more flexible, more relaxed and more connected to their bodies.  When you live your life in this positive direction, you are already immortal.

MARTIAL ARTS STRATEGY FOR EVERYDAY LIFE

Tai-chi-Chuan uses a fundamentally different fighting strategy than any other martial art.  When this strategy is applied to everyday life and to conducting business, it provides a more powerful and effective approach.  This is just one example of that strategy.

“Yield to Yang/fill in Yin”.  The aggressor concentrates his force in a particular area.  If he strikes with his fist, he has a target in mind.  You learn to automatically retreat from his target and to find the most empty and unguarded spot on his body to move into and strike.  The retreat is not away from him but rather, towards his unguarded area.

In everyday life the defeats we constantly experience are like the strikes of an aggressor.  If we focus on the defeat, we are like the fighter who blocks the incoming strike, focusing on the aggressor’s power.  If we are thrown by the defeat, we are like the fighter who moves away from the strike.  If we contemplate the change in our life situation caused by the defeat and re-adjust our focus to take advantage of this change, then we are like the fighter who moves around the strike and delivers his own strike. 

As a fighter you know that the aggressor will not just stand there and take your punches and kicks.  Most of your efforts may never reach their target and some of his efforts will reach you.  If you thought of each of his strikes as your defeat, you could never psychologically muster the nerve to practice sparring.  Your own emotions would destroy you more than would the opponent.

Much of the impact of a defeat is not the effect of the situation itself.  It is more that it hurts your self image.  It is your self image which is being beaten, more than your body or your life.  Once you realize that your self image is not you, then you are on your way to victory. 

True humility is not acting as if you were a lowly human being.  It is the understanding that your self image is not you.  Your behavior no longer is controlled by needing to maintain that image. 

If, while sparring in class, someone strikes you, you can appreciate their skill and be happy for them, even though you got hit.  In life you can appreciate the challenges you need to overcome and the skills you gain as you turn each defeat into an opportunity. 

One of the high level achievements in Tai-chi sparring is to substitute your self image with the principles of Tai-chi, mainly yielding to Yang and filling Yin.  You can only be defeated if you don’t allow your self image to grow into a wider perspective. 

In business it is well known that you should not argue with a customer.  Instead of arguing that your product is indeed a good one, you ask the customer how you could improve your product.  You not only make him feel that you care, but you may actually get some good advice.  Customer complaints are the best source of good ideas.

If you are competing with other companies producing similar products, you could throw more money into advertising or spend more hours in the day promoting the product.  Or you could ask yourself, “What real needs of people are the competing products not meeting?  How can I adjust my product so that it will fill those needs?”  In other words you can compete in a “Yin” area, in a niche market that the other products are not reaching.  It would wear you out to meet head on with large companies with big advertising budgets. 

To be “nimble” in business in this way, the self image of the business has to be flexible.  You think of your business as providing a product to the customer.  Now you switch your viewpoint and think of your business as fulfilling a need of the customer.  It’s not the same and that switch changes the way you do business. 

When I began producing the “Zookinesis” exercise series of DVD’s, I approached the series as providing exercises to keep you strong, flexible and energized.  I noticed a great change in my older students through the years.  They looked, acted and felt much younger.  In fact, these exercises are supposed to keep you young, but I never explained that in my advertising.  Now I call Zookinesis “Age Reversal Exercises” and market them to seniors.  I knew all along that they are supposed to reverse aging but never thought to promote that aspect. 

Looking back, I realized that I thought that since most of my students were not seniors, I wanted to promote the fact that Zookinesis keeps you vigorous, athletic and toned.  I didn’t think age was an issue for non-seniors.  But it seems that no one wants to feel that they are getting older, whatever age they are at the moment, if by older it is meant that the body deteriorates. 

So at the beginning, I thought that I was teaching exercises just to keep you strong and flexible when the need of the students (at least in their own minds) was to stay young.  I didn’t change the exercises at all but just got better at explaining what they are in a way the students could appreciate. 

Perhaps there was yet another factor.  If I were teaching people to reverse the aging process, perhaps that means that I, myself, am getting old and that age reversal was an issue I needed to address myself.  Not wanting to think of myself as getting old, I avoided using “age reversal” as an advertising point for Zookinesis.  My vanity interfered with my business.  Yet I, of all people, knew that age is not a matter of years but of health and attitude.  This is an example of how issues of self image can interfere with business as it can interfere with everyday life.

When I first started to learn to spar with Grandmaster William C. C. Chen I couldn’t help but concentrate on his fists and feet.  Which one would hit me next?  After gaining some skill I found that I was more interested in the spaces between our body parts.  Which space could I use to deliver my own strikes?  I found that emptiness (space) was equally as important as form (the body, the strikes).  I needed to know where I could move into to avoid his strikes. 

I realized that sparring was not about maximizing hardness but rather maximizing balance. When you are not willing to change and when you invest all your hopes in one particular outcome, that is like hardness.  When you invest in developing your attention to follow and adjust to change, when you accept change as part of life and when you learn the strategies of change to always look for opportunity, then your life is based on balance.

You maximize hardness when you try to defeat hardness by blocking rather than ducking.  That brings up another related issue.

“If you think of winning and losing you are already defeated”.  In Tai-chi sparring, you concentrate on the details of the aggressor’s body mechanics and the pattern of his attention.  You are so connected to him that you feel that he is part of you.  Your ability to remain connected to him in this way is essential to how you spar.  You don’t think of defeating an “enemy” but of finding a weakness and striking that weakness.  It is the weakness you discover at any one moment, that you are sparring against, not the person.  The aggressor and you are one unit.  The weakness are the target. 

In everyday life there is a tendency to think of yourself as fighting against the world.  According to Tai-chi principles, the world you experience is, to a large extent, a reflection of the world you have created inside yourself.  Through the Tai-chi forms, push hands, chi-gung, Zookinesis and other practices you can examine that inner world and see exactly how the weakness there can distort your view of the world around you.  You are no longer battling the world but correcting that balancing mechanism that creates your outer life from your inner dynamics.  Sparring is actually the most effective practice to give you this insight and the skills to make the corrections inside of yourself. 

The world around you is no longer your “enemy”.  Defeats are just changes.  The only real defeat is when your attention becomes rigid and you can no longer adapt to changes.  You are defeated when you let yourself become old, no matter how many years you have lived.  When you are no longer able to adapt to change, you are old.  Flexible in body, flexible in mind – you stay young