Using Tai Chi to Restore Health and Well-Being after illness
– interviewed by Instructor Lis
In 2000, Ryan was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Until then, he’d been mildly obsessivebout his fitness due to a family history of heart disease. He ran, swam, played rugby, squash, and cycled. Ryan was thirty-nine.
In early 2001, he had surgery to partially remove the tumour. His surgery went extremely well but he was left with some residual effects – loss of balance and an almost paralysed left arm. Post operative deep vein thrombosis and a major blood clot on his lung complicated the recovery. Now years later, he has devised an exercise regime to suit his new awareness of life. He walks, kayaks, meditates once or twice a day and practises Tai Chi.
After surgery, Ryan faced an ongoing cycle of follow-up scans every few months. He decided to explore alternative healing techniques to use in conjunction with his conventional therapy. He attended the Quest for Life centre in Bundanoon, which ran programs for people living with cancer. One of the recommendations from the centre was meditation, another Tai Chi.
Several months later on a short break at the South Coast with his wife, Ryan saw a man practising Tai Chi on the beach and was very impressed by the peaceful, relaxed movements.
“I thought I could do that. It looked so peaceful. He was practising on the sand but his balance was perfect. The calmness really appealed. I thought it might help with my recovery. We’d actually gone to the coast to consider where my treatment should go next.”
“Upon returning to Canberra, I needed to take one of my children to a locum doctor and they had the brochures for the Academy on display. I don't think things happen by coincidence so I enquired and started the next term with the Academy.”
In 2002, the Academy was teaching traditional Yang Style, a challenging form for someone with impaired balance and a disabled left arm.
“I had to concentrate on moving my left arm because I’d lost the awareness of where it was in space. Gradually, it has improved to a reasonable level of control as the years have passed. My balance and flexibility have also improved.”
“I have had to miss a term or two due to my health. Initially, I learned for just over a year, then had to stop for a period. When I returned, Brett was teaching the Hun Yuan form, so I had to start again as a beginner. I didn’t mind. The Hun Yuan form is very enjoyable, very flowing. I did each section twice and discovered new things all the time. Now after about seven or eight years, I’m beginning to feel the relaxation between movements.”
“I enjoy the Bagua Walking training Brett has introduced lately, very meditative. I also like the slow punching, despite not really being interested in martial arts, although I might give it a go if I was younger, and minus my health issues.”
“I learned the Tai Chi Bang (Stick) with Fontane. That was very good for my arm, as was the Silk Reeling and the Ba Duan Jin Qigong. My problem is practising everything. I go through phases where I practise regularly, then let it slide a little. I would like to do more but it can be difficult to find enough time to practise. I enjoy Tai Chi. It keeps my body relaxed and increases body awareness. Taking the time to listen to the body enables the release of tension.”
“I’ve done a lot of meditation since my operation. I learnt to meditate using a mantra with a Christian meditation group and mainly practise a sitting form. I also did a course with Lama Choedak which was very valuable in terms of changing my attitude to my life. I’m a much calmer person now, my wife says. I think I’ve learned to respond to things rather than react.”
“An interesting thing happened once when I was in hospital about five years ago. I had several anxiety attacks where my heart would start racing and I’d have chest pains. When this happened, I was always worried as it reminded me of the chest pains I had felt when I had the blood clot in my lung. I was lying in hospital connected to a range of monitors and I thought, ‘this is crazy. I’m going to meditate for a while to see if that will settle things down.’ I began to meditate and soon the machines registered that my heart rate and blood pressure had returned to normal, or actually a bit below. The staff noted the abrupt change. For me, this was a very strong validation that meditation really did work and in my case, was a way to control my fears. I haven’t had an anxiety attack since.”
Ryan is a public servant in charge of security and property for his organisation. Having such a serious illness has altered his whole life view. He realises that apart from taking all due care and doing his job properly, nothing at work is a life or death decision.
“It could be a stressful job if I let it. I choose not to be stressed by work.”
(This is an actual interview, but the name has been changed for reasons of privacy.)