My Tai Chi Journey to Health

By Michael Head

Greetings to all my fellow practitioners, old friends and acquaintances, and those in the club whom I've yet to meet! I'd like to relate a personal experience as encouragement to all of you who have learned tai chi and chi kung. They have brought me strength and vigor for many years, and more recently, they have returned me to health after a period of illness. 

 I began taking classes in 1979 to gain the rank necessary to learn tai chi, which at that time was not taught to the public. My interest had been piqued, like so many boys who grew up in the 60s and early 70s, by the TV show, Kung Fu. How surprised I was to find that I could learn the mysteries hinted at in the TV show right in Lexington, Kentucky!

Grandmaster Hiang has been my teacher since he returned from Indonesia in 1981. I took several chi kung classes from him back then when they were called "breathing classes." They became the foundation for my continued practice of chi development over the years. I incorporated the breathing techniques and ideas I learned in those classes into my practice of Yang style tai chi, which became an unfailing, daily ritual for about 15 years.

Then, in 1996, I began having significant back pain from an injury to my sacrum sustained in a fall.  Besides the physical pain, I learned first-hand that a significant loss of vitality accompanies the loss flexibility in the lower spine. After another seven years, I could hardly stand straight for the first three or so hours each morning. One of the most significant resulting symptoms was elevated blood pressure, which would frequently spike at 166/110. Needless to say, I had to resort to medication to manage this significant impact on my health.

Then, in late 2006, I was cured by an osteopath who re-set the alignment of my sacrum. After having been unable to exercise at all for three years, my cardiovascular conditioning was poor, and I still had significant stiffness and guarding in my lower back, some of which I was told was from irreversible arthritic changes of the spine.Undaunted, I began biking regularly. Although I regained considerable heart strength, my blood pressure continued to remain high, and my lower back remained unpliable.

I decided in early 2008 that I would begin practicing tai chi again with the hope that improved chi circulation would help address at least my elevated blood pressure. I took Grandmaster Hiang's Lee Family Tai Chi Chuan public class in January, and then his advanced tai chi class beginning in March.  I practiced the Lee Family form daily, for a time in the morning, and then later, as a lunch routine.  My blood pressure slowly improved, but even through the summer, it never completely returned to normal.  Finally, in early September, I suddenly noticed that I could practice the form without losing my breath.  It was like a switch was turned off. I realized almost immediately that my blood pressure had completely re-normalized.  I stopped taking my medication and checked my blood pressure levels for the next month: I consistently showed readings of between 110/72 and 120/80.  I attribute this success directly to my practice of Lee Family Tai Chi. 

Since my success in regaining my blood pressure health, I have been taking Grandmaster Hiang's chi kung class. Building on my improved breath capacity, I have been practicing the Bodhidharma exercises daily along with tai chi. I have been amazed at how quickly I am regaining a vitality that I haven't felt for 15 or so years. Grandmaster Hiang has also taught Ye Fe Se Pa Tuan in chi kung class, an exercise I used to dread practicing in regular class in the late 80s when I was in near peak condition. I must admit that back then, I did not practice this exercise outside of class, so whenever I attempted it in class, I was unable to maintain my breathing let alone perform the challenging postures.  Because I have purposed recently to regain some of my old inner strength, I began to practice Ye Fe Se Pa Tuan every day, starting for the first two weeks with only so much as he had taught, gradually building my strength, inner and outer. I can't lie. The form is still challenging. But in a short four weeks, I am able to complete the whole form maintaining both a low stance and my breathing.

Grandmaster Hiang repeatedly says to all of us that the most important quality of life is one's health. We have all heard him say that to maintain our health (in my case, to regain it), we must spend some time practicing the things we learn. I am walking testimony to the truth of his recommendations. I write this as encouragement to all of my fellow practitioners who have learned these wonderful exercises. All that is required is practice.

So, good practicing! And look forward to Grandmaster Hiang’s book on Tai Chi that I, along with Master Dave Cubine, will be working on with Grandmaster Hiang for publishing sometime next year. I know will be a wonderful source of information for all of us!