A Year of Tai Chi

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Tonight is my last tai chi class so I wished to look back on a year of practice. I started tai chi classes last September so technically it is not a year but that’s how classes work (from September to June) and I liked the title!

There were various reasons why I wanted to take up tai chi:

– I had seen Chinese people perform in local parks in Hong Kong and found the choreography graceful and seemingly easy.

– I wanted to start an activity which I would be able to do for several years.

– Above all, my body was telling me that I needed a regular physical activity.

Tai chi is an internal Chinese martial art practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits. It has become popular in the West because of its value in treating or preventing many health problems. Its origins are old but vague and it is hard to distinguish between myth and reality.

The original philosophy of tai chi is that, if one uses hardness to resist violent force, then both sides are certain to be injured at least to some degree. But to meet brute force in softness and follow its motion while remaining in physical contact until the incoming force of attack exhausts itself or can be safely redirected, meeting yang with yin – or to quote Lao Tzu: “The soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and strong.” (Shortened and adapted from Wikipedia)

I attend a class once a week. There are about ten of us – all in their forties and a bit more. The instructor is a retired school teacher. The tai chi class lasts 90 minutes and falls into the following three parts:

Warm-up and unlocking: Easy motions, such as shoulder circles, turning the head from side to side, or rocking back and forth, help you to loosen your muscles and joints and focus on your breath and body. They are easy to perform and remember. and thus can soon be repeated at home on your own.

Qigong practices: Translated as “breath work” or “energy work. The practices all involve a posture, (whether moving or stationary), breathing techniques, and mental focus. The idea is to help relax the mind and mobilise the body’s energy.

Instruction and practice of tai chi forms: Short forms — forms are sets of movements — that include a dozen or fewer movements. Longer forms that include hundred will come later. They are the most difficult, not physically, but because it is essential to remember and master the details.

These classes have proved to be very beneficial: Tai chi is certainly not extreme but it is more dynamic than it looks. I now rarely have back aches and when I do I know what to do to ease the pain. Another thing that I appreciate is the non competitive aspect of this sport; with time I have mellowed and the only competition that now interests me is to improve at my own pace. I have really enjoyed the classes and intend to continue next year. Ideally I ought to set up a schedule for the summer so as not to lose all the benefits.

For further reading:
Tai chi: getting there more slowly, but gracefully and intact
Tai chi … a gentler way
Tai Chi Eases Depression in Elderly

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Finding and Settings Limits

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These past few weeks I have been very busy and stressed as a result. I am not quite sure what burn out exactly implies but I think I was nearing the danger zone.

School and the way we teach have evolved. There are lots of bright and positive aspects to the situation but also some more frightening and negatives ones.

Because my students do not work enough on their own, I have multiplied group work but also feel that everything that is produced needs marking. This means that for some classes I spend at least 50% more time grading papers and projects.

I am also available 24/7 via emails even if I do not check them on Saturdays. For instance at present, some of my students are away doing internships but they still send me work and reports to read and correct.

Thus although I have been on holiday since Friday I have marked about 100 papers in five or six days. I have also been busy writing school reports online. Today I decided to stop for a few days and step back but this is not as easy as it may sound and I keep thinking of all the things that I should/could/can do for work.

I find it very hard to set myself limits and stick to them. I do not want to appear lazy but this often means that I end up working too much for my own good. Dear readers, how do you set yourself limits and does it work?

What’s Your Breakfast II

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One of my New Year’s resolutions was to eat a proper breakfast every day rather than just swallow two or three cups of coffee and so far I have been successful. My secret: Sunday evening baking.

Each Sunday, I make buns – cardamom buns or cardamom buns with raisins – and freeze them. Then every morning I briefly put a bun or two in the microwave and eat the buns with slices of cheese. I drink some sort of fruit juice and cups of coffee.

This may not seem much but for someone who has difficulties facing food in the morning this is quite a step.

For more inspirations, you can read this old post or try Leora’s Best Bowl of Oatmeal.

Teikei the French Way

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Teikei is a system of community-supported agriculture in Japan, where consumers purchase food directly from farmers. When these groups emerged in the 1960s there was a general climate of environmental issues and distrust of the quality of food in the conventional food system.

It is quite similar to community-supported agriculture In the western world. In France the name is AMAP and a local group was created a few weeks ago.

The farmer is a young lady who joined her parents’ farm a couple of years ago but has chosen to grow organic produce. To begin with there are 25 individuals or families in our group but it is expected to grow to 35 fairly rapidly.

Each of us has signed a contract with the farmer and we get a basket of organic fresh produce, complete with eggs, each week. Every Thursday we go to a house in my hometown where the produce are brought by the farmer and distributed by two group members.

The first distribution was today. Here is what we got:
– 1 kg of rosabelle potatoes – a variety of red potatoes
– 1 kg of Swiss chard
– 1 bunch of carrots
– 2 lettuces
– 1 bunch of parsley
– half a pound of red currants
– 6 eggs

Is Kosher Getting Healthier?

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I went kosher shopping in Antwerp last week where I bought meat for my freezer as well as all sorts of fresh and dry foods.

Usually I find that kosher biscuits and cake are case studies in unhealthy food. Here is a sample for the skeptics: sugars, wheat flour, eggs, water, vegetable oil, poppy seeds filling, emulsifiers (E433, E481, E491, E524), yeast, stabilizer E415, dietary fibers, soy flour, food starch, humectant E422, flavors, salt, citric acid, preservatives (E282, E202, E200). And this is just one item.

Yet as I looked around looking for parve cookies and cakes for a friend as well as for a cup of instant noodles for myself. I found that things seemed to be changing as the above photos suggest: no colorings, no preservatives, no trans, less salt, no added MSG …

This is a trend I have not witnessed in French kosher stores and interestingly all those products came from North America, not Israel. As for the organic section (a rather reduced product line), it contained American and European items.

Have you noticed a similar tendency where you live?

Ramen Stir-Fry

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Ingredients:
– 2 pkgs. pre-cooked Ramen noodles
– 2-3 eggs
– half a Chinese cabbage, thinly sliced
– 1 clove garlic, crushed
– 1 or 2 carrots, coarsely grated
– soy sauce

Whisk the eggs and make an omelet. Cook it slowly so that it does not brown and remains a little runny. Once it is ready, cut it into small pieces and set aside.

Get a Wok heated up – before putting the oil in! This is important in that it keeps the oil from burning. Test how hot the pan is by putting one to two drops of water; it if sizzles away immediately, it is hot enough.

Put in about 1 tablespoon oil – just enough to cover the pan (or Wok) bottom and sides. Put Chinese cabbage in oil stirring constantly. Add garlic and then carrots. Put soy sauce to taste. After five minutes everything should be cooked quite nicely.

Turn the heat down a little and dd the ramen noodles stirring constantly. Mix in the omelet. Add soy sauce if necessary and serve immediately.

Japanese, Organic and Kosher

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Since I embarked on a new diet, I have naturally bought a number of Japanese products (ramen noodles, soy sauce, miso soup). This afternoon, I went to the local organic store, not necessarily to purchase Japanese foods, but to check what they had in store and find inspiration for upcoming meals.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover Clearspring, a British brand which specializes in quality Japanese , Oriental and European foods. Not only are the products I bought from Japan and organic, but they are also kosher certified.

Now I wish I had realized they also kosher certified European products, such as olive oil, as I would have bought some. The siver lining is that the next visit to the store will be more fun as I’ll try to uncover what kosher products they stock.

New Diet or New Habits?

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Because I wish to lose weight and because I try to take care of my health, I seriously plan to change a number of things in my diet and my routine.

After having considered several diets, I have come to believe that I need to settle on things that are feasible and can be easily integrated into my life. Thus a low-carbohydrate diet is fine in the summer but doesn’t work (for me anyway) in cold weather. On the contrary I know that cutting down on meat – especially red – is something I can do.

I also know that I need to adopt a healthier routine: more walking for instance. There are lots of places I can walk to rather than take the car. I ought to start a sport too but do not feel ready (yet).

I received this morning a book which deals with the Okinawa diet and am hopeful that it will inspire some change. I don’t anticipate to revolutionize the way I eat or live but hope that I will enjoy whatever I choose to adopt.

Hopefully I’ll get some insight about soy consumption, especially by women. Finally I am looking forward to read and try new recipes. I made a dessert with sweet potatoes tonight but will only eat it at breakfast tomorrow.

Meanwhile here are two links you might like to try:
Japanese Noodle Vegetable Salad with Peanut Sauce and To Tofu or Not to Tofu: Tasty Substitutes for Dairy or Meat

Post for Women

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… their husbands, boyfriends and partners too.

– Don’t think that because you are feeling ok nothing is happening to your body.
– Do whatever tests your national health service or health insurance allows you to do.
– Ask your physican about mammography and do it regularly.

About three weeks ago a physics teacher in my school woke up and one of her breasts was oozing. She was rushed to hospital where she was diagnosed with breast cancer. A chemotherapy treatment was scheduled. Sadly she didn’t react well to the first session and had a heart failure. For several hours it was uncertain whether she would live or die. She is better now but the doctors say she needs to strenghten up before they can envisage another treatment.

It turns out that this colleague had been negligent in her visits to specialists and breast screening tests for about two years.

I am writing this in the hope that some readers will keep this in mind and remember to make an appointment, remind a spouse to do it or advise a friend or relative.

Flu Vaccine – Episode II

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I finally got the H1N1 flu shot last Thursday afternoon, after much thinking and wavering.

– My cousin, the physician, advised me to do it. He had chosen to be vaccinated and had encouraged his three daughters to do the same.

– A friend of mine had the flu, with a fever that reached 105°F. She said it was awful and, even though she didn’t need to be taken to hospital, she found the experience extremely distressing.

– The number of swine flu deaths in Europe has doubled every two weeks since the middle of October. In the UK more people have died from swine flu in the past seven days than in any week since the outbreak began.

– Lots of students have it in my school and I didn’t want to take a chance nor did I wish to infect anyone else.

– I wasn’t receptive to the argument that it is a conspiracy to increase the profits for the big labs. If the vaccine had been made by obscure and unknown labs, people wouldn’t feel any safer and the same people would probably complain.

I was thus given the shot in a gym which had been reconverted in a free medical center.

– First they asked my name, address and health care details. I was then handed a form to fill in and a leaflet to read. The leaflet contained details about the vaccine and the side effects. I had to fill in the form with more details and answer questions about my recent medical history.

– Then I was questioned by a doctor who asked me the same questions over again before deciding that I would be given the non-adjuvanted vaccine since I have a number of allergies.

– I had the shot and was advised to take paracetamol to avoid fever and muscle soreness. In the end I had no side effects, unless they were so light that the paracetamol was enough.