Cultivating positivity

How with a little extra effort, one may restore balance and harmony to their lives

In a modern world where rewards are granted for extra effort and hard work, we can often be excused for thinking we need to put 110 per cent effort into what we do. We take the mind and body to the extreme – believing we must always go beyond our limits to push the boundaries and excel.

But the downside is clear – our mind and body can only go so far before the cracks start to appear in the form of stress, high-blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, and other emotional and physical problems which will eventually decrease work efficiency and negatively impact our lives in a number of other ways.

So isn’t it important that we learn to relax and bring some balance to bear in our lives? To give ourselves the option to turn up the heat when we need to, but also be able to turn it down again when it’s unnecessary, or damaging to our health.

Tai Chi Chuan has been the focus of a host of studies that have verified its efficacy in reducing stress and improving health. In the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) view of the body, mental or physical tension in the body causes the blood and ‘qi’ (or ‘energy’) to stagnate, leading to physical damage. By smoothing out the qi and blood flow, not only can we prevent physical illness, we can also normalise our thought processes – leading to clarity of mind and strength of body.

Central to this is learning the most basic principle of Tai Chi Chuan practise – and one that can be the most difficult for many to grasp – which is called Song in Chinese, or relaxation/softness. In Tai Chi Chuan training, we believe that the will or intention leads the energy, with actions or strength following – so it is crucial to learn how to relax and focus the mind first, since from this will follow all else.

In Western physiology, when we relax, we turn down the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the ‘flight-or-fight’ actions or stress-related effects in the body, and give the parasympathetic nervous system a chance to kick into action, giving the body a chance to regenerate and rebuild its resources.

By relaxing the mind and the body, and coordinating our breath with our actions, the qi channels or meridians open, and both blood and qi flow are enhanced. If you imagine a qi channel as being like a pipe, you will realise that both need a good source of energy and a free path. For if there is excessive tension in the ‘pipe’, then the pipe will be squeezed and inhibit flow.

So by learning to relax and gently opening the body out, as is taught in Tai Chi Chuan, the qi channels are opened. By coordinating the mind’s intention, with the breath and body’s actions in a relaxed and natural way, the body’s energy and physical strength are cultivated– which can be used both for health enhancement as well as self-defence.

This applies to all ages and states of fitness, making it just as suitable for the young over-worked executive needing to de-stress as for a frail older person needing to gently build up the body’s resources.

Stephanie Fowler first began learning martial arts in 1992 at the age of 17. Her training in Tai Chi Chuan began a year later. She has trained with many top masters from all over the world, including the current Chen-style lineage holder Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei. She has also practised Qigong and another internal martial art, Bagua Zhang.
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Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left