As you begin reading this article, what position is your body in? Are you sitting down, standing up, lying down, or walking down the street perhaps? Whatever position you are in, stop and observe your posture. Would you consider this position “good posture”? If not, what would you change and how?
Chances are after reading these questions, you made an adjustment to your posture or at the very least thought about it. Here are two more questions for you.
As a health professional working in the industry for 20 years, I am stunned by the countless people suffering from the posture they are placing themselves in day after day. Of course, though, “bad posture” does not occur overnight, it takes time. Our bodies are built with protective mechanisms that help us unconsciously compensate through postural adjustment for injuries that make it difficult to place our bodies in certain static positions or move through normal ranges of motion. These mechanisms become learned responses that, if the injury requires a longer healing time, move towards becoming an unknown habit.
Take this patient, for example: Jennifer is a typical middle-aged office worker who spends the majority of her work week in a chair staring at a computer screen and sitting in back-to-back meetings. She decided to visit me for neck pain that comes and goes and ranges in severity from a 2 to an 8 out of 10. When she first arrived, I noticed that her head shifted off to one side just slightly, but I did not bring it to her attention right away. Interestingly, the direction her head shifted was towards the same side she was experiencing the neck pain. Later in our conversation, I brought this observation to her attention and she didn’t believe me, until I asked her to look in the mirror. She was absolutely shocked that she never noticed it before and even more shocked that all of the health practitioners she had been to for the pain had not seen it either. It was obviously too subtle for her to notice, and furthermore, it didn’t feel out of the ordinary.
What was the cause? It turns out, while using her computer at work for long periods of time, she would often get tired quickly and lean to the right side onto her desk while she maneuvered the computer mouse with her right hand. Over time, this change in position, due simply to lassitude, unconsciously formed into a debilitating habit. Aside from this, there was no other indication, past or present, that pointed to an event that might have led to the neck pain. Furthermore, she had been at the same job for nearly 15 years. She is lucky that all she had was neck pain!
Our posture determines not only what types of aches and pains develop, it also affects specific aspects of our physical and mental well-being, such as our breathing, our digestion, our balance, and not to mention, our mood. Emotionally, if you feel constantly depressed or upset, your posture will change to reflect this. And by holding on to this emotional stressor, you will find yourself letting go of “good posture”.
In Oriental Medicine, posture will determine the quality of Qi and Blood circulation throughout the body. In the example above, Jennifer experienced one-sided neck pain that began to radiate to other areas like her upper back and affected the big picture of her overall posture forcing her to reposition her body more so to one side rather than being balanced in the center. She allowed for weakness to develop on one side and severe regional tension on the other. Needless to say, the quality of Qi and Blood circulation easily transformed into stagnation and excess on one side with a deficiency on the opposite side. Had we not addressed it when we had, it might have reached the point of stasis or an even worse condition.
As an acupuncturist, I am always analyzing my patients’ posture every time they come for treatment. If something stands out, I tell them directly, and we work on it from head to toe. We look together at how they stand, how they sit, and how they walk. When they lie down on the treatment table, I observe what position they place themselves and also where they end up (on the table) by the end of the session, if the tools being used are not forcing them to remain in one position.
Understanding one’s posture is the key to understanding one’s health. And healthy posture is the gateway to good health in addition to providing you with more energy. Here are a few basic tips for examining posture from head to toe. You can easily do these yourself or prescribe them to your patients.
How do you feel? If you feel slightly uncomfortable, that sounds about right. You probably need a little more practice to help your body adjust to this new “normal”. But over time, you will notice a significant difference in how you feel, the amount of energy you have, and maybe even how you look!
Don’t believe me? Go look in the mirror.
Breathing. We all do it. You’re doing it right now. We do it all the time. But how many times do we think about our breathing? If you are like most people, the only time you think about it is when you are having trouble with it.
As a practitioner of the martial arts, healing arts, and brass wind instruments I have experienced first hand how an adjustment to our approach to breath can create profound change.
In the study of the Chinese internal martial arts, there is a common saying - “Yi, Qi, Li.” Our “Yi” is our intent. Our “Qi” is our energy. “Li” refers to muscle, or as it is used in this phrase, to our physical actions. The gist of this saying is that all three things must work together. So what does this have to do with breathing? Everything! You see, our breath is directly connected to our state of mind and quality of the movement of our energy and our body. Don’t believe me? Give this a try.
Think of something really exciting, like maybe you just won the lottery. Notice how your eyes open wide; notice how you breathe in; and notice that your breath is probably somewhat shallow. Now do the same thing while trying to move slowly. You may be able to do it, but it won’t be easy. Now try the opposite. Think of something sad. Notice how your eyes start to close and how you exhale. You may even feel your body start to slouch. Now do the same thing while trying to move quickly. Again, you might be able to, but it will take a lot of effort.
By simply changing how you breathe,
So what’s the point of this? Your mind and body want to be on the same page. When one of them gets off track it wants to pull the others along. The cool thing is that breath is the link between the internal world and external world, and by simply changing how you breathe you can change how you think, feel, and move.
And our breath goes far beyond our state of mind and quality of movement. It effects our health. All our metabolic functions are important. Our bodies are designed to be this wonderfully complex holistic system. And while these systems are important and act on their own, our breath is the one function that we can consciously control. And it is through our conscious decisions to adjust how we breathe that we can create change in our other functions. How we breathe has a direct effect on our circulatory, digestive, and even our nervous systems. It’s amazing to think how much impact this simple act has on our total health and well-being.
So, if you are interested in learning a little more about the basics of breathwork, go to my Personal Mastery and Growth online academy and take my FREE course on Breathing Fundamentals for Qigong.
About the Author
(See José's full in-person interview on YouTube)
José Johnson has been described as a modern Renaissance Man. Jose is an accomplished martial artist, musician, teacher, entrepreneur and change merchant. Jose currently owns and operates Jose Johnson’s Chinese Martial Arts & Wellness Center in Harrisburg, PA. He is also the founder of Integrated Wellness Consultants and in 2017 established the Personal Mastery and Growth online academy. (link above)
As a martial artist, José’s accomplishments earned him the honor of being included in the 2008 publication “Extraordinary Chinese Martial Artists of the World” and the invitation to take part of the filming of the 2015 Chinese docu-drama “New Legends of Martial Arts.”
As a musician, José has developed a reputation as being one of Central Pennsylvania’s most dependable lead trumpet players and arrangers specializing in funk and R&B. He regularly works with The Impact Band, The Maxwell Project, Gumbo Junk Brass Band, Big Boy Brass and Windish Music & Productions. He is also an endorsing artist for Robinson’s Remedies and Warburton Music Products. José exclusively plays Warburton trumpets, flugelhorns and mouthpieces.
Here are a few places where you can find more about Master José Johnson
- José Johnson’s Chinese Martial Arts and Wellness Center: www.dowellness.com
- José Johnson’s Personal Website: www.josejohnson.com
Our mentally and emotionally-induced unnatural resistance to adjust our basic routines together with the seasons causes a clash between our internal environment (our physiology) and the external environment.
Each morning for the past week, I have found myself to be a bit more tired than usual. There were nights when I went to bed a little late and nights I went to bed early, but it didn't make a difference. Some mornings I even felt a little tickle in my throat and others I noticed a slightly runny nose and little extra saliva in my mouth. Too much detail? Well there's a reason.
When the seasons change, our bodies do the same. When the physical environment, and even the emotional environment, begin to change around us, our bodies, being the pros they are, automatically make an effort to change with them. If they didn't, we would enter an unfortunate state of dis-ease. Our mentally and emotionally-induced unnatural resistance to adjust our basic routines together with the seasons causes a clash between our internal environment (our physiology) and the external environment.
This is the reason I personally prescribe the art and exercise of Tai Chi during these times of the year. Although there are numerous styles of this exercise, its overall gentle movements and calming nature provide one important element in this time of seasonal transition; Movement.
A consistent Tai Chi practice during any seasonal transition, especially from summer to fall, will allow for a healthy experience of movement from one season to the next, no matter the type of climate. Whether you live in the northern or southern hemispheres, on the equator, or in Antarctica, there is always a transition in the environment, which has an inevitable effect on your body's physiology.
The main reason why practicing during the summer to fall transition is so important is due to the overall nature of the seasons. What I mean is, during summer exists the peak temperatures of the year in the external environment, which create physiological changes that lead to the release of heat (sweating) from our bodies. Or it can lead to something we refer to as warm diseases (think heat exhaustion) because our bodies are unable to release the heat inside of us leading to dangerous and sometimes life-threatening conditions. Additionally, as you may already be aware, there is a large amount of breathing occurring during the practice of Tai Chi. This breathing is a constant exchange of air and its contents between the external and internal environments which allow is to more rapidly create a level of balance between the two ultimately guided by a mindful approach to practice.
After summer, we transition towards the colder seasons, first moving through fall; a season of dryness, chilly temperatures, and less and less movement in the outdoors (e.g. the beginnings of hibernation). So as you can see, if we live in these environments, then our bodies are certainly affected by them, and we must take appropriate action to adjust in parallel with them.
What action is that? The action is Tai Chi. Which I believe, as a Licensed Acupuncturist, to be the single most effective form of exercise that offers and guarantees (with your consistent practice and close observation of your physiological changes) the opportunity for a healthy transition through any season change.
So, if you usually struggle during these times of year, particularly from summer into fall and then into winter, start your Tai Chi practice as soon as you notice the seasons beginning to change. Don't wait! Unless of course you prefer to catch a cold, get the flu, dine on throat lozengers, suffer from sinus infections, and yell at the top of your fluid-filled lungs "I hate this season!"
20 years ago, I made a choice that would change my life forever. I chose to enter a world that balances itself between the polarity of Yin and Yang; rotates on an axis called the Dao; and requires of its inhabitants to willingly "eat bitter", drown ourselves in blood, sweat, and tears, and risk masochistically bruising and injuring our bodies on a daily basis. To others, it is a world that sounds more torturous than peaceful. Regardless, this world is where many thrive on the nourishment of wisdom, develop a persevering attitude, and establish lifelong brother/sisterhoods. This is the world of Martial Arts.
How We Arrived Here
Prior to the 20th century, people knew the martial arts world as being one of great discipline, honor, respect, humility, and unquestionable devotion. Not only was it a way of life, it was also an employable service and a reputable form of business that brought strength, stability, and protection to local villages. Additionally, if a well-known martial artist was teaching in a specific area, it would draw attention far and wide attracting students from across the country ultimately bolstering the local economy. Consequently though, the downfall was the ensuing invitation for trouble through open challenges and "wars" between martial arts families/styles. Even to this day, the plague of open challenges is creating a rift between martial artists forcing practitioners to question its relevance, effectiveness, and overall place in today's society.
Throughout the 20th century, the martial arts world took a severe beating during specific times of global transition (for example, World Wars I & II, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution) forcing people to flee, go into hiding, nearly starve to death, or even be killed. However, thanks to the latter part of the 20th century, and with the help of Hollywood (and dare I say westernization), the world of martial arts continues to spin, but not at the same velocity as in the past.
Today, many martial artists attempt to run their schools in a similar manner as schools of the past by kowtowing to their teachers, passing on knowledge to those who are "worthy", and carrying forward the lineage of which they have been accepted into. I myself being "raised" in this traditional and ritualistic manner treat my Kung Fu family in a similar way. As described later in this article though, these practices have not always had a positive effect on the evolution of martial arts.
A Lesson from History
An important lesson taught throughout history is that everything must come to an end.
In all of my martial arts training, one of the most important lessons I have learned is how not to hold on both physically and mentally. Without learning this lesson, one's opponent immediately gains the advantage. So, why is it that so many martial artists cannot demonstrate an understanding of this lesson by clearly being unable to let go of the past? Why have they not accepted the fate of the martial arts world and begun the next stage of its evolution for the sake of the next generation? A disappointing truth is that our world can no longer thrive on ancient methods and traditional ways of thinking and acting. Not because they don't matter, but because much of the rest of the world is moving forward and shedding the parts that no longer serve their current direction (including certain aspects of martial arts). Why are we not doing the same?
Martial arts was brought to life by ancient wisdom, cultural transformation, and the gifts of nature. This life will soon expire if we do not begin to take action and shed the skin that has been peeling off for the last century. Therefore, I am urging you and every other martial artist to think seriously about the future of martial arts because the unwillingness to accept one's fate is futile, guaranteed. Furthermore, many years from now, you and I will be looked upon as the ancients of martial arts, and we will either be praised or we will be criticized for doing (or not doing) what was necessary.
So, better than history coming to an abrupt "end", how about we look at it as a "new beginning".
Ask the Right Questions
Here are some questions we can begin to ask ourselves regarding the fate of the martial arts world:
These types of scrutinous questions, as painful as they might be to answer, have the potential to help us design a new landscape for the sake of adapting to the needs of modern society. Today, the average student will rarely devote time to diligently practicing the movements they are taught. Nor will they spend much time studying the wisdom intricately woven into each action. Many teachers respond to this by teaching form after form without enforcing the need for repetition that allows students to understand more than just the sequence itself. This is proof that the world of martial arts has transformed based on the needs and wants of the student, not of the teacher, nor of the traditional style being taught. Additionally, the levels of discipline, motivation, and devotion no longer resemble those of the past. And due to the unwillingness to accept this unfortunate fact, many martial arts schools' enrollment numbers have dwindled, while at the same time, membership costs surge leading to survival being the only option. Consequently, this choice of survival has caused the sacrifice of something once considered to be sacred; tradition. Thus, the martial arts world now revolves around such things as colored belts handed out faster than Bruce Lee's one-inch punch.
So what truly is the best way to train students for the sake of the future, and who should be the target clientele from here forward?
Should we only focus on rigorously training the body? Should we limit ourselves to building a curriculum that requires only memorization skills for the forms which are taught?
What truly is the best approach?
In any stage of transition, there are always more questions than answers. Moreover, if you think you have the answers to all of the questions I have been asking, then you have not yet learned to listen.
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inspirational ideas on healthy living through eastern medicine, optimism, and possibility through empowerment.