Why is the advice for treatment of the menopause so confusing?

menopause

In the midst of conflicting information surrounding HRT and the best ways to treat the symptoms of the menopause, author of The Menopause Maze, Liz Efiong – inspired by recent media inspection of the issue – weighs in.

Last year, Dr Megan Arroll and I published a book for women approaching and experiencing menopause entitled The Menopause Maze: The Complete Guide to Conventional, Complementary and Self-Help Options. We set out to write a book which would inform and empower women to visit their GPs and seek the help they needed. Our book was published after the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s (NICE) new guidelines at the end of 2015 and presents the very latest advice from menopause experts.

On the 23rd of February 2017, an hour long documentary called The Insiders’ Guide to the Menopause, became available on BBC iPlayer*. The programme was presented by Kirsty Wark, who herself went through the menopause following a hysterectomy and took HRT for 3 years until stopping abruptly in 2002, when the health scares surrounding the study called the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) were published. The results showed an increased risk of breast cancer for women taking HRT, which caused many women to stop taking HRT suddenly, often going cold-turkey without even consulting a medical professional. Women stopped asking their GPs for HRT, whilst GPs were also caught up in the safety issues and became less familiar with HRT.

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The Story Behind ‘Embroidered Cancer Comic’ by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin

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Here I am looking at my book, still holding the packaging.

 

It’s April 2016 here on Gabriola Island, British Columbia. The flowers are blooming, and I am looking for the first time at my new book, Embroidered Cancer Comic

“How did I come to write a comic?” I’m glad you asked. As soon as my husband Bob Bossin was diagnosed in 2011 with prostate cancer, we started making cancer jokes. Every time we could laugh about the situation, one of us would say, “That goes in the comic”.  At this stage the comic was completely imaginary.  But eventually I picked up my needle and stitched and stitched until I had over sixty embroidered squares… Continue reading

Yijinjing Qigong Exercises from the Qing Dynasty

Li_Illustrated-Han_978-1-84819-197-6_colourjpg-webThis extract from An Illustrated Handbook of Chinese Qigong Forms from the Ancient Texts features Yijinjing exercises taken from a text by Pan Wei from the late Qing dynasty (1644-1912). Yijinjing is a type of dynamic Qigong for limbering up the tendons.

Click here to read the extract.

The exercises featured are designed to improve metabolism and promote flexibility. Yijinjing is attributed to Bodhidharma, the founder of the Chan school of Buddhism in China, during the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420–589). As it is easy to learn it has long been a popular form of exercise. Many styles emerged as it was spread and passed down, but the common practice at present is the set of exercises compiled by Pan Wei.

An Illustrated Handbook of Chinese Qigong Forms from the Ancient Texts features authentic exercises from throughout China’s history. Twenty-six sets of pictures relating to Qigong, Daoyin, diet and living habits are included, each set introduced with a brief overview of the origin, development, changes and practice modes of each method. The book is available to buy from the Singing Dragon website.

Michael Davies on the benefits of the gentle exercise known as Jiangan – The Chinese Health Wand

Michael Davies is a senior instructor with the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain. He has been practising Chinese internal arts for over 30 years and teaching Tai Chi Chuan for 13 years. He runs a Tai Chi club with regular classes, workshops and seminars in Tai Chi, Qigong and Jiangan. He lives in Hertfordshire, UK.

Here, Michael answers some questions about his new book, Jiangan – The Chinese Health Wand.

Video: Click to see Jiangan in action!


When did you first come across the Chinese health wand?

I saw it performed by an elderly Chinese man while on holiday in Malaysia in 1982, then later read a copy of the book by Bruce L. Johnson, the man who discovered the system in Shanghai in 1945. I had only just begun learning Tai Chi, which I took up mainly for the martial and meditation aspects. So although I was intrigued by the ‘Chinese Wand’ I was not sufficiently motivated to study it at that time. It was thirty years later, after working in an office and experiencing a sedentary lifestyle for much of that time, that I become more interested in the health aspects of Asian arts. I had become a Tai Chi instructor but felt that there were areas of conditioning and fitness that even this Chinese treasure was lacking. I decided to revisit Johnson’s book and experiment with the exercises, and was so impressed that I wrote this book.

What does Jiangan mean?

In Chinese (pin-yin) ‘Jian’ means health and ‘Gan’ means pole or wand. Jiangan can therefore be translated as ‘Health Wand’. Although there is no direct mention of Jiangan in Chinese written records, such exercises have been traditionally passed down from teacher to student orally for many generations. Dr Cheng, the Chinese Grandmaster who taught Bruce Johnson, claimed that the art was as old as Yoga and Qigong. But unlike other Asian mind-body systems that developed health aspects as by-products of spiritual advancement (Yoga), martial skill (Tai Chi) or healing specific illnesses (Qigong), Jiangan was specifically devised as a daily health and fitness maintenance routine for the gentry and imperial family who had unique health problems caused by their sedentary lifestyle. So for this purpose only the exercises evolved, the less effective and less safe exercises being replaced by more potent and safer exercises through countless generations. This makes it a scientific and comprehensive daily work-out.

Did you find Jiangan easy to learn, and have you found that the practice has expanded over the years?

It is very easy to learn but deceptively so. It possesses hidden subtleties and can be as simple or as challenging as you like. People tend to start practising physically but when the body adjusts there is less need for physical exertion. Eventually you realise that it is very much an internal exercise and you focus more on the deep diagrammatic breathing and develop a meditative frame of mind which greatly enhances your practice. The book takes the reader through the exercises in great detail and suggests traditional mental imagery based on the Chinese element system which helps to link the physical movement to spiritual concepts.

What are the health benefits, and how long each day do you need to practice?

The benefits include a sense of well-being, a clear tranquil mind, deep restorative sleep, increased energy, sexual vitality and fertility, increased circulation, clear skin, more efficient metabolism and improved digestion. But in addition Jiangan stretches and strengthens the physical body and is capable of delivering body-shaping results associated with vigorous gym workouts. It is therefore a holistic internal-external exercise. Many people separate health and fitness but Jiangan regards both as the same. Although there is stretching and strengthening similar to Western exercises these are performed in the style and spirit of a Tai Chi or Qigong routine. We approach stretches in gradual stages, always returning to the beginning posture with each breath and not holding a stretch for longer than a breath. Every movement is cyclic, gradual and gentle. So physical goals can be achieved at the same time as ‘internal cultivation’ because they are both part of the holistic joining of mind and body. Perhaps the systems’ most crucial contribution to health is its capacity to improve posture and help with a whole range of back, shoulder, and neck problems.

Twenty minutes a day is adequate to avail oneself of the many health benefits.


VIDEO: Michael Davies demonstrates some Jiangan exercises.

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Is this a purely ‘health’ practice or does it, like other Chinese energetic movement forms, carry within it a deeper spiritual practice?

The unique esoteric aspects of the art are based on Chinese traditional medicine and more obscure ancient practices, particularly involving the Gan itself. I discovered that the length that Johnson and Grandmaster Cheng specified for the Gan is approximately a ‘Golden Ratio’ longer than the length of an average person’s arm, which is probably the basis of the intriguing esoteric principles surrounding the Gan (‘Wand’ is an apt, rather magical term). Holding the Gan at each end – one hand considered ‘Yin’ and the other ‘Yang’ respectively – may relate back to the Healing Rods of ancient Egypt. Continuing with the Egyptian theme, this wide grip creates a symbolic pyramid shape with the body. As we continually circulate Qi around this ‘pyramid’ its vertex or tip repeatedly focusses on and stimulates the body’s two ‘polarity points’; the Yang (Baihui) on the crown of the head and the Yin (Huiyin) at base of the spine. This process relates to the important Chakra centres of Yoga and can also be seen as a simplified way to perform the ‘Microcosmic Orbit Meditation’ of Taoist alchemy. The ‘Yin-Yang’ concept is also an important influence on body mechanics. In most exercises the Gan acts as a fulcrum or lever. In many of the exercises, one part of the body is motionless (Yin) while another part is in motion (Yang). This creates a resistance that causes beneficial stretches and also massages internal organs. It is a methodology in stark contrast to Tai Chi where all the body moves as one unit.

Why do you think it is not very well known?

Bruce Johnson said that Dr Cheng was the last Chinese Grandmaster. When he introduced it to the West in the 1950’s there was little enthusiasm for Asian arts. By the time Tai Chi and Qigong became popular Johnson had given up teaching for religious reasons. The art was left behind. Though a few people kept it alive using Johnson’s out-of-print book as a reference point. But the internal, philosophical side of the art was not being taught. In recent years it seems to have been relegated to the role of a ‘quirky physical exercise with a stick’.

Using my experience in Chinese internal arts I wanted to rediscover the internal philosophy and present the art as originally intended so that a new generation can reap the health benefits. In fact, it was the way Jiangan effects the physical body that was the catalyst for writing the book. Even though I had been practising Tai Chi for over thirty years, like many men my age I had developed a middle-aged spread. There seems to be a consensus amongst Tai Chi and Qigong practitioners that it is possible to have a middle-age spread and still be healthy and to regard exercises that focus on physical improvement as somehow inferior and cosmetic. But an expanding waistband is often a sign that visceral fat – the fat that sits around the major organs and linked to diabetes and heart disease – is accumulating in the body. After practising Jiangan for several weeks my middle-ages spread was gone and I felt fitter, leaner and stronger, more supple than I had for years. I hope that my book will be particularly useful to people attracted to internal Chinese health but who also need to reduce weight and keep fit.

How does this practice fit within the Chinese martial arts tradition, and how might you integrate it with martial arts practice?

Jiangan is not a martial art and there is no evidence that it evolved from martial techniques. However, the dimensions of the Gan itself is approximately the same as the Chinese short staff (sometimes called the ‘Gun’ or ‘whip staff”) used for some martial forms.

It is a complete and integrated warm-up, a stretching, strengthening and Qigong-energy type practice that can be utilised to support any martial art training. It enriches training sessions and makes them more effective.

Now that the book is published, what is your next challenge?

I would like the art to become better known and more widely practised – particularly in the areas where it’s unique qualities can make a significant contribution, such as tackling obesity and weight-loss – especially in seniors and helping sedentary people overcome problems associated with their lifestyles. As it is simple to learn there is great opportunity for a wide range of people to teach themselves without long-term commitment to lessons or classes. Johnson wanted his own book to be in every nursing home, every hospital, every physical therapy room, every doctor’s office. I would like to see Jiangan practised by workers in offices and factories to increase productivity and the health of the workforce. I would also like to see it practised in schools and colleges, where it could not only help maintain student’s physical fitness but also be an accessible introduction to Chinese internal arts.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

The 12 Chinese Animals: Singing Dragon author Master Zhongxian Wu on the complexity of Chinese astrology

Since 1988, Master Zhongxian Wu has instructed thousands of students, both Eastern and Western. He synthesizes wisdom and experience for beginning and advancing practitioners, as well as for patients seeking healing, in his unique and professionally-designed courses and workshops.

Master Wu is the author of several Singing Dragon books, including his latest title, The 12 Chinese Animals: Create Harmony in your Daily Life through Ancient Chinese Wisdom. Here, he answers a few questions about the book.

How did this book come about?

I grew up in a traditional fishing village in southeast China, and for my entire upbringing, I saw that people commonly used astrology to help make decisions about important events (finding a spouse, setting a wedding date, building a house, opening a business, health issues, etc). Because our village had no electricity, pipe water, or roads larger than a foot path, we all lived very closely with the rhythms of nature.

Chinese astrology is the art of living in harmony with the hourly, daily, monthly, and yearly cycles of life. When I was young, my mother always consulted the people living in the local temple when she needed help. I was astonished by the accuracy of their advice and their ability to predict outcomes. I became interested in learning more about astrology and its connection to Chinese medicine and the Yijing prediction system. My main focus is teaching Qigong, Taiji and the Yijing to help others to create harmony in their life. Through over 20 years of teaching these ancient Chinese wisdom practices, I realised that Chinese astrology is a great tool to help guide people through their life and their inner cultivation.

Chinese astrology is far more complex than most people realise. What accounts for this misconception, and how does your book contribute to a deeper understanding?

In the West, most people think Chinese astrology is only about their yearly animal sign. The knowledge of Chinese astrology system is extremely complicated, and I think perhaps difficult for most people to understand. In China, we call astrology BaZi (8 characters) or MingLi (principle of your karma), but only a small amount of people actually understand how to put together and interpret a chart. Most Chinese have to find an expert to help them, and finding someone really qualified and skillful can be challenging. Of course, you may easily find a fortuneteller on the street, but they are usually not very accurate.

I think the misconception in the West is mostly for convenience sake, to make it more simplified, more available for the general public and more for entertainment value. The yearly animal sign is a small percentage of what influences your entire chart. In my book, I also discuss the monthly and daily animal sign, which will help people develop a fuller understanding of their chart. It is important to realise that the 12 animals is just one aspect of Chinese astrology – creating and understanding a whole chart for the sake of prediction is a much more complicated process.

Most people do not realise that the 12 animals also relate to the 12 tidal hexagrams of the Yijing. The Yijing, of course, is a method of understanding the rhythms of nature and of life. When I wrote this book, I wanted people to get a little taste for the complexity behind the Chinese astrological system.

What does it mean to have an energetic month, day or year?

The energetic day, month and year are based on the rhythm of the sun and moon, which is different from the Gregorian calendar. For example, the energetic year is not from January 1 (the Gregorian new year) or the first new moon of the first lunar month (the Chinese new year), but rather, it the begins at the time where the sun is exactly at the celestial longitude of 315 degrees, which usually occurs on Feb 4th or 5th in the Gregorian calendar.

How does understanding one’s Chinese animal symbols help them make better choices?

The use of Chinese animal symbols is a key to understanding the principles of your life and of your karma. They can help you understand your strengths and your weaknesses. Becoming conscious of your own patterns will give you information about how to cultivate your gifts and refine your challenges, which will help make your life flow more easily, with less struggle, and bring you success in your pursuits.

In the final chapter of the book, you discuss the Daoist concept that ‘life is not controlled by fate or karma alone’. What does this mean in the context of astrology?

If you want to change your karma, you have to know what your karma is.

A good understanding of Chinese astrology doesn’t only help you understand your karma and predict the future. The purpose of the reading is to guide you to make changes in your life, from daily lifestyle habits to larger life decisions that will allow you to change your karma, to help you remain centered when something unexpected happens, to steer clear of trauma, and put you on on the path of health, prosperity, and longevity.

How do you integrate your Chinese animal symbols into your own daily life?

I use the practices to guide my inner cultivation in order to balance and strengthen my astrological chart (which varies depending on the hour, day, month, season, year, or external life event), so that I feel more harmonious with my self, my family, and with nature. For example, I will check the Chinese calendar to pick out dates for travel or signing a contract. Based on the animal symbols, I also chose special colours for home and office in order to create the right fengshui for those environments. My wife and I make meals according the the principles of the Chinese animal clock to create a healthy daily rhythm for our family.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2010.