NEWS

All classes are currently running. The new beginner's cycle is underway, as of October 2017.

Gillianne Shaver's Wednesday afternoon classes will be on hiatus until the first week of November.

Coming up in January 2017

I trust everyone is having a wonderful break, and looking forward to a shiny new year. This January is going to bring some great shifts in the Tai Chi and Qigong program, as we look forward to celebrating the incoming Rooster Year on January 28th!

Classes will resume with Gillianne Shaver's Wednesday afternoon class on January 4th. My regular classes will begin on Friday, January 6th.

I'll be adding a new class on Friday afternoons, from 3-4pm: Qigong for Health Recovery. More details to follow, but the basic idea of this class is to spend focused time working with individual students who are dealing with particular issues with health and mobility, and to talk about how we can use qigong meditation and exercise to approach healing. We'll be covering everything from working with injuries to specific conditions. You do not have to have a health condition to attend this class. Everyone is welcome to come, learn, and to bring any issue to the table they wish to understand better or to workshop for themselves. My hope with the class is that everyone will come away with a better understanding of how Qigong and Qigong meditation can be used as a tool for healing, and how to approach challenges with skill and persistence.

The Qigong for Health Recovery class will start Friday, January 6th, and will run from 3-4pm.

Tai Chi for Beginners is Rebooting! Both the Monday (12:30-2pm) and Saturday (2-3pm) classes will be starting from scratch! If you missed your chance to start learning Tai Chi this fall, or if you feel like you fell off the track with classes, then now's your chance for a fresh start.

Workshops! We'll be ringing in the energies of the new year with a Tai Chi workshop on Sunday, January 29th, 1-5pm. Keep your eyes on this space for more info.


Qigong Workshop, Sunday, December 4, 2016

Note: I will be keeping a stricter-than-usual limit on enrollment in this workshop to keep its size manageable. Please register early to save your spot! If you plan to come, as a courtesy to me and to others who wish to attend, I do need a heads up beforehand. If you are registered and you find you cannot come, please let me know as soon as you do--I will be keeping a waitlist if the workshop fills up. 

QIGONG WORKSHOP
Date: Sunday, December 4, 2016
Time: 1-5pm
Location: Regent Health Centre, 150 Locke Street South
Fees: $50 for regular tai chi / qigong students; $75 for non-students

For our final workshop of 2016, we'll be working with foundation qigong exercises and sitting and standing meditation, as well as guided visualization, to help us transition into the winter months. Winter is the time for quiet contemplation and introspection, time to slow down and experience peace, restfulness, and calm. It's an ideal time to increase your meditation practice. This workshop will be an excellent way to set yourself up for a beautiful winter. 


Fall 2016 News

It's fall! Which means cooler weather (at long last), a return to routine for many of us, and, in energetic terms, the descent of the warm, active energies of summer, and the rising of the cooler, calmer yin energies, which will culminate in the restfulness and introspection of winter. 

In the shamanic traditions I've studied, fall is a time for beginning to look within, and for planting seeds for the year to come. This is the time when many plants have already borne fruit, and their seeds, in some cases having become food for animals, are in the process of being released into the earth, so they can be tempered over the winter, and will be ready to emerge in the spring, as the cycle of new growth begins yet again. 

In human terms, this means that the fall is an excellent time to set intentions, and to set the stage for new projects and new energies to come into our lives. 

In other words, it's a wonderful time to learn Tai Chi, or to recommit to your practice. It's a great time to sit for a moment and consider the directions in which you'd like to move in the coming year, and think about how your practice can benefit you, and what you'd like to get out of it. 

If you're looking for more physical benefits, or more inner peace, or more ways to tell yourself that you matter (you do), now is an excellent time to take a hard look at your schedule and see if you can't carve out a small daily commitment to go over the moves you've learned, or do some sitting or standing meditation. Of course, one of the main ways to increase your weekly practice time is attending class! It never hurts to help refresh your understanding and immerse yourself in a community of like minded people. 

If you're looking to start lessons, now is the time! 

In the name of helping people begin and deepen their practice, I've expanded the class schedule this fall.

Friday afternoons, from 1:10-2:40, starting October 14th, will see us continuing to study Tai Chi and Lok Hup Ba Fa.

Saturdays, the Tai Chi beginner's class will run from 2-3pm. We'll be starting entirely from scratch this Saturday, October 15th. (Continuing folks, if you're so inclined, this is your chance to brush up on your basic foundation skills!)

Saturdays from 3-4:30, also starting on the 15th, we'll be exploring intermediate / advanced Tai Chi foundation, and starting the Tai Chi Sword set (note: this has been changed from Tai Chi Sabre, which we'll explore at a future date). 

On Mondays, beginning October 17th, we've got intermediate Tai Chi from 9:30-11am. We'll be polishing the Tai Chi set for the next few months, going over those sequences you might feel less confident with, and working on strengthening foundation. 

On Mondays from 11:15-12:15, we'll be studying Qigong exercise and meditation. This class is open to all levels, from beginners to advanced. This fall, we'll be returning to foundation exercises and working on Eight Silk Brocades, before returning to the Five Element set we were working on last season. We're going to be placing more emphasis on sitting and standing meditation in these classes.

Also on Mondays, from 12:30-2pm, I've added a brand new beginners Tai Chi class. The same as the Saturday beginners session, this class will offer instruction on the Tai Chi set and foundation exercises from scratch. 

I hope you'll feel inspired to join us this fall, or return for more training. If you have any questions or need further information, please contact me at (905) 521-0043 or smithmk2@gmail.com. See you in a few days!

Class and Workshop News

As those of you who attend regular classes at the Regent Centre know, I've been on hiatus for the last month, and Gillianne Shaver's Wednesday afternoon class is having its last session until October today. Today also marks the final Wednesday early evening session in Dundurn Park. I hope everyone who's been involved with those classes has a wonderful break, and manages to squeeze in some practice time as we reach the last few weeks of summer.

Regular classes resume the week following Thanksgiving. If you're looking for a bit of an extra boost to help you through until then, I'm running a Qigong and meditation workshop on Sunday, September 11. Details below.


QIGONG WORKSHOP
Sunday, September 11, 2016
1-5pm
Regent Health Centre Studio
Fee: $60 for those who are not regular Tai Chi or Qigong Regent Centre students
$40 for regular Regent Centre students
Open to all


This Qigong workshop will focus on working with the gentle, whole-body movements of Qigong exercises to relax and invigorate the body and focus the mind. We will return once again to shamanic trance journey to help us connect with spiritual and energetic forces that guide all processes of healing and our life's direction. The workshop will include sitting and standing meditation.

The intention behind this workshop is to help set up participants for the year of practice on which we're about to embark, and to serve as a touchstone to help you receive future teachings. I expect it will be deeply soothing and fun.

To register or for more information, please contact Melissa at (905) 521-0043 or at smithmk2@gmail.com.

Workshops Sunday, August 7 and Sunday, September 11th, 2016

As most of my regular students know, I will be taking a hiatus from regular weekly classes at the Regent Centre throughout August and September.

BUT! You won't be left completely in the lurch. First off, if you're not familiar with Gillianne Shaver's Wednesday afternoon Tai Chi classes (1-2:15pm), these will continue to run throughout August. I will also continue running Qigong sessions in Dundurn Park (weather permitting) throughout August from 6-7pm. 

AND! I have two workshops, one in August and one in September, to help you deepen your practice and brush up on your technique while you're out there practicing on your own. 


TAI CHI WORKSHOP
Sunday, August 7, 2016
1-5pm
Regent Health Centre Studio
Fee: $75
Prerequisite: Participants must have some familiarity with the Tai Chi set.

Working with Tai Chi fundamentals, we'll practice bringing body and mind together to help you feel more whole, grounded, peaceful, and energized. We will use the tool of guided meditation to connect participants with the ambient energies (chi) that are always available for you to draw upon through your Tai Chi practice. The workshop will include sitting and standing Qigong meditation. 

This day is going to leave you feeling stretched out and renewed. I think it will be positively magical!


QIGONG WORKSHOP
Sunday, September 11, 2016
1-5pm
Regent Health Centre Studio
Fee: $60 for those who are not regular Tai Chi or Qigong Regent Centre students
$40 for regular Regent Centre students
Open to all

This Qigong workshop will focus on working with the gentle, whole-body movements of Qigong exercises to relax and invigorate the body and focus the mind. We will return once again to shamanic trance journey to help us connect with spiritual and energetic forces that guide all processes of healing and our life's direction. The workshop will include sitting and standing meditation.

The intention behind this workshop is to help set up participants for the year of practice on which we're about to embark, and to serve as a touchstone to help you receive future teachings. I expect it will be deeply soothing and fun. 


To register for either or both workshops, please contact Melissa at (905) 521-0043 or at smithmk2@gmail.com. 

Qigong Session in Dundurn Park Cancelled for Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Looks like we're going to have another very hot day tomorrow, making it unwise to exercise outside. I hope everyone is able to stay cool. Let's keep our fingers crossed for more reasonable temperatures next week!

No Dundurn Park Session This Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Because of the high temperatures and humidity, I'm cancelling this week's park session. I hope everyone manages to stay cool!

Reminder: No Classes Canada Day Weekend, 2016

I won't be teaching Friday, July 1st, Saturday, July 2nd, or Monday, July 4th, 2016. I hope you all have an absolutely wonderful long weekend! I will be at Dundurn Park for our next session on Wednesday, July 6th, and classes will run as usual through the rest of July.

Pain, Injury, and Tai Chi

"No pain, no gain" is a well known exercise battle cry--thanks to Jane Fonda and her exercise videos of the 1980s. That motto takes on a certain macho quality when chanted in the local gym. When most people come to tai chi and qigong, they're often looking to get away from or avoid that mentality, and to embrace an approach to exercise that is much more gentle. 

Generally speaking, pain is your body's indicator that you are about to cause yourself injury, if you continue to do what you're doing--holding your hand over a fire, for instance--or that you have received injury--bashing your finger with a hammer. In class, I advise people that if they feel pain while performing a tai chi or qigong move, it's a sure sign that they are doing the movement incorrectly. The body is sending a signal that the movement needs correction. 

However, there are exceptions to this rule. There are times when you might feel pain during a tai chi or qigong workout, and it is not only perfectly okay, but it is a step in the process of healing. 

I've used tai chi to heal from serious and semi-serious injury--more than once. The first time was when I first started tai chi, to try to deal with the consequences of two broken arms, and the surgery I received to fix them. (Plates, pins, screws, scar tissue.) By the time I started tai chi, about two months after the accident, I was in chronic pain with these injuries. Although I'd done a lot of healing, and I was no longer in danger of damaging anything with simple daily movements, everything I did hurt, which was intensely irritating, and affected my mood. 

I had been assured that because of the plates and pins and screws, I couldn't really re-injure myself just by performing normal arm movements, so I sought a workout that wouldn't put pressure on my arms, but would allow me to move them more. Hence tai chi. Initially, learning to stretch my arms was painful, but over a few months, I really noticed an improvement in my overall pain levels, strength, and mobility.

Later, when I started training with a more experienced (and hardcore) teacher, I stretched out much of the scar tissue from these injuries. Again, that was a painful process--scar tissue does not like to stretch! That pain was a deep, searing ache that I would feel during the stretch, which would ease immediately afterward, and eventually led to a greatly increased range of motion. Because I'd already learned to distinguish between pain that was likely to cause injury, and pain that probably wouldn't, I was fine with going through this process. I am convinced that regularly performing this deep tissue stretch, which eased a lot of tension on my joints, is the reason I do not have arthritis today. (The doctors told me that because of my injuries, I would develop it by the time I was thirty. I'm forty-five now.)

The Sensitized Nervous System

I've since learned that the state I was in during my initial tai chi sessions are signs of a sensitized nervous system. Some of my pain was based on genuine signals from the body--it took a long time for my tendons and ligaments to adjust to some of the plates, for example. But much of it was a kind of false signal. Sometimes pain creates a feedback loop that causes the body to go on high alert, so any movement of an area causes a high degree of pain, even movements that are not going to cause injury.

This is a radically different state of being than when you are experiencing an injury. Nervous system sensitization comes along with a host of signs that this is not normal pain. Check this list, compiled by Dr. Bahram Jam, in his booklet The Pain Truth, and Nothing But to see if any of the following applies to you:
  • Pins and needles
  • Burning pain
  • Increased pain by small movements; e.g. slightly bending or turning
  • Increased by sustained postures: e.g. sitting, lying
  • Increased by no particular reason: e.g. the pain has a mind of its own, unpredictable zaps
  • Trivial incidences cause flare-ups that last days: e.g., getting out of a car, walking in a mall
  • The pain is increased by stress and anxiety
  • The pain gradually spreads, even to the opposite side
  • The pain may move around the body
  • Night pain
Many people with sensitized nervous systems end up not moving much at all, for fear of experiencing more pain. This seems like a reasonable strategy, but it in fact tends to create a worsening of this condition, as the nervous system becomes more and more sensitized to any type of movement, and the body produces aches and pains as a result of stiff and weak muscles. If this list resonates with you, and you've confirmed with your doctor that there is no physical reason why exercise will cause you injury or exacerbate your pain, it is a good idea to reconnect with the body and begin a program of gentle movement. 

NOTE: panic and anxiety in the absence of physical pain are also symptoms of a sensitized nervous system. All of the tips in this essay apply to people with anxiety and panic disorders. The key is to use tai chi and qigong to practice in a way that does not cause an attack or an increase in anxiety. Apply all of the tips listed here to help you slowly acclimate your nervous system back to normal. 

General Recommendations

Understanding the mechanics of the pain response and how the nervous system can become sensitized to pain can help you relax a little about your own pain. Click here to access a downloadable pdf booklet that offers more information about nervous system sensitization and some basic self-care information that can help

Any of my students know that I recommend magnesium supplementation as a necessary step to relaxing muscles and tendons, dealing with chronic pain, and accessing a better level of health. Most people are magnesium deficient. I recommend applying transdermal (absorbed through the skin) magnesium to the whole body as a soak on a regular basis, especially to the areas that cause the most pain. Magnesium is a necessary component of many body processes, including a healthy nervous system, and has been shown to reduce pain and increase mobility. I personally take Natural Calm internally, and use Ancient Minerals transdermally. Natural Calm is available at most health food stores. You can purchase transdermal magnesium at many health food stores as well. I buy Ancient Minerals online here. (Note: I'm not affiliated with either of these companies. I just really enjoy and have benefitted greatly from their products.) 

Read more about the benefits of magnesium supplementation on Dr. Carolyn Dean's extremely helpful website

Guided meditation can be a wonderful tool to aid relaxation and allow you to settle into the body more comfortably. Try this meditation by Dr. Robert Puff, designed to help ease physical or mental suffering

Using Tai Chi and Qigong to Address Nervous System Sensitization and Chronic Pain

When you do tai chi and qigong to address a sensitized nervous system, or any time you're working with pain (e.g., dealing with an injury), or okay, ANY TIME, really, the key is to go in soft. You are trying to change the way that you approach movement, and the way you experience being in the body. Your chronic pain / nerve sensitization is going to make it so that you need to be more rigorous about being gentle with yourself as you work. That's okay! It's good. Correct tai chi and qigong practice depends on being soft. 

Before you begin practicing, take a few moments to stand, align yourself correctly, and just feel your way into the body, focusing on each part in turn, from the feet up, and seeing if you can let go of any tensions that you are holding. 

Figure out an amount of movement you can comfortably do without sending yourself into a flare-up. This applies to the duration of the movement (how long you're doing it for) and the range of motion (how much you stretch). At first, low-ball this amount. Can you do three minutes of moderate range of motion? One minute of small movements? Thirty seconds of standing and breathing? Start with a tiny amount. You're going to be increasing this gradually over time, so don't worry if it seems like very little at first. 

Do that amount and no more. Take a break. Sit. Breathe. 

As soon as you start to move, check in with yourself. Are you suddenly clenching, holding, or guarding any area of the body? Are you holding yourself stiff or tight? Moving muscles that you are clenching or tightening will only reinforce that tension. Stop, relax, let go, and try again. 

Use correct form. Push from the feet. Channel the force up through the body. Remember, in tai chi and qigong, the muscles are channels of force, directing force from the ground and up through the spinal column and out through the hands. Because of the unique quality of movement in tai chi and qigong, you can move without creating further injury. When I tore my rotator cuff a couple of years ago, I could not lift my arm at all using the arm muscles, but I could push it through a full range of motion by using correct tai chi and qigong movement. Using these methods, I regained a full range of motion in two weeks after my injury, and rehabilitated my shoulder completely in 4-6 weeks. Correct technique, as correct as you can manage, is important when you're working with pain. The goal is to gently open and massage the body from the inside out. 

Take frequent breaks and relax. If you're practicing in a class context, let your teacher know that you are working with your pain, and ask for him or her to check your form for any areas of tension. Arrange for a chair that you can sit in as often as you need to. Move, relax. Move, relax. Relax when you move, and relax after you move. 

Pay special attention to an area that gives you extra pain. This is the area you are most likely to hold tight, and the area you MUST NOT hold tight, if you want to release your pain. Clenching around an area of pain is called guarding. It might help protect injured tissues at first, but it throws off your entire body and will prevent you from regaining range of motion. Make your exercises moderate enough and use correct form as you gently begin to allow the area to relax and move. 

Gradually increase the duration and range of motion of your exercise. This is key. If you want to desensitize your nervous system, you must train it to do more than you usually do. Tai chi and qigong are always gentle, but you should feel like you've moved more fully than you do in your day to day life, if you want your practice to be effective. If you're in pain, plan to increase slowly over the course of a month or two to regain full range of motion. A month or two, not one day. Pace yourself! A month or two, not six months or a year. Work persistently. A little bit every day will help your body become reacquainted with regular movement. You can do it! 

NEVER beat yourself up if you falter. If you have a flare-up, that is information, not failure. You did too much too soon. Try again in a day or two, being very gentle with yourself each time. If you are practicing and you find you are holding tension, take a deep breath, let it go, and see how long you can keep it relaxed as you move. 

Using tai chi and qigong to address pain and nerve sensitization is not so different from regular practice. If you're dealing with pain, it will serve as a reminder to always be soft and relax, and as a guideline for how well you're using correct technique. 

Spring / Summer Newsletter, 2016

Dear All,

Happy Spring / Almost Summer 2016! I hope this finds you very well. With the change in the weather comes our usual shift into summer scheduling. Please see the important information below about Regent Centre classes, outdoor qigong, and my hiatus dates for late summer / early fall.

Cheers,
Melissa.


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All newsletters and information about upcoming classes and workshops, and general information about tai chi and qigong, are posted to this blog. You will receive email notification of any new information I post. (I post quite infrequently, so don't worry about being bombarded with information.)


FREE OUTDOOR QIGONG CLASSES

Time: Every Wednesday from 6-7pm
Location: Dundurn Park (see below)
Start Date: Wednesday, May 25, 2016
End Date: Wednesday, August 31, 2016

For the past few years, I've run free outdoor sessions in Dundurn Park, weather permitting. Dundurn Park is home to trees that were part of the original oak savanna ecosystem that once covered much of southern Ontario. The natural energies in the park are very powerful and beautiful to work with.

Dundurn Park is located north of York Boulevard at Dundurn Street (where Dundurn Castle is). We meet on the north (toward the bay) side of the enclosed garden on the east side of the park (to the right of the castle if you're looking at it from York Boulevard).


UPCOMING SUNDAY WORKSHOPS

Sunday, August 7, 2016
Time: 1-5pm
Location: Regent Health Centre
Topic: TBD

I am currently accepting programming suggestions about this workshop (let me know what you would like to do!). Stay tuned for an update later in the season!

Sunday, September 11, 2016
Time: 1-5pm
Location: Regent Health Centre
Topic: Qigong Movement and Meditation
Open to all.
Cost: $40 for current students at Regent Health Centre; $60 for non-students



HOLIDAYS AND HIATUS DATES

PLEASE BE SURE TO MARK YOUR CALENDARS

All classes at the Regent Centre will run as usual until the end of July. The last class of the summer at the Regent Centre will be Saturday, July 30th.

There will be NO Regent Centre classes from August 1st until after Thanksgiving. Classes will resume the first Friday after Thanksgiving (October 14th, 2016).

All current classes will all resume in the fall, with some additions to the current schedule.

Workshops will run in August and September as noted above.

Free Dundurn Park sessions will run until the end of August.

In addition to the above hiatus dates, there will be no classes on the Victoria Day weekend (no classes Friday May 20, Saturday May 21, and Monday May 23, 2016), and no classes Canada Day weekend (no classes Friday July 1, Saturday, July 2, and Monday, July 4, 2016).




Winter / Spring Tai Chi and Qigong Newsletter, 2016


IN THIS NEWSLETTER
Winter Class Dates
Qigong Workshop, February 21st
Tai Chi Workshop, March 20th
Qigong Meditation Workshop, April 17


Dear All,

As I write this, we've just entered the year of the Monkey. I hope it is full of good fortune, happiness, and health for each of you.

If you're a part of my weekly classes, I hope you'll continue to enjoy learning tai chi and making it a part of your routine. Whether you're attending classes or not, I've got a wonderful Qigong Workshop coming up in February to help balance your energy and stretch out your winter blahs. In March, we'll return to a focus on Tai Chi with an intensive workshop for those finished or almost finished learning the set, and in April, I'm offering a Qigong Workshop with a focus on standing and sitting meditation forms.

As always, if you have any questions or would like to know more about classes or workshops, please let me know! Email me at smithmk2@gmail.com or phone (905) 521-0043.

All my best,
Melissa.



Winter Class Dates
All weekly classes will continue as usual throughout February, March, and April, with the exception of Good Friday, March 25. There will be no class that day.

I will be away the first weekend in April. There will be no classes on Friday April 1st, Saturday April 2nd, or Monday, April 4th. The class schedule will continue as usual throughout the rest of April.


Qigong Workshop
Sunday, February 21st, 2016, 1-5pm
Regent Centre Studio
Fee: $40 for current Tai Chi and Qigong students @ the Regent Centre;
$60 for non-students


This workshop will use gentle exercise and meditation and relaxation techniques to help participants access a whole new level of calm and relaxation. The focus will be on introducing new beginners to foundation exercises, while helping more experienced practitioners deepen their understanding of the fundamentals of Qigong.

All are welcome.



Tai Chi Workshop
Sunday, March 20th, 2016, 1-5pm
Regent Centre Studio
Fee: $75

This workshop will focus on refining techniques of movement and relaxation that are fundamental to the practice of Tai Chi. The workshop format is a wonderful way to deepen one's practice, because it allows participants the time and space to settle much more completely into a gentle meditative focus.

This workshop is open to all students who have completed or nearly completed learning the Tai Chi set.



Qigong Meditation Workshop
Sunday, April 17, 2016, 1-5pm
Regent Centre Studio
Fee: $40 for current Tai Chi and Qigong students @ the Regent Centre;
$60 for non-students


The focus of this workshop will be on using Qigong standing and sitting meditation techniques to deeply relax and refresh body and mind.

All are welcome.