How to open your heart – by Rosemary Patten

Patten, RosemaryWe are full of complexities, a myriad of different functions that completes us make us part of the human race.  Our bodies crave order and the status quo, yet our heart wishes to be free, joyful and loved. We are looking for that special something that unites us with nature and the heavens. Yet we become distracted with challenges of life, we twist and turn looking for that spark of our existence.

The Universal life force energy that unites us is drawn into us by seven main energy centres or chakras.  Our heart is the link between earths’ energy and the heavens. When our heart is in balance we can love, be joyful, and can cry when life around us is tough.  We can live each moment with pleasure, accept ourselves in the now and forgive our weaknesses.

People who have in the past inflicted pain and have indeed broken our hearts should be forgiven.  We know in our heart that it is their failure to understand, they have taught us strong powerful lessons that we need to know.  When we understand the people who have hurt us, we free our hearts from the pain and our heart has been healed. When we stay in conflict, we only continue to be unhappy.  This negative energy emulates out to people, the world, the planet and the Universe.  Everyone around us receives our signals as hostility toward them, people move away from us and our isolation grows as we push the hurt deep down inside us.

How can we forgive such terrible hurt?  We are who we are and we cannot change, our scars are there, tight in our heart, locked deep. They are almost physical in the pain they inflict, too frightening to bring to the surface and assess.  But if we do not allow ourselves to cry, to feel that which we shut away, and then let go with understanding and compassion, we will not be that person we want to be. The pain will not go away unless we release it and forgive those who have rendered us immobile.

We must forgive ourselves for hanging onto a hurt that takes our breath away- the breath of life.  Start to see with different eyes, a world that is sacred and all things beautiful.  We must learn to emulate our love outwards and love will come to us. There is no effort involved as our thoughts are more and more positive.  We experience love in all its different forms; love of nature, art, music, mankind and the love of that special person.  Love our amazing planet and love the Universe that created us and loves us back.

How can we regain this balance between heaven and earth?  When you are aware of your thoughts, it releases negativity. Thinking on the following affirmations confirms your intention. We will attract positive thoughts towards us, a higher vibration that raises us up towards the heavens. The heart is the link between our higher self and earth, beginning our journey greater understanding.

How to open your heart

Affirmations – choose two of the following or use your own personal affirmations:

I release all feelings of guilt and start my journey to peace and love.

I accept myself and know that my heart is mending.

I can cry and can release those feelings of hurt.

I am surrounded by the beauty of nature and this makes my heart sing with joy.

I forgive those who have broken my heart they also are on a journey.

I embrace change and look forward to exciting new challenges.

I only surround myself with people who bring joy into my life.

Try to be aware of your thoughts, allow negative thoughts to come to the surface.  Never suppress them, as they are low vibration and will be heavy.  Picture in your mind’s eye a red balloon and place the negative thoughts into the balloon, allowing them to drift of up into the sky.

Whenever possible, change any thought to a more positive vibration by putting a spin on it. For example ‘I am dreading work today’ could change to ‘I am dreading work today so I will meet my friend at lunchtime, always enjoy her company. I am lucky to have such a good friend’.  Now there is a reason not to dislike work, as you are now more optimistic!

Once you start bringing your thoughts to a conscious level you will feel you have more energy. The journey of forgiveness towards those who have hurt you in the past has begun. By healing yourself you will truly open your heart and bring true love and joy into your life.  That joy and love can then spread through to all who come into contact with you.

 

Rosemary Patten is a master Reiki practitioner, aromatherapist, reflexologist, and author of Japanese Holistic Face Massage. She lives in Kent, UK.

Raise awareness of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome this May

 

EDS awarenessMay is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) Awareness Month, raising awareness of this multi-systemic and complex connective tissue disorder, and supporting those who live with this invisible condition.

As awareness and understanding of EDS are central to early diagnosis and management of symptoms, take the time to learn about the condition, and simple steps that can help the many people who live with it.

Learn more about EDS (especially type III – Hypermobility Syndrome) with these interviews and resources, and more:

Books:

Interviews:

Organisations:

See also:

© 2013 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved

Play the Frog’s Breathtaking Speech Game

Bring the benefits of yoga and yogic breathing techniques into the classroom and the home with this game from Frog’s Breathtaking Speech author Michael Chissick. Based on the book, the game is a fun way to help children to recognise negative emotions and lean how to turn these into positive ones.

Simply download the game boardcard set and instructions from these links and with some simple steps you’ll be ready to roar the house down with Lion, shake the walls with the Woodchopper Breath and more.

The game is at its most effective if used with the book, Frog’s Breathtaking Speech – find out more about the book here.

 Michael Chissick has been teaching yoga to children in primary mainstream and special needs schools as part of the integrated school day since 1999. He is a primary school teacher as well as a qualified yoga instructor. He is also a specialist in teaching yoga to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Michael trains and mentors students who want to teach yoga to children.

© 2013 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved

Understanding and treating the complex chronic patient – an interview with Isobel Knight

Isobel KnightWhat makes treating the chronic complex  patient so difficult? Do you think there is still a lack of understanding about how best to approach this?

I think that practitioners are very scared by complex chronic conditions and can become very overwhelmed. I’ve had so many medical professionals dismiss me because they really didn’t understand what the problem was. Treatment of chronic complex conditions really does require a multi-disciplinary team of people and medical experts, as well as an overarching approach to treatment plans. This can all be overwhelming for one person.

Conditions become chronic and complex over the years. There’s often a long delay in diagnosis (research by the Hypermobility Syndrome Association in the UK suggests that diagnoses can take about 10 years). As an individual gets older, he or she will gather more problems, which makes treatment even more difficult, relating to more bodily systems. If the condition is intercepted younger, these can all be addressed and hopefully better controlled.

How has being an individual with EDSIII (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome – Type 3, Hypermobility) influenced the way you treat people in your clinic?

Based on what I’ve experienced, I can certainly spot the condition very quickly in people who haven’t had a diagnosis. Although I can’t officially diagnose, if the symptoms are there, I can get them sent to their GP for a referral to an expert rheumatologist. So in this way it’s really helped some people. I also know what ongoing management they are often going to require, so I can both refer them on to practitioners that I know, and support them with Bowen Therapy in the areas that I know they will need help with.

I’m never overwhelmed by what patients say, and I always believe them. And that helps a lot.

Why did you choose the autoethnographic approach in writing your new book?

That was inspired by an author I quote in the book, who wrote about life with a kidney condition and eventually turned it into a PhD thesis. I thought it was a really good way of framing the book. It uses my story as a basis, but also weaves in the stories of others, to ensure that it’s socially representative of that culture group. But also, this is a personal story. I include some quite personal details, and I hope that this makes it much more accessible to read, not a dry textbook. It really says how the patient feels, from my point of view and from the points of view of others.

Book cover: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Managing Ehlers-Danlos (Type III) - Hypermobility SyndromeIn the book, you go into quite a lot of depth on the psychology involved both in having a chronic complex condition and in treatment. Do you think that the importance of this area is underestimated?

Yes. I was actually really surprised how large the psychological section of the book ended up being. There are so many layers to it, trust being a very important one. The issue of trust is so important for any medical professional dealing with a chronic complex patient. Personally, I had been consistently told by a range of professionals that the pain I was experiencing was psychosomatic, and that there was nothing wrong with me. I think that most patients have years of that to contend with. In so many cases these conditions involve a legacies of problems that haven’t been fully handled since a young age. Behaviours change because of pain. That really has an impact on people. They get angry, they get depressed, they get anxious.

I’ve also included a section for the patient on managing chronic pain, cognitive behavioural therapy, and other psychological aids such as goal-setting, pacing, ways of communicating and dealing with doctors.

Medical professionals also need support psychologically in dealing with the complex chronic patient because, as mentioned, treatment can be very overwhelming for them, and quite emotionally draining. If one of your patients comes back every week with little improvement to their pain, it can be emotionally difficult as a therapist to make a positive spin on it and focus on treatment.

Social media seems to be a really supportive, positive force for the treatment and understanding of these conditions. How do you see this developing in future?

I think that because some patients with this condition can become quite disabled, and socially isolated, Facebook, for example, can be a real lifeline for them. It’s a way for them to get mutual support, to learn more about the condition, to realise they’re not alone in their experience. I’ve been staggered by the response to my Facebook page, and how it’s being used internationally to provide support and share information on this subject (but never any medical advice).

How do you hope this book will help professionals working with, and patients with the syndrome?

I hope that the patients will be able to see that there has been, in my story, quite a positive improvement due to the level of care I’ve had, and the experts I’ve managed to have access to. Physiotherapy has been essential in this. I’d like to offer patients hope but also the reality that this is a genetically inherited condition, which is about management, not cure. I hope that the book provides not only treatment information, but validation – they can take the book to their doctors to show them what’s going on. It’s as up to the minute as up to the minute can be in terms of medical research and practice.

In terms of the medical professionals, I hope that they can understand the full impact of a multi-systemic chronic complex condition, what it means to have bodily systems not working very well, and the impact that this has psychologically, physically and socially. I hope this helps them to develop a bit of a more empathetic approach.

I’m incredibly lucky to have been able to have 6 real experts in each field contributing to the book. This means that they’ve been really able to bring the book up to date with the latest research on treatment and medical management of the condition. That’s a real privilege.

© 2013 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved

Request a copy of the UK Singing Dragon Complete Catalogue

Cover of the Singing Dragon UK Complete CatalogueMake sure not to miss Singing Dragon’s latest UK Complete Catalogue. If you have not yet received a copy, please sign up for our mailing list and we’ll send a free one out to you ASAP.

Readers in the UK and Europe who request a copy of the catalogue before February 15th, 2013 will also receive a voucher for a 15% discount on the entire Singing Dragon list of books, with free postage and packing.

Take advantage of this opportunity to find new, forthcoming and classic books on Chinese Medicine, Holistic Health, Taiji, Qigong, Herbal Medicine, Yoga, Spirituality and more. Also, sample health-promoting recipes with The Functional Nutrition Cookbook, and Make Yourself Better with Philip Weeks’ books. Delve into the history of Ayurvedic Medicine and the Mudras of India, and discover the Five Levels of Taijiquan, Daoist Nei Gong and Chinese Medical Qigong.

To request your copy of our Complete Catalogue, please click here. To receive your 15% discount voucher, please be sure to click the checkbox for “Singing Dragon” under area of interest or else mention this offer in the “any further comments” section.

If you have previously received a copy of the catalogue, and would like to take advantage of the 15% discount, please feel free to request a voucher via email at post@singingdragon.com.

Developing habits to restore calmness: Qigong healing sounds for children and adults alike

By Lisa Spillane, author and illustrator of Six Healing Sounds with Lisa and Ted: Qigong for Children.


The Six Healing Sounds teach children the calming benefit of pausing and using the breath to connect to the present. Observing the sensations of the body without thinking about the past or the future strengthens our awareness of the peace we have at the core of our being. In Qigong, negative emotions are not considered ‘bad’. Holding onto, cultivating and acting on negative emotions is when the ‘bad’ comes into things. Because negative emotions are part of the ego and have a role to play (mainly related to survival) it’s good to learn how to acknowledge them, listen to anything useful they are trying to communicate and then release the excess of them. Central to this practice is an acceptance that trying to resist, ignore or smother your feelings will only, in the end, make them grow stronger. Rather than letting negative emotions have the driving seat over your brain and body you can teach yourself how to regain calm.

The exercise that generates the most feedback from my book,
Six Healing Sounds with Lisa and Ted: Qigong for Children, is the one that helps children to stop worrying. Basically, worry happens when we meditate on fear, and being fearful gets in the way of clear thinking. When faced with a threat, the mind instinctively becomes more focussed on the urgent actions needed for survival and less inclined towards higher levels of thinking. This ‘fight or flight’ response far exceeds the requirements of our contemporary daily stressors. For children, things like spelling tests and unfamiliar situations and ideas can be interpreted as a ‘threat’, stimulating their adrenal glands and provoking biochemical changes in the brain that incline them to freeze, fight, hide or run. Over-stimulation of the adrenal glands takes its toll on the body, so it’s especially important to develop habits to restore calmness. Through a combination of smiling, deep breathing, visualization, positive thinking, gentle movements and sound-making Qigong breathing techniques help to reverse the body’s stress response and instead support its physical and mental well-being.

These exercises might seem strange when you first encounter them but there is a growing body of scientific research to support them. In my book, Ted overcomes his worries by doing the healing sound exercise for the stomach. The stomach together with the oesophagus, small intestine and the colon, make up what we refer to as the gut. We all know what it’s like to have ‘butterflies in the stomach’ and ‘gut feelings’, but it is a lesser known fact that there are about the same amount of neurotransmitters (one hundred million) in the gut as in the brain. These nerve cells communicate with each other via chemical and electric signalling, processing information and learning from past patterns. The healing sound exercise for the stomach helps children to establish healthy patterns for when they encounter worry. Instead of supporting an anxiety-driven chain reaction, they learn to pause, close their eyes, smile and breathe in the feeling of trust and openness into the belly. They think about their stomach smiling and filling up with a warm yellow light. Then, with eyes open, they exhale worry with a ‘whooooooo’ sound, imagining it leaving them as dark cloudy smoke. Doing this helps the brain and the stomach to calm each other down. Smiling produces serotonin and nearly all of that ‘feel-good’ chemical goes to the gut to help it with digestion. It also reduces cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenaline and it helps you to relax by getting the brain to release chemicals that not only make you feel happier, but support your immune system too. And, breathing deeply gives the brain a chance to see the broader picture, it’s calming and detoxifying and helps you to feel more positive.


Click to hear what the Six Healing Sounds should sound like!


Worry and anxiety is what keeps most of us awake at night. I know from personal experience and from the response of many of my readers that this practice works as well for adults as it does for children. I actually get a lot of adults telling me they’ve bought my book for themselves!

When you are doing this exercise, yourself or with a child, gently rub your stomach in a clockwise direction. Cast your mind on beautiful images of late summer (in Qigong, each organ is associated with a season) and as you smile, picture your stomach smiling too. Practising gratitude is medicine for the body and the soul so as you do this exercise, say ‘thank you’ to your stomach for all the hard work it does.

A little bit of time spent doing the Six Healing Sounds helps to promote relaxation both physically and mentally. It is also a great way to introduce children to the benefits of Qigong from a young age, and crucially, gives them tools to help themselves to deal with life’s challenges.

Join the Six Healing Sounds with Lisa and Ted: Qigong for Children community on Facebook!

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2012.

Teaching Yoga to Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders? A Piece of Cake!

By Michael Chissick, qualified yoga instructor, primary school teacher and specialist in teaching yoga to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and author of Frog’s Breathtaking Speech.


Exciting New Training Project

An exciting new initiative which delivers the benefits of yoga to hundreds of children with autism will be the cherry on the cake. The project will be in action at a Special Needs Academy in Lincolnshire, UK, after Easter with more to follow.

Over the past thirteen years I have developed a model of how to teach yoga to children with autism. The model can be used by class teachers and teaching assistants with no previous experience of yoga. The structures, activities and postures are easy to learn and are safe to teach. The model is suitable for children across all key stages.

Special schools that have a high proportion of children on the autistic spectrum will use the model. The advantages are that teaching and training are geared to the specific needs of their pupils, and staff can be trained economically without time away from school; and the icing on the cake is that staff can use the model immediately.

How did we reach this point?

I have been teaching Yoga to KS1, 2 & 3 pupils as part of the integrated day at Special Needs School for thirteen years. Many of the children I teach have autism and sensory processing disorders. During each thirty minute session I work with the whole class, class teacher and teaching assistants. Time restraints make it impossible for me to teach all classes in my schools, so I tend to alternate classes every half term.

I had noticed that when I returned to a class to continue after a 5/6 week break there was a need to start over again, which can be frustrating. For many years I simply regarded it as part of the job of teaching pupils with ASD.

However over the last couple of years I have noticed that some classes had retained what I had taught them and were as enthusiastic as ever for their yoga. So what distinguishes the ‘ready-for-more-class’ from the ‘let’s-start-again-class? The answer is that the class teachers and teaching assistants have been teaching their pupils yoga without me… and doing a brilliant job at it too!

Why does it work?

The answer also lies in the fundamentals of my highly structured approach. For example, the children are seated on chairs in a circle. I use a visual timetable and posture cards to keep my verbal input to the minimum. Within the structure I target several layers or elements simultaneously; it’s like a multi-tiered cake. These layers are easily recognised by colleagues who are already experts at working with children with ASD and are using similar models in other curriculum areas.

 

The Layers

  1. Engagement tactics are, for example, encouraging children to choose from posture cards hanging from an umbrella; or children throwing tiny bean bags into the holes on a colourful board as a means of choosing a posture.
  2. Fun is key! Children eagerly get out of their chairs and into the posture because it’s fun; if it continues to be fun then they will want to stay in the posture.
  3. Repetition of postures over the weeks is a crucial; as children become more at ease with the posture leading to improved skills and greater confidence.
  4. Every child Achieves in the lesson.
  5. Social Skills like waiting, listening, speaking, helping each other, taking turns and following rules are targeted.
  6. Fitness Flexibility and improved co-ordination are the layers that tend to hit the news.
  7. Sensory is the sweetest layer. The vestibular system ‘tells us if we are moving or still, while our proprioceptive system is the unconscious awareness of our body position’ (Yack et al 2002). A combination of both systems gives us vital information about movement and where we are in relation to, for example, the floor. I teach many children whose vestibular and proprioceptive systems are dysfunctional. Using yoga postures I help to regulate those dysfunctions.

Feedback

Feedback from the Academy in Lincolnshire was wonderfully positive describing the day as excellent and staff commented that the model:

‘…does away with many pre-conceptions and prejudices – it helps make different types of movement accessible to all.’

It is early days in Lincolnshire, but soon the children and staff will be enjoying their yoga while I’ll be teaching 175 miles away. Seems like I’ll be having my cake and eating it.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

Can Yoga Improve a Child’s Behaviour? A case study by Michael Chissick for World Yoga Day

Michael Chissick has been teaching yoga to children in primary mainstream and special needs schools as part of the integrated school day since 1999. He is a primary school teacher as well as a qualified yoga instructor. He is also a specialist in teaching yoga to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Michael trains and mentors students who want to teach yoga to children.


While the main focus of World Yoga Day is on Human Rights, I thought I would give myself poetic licence to focus also on Children’s Rights – specifically the rights of those children whose behaviour is often labelled ‘disruptive’, because, frankly, it is.

In the following case study from my personal experience as a yoga teacher, you can read how *Sinclair’s behaviour improved significantly because of his success in the yoga lessons over two terms. The plan, to teach challenging postures with aspects of social and emotional learning at the core of the programme, helped change Sinclair’s attitude and behaviour.

*Not his real name.

Is this scenario familiar?

Sinclair was a Year 4 pupil child in a primary school where I was asked to deliver yoga for a year. His class teacher described him as having a low self-image; often being moody, with a short attention span; and often disrupting the class with silly noises or swearing. Sinclair was aggressive to other children and found group work difficult. On the positive side, Sinclair enjoyed Physical Education, loved football, was sharp and incredibly flexible.

My main focus

Whilst I am a specialist children’s yoga teacher, the main focus of my work with children centres on the social and emotional aspects of learning. I teach the whole class and everyone is included. The foremost aim in every lesson is to enhance children’s self-esteem. Other benefits like improved flexibility, fitness, better concentration and calmness, for example, are natural when you practice yoga, yet combined with the emphasis on the aspects of social and emotional learning contribute to a powerful increase in the child’s sense self-worth.

Photo: Michael Chissick’s yoga class students in Tiger Posture (courtesy of Michael Chissick).


Individual Aims for Sinclair

Working with his Class Teacher we decided on the following specific aims:

  • Improving Sinclair’s self-esteem
  • Encouraging Sinclair to be a role model 
  • Improving Sinclair’s group communication skills

Our Approach

Our approach was to cultivate and build on the following three positive aspects:

  1. Sinclair the demonstrator
  2. Sinclair the ‘helpful teacher’
  3. Sinclair the ‘star’ at school and at home

Sinclair the demonstrator

Sinclair was a natural yogi and we quickly realised that he was excelling at the posture work. We decided to use Sinclair as much as fairly possible to demonstrate new postures and reinforce old ones to the whole class. Before the lesson, the class teacher would remind Sinclair that he was being given the responsibility of showing the other children postures and it meant that he had to show responsible behaviour too.

Sinclair the ‘helpful teacher’

Group work was an essential ingredient of the lesson in achieving our aims. The children worked in groups of six. Each group was to work as a team to find a way to perform a specific posture in an interesting way that also supported and connected with each other.

We made it clear that we were looking to reward group skills which included listening and making decisions. Above all there was an emphasis on group members helping each other in a kind and encouraging way. In other words, children were given the responsibility of looking out for each other.

Sinclair’s expertise at the postures set him up as a natural leader and his attention to detail meant that he could spot ways to help children in his group.

We had given him some input on how to get his classmates to change an aspect of the posture in an encouraging way, and Sinclair learnt and applied these skills with ease and a gentleness that his teacher had not seen before. Sinclair was also very keen to be the group spokesperson, yet gradually, over time, he more readily agreed to let someone else have a turn.

Sinclair the ‘Star’ at school and at home

Sinclair performed the most challenging postures to the whole school at two achievement assemblies, where he was encouraged to explain how yoga had helped him to be calmer and more focused. We also discovered that his family eagerly awaited his return from school on yoga day when he would teach them new postures and play yoga games with his two brothers.

Certificates and stickers

Sinclair worked hard to get the special certificates that were awarded to children who could show:

  • Good listening skills to teachers and children
  • How to help other children in group work
  • Improved behaviour

He also earned his fair share of stickers for good listening, learning to be still in calming postures and games and relaxation, as well as increasing concentration and being well-mannered.

Summary

The combination of our behavioural approach and the yoga improved Sinclair’s self-esteem and consequently improved his behaviour because:

  • he experienced a great sense of success in the yoga.
  • the calming and relaxation aspects of the lesson gave him experiences that helped him feel in control.
  • he was perceived as an expert by his class and earned their respect
  • he tried hard to overcome his disruptive behaviours in order to win the special certificates and stickers that were an incentive for him to change.
  • Sinclair’s parents were able to celebrate his success at home and give lots of genuine praise.
  • the combined effect of rewards and praise from me, the class teacher, peers and parents had a very powerful and positive effect on Sinclair’s self-esteem.

Conclusion

This case study is yet another example that supports the case for yoga to be taught in schools as part of the integrated school day on an ongoing basis. Clearly, it also shows the importance of placing the social and emotional aspects of learning at the core of the yoga lesson.

If there is one message I hope teachers and parents take away on World Yoga Day, it’s that yoga can help children foster a sense of achievement regardless of stature, academic ability, upbringing and other differences.

Read a Preview of Frog’s Breathtaking Speech »

This post was adapted with permission from Yoga at School. Visit www.yogaatschool.org.uk for more info.

“Although fatigue may persist, it can go away” – An interview with Lucie Montpetit

Photo: Singing Dragon author Lucie Montpetit

Photo: Singing Dragon author Lucie Montpetit (Credit: Jackie Fritz)

Lucie Montpetit is an occupational therapist with over 25 years’ experience working in a variety of hospital settings. She runs workshops on managing fatigue, stress and pain using the approach she has developed incorporating a number of different techniques. She has personally suffered from debilitating fatigue and restored her health through the methods she now teaches others.

She is the author of Breaking Free from Persistent Fatigue – coming soon from Singing Dragon.

In this interview, Lucie recounts her personal experience with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and how overcoming this condition through a combination of occupational therapy techniques and Eastern health modalities inspired her to help others to do the same.


Can you please tell us a bit about you and your personal and professional interest in improving the lives of people with persistent fatigue?

First, I’d like to explain that I chose the expression “persistent fatigue” because although fatigue may persist, it can go away. A frame of mind open to hope is important in healing.

When I started working as an occupational therapist, I was interested in understanding the drops in energy of my patients. Despite people’s motivation to get better, a lack of energy became apparent in rehabilitation. I encountered different types of lack of energy, whether patients were suffering from major depression in an acute psychiatric setting; war veterans suffering from late onset diabetes leading to leg amputation; or young mothers who just encountered their first major energy drop from multiple sclerosis or a rheumatoid arthritic attack. Personally, I went to see a neurologist at the age of 29 because of sudden energy drops and my GP thought I had multiple sclerosis, but nothing was found and it went away within two weeks. Then, after my second child was born, I had multisystemic symptoms that my GP did not understand. He said I must be stressed. But I did not feel I was more stressed than my co-workers and friends who had to conjugate career and family life.

Book cover: Breaking Free from Persistent FatigueEventually, despite my relatively healthy lifestyle, I had to find another doctor who put me on sick leave with the diagnosis of myalgic encephalomyelitis. It took me about two years to recover from the persistent debilitating fatigue. After that I started to do workshops for patients suffering from similar daily challenges. My book reflects in part my own findings to regain my health as well as the work I have done as an occupational therapist with patients suffering from debilitating fatigue associated with different diagnoses. So it is not a book about disease but about finding solutions according to different ways of gaining back one’s physical, emotional and psychological energy balance. For many, it is also a path towards empowerment and finding a new meaning in daily activities.

Can you paint us a picture of what the person with fatigue goes through on a daily basis?

Once the imbalance is severe, here is what I observed in my patients: Sudden energy drops at fixed time during the day or after physical exercise; poor sleep of different kinds (inability to fall asleep, waking up many times during the night with an urge to urinate and/or unable to feel refreshed even after a good night’s sleep); food and environmental intolerances; exacerbation of known allergies or new allergy appearances; dizziness; mood swings; foggy thinking; no buffer to deal with stress; having a hard time doing little things around the house, such as washing dishes, due to lack of energy and reduced capacity to organise and plan; having projects in mind and interests to pursue but the inability to do so due to lack of energy; not being able to lift grocery bags without shaking like a leaf and needing to go to bed right after; preferring to be alone but not necessary being depressed – essentially just needing to use as little energy as possible to “survive another day”.

What causes this debilitating condition?

One thing for sure is that long standing exposure to stress is a cause of this debilitating condition, but not only psychosocial stressors like your work environment, a conjugal separation or the death of a close relative. These can also include viral infections, postural stressors that leads to jaw misalignment and lack of sleep, nutritional deficiencies that prevent the production of energy at the cellular level, candidiasis, and long term exposure to moulds, endocrine disruptors, heavy metals, allergens, electromagnetic smog and other environmental pollutants.

The accumulation of stressors leads to the imbalance of your psycho-neuro-immuno-endocrine (PNI) super system, known by researchers as allostatic overload.

What makes it worse, and what makes it better?

Continuous exposure to stressors of any kind – insomnia, not respecting one’s limitations and forcing oneself to do more – makes things worse. To make things better, get rid of the stressors when possible; eat energising foods rather than energy draining processed foods; modify daily habits to optimize the natural chronobiological hormonal cycles of one’s body; learn to change one’s mode of reacting into a more energising way of responding to daily life challenges; and make informed choices while honouring one’s strength and limitations. Choosing the right physical intensity of exercise to regain one’s capacities is crucial, while choosing key nutrients to optimise cellular energy production is also important in the process. Learning how to breathe efficiently through the nose in order to optimise the oxygen input is also very important.

What is the book about, and what motivated you to write it?

For many years, I have been dissatisfied with medical answers that purport to address the debilitating fatigue suffered by my patients with auto-immune diseases. Lack of resources and understanding, finding quick fix medications such as antidepressants for patients clearly suffering from musculoskeletal symptoms such as fibromyalgia, and having difficulty finding answers with the variety of health professionals I personally consulted inspired me to write the book. I needed to find answers firstly for myself, and then got the urge to share my findings and what I had learned with others facing similar prejudices among some health care practitioners. So the book is about finding personal solutions, different for each reader because of their own type of debilitating fatigue and personal way of over-spending their energy. People will learn how to make an energy balance sheet like one would do financially when consolidating debts. From their findings, they will figure out how to save energy in their daily lives and regain their inner mind-body balance towards health.

Can you talk about how your work and approach is influenced by Chinese medicine and other practices?

As an occupational therapist I was trained to view my patients from a holistic perspective, which is in accordance with my personal understanding. People require a meaning in the activity they are doing in therapy; they need goals of their own to reach in addition to those of my rehabilitation treatment plan for them. From my perspective as a martial artist of many decades, I am also influenced by the efficiency of energy expenditure, the need for the energy to circulate through the meridians and the influence of the breath during outer and inner Qi Gong and martial practice.

For me, the autonomous nervous system (ANS) follows the yin/yang principles. Patients I treat, for different reasons, have lost the balance of their PNI super system. This has direct repercussions on the ANS as it reverts to a constant “fight or flight” reaction mode as a result of too many stressors that leads to a narrow, skewed perception of daily life. In these circumstances, the ANS becomes too much yang.

I teach patients to reconnect with their bodies through their senses, the awareness of their body and posture in space and their breathing pattern. Then I use different Qi Gong exercises according to the level of energy of my clients or Chan Ssu Chin Tai Chi exercises (known as Silk Reeling Cocoon exercises) to reconnect further with their breath and body and the body’s ability to heal itself. Sometimes I use Neurofunctional reorganisation – Padovan’s Method® (NFR) with the patients to regain the balance of their autonomic nervous system and sleep rhythm: it is a powerful tool that follows brain plasticity principles. I had used NFR mainly with patients suffering from neurological conditions that follows brain plasticity principles in the past. Many of the NRF exercises help my clients suffering from debilitating fatigue as well because it helps reorganise posture, breathing, and ANS functions and rhythms.

Once the body starts to regain its natural rhythms, I encourage my patients to implement what they found useful in therapy into their lifestyle. I teach them about chronobiological rhythms so they can choose for themselves the minor changes in their daily habits that can help foster the natural flow of hormones and chi. Finally, when the patient starts to get out of the constant “fight or flight” mode and is ready to respond in a new way, I make use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) principles to help make changes to the energy draining perception of daily life to energising life habits that are better suited for the recovery process. All of those life changes follow the yin/yang principle to break free from persistent fatigue while restoring the inner balance called homeostasis in Western medicine.

How does the book reflect your general philosophy about health?

For me, health is a dynamic equilibrium within oneself. Equilibrium takes place in the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual dimensions of our lives in relation to our environment. If a person is disconnected from one aspect of his or her self, the imbalance will eventually be reflected in the other dimensions of his or her life. I believe that every person who comes to consult me is in part responsible for restoring and then maintaining his or her PNI super system dynamic balance that we refer to as health. People are amazing at finding ways to change their lives in ways that make sense to them. Once they realise from a new point of view how they were living, they have no interest of returning to their previous lifestyle.

Our environment has never had such a strong negative impact on our health. Depleted soils and foods, pollution of all senses, the intrusion of technology in every aspect of our daily lives and having to deal with the compound effects of so many hundreds of chemicals even before we are born are also major stressors that health professionals too often neglect. These are also consequences of living in a world that is too “yang”. There is an implicit false belief that we have to be busy and multitasking most of the time. We can be proactive in maintaining or restoring our health once we gain knowledge of those relatively new phenomena. Knowledge is power. Feeling empowered rather than feeling a victim of a disease changes your outlook on your condition. This frees your body-mind and it starts to heal itself faster. Allowing a few minutes per day to be rather than to do is sometimes sufficient to maintain one’s inner balance.

Finally, how should this book be used by the reader?

The book is to be read and applied according to your level of energy. As a start, people who have low energy would benefit from knowing how to nourish their bodies to optimise energy production. Then they should go to the chapter that appeals to them. Usually, a gut feeling leads people to what they need. If a reader is too exhausted to concentrate on reading, I recommend bringing the book to a true friend or the health professional he or she is working with to do some of the exercises with the assistance of the health professional.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2012.

Managing stress and achieving balance through seated Tai Chi and Qigong exercises – An Interview with Cynthia Quarta

Cynthia W. Quarta has taught martial arts for over twenty five years and was the Activities Director at an assisted living facility. She continues to teach seated Tai Chi classes in a number of locations to a range of ages and levels of physical fitness. She lives in Great Falls, Montana, USA.

In this interview, Cynthia talks about how she came to develop the exercises in her forthcoming book, Seated Tai Chi and Qigong: Guided Therapeutic Exercises to Manage Stress and Balance Mind, Body and Spirit.


Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to practice martial arts in the first place?

I saw my first martial arts demonstration (jujitsu) when I was nine years old. I wasn’t able to take lessons, however, until many years later when one of my advanced ballet students asked to be excused from classes so she could take her black belt test. That was the first I had heard about her involvement in the martial arts. I offered to barter dance lessons in exchange for instruction in her style of Korean karate (Kwon Bup) to which she agreed. Shortly after that she began teaching several other classes in which I also participated. I finally received my black belt and, after my sensei moved out of town, opened my own dojo. Throughout the succeeding years, I had the opportunity to study Eagle Dragon Chinese Kenpo Kung Fu as well as a smattering of WuShu and Tae Kwon Do.

What motivated you to write this book, and what is it about generally?

While I was working as the Activities Director at a local retirement community, I used my dance and martial arts background to design an exercise program for the residents. When the community changed from one for able-bodied retirees to an assisted living facility for those with limited physical mobility, I had to change my approach. With the help of a core group of resident fitness enthusiasts, I developed a program of seated exercises based on the Yang style of T’ai Chi Chuan and the energizing exercises of Qigong.

This book presents a series of seated exercises to benefit people of all ages and levels of fitness. It is written for therapists and caregivers who want to provide an alternative, effective and creative approach to healing. The book includes instructions specifically for these health care professionals to assist them in their work with their patients/clients.

Why do the Tai Chi and Qigong exercises you’ve adapted in the book lend themselves so well to being practiced in a chair?

Both Tai Chi and Qigong are gentle exercise systems that provide healing and increase overall wellness. Regardless of a person’s situation – whether they are recovering from surgery, recently injured, elderly, or dealing with a chronic disability – these exercises are safe and yet amazingly effective. The emphasis in these exercises is on proper breathing and the involvement of the mind in the process of reducing stress, increasing energy and improving oxygen levels. For that reason the practitioner need not be in top physical condition or, for that matter, even able to stand in order to reap the benefits from the use of these exercises.

What positive effects can professionals hope to see in their clients and patients as a result of using the exercises?

The professional who uses this system with his/her patients will see immediate results in stress reduction, increased oxygen levels, improved appetite, more restful sleep, and a decrease in pain and stiffness. Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School and a number of other medical facilities with research divisions have published studies on the benefits of regular Tai Chi and Qigong practice. I encourage any health care professional considering whether or not to try this program to research these studies (most of them are conveniently available online).

Are there any common obstacles that professionals face when trying to guide their clients/patients through the exercise? How can this book help?

The primary challenge is the lack of knowledge and familiarity. Most of us in Western countries haven’t been exposed to Eastern medicine to any great extent. Overcoming the resistance to a new, holistic approach to improved health is usually the biggest obstacle at the beginning. As time goes on, though, and as patients begin to experience the benefits, their attitudes will change. This book contains a basic but inclusive explanation of Chinese medical theories to help professionals explain to their patients why these types of exercises can improve anyone’s level of health.

Why is it important to include a chapter on self-care for the professional?

If there is anyone who needs help in managing stress and achieving balance in their busy lives it is those who labor daily with patients who are ill or disabled! Therapists must be both relaxed and balanced in all areas of their lives if they are to help others achieve their wellness goals.

How does the book reflect your general philosophy about health?

I believe that an exercise program that works in combination with a healthy lifestyle and a well-balanced body, mind and spirit is the secret to a long and vigorous life. The exercises described in my book are gentle and safe and because they are designed to be practiced while seated, they provide a program that can be used daily even by those with physical limitations or of advanced age. In other words, this exercise system can be used throughout one’s life from youth through middle age and on into the later years, while at peak physical condition or at a stage of life when diminished mobility and strength present a daily challenge.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.