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March 2007
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May 2007

New Tai Chi Health Study

A new clinical trial suggests that Tai Chi practice can help older adults boost their immune defenses against shingles. Read about it here.

Now before the "Tai Chi Gives You Miraculous Powers" crowd goes nuts over this, let me as usual play the role of critical thinker here with these points:

  • The study focused on two groups of older adults--one group practiced tai chi before getting a vaccination and the other group only received health education. In other words, the second group didn't do an exercise program.
  • The study could have selected any exercise but selected tai chi. I suspect yoga may have produced similar benefits. Perhaps walking for exercise, too, or some aerobics combined with light weight training.

Tai Chi practice can reduce stress and for older people any exercise is better than nothing. Exercise (in general) results in better stress management and the release of endorphins in the bloodstream.

The stress reduction benefits of tai chi, and the meditative quality that can lead to reduced stress, is very likely the reason the immune system gets a boost from tai chi practice. When you reduce stress, your body naturally functions more effectively. It isn't a surprise that this results in a strengthened immune system.

So let me be the voice in the wilderness to try and head off proclamations of the miracle of "chi." Tai Chi and any mind-calming exercise or meditation such as chi kung or yoga results in a "miracle of stress reduction."

It's a good thing.

On Death and Dying

My mom is dying.

Three weeks ago, she was working. Now, she has very little time left due to a fast-growing cancer.

She has been a Christian as long as I can remember. In her own mind, she was a very serious one. In fact, when she learned that I had parted company with religion and had embraced Taoism as a philosophy, she predicted that "if anything ever happens to one of his children, he'll be on his knees again praying."

Her prediction became partially true. Shortly after she said that, in 1980, my daughter Shara died of crib death. But despite the devastation and sorrow--as low as a human can go emotionally--my philosophy helped me weather the storm over time.

When someone I know is dying, I talk with them about it because I feel that I'm intimately familiar with the topic. And I ask them questions. I'm curious about what they're thinking, and if it's causing them to change opinions on their faith, or the way they view things. I talked with my mom about it two weeks ago, and she confessed that she no longer was certain there is a heaven.

"Well," I replied, "I can assure you that whether there is or whether there isn't, everything is going to be okay."

For an eternity before we were born, we were in total peace. If there's no heaven, to return to that state of total peace is rather comforting, if you can just step back from the desire to live forever. Eternal life, in this philosopher's opinion, is a man-made idea, born of our fear of death.

Last week, my nephew Brian sent me an email. He had dreamed of my father--his grandfather, who died in 1989--and in the dream they talked and hugged. He woke up feeling the warmth of my father still in his heart. Maybe that's heaven, and maybe my father is living on in this way.

Whatever your faith or belief system, I hope it carries you through the difficult parts of your life--the death of loved ones, and, if you're lucky to have advance warning of your death, I hope your faith or beliefs comfort you in the days and weeks as you wait for the dimming of the light.

I used to want to die as an old man, in my sleep, suddenly. Now, as I get older and I've lived through the death of a daughter, the death of a father, and soon the death of my mother, I've changed my mind. Having the time to tie up loose ends and give the family a chance to say what they need to say is very important. Dropping dead suddenly no longer appeals to me.

One of the things I remember about the James Bond books is a poem from You Only Live Twice. The poem reads:

"You only live twice.

Once when you are born.

Once when you stare death in the face."

When a family stares the death of an important member in the face, what's truly important becomes clear. In our case, my mother's illness is bringing her five children together again for the first time in 18 years. Old squabbles are set aside, and promises are made to stay together and in touch.

Nothing lasts forever. It's a shame that it takes something tragic to force us to understand.