Those who read it may remember that Part One of my tale was originally published in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of Central Tai Chi’s newsletter. At that time I didn’t envisage a Part Two but such a lot has happened to me since I started Tai Chi classes with Steve and Fleur at their Thursday afternoon session in Sutton Coldfield, in November 2014 that, at the risk of boring you, I shall beg your indulgence once more. You may find, however, as you read on that this article is as much about your journey as mine.
In the previous episode I told the tale of how I first encountered and became a student of Tai Chi in 1981, how I was fortunate enough to learn from some of the most prominent people in the art both in this country and Hong Kong, and then how it all came to an abrupt stop in 1986. Then followed the 28-year gap.
I concluded, however, by saying that I had learned more about the theory and finer points of Tai Chi and Chi Kung, in 12 months, from Steve and Fleur than I ever remembered from my previous participation. This still holds very true and you should all be aware of how lucky you are to be taught by such a couple who are so openly willing to share their knowledge. In my experience this does not occur in every Tai Chi school. Now that I have got myself that free lesson I’ll get back to my personal tale.
Why did I return to Tai Chi? That’s difficult to put into words but all throughout those ‘gap years’ I retained somewhere deep in my subconscious that I was still a Tai Chi practitioner – if you practise long enough I don’t think that will ever leave you. Perhaps it dawned on me that if I didn’t re-kindle my interest in a practical way I would soon become too old to get going again. That, I now realise, is a misguided thought. To coin a phrase, ‘You’re never too old’, but it does help to have age on your side. I had been thinking for some years of looking for a local teacher but every time I came close to taking the plunge something else popped up to get in the way. It was probably retirement that finally allowed me to follow the course I now have. Also, an interesting fact I have just uncovered, 50% of the more than 200 million people in China who practise Tai Chi begin after the age of 50.
So, there I was walking through the doorway of the Methodist Church Centre in Sutton Coldfield one Thursday afternoon in October 2014. Once again I had made one of those life changing decisions. Just to digress for a moment, and it may have no connection, but since I restarted Tai Chi I have found a re-kindled creative energy within me which has led to my writing over 50 poems, two of which have been published in these newsletters, and here’s another one:
Three Score and Ten
As I approach – three score and ten
Knowing I’ll never – get those years back again
Having lived my life at the edge of the cliff
Just one, enormous, nagging “What if?”
Could I have done better, or maybe worse?
Dwelling on that is surely life’s curse
Yet that’s the question that bothers me still
Is destiny driven by purely free will?
That door, in my youth, looming closed before me
Had I opened it then, now where would I be?
Such simple acts when choices were made
Those places I left – but what if I’d stayed?
If I could really go back, what would I find?
Just supposing I could put my life on rewind
Make some small changes – just here and there
Only for the better – I think that that’s fair
Ah – but how could I know what THAT future would hold?
Bearing in mind not all that all that glisters is gold
I should no longer dwell on the What, If or When
As I happily approach my three score and ten.
I think that the majority of people we meet in Central Tai Chi’s classes are there because they want to gain some health benefits. I have read that this holds true for at least 70% of participants across the world, with the rest taking it nearer to its origins as a very effective martial art. I came back to it with about a 50/50 health/martial interest but this was about to change.
Two weeks into my restart I was called back to my GPs to see one of the practice nurses as I had recorded a slightly raised reading on a cholesterol test. She said I should have a re-test to see if anything had changed in the interim. Then, quite out of the blue, she asked me if I would like to have my PSA level tested (this is the blood test used to look for signs of prostate cancer). I have to say here that this is NOT routinely done, for reasons that can be found elsewhere, and so I was slightly taken aback but replied, ‘I might as well, but I have no symptoms to report’. Three days later I was called in to see my GP and told that the test had returned a positive result and so he was obliged to refer me to a consultant urologist, but not to be too concerned as only about 25% turn out to have prostate cancer. I was not so lucky and following a number of investigations I was told on New Years Eve 2014 that I had a very aggressive and probably life-limiting cancer. Over the next week I was rushed through further tests and discovered that I was past the point of surgery and that it was very close to metastasising (spreading) through my body. In other words it was caught in the nick of time and all because I had a raised cholesterol and had seen a nurse who sent me for the test. I happened to bump into her recently and she can’t recall or explain why she ordered that PSA test. Quite naturally this prompted all of my male colleagues to go and get tested and many of them didn’t find it easy to persuade their GPs to oblige.
This all made me think more of the health benefits of Tai Chi and stimulated me to practise in earnest. To quote from my first article ‘I went along thinking that re-learning the form would be a doddle. it was, after all, the same Yang style, and all those moves would be still there ingrained in my subconscious. How wrong could I be. After a year (October 2015) I had made it to half way into the second part of the three-part Form. Whilst I had some memory of most of the moves I had no idea of the order they came in. It had to be the effects of the ageing brain that had stunted my expected progress.’
In classes of such mixed abilities it isn’t easy for the teacher to progress his/her students at anything other than a slow pace, and especially if those students don’t practise at home! To further my aim of re-learning the whole form at a quicker pace I began to attend more classes and also to take private lessons from Steve. It was also during this period that Steve began his Tuesday night class for those who want to further their ability to perform the second and third parts of the form. It was this class that really accelerated my progress and I am now well able to perform the whole form. This class comes highly recommended for those who feel they need that bit extra to make it through to the end of the form. Then the fine tuning can really begin. And, believe me there is lots of fine tuning for those who want to get the most out of this art.
Obviously, I am still with you to tell this tale so maybe some of you might be interested in what has been my conventional and unconventional approach to dealing with my prostate cancer.
To start with I was put on a three-year course of testosterone-blocking drugs and this was followed up with eight weeks of daily radiotherapy (5 x per week) by the end of which my PSA levels were well within normal range. But the interesting thing is that they continued to fall after I had finished the radiotherapy, to such an extent that throughout the whole of 2016 the level was maintained below a measurable amount. This led to my consultant being so pleased with my progress that the planned three-year course of drugs was finished a year early, in December 2016.
That’s the conventional medical approach in a nutshell. So what about the unconventional?
I can prove nothing, as an individual rather than a properly conducted clinical trial, about what I am about to reveal, but something along the way of my journey has resulted in the incredibly excellent progress I have made. I could go on for many more pages but I must keep in mind that this is a Tai Chi publication, so I’ll be brief. If, however, anyone who attends classes with me wants to know more I can give them the full lecture!
I wrote up all of my experiences, as they were occurring, for family and interested friends and I called this section the Five Prongs of my treatment. In no particular order here’s a synopsis:
Radiotherapy and drug treatments
This has certainly had both a physical and mental effect in a) maintaining physical fitness and b) mentally calming me. Quite often, due to side effects of the medication I haven’t been too keen in going to Tai Chi classes, but I continually have to remind myself that I have always, without fail, finished the class in a far better state than I started it.
I had already started using a device known as a Nutribullet only a matter of days before I learned that I had an abnormal PSA test. I had seen this advertised on TV but, despite some interest, dismissed it as another gimmick. Then I found that my son had one which he was using, successfully, to lower his raised cholesterol level. He demonstrated it to me and I sampled the delicious ‘Nutriblast’ that it produced out of the most unlikely mix of ingredients and was instantly hooked. The consumption of a huge variety of ingredients processed in this device has now become part of everyday life.
Actually, this should read ‘lifestyle’ but it’s the nutrition part that I have mostly taken on board. I was lent a book soon after my diagnosis which had a profound effect on me. The book is ‘Prostate Cancer’, by Professor Jane Plant.
Jane Plant was diagnosed and treated conventionally for breast cancer. She went through the mill and had surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and everything else that could be thrown at her. However, it kept on recurring. On the fifth recurrence she was given up to three months to live and offered only palliative treatment. She had a large visible tumour in her neck to remind her of this.
As a scientist she had spent some time working in China and knew that breast and prostate cancers were extremely rare in that country and she set out, in obvious haste, to try to discover why this was the case. The eureka moment was when she realised that the only feasible lifestyle difference she could find between East and West was that in China, and many other Far East countries, hardly anyone had dairy in their diet. With no real idea if she would benefit she immediately stopped eating dairy products. Four weeks later her tumour had disappeared. This was about 25 years ago. Unfortunately, a couple of years ago she relaxed her strict regimen and began consuming dairy products again, thinking she was well out of danger. Her cancer came back and as a side effect to conventional treatment she suffered a stroke and died.
Needless to say, I stopped all consumption of dairy products as soon as I had read the book.
Healing. My brother, a retired professional healer, was extremely generous of his time and limited energy, due to a number of disabilities, in seeing me for regular sessions of hands-on healing. I know that this may raise a few eyebrows and be dismissed by some. All I can say is that in my professional career, as a physiotherapist, I came across several people who had either seen him or knew of others who had and told of amazing recoveries from all sorts of medical conditions in both themselves or their pets.
I have spent the last two years almost continuously reading up on the scientific research that has been performed on the relationship between diseases and food and on the opposite score, good health and the food we eat. I have been amazed by what I have discovered and by how much is covered up, suppressed or lied about by interested parties, ie. the food and agrichemical industries. And also how little is known by most medical practitioners. My diet as a result is now Whole Food Plant Based. Before I hear you say, ‘How boring!’ I can, with all honesty, tell you that I eat a far greater variety of delicious food than I have ever done before, and am enjoying it too.
But I have now deviated too far from the subject of good old Tai Chi.
I am reminded of the letter ‘F’ when I think of Tai Chi.
It is both Fulfilling and at the same time Frustrating
When you are struggling in the form to overcome an obstacle, an example of which is being able to maintain good balance and foot positioning whilst performing movements which involve a change of direction, this can lead to Frustration. But one day you realise you have overcome that obstacle which then gives that wonderful feeling of Fulfilment. You have earned the right to give yourself a pat on the back and that ain’t a bad Feeling (Hey!, another ‘F’, I didn’t see that coming).
Let’s look back at one of the reasons why that 70% of people take up Tai Chi for their health. I can bet you that some of you want to reduce your risks of falling, the most common reason for fractures, especially at the hip, in the elderly. On this subject, in 2011, experts from the British and American Geriatrics’ Societies reviewed the medical research since the previous set of guidelines were published in 2001. Their updated advice recommends “exercises which improve strength and balance such as the Chinese martial art, Tai Chi”. That sounds pretty good to me.
But is that enough on its own? It’s possible that you still might fall and then the next line of defence is how strong your bones are. It’s common knowledge that dairy products are a good source of calcium and we have been brought up on the notion that getting enough is important for your skeletal strength, which is true. With that in mind you might think that countries with the highest dairy consumption would have the lowest rates of hip fractures due to osteoporosis. But, unfortunately, and this came as a bombshell to me, the exact opposite is true. Researchers found that there is a highly significant relationship between dairy consumption and such fractures. In this study the countries with the highest rates per head of population are the USA and New Zealand with the UK close behind. Now there are very sound scientific reasons for why too much calcium is implicated in this which can’t be gone into in this article.
If you want to find out more, look at this quote and then the book:
“It’s not true that Americans love hogwash—it’s that hogwash inundates Americans, whether they want it or not! Some Americans want the truth—they just haven’t been able to find it because it is drowned out by hogwash. Very little of the nutrition information that makes it to the public consciousness is soundly based in science, and we pay a grave price.” (from “The China Study: Revised and Expanded Edition (2016): The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-Term Health” by T. Colin Campbell, Thomas M. Campbell II)
Now I’d better come down off my high horse, giving it a friendly pat, of course. (If you don’t get the pun you haven’t yet made it to the second part of the Form!).
There’s more from me to come in the next part of my story. Keep an eye open for the next issue of TAI CHI MATTERS – and yes it really does!
I’ll leave you with this thought. There is an ancient phrase that Tai Chi teachers like to quote:
“The teacher leads you to the gate, but only you can pass through it.”
In other words, at some point, students must take their Tai Chi practice unto themselves and make it their own, which begins with practise outside of class.
To be continued…