I did however experience benefits for health – chronic knee pain and back problems cleared up. I also found that as long as I practiced Tai Chi daily, I seemed to be immune to colds and the flu (see “Tai Chi Therapy: The Science of Metarobics” for benefits of Tai Chi for immunity, knee and back health). Later, while teaching at Fullerton College, three students who reported significant benefits for their cancer (one who was on death’s edge – again, see the book for details) got me looking into what goes on in the body during exercises such as Tai Chi. My research and observations led to the theory of Metarobics, and further research uncovered benefits for a wide variety of chronic conditions.
However, it was not until I developed peripheral neuropathy four years ago, that I really developed a firsthand appreciation for Tai Chi for health. It started slowly. Initially I just experience a burning sensation in the soles of my feet when I took a shower. But within two years, I began to experience numbness in my toes, which spread to the balls of my feet, the tips of my fingers, and later the bottom half of my hands and the entire sole of my feet. I began seeing a doctor, who stuck me with needles and conducted nerve conduction and blood tests. The tests proved inconclusive.
And the neuropathy continued to spread. Eventually it progressed to the point that I had no feeling in my arms or legs, up to my shoulders and hips. I was becoming very alarmed, and also very disappointed – here I was researching and writing about the benefits of Tai Chi for chronic conditions, yet despite daily practice, I was losing all feeling in my limbs, and was potentially facing becoming a quadriplegic. How had Tai Chi failed me?
I knew that Metarobic theory explained physiological mechanisms of benefits for a very wide range of chronic conditions (hypoxia, or oxygen deficiency, underlies or complicates almost every chronic condition). But it seemed likely that there are some conditions Metarobic exercise might not help. Was my condition one of them? It did not seem fair. Then I remembered, when I was collecting case stories for cancer, that many related they did not experience a turnaround in their condition until they started doing repeated bouts of Tai Chi each and every day. One young woman (Helen Liang – see “Tai Chi Therapy” for more information), was doing Tai Chi and related exercises for eight hours or more each day.
So I started doing Tai Chi every morning, afternoon and night. And within two weeks, most of the feeling had returned to my arms and legs. My condition continued to improve. Six months later I was able to cut my practice down to twice daily. Something is still affecting me, and doctors have yet to figure out whether it is gluten contamination (I have the dermatitis herpetiformis form of celiac disease, which research in Europe indicates that around 70% of celiacs with this form of the disease develop peripheral neuropathy).
Current laws only require foods to be free of gluten to 20 ppm. The literature suggests that some celiacs may be sensitive to 5 ppm, or even less. According to my doctor, even being a celiac, he feels that other factors are more likely, and stated that there are 70 causes of peripheral neuropathy. He is slowly working his way down the list with tests. Whatever the cause, until it is discovered what is causing it, and determined if it is something which can be fixed, Tai Chi is holding it at bay.
A few months later, I was feeling so good, with pretty much no numbness, that I even let myself miss a couple of days of practice, during the week following Christmas (a very busy week with visiting family). Three other days that week I did only one 30 minute practice. And to my alarm, the numbness rapidly returned, in my fingers, toes and soles of my feet. I immediately went back to two times a day of Tai Chi, and it is beginning to clear up.
But it struck home very clear – until I know what is causing it, I CANNOT, MUST NOT miss twice daily practice. Which even as much as I enjoy Tai Chi, can still be awkward and a choice. But for me it is an easy choice – I like being active, and having full feeling in my arms and legs. And although it can still be a challenge to fit Tai Chi in morning and night, around activities of family and life, I have practiced Tai Chi long enough to know it is a delightful mindful practice, leaving me feeling refreshed and energized. Even boredom, or the sensation of time, is not a factor – when focused on the movements, there is no sensation of time.
I enjoy mentioning at the end of a class, to those new to Tai Chi, that 30 minutes have passed (the user friendly approach I teach permits instant practice of Tai Chi). They are always astonished, refusing to believe, checking their watches. The largest hurdle is entropy, and taking the energy and discipline to get up and practice, or fighting family or friends who may see it as a waste of time. But if you know and experience the importance of these exercises to your health, it is an easy decision to make. Even easier when facing death or immobility.
Time and research will tell just how many people and conditions these exercises will benefit, and just how important dosage (frequency and length of practice) is for various conditions. Seeing the benefits of Metarobic exercise on my students with cancer, and having collected over 20 case stories, I am looking to collaborate with a cancer center, to see what effects these exercises will have, in one group, when dosage is taken into account. But this will be the topic of another blog.
Below is a case story post from the Metarobics Facebook Page (Click for Link) from the general health series, related to another person with peripheral neuropathy. - Dr. Gryffin