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Border Adventure

MY BORDER ADVENTURE

WEBSITE HEADERThose of you who know me will know that I have been an English teacher for 23 years.

Very shortly I will be going to work on the Thai/Burma(Myanmar) border for 6 months, teaching English and helping to train some native teachers over there so that the displaced Burmese people have a chance to gain an accredited Cambridge English qualification.

I have promised to write a blog about my experiences, and it seems logical to do so on here.

At the moment I feel that I am marking time until I fly to Bangkok on 27th September, although I’ve no doubt I will have a mad rush to get everything sorted out in the 2 days prior to that!

I will be linking these posts to my Facebook page, so this post is by way of a test run really.

I’s really appreciate some feedback from anyone who manages to get to this post easily!

Here goes…..

 

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Tai chi and Yoga

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I am quite used to people not really knowing what Tai chi and Qigong are. Sometimes they say things like “That’s just waving your hands in the air isn’t it?” or “Is it a bit like Yoga?”. The answer to both questions is “No”.

When we do Tai Chi we use the whole body, from toes to fingertips, hips to neck. And we do wave our hands in the air sometimes 🙂

In Yoga, you hold the pose for a specified length of time, and the ultimate aim is to increase the stretch as well as the time you hold it. In Tai Chi we move according to the breath, so we seldom hold any pose longer than the time it takes to inhale or exhale. The other main difference in Tai Chi is that we follow the “75%” rule, which means that instead of aiming to reach or twist or stretch to the limit you only ask your body to reach the stage at which it feels the movement, but never into the stage where it causes pain.

The Chinese call this “comfortable uncomfortableness” and it is the feeling you get when you release after a large yawn or stretch. It can also be likened to the “pleasant ache” you may feel in your muscles after a long walk. You’re not in pain but you know your muscles have done some good work.

So, why did I pick this topic to write about this week?

Following some comments from one or two people who enquired about my classes, and some ridiculously biased articles I happened to come across whilst researching an article, I felt I wanted to make the point that Yoga and Tai Chi are not mutually exclusive! The deep breathing routines that certain styles of Yoga consist of have similarities with the breathing we practise in Qigong. One discipline does not have the monopoly on oxygen intake!

I understand partisanship when you find something you like; I understand that the more you invest in something the more you want to promote it to others. The problems arise when fanatics start claiming that their way is the only way and everything else is rubbish.

I have practised Yoga from a very early age, using my Mother’s books to get started. I was about 12 when I first began, and soon realised that I am blessed with a naturally flexible spine and limbs. I carried on with Yoga practice for many years, all through two pregnancies and after the kids were born. For whatever reason I stopped doing  Yoga routines (lack of time perhaps) but of course I knew the poses by then and would use them to stretch out any muscles that needed it.

Very recently I have dusted off the old Yoga book and begun to incorporate a short Yoga routine into most days and I am finding it very beneficial. Yoga, for me, can reach muscles and ligaments that Qigong sometimes does not. It is that simple.

I have an idea that I may develop a kind of hybrid form of exercise that blends my knowledge of both forms of exercise.

All I would say to anyone thinking of trying Tai Chi and Qigong is that you approach any class with a truly open mind. If you expect a sort of “Standing up Yoga” you will be disappointed. Likewise, if you have studied only one style of Tai Chi, maybe for years, you will be confused if you find yourself with a different instructor who has a totally different approach.

It’s all good!

I’d love to read your comments if you have an interest in both Tai chi and Yoga so feel free to post below.

Have a good week everyone,

Namaste

Caroline

 

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Weekly Posts

Hi all,

Time to begin posting regularly on here! In addition to my work as a Tai Chi Instructor I also write articles for clients all over the globe on related topics and holistic therapies. they use these on their websites and in their marketing so it seemed a bit strange to me to be writing for others and neglecting my own blog!

So, what shall I share with you today?

Simply this: “An ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory”

Make a commitment to yourself  to begin the practice of self care and self nurture, and start today. Just 5 minutes of Qigong every morning, or indeed any time of day, every day, will begin the process of bringing you back to your optimum state of emotional, mental and physical well-being.  Remember, one of the greatest advantages of Tai Chi and Qigong as a physical fitness aid is that you do not need to get changed! Ordinary clothes and an ordinary space are all you need. The photos show me in my garden in leggings and T-shirt. Granted, they were taken in summer, but the living room or bedroom will suffice when its too cold to practice outside.

Is 5 minutes really enough? 

5 minutes of Qigong exercises will get both your blood and your chi flowing. It will ease tension, stimulate nerve endings and oxygenate your blood. You will feel the benefits immediately.

Do it now:

Next week: let’s go for the 10 minute version!

Happy practice 🙂

Don’t forget to leave me a comment, and feel free to ask questions.

Namaste

Caroline

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Home Again!

profile pic 2Just a quick update now that I have returned from my amazing experience teaching English on the border between Thailand and Myanmar/Burma.

I will be starting new classes in Mosborough, Sheffield on Wednesdays from 7pm-8pm in The Joseph Stone Centre, from 12th June.

I have also begun a class at St Augustine’s Church on Derby Road Chesterfield on Mondays 9.30 – 10.30 am.

Use the contact form if you want any additional information, or visit Whitwell Tai Chi on Facebook and message me via that link.

Its nice to be back in many ways, including of course catching up with friends and family and cats. It is also nice to have an abundance of choice when I do the food shopping, although I was very well fed in Thailand ( too well really, but that is all under control again now!). I must admit that the absence of mosquitoes is an absolute joy, as are the crisp clear mornings. When the sun is out you cannot beat an English summer day.

I’ll be visiting friends and various seaside resorts this summer, but have already had requests to run a couple of Tai Chi Workshops so I think we’ll go with “Moving in Harmony” this time. Keep an eye on Facebook pages, and on here, for updates about those.

Keep practising!

Namaste

Caroline

 

 

 

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Pros and Cons, Highs and Lows

This weeks’ musings have no particular focus. I am what is generally labelled an “over-thinker” and being out of my old life, my old familiar surroundings, with, it has to be said, far fewer demands on my time than I had 6 month’s ago, I’ve found myself observing a lot more as well as thinking a lot more. The thinking bit is not necessarily a bonus! I’m much more content when I have plenty to do, things to accomplish and so on. I’m sure that will sound familiar to many people, and it’s probably a result of our conditioning in the west, and also an age thing!

However, being the type of person who decided to make a virtue of necessity I’m choosing to see the amount of mental “downtime” I’ve had here as a positive thing. I may have mentioned before that I am not a fan of social media but I’m more than willing to accept that without the ease of communication afforded by messenger, whatsapp and the like I would have found the first few weeks a lot harder to cope with.  I do find now, though, that stuff that seemed important when I was in England no longer gets to me in the same way.  This is my way of letting you know that the stuff I’m about to ramble on about is not going to shake your world! IMG_1595

Apologies for the poor quality of the photo. It was taken after my evening class so the lighting is from the overhead street light. I love this “four on a bike” thing! Health and Safety? What’s that then? This is Khin Khin being picked up after class by her husband and two kids on a Honda 250. It’s quite unusual in only one respect and that is that all four of them are wearing crash helmets. I’ve seen five people on a bike and, got to admit, it did make my stomach lurch when one of the five is a tiny baby held in one arm loosely over the adult’s hip. No crash helmets, and possibly the week’s shopping balanced precariously in front of the driver for good measure.

Its also very common to see massive loads of… well whatever, vegetables, kitchen ware, cans of beer, bottles of water, piled high on the motorbike and held on with bungee cords. Bungee cords are very popular here. I saw someone on a push bike the other day with a load of bananas strapped on to the back with bungee cord. I also saw a tiny plastic chair strapped on a similar way to provide a seat for a toddler. Part of me is horrified, another part of me is full of admiration for the ingenuity that this represents. I’ve not had the nerve to ride a motorbike whilst I’ve been here, but I would be the first to admit that this has curtailed my life in some ways.

I make no apologies by the way. In my younger days I would quite happily razz up and down the M1 in various sized vans and trucks, picking up heavy loads of fruit and vegetables and delivering to  our various shops around Derbyshire. I just have a “thing” about scooters, mopeds and motorbikes, possibly because I have lost friends in accidents on these in the past. I’ve been driving for 40 years so you’d think I would be able to handle a 125 or a 250 with ease wouldn’t you? I do know that if I decide to return I will definitely make sure that I get some lessons or practise on a small 2 wheeled motorised form of transport first!

What Will You Miss Most?

Good question, and one that people are already asking me so I need to give it some thought. These people for a start:

I do have their permission to put these on here. These are my Mae La students and I will miss them very much. I am confident that they will all pass their exam on March 16th, and I truly hope that they will all be able to fulfil their dreams and plans for the future. Some will be Social Workers, some will be Teachers, some want to be Medics and others want to be involved in Community Building back in Karen State.

I’ll also miss all the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made in Mae Sot. It has been a truly amazing and rewarding experience getting to know different people, being involved in other people’s lives (and dramas) and finding out at least a little about the fantastic work that other people are doing here  on the border. In a lot of ways we a typical “ex pat” type group of people but I choose to see that as a positive thing. It’s very common to read/hear sneering comments about “ex-pats” anywhere in the world and I understand that to a certain extent. Us Brits, for example, are notoriously arrogant about the language thing, and I feel that all Westerners harbour at least a few ideas about the way things “should” be done. On the other hand, these communities can offer immense support and comfort to people who have no experience of the way of life or the language. I know that my own experience would not have been half as enjoyable if I hadn’t met fellow NGOs  who are ready, willing and able to offer advice and support. Once I get permission I’ll get some photos and we can have a rogues’ gallery on here!

I will not miss the following:

Mosquitoes! (I hate them with an almost psychopathic virulence)

Always having dirty feet/hard skin on my feet.

Street dogs who seem to think that anyone on a bicycle is fair game

Industrial-strength plastic packaging that is almost impossible to open, on virtually everything you buy, including random things like lip balm.

That’s about it really. Not bad.

Time to go now. No doubt I’ll come up with many more things to go into these lists, the “What I will Miss” one at least.

Til next time,

Namaste

Caroline

 

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Thoughts from Abroad

I wonder why children in Thailand never seem to throw temper tantrums? I first noticed this on the song theaw coming back to Mae Sot from Mae La. I’ve described this mode of transport in earlier posts and it isn’t the most comfortable way to travel by a long chalk! Very often passengers share the space with sacks of produce, bundles of flowers/vegetables and boxes of various sizes, some of them quite large.

If it seems as if there will not be enough room for a group of passengers to get on, nobody ever “waits for the next one”.  Instead they pile onto the back of the bus, crouch on the floor in the middle of the 2 rows of seats or hang precariously from the metal bars at the back of the truck.  Children are often squashed between parents and strangers while we are bounced mercilessly at break neck speeds round corners and sent into sprawling heaps by the sudden braking that means yet another passenger is going to squeeze in.

Not once have I ever heard a child, of any age, complain, whine or cry. I watched a little girl, who was probably about 3 years old, maybe younger, sleep peacefully through all of the above on her mother’s lap. She had to be roused from sleep at journey’s end and I braced myself for the ear splitting cries of complaint. Nothing. She blinked blearily once or twice, yawned and allowed herself to be set down on unsteady legs as her mum negotiated the dismount. Brothers and sisters sit quietly together, the older one very often placing a protective arm around the younger, and they never fight!

I’ve mentioned this to my friends here and we have a few theories and observations about the whole thing. We may be wrong, but it seems to us that children, especially very young ones,  are never very far from physical contact with a family member. Fathers also seem to play a prominent role in childcare. In Burmese culture the older members of the family are automatically taken care of by their offspring. You don’t have to negotiate this, it is the way things happen. No doubt grandparents have a large role to play in looking after the children too, whilst parents are working.

As I am unable to speak either Thai or Burmese (or Karen) I am left with speculation, observation and a few comments from the Burmese people I work with.

If anyone has any opinions on this topic, or more knowledge, please do comment in the box below. It is so very different to the way kids behave back home that I’m really interested to know why!

Namaste

Caroline

PS Please check out the previous blog post on Chinese New Year etc as I’m not sure that Facebook has notified everyone. xx