Why Texting is the Worst Form of Communication

couple textingI know you’ve heard it all before: texting is impersonal, it’s antisocial, and it’s ruined our ability to communicate with each other. Yet we all do it. Why? Because it’s also easy, convenient, and often timely. So why would I call texting the worst form of communication? The answer lies not so much in texting itself, so much as how we are using it to communicate.

When we use it as a messaging system to convey mundane, day-to-day information like, “I’ll be finished at 6:30pm”, “can you get milk on your way home?”, “you have a doctor’s appointment at …”, it can actually be very effective. It’s when we try to expand this from an expression of facts or data to something more abstract – for example, thoughts and feelings – that the message tends to get lost amongst the text. As I see it, there’s three main limitations that texting has over other forms of communication that often causes it to fail.

1. Communication is much more than words

You’ve probably come across the idea that over 90% of communication is non-verbal. While many linguists and sociologists dispute this figure and the ability to actually quantify the contribution of verbal and non-verbal components when communicating, it is generally agreed that effective communication relies significantly on vocal intonation and body language. In other words, how we represent ourselves physically, and how we sound, puts what we have to say – the actual words – into a certain context that the words alone cannot achieve.

Consider this snippet from a text conversation that perhaps all of us are familiar with:

Person A: Are you ok?

Person B: I’m fine.

What was your gut reaction to this? Did you accept Person B’s answer as literal? Did you find it dismissive or evasive? Or did it send a chill down your spine thinking they are anything BUT fine?

The fact is, we cannot know for sure whether Person B really is fine, or whether they are just saying that to avoid (or encourage) further discussion, or whether they are being sarcastic or passive-aggressive, because we have no other information – a look, a tone of voice, a body position – to help us put this statement into context. Person A then has two choices: they can either request more information, or they can interpret the meaning Person B intended.

Many of us don’t make the former choice, because we feel there’s an expectation (either our own, or from the other person) that we understand what is being said to us, so we come up with our own interpretation. The problem is our ability to make that interpretation is not only influenced by the person communicating with us – not just the words they use but our connection to and understanding of them – but also by a whole myriad of internal and external factors affecting our cognitive and emotional state at the time. Consider for a moment how you might interpret Person B’s response if you felt happy, worried, angry, or confused. How does it influence what you’re hearing them say?

And this is only from what appears to be a simple, everyday exchange between two people. Imagine how it is once the content becomes more complicated…

2. We are always communicating, even when we aren’t.

This is another way of expressing a fundamental principle of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP): you cannot not communicate. That is, even if you are not saying something, you are still communicating with someone through your actions. Consider as an example someone listening to you speak: are they leaning forward, focussed on you? Are they leaning back, arms crossed? Are they turned away from you or focused on something else? In each instance, although that person isn’t saying anything, they are still sending you a message.

When you can see someone these non-verbal interactions are generally easier to interpret. When texting, it’s almost impossible. Imagine you are texting back and forth with someone and they suddenly stop responding. You cannot know why they stopped responding until you get some sort of indication from that person. However, as we cannot not communicate, no response can be interpreted as a response in itself. In fact, the longer the ‘silence’ goes on, the more we try to interpret that silence. Did they get interrupted? Did the device they’re using suddenly stop working? Did they get offended by what you said or just lose interest in the conversation? Did they even get your last message? Again, your interpretation of what has happened will be very dependent on the internal and external influences on your own cognitive and emotional state at the time, including the context and perceived importance of the conversation you were having.

3. We have developed an expectation of instant gratification

There was once a time, not too long ago, when we were not always instantly accessible. If you wanted to speak with someone, you either had to know where they were and go to them in person, or you had to call them on the phone and hope they were able (or wanted) to answer, or you had to write them a letter and wait for them to receive it and respond. And as a society, we were quite accepting of that. We appreciated that being able to communicate required timing, effort, and in many cases, patience.

Today, we are all expected to be instantaneously available on demand, and texting is one of the primary causes of this. While we recognise that everyone has their own lives and responsibilities, and therefore may not be available to meet in person or take a phone call, texting is believed to be so unobtrusive that any of us should be able to do it at any time. That’s a problem in two ways.

The first relates back to our point about not being able to not communicate. When we text, we expect a timely, if not instant response. When we don’t get one, the scenario discussed in the second point above plays out.

But there’s also the responder to consider. Receiving a text message is often welcomed, however it can also be invasive. What if you’re at work, or at a family event, or a romantic dinner with your partner and you receive a text; do you answer it? That’s a hard question to answer: if you don’t, how’s the person who sent it going to react? If you do, how’s the person you’re with going to react? Seems like a no one situation, and in many instances, it can be. Either way you are sending a message to both people, and that not be the message you want to convey.

This is not to say we shouldn’t use texting as a means of communicating, in fact it can be a very valuable way of staying in touch with people or conveying important information. However, like any form of communication, texting is only useful if you consider its limitations, and work around those limitations.

Maybe the most effective text you can send someone is, “Hi. Can we get together for a chat?”

Applying Tai Chi to Physical Therapy – Part 1: Weight Shift

I have been an advocate for Tai Chi (taiji quan) for at least as long as I’ve been a Physical Therapist, and have previously written about the benefits Tai Chi can bring to physical therapists and physical therapy. In this series, I aim to share some of the ways I’ve been able to apply the principles and practice of Tai Chi to my therapy skills, an in doing so enhance my patients’ care.

What is ‘Weight Shift’ and Why is it Important?

In basic terms, weight shift is our ability to move our center of mass (CoM) – our ‘weight’ – around our body in order to maintain – or disrupt – our balance. Think of your CoM like a pendulum or a plumb-bob; when you stand with perfect balance, your CoM sits right in the middle of your base of support (ie: the area around your feet). Once you start moving, your ‘pendulum’ moves as well, generally in the direction you are moving. We do this all the time  – in fact, if we couldn’t move our CoM, we couldn’t move at all.

An easy way to understand weight shift is to attempt to stand on one leg. To do this, you have to move your CoM – or ‘swing your pendulum’ – over your supporting leg so you can lift the other leg off the ground. If you don’t, you won’t be able to lift your leg, or if you do, you body will want to fall over to that side. You can try this for yourself to see how it feels (just make sure you do it by a table or counter top so you’ve got something to grab onto if you need it!).

20131110232510-fall-menBeing able to weight shift not only facilitates movement, it can help prevent unwanted or undesirable movement, for example, falling. Falling is a major contributor to injury and death amongst many populations: in the US, falling is considered to be leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries. Physical therapists spend a great deal of time trying to both prevent falls in patients, and help patients recover from falls. Teaching patients to understand both how their CoM affects their balance, and how to shift their weight appropriately for safe movement, is critical to achieving functional movement and stability. However, in many patients the ability to weight shift is impaired either because of disease (eg: neuropathy, arthritis, vertigo) and injury (eg: stroke, spinal and nerve injuries), and regaining the ability to control weight shift can be very difficult.

How Can Tai Chi Help?

Weight shift is one of a number of fundamental skills Tai Chi training can improve or enhance. Almost every movement in any form from start to finish involves a gradual, controlled transfer of weight in coronal, sagittal, and transverse planes of movement. In order to perform the forms correctly, Tai Chi practitioners control the displacement of their CoM in all planes through slow, precise movements. In most instances, the CoM remains ideally located within the practitioner’s base of support, making it easy to maintain balance. This is evident even when the practitioner is performing ‘unbalanced’ movements, such as standing on one leg.

A classic example of this is the technique known as mao xing, or ‘cat walking’. In mao xing, the Tai Chi practitioner shifts weight into one leg while stepping forward with the other. The stepping leg has no weight in it right up to the point the heel makes contact with the ground. The practitioner completes the step by gradually transferring weight from the supporting leg to the stepping leg, involving a shift from side-to-side and back-to-front. As the stepping leg is loaded it becomes the supporting leg, eventually freeing up the other leg to take another step forward. (Note: this is a very simplistic description of mao xing and there is a lot more involved in it, however this illustrates the basic concept. I recommend trying Tai Chi to better understand mao xing)

One main difference between mao xing and regular walking is the way weight shift is controlled. In regular walking, the CoM is displaced forward of the body, and the body’s reaction is to shift weight to one leg while stepping through with the other. Keeping the CoM displaced forwards and alternately repeating the sequence facilitates movement while preventing a fall forwards. In effect, walking is a repeatedly controlled fall. (Note: again, this is an overly simple description of walking, however is biomechanically accurate) Mao xing on the other hand, keeps the CoM positioned ideally within a person’s base of support at all times, even when one leg is not supported on the ground. Consider this in terms of a person who has an impaired ability to weight shift, such as someone who has a dense hemiplegia following a stroke. Which method of walking would you consider safest to have them perform?

Applying Tai Chi to Physical Therapy: Stroke and Femoral Nerve Injury Examples

Recently I was able to apply the principles of mao xing to improve the mobility of two patients who had difficultly with weight shift: a middle-aged male with a dense left hemiplegia following a stroke, and an elderly female with the inability to maintain knee extension following an injury to her femoral nerve. Neither patient was able to support weight on their affected side and both were consequently such a high risk of falling they could only mobilize in a wheelchair. Therapy included exercises to encourage weight shift and improve the ability to bear weight over the affected side, however in both instances progress was slow and their was little retention between therapy sessions.

Using the principles of mao xing, I had both patients practice stepping into a lunge stance with their affected side, then returning to a neutral standing position. Patients practiced the gradual loading and unloading of the affected side, first supported and then with standby assistance as their skill improved. In both cases, within the completion of 2 sets of 10 repetitions there was an observed improvement in the patient’s understanding and ability to shift weight to the affected side, and in maintaining standing balance. With successive therapy sessions and in conjunction with other exercises, both patients advanced their ability to weight shift to the point where they were able to stand and mobilize with an appropriate aid. The male with the hemiplegia was ultimately able to mobilize with a cane independently. The female with the femoral nerve injury has so far progressed to be able to mobilize with a standard frame under supervision.

This is, at best, observational evidence of a specific application of Tai Chi principles to physical therapy, and weight shift is only one aspect of maintaining balance. However, it does support the increasing body of evidence-based research advocating  Tai Chi as a means of improving balance and mobility, and in my opinion, is worth further investigation as an adjunct to physical therapy.

A New Day

Opportunity from Disaster

Three years. A hundred posts. At least that many comments. That was raygates.me as I had grown and nurtured it. And with a click of a button, it was all gone.

That’s what I discovered about a week ago, and it was devastating. My blog wasn’t just a project or a hobby. I poured a lot of myself into those articles. It wasn’t just words I lost; it was a large part of myself. A part I had chosen to put out there for anyone and everyone to see.

My first instinct was to contact the host of my site to see if they had a backup they could restore. An unlikely solution, given that they were the ones to delete it in the first place, but when disaster strikes you’ll try anything. As I waited for customer service to come to my rescue, I questioned myself about the value of what I was attempting. Was there any value in attempting to restore all those musings? For that matter, was there any value in continuing with the blog at all? I hadn’t written anything for it in months (though in my defense, I was [am] still adjusting to moving to the opposite side and hemisphere of the planet). Was it really worth continuing with? Did it matter? If it disappeared from the digital universe, would it be missed? Perhaps this disaster had occurred for a reason. maybe it was time for me to give up. Draw the curtain. Fade to black.

The thing is: that isn’t me.

Funnily enough, that revelation came to me not in relation to the blog, but to my personal life, and once that fact broke through the gloom that had descended upon my heart and mind, I realised this wasn’t a disaster but an opportunity. An opportunity to reinvent myself. Not necessarily a complete personality and life change, but an opportunity to review where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going. More importantly, an opportunity to choose where I want to go, and what I want to do next.

That was my problem: I didn’t realise, or perhaps hadn’t accepted, that making major changes in my life would also impact all the things I had previously planned. I was stuck trying to follow a map that no longer matched the landscape, trying to find the path to something I had already left behind.

It took a ‘disaster’ of this proportion to shake me off that path, to make me realise that my direction has changed, and so too has my destination. There will be similarities, even sameness to a certain extent; I’m not going to simply through everything I was working towards away. However, this is an opportunity for change. An opportunity to re-evaluate who I am, and who I want to be. Where I am, and where I want to go. What I’ve done, and what I’ve yet to achieve. It is a good thing, and most likely it’s exactly what I needed.

So, although there is still some heaviness in my heart, I will not be trying to resurrect my old blog, or my old posts. That was then, this is now. This is a new beginning. What this blog ends up being remains to be seen. I might be part diarisation, part documentation, part manifesto, part insight, and maybe even part egotism. What it will be is all me, based on the many hats I wear.

Whether you are one of my previous readers returned, or a new reader recently discovered, I hope you will stay with me as I chisel away the debris to reveal the masterpiece underneath. It will take some time, and it will likely look rough for a while yet. However, I look forward to discovering, with you, what it looks like.A New Day

 

 

Never Give Up

never_give_up_640_29I’d be surprised if anyone reading this has not experienced some point in their life when they felt like giving up on something. Maybe it was a relationship, a job, or a lifelong dream. Maybe it was trying to understand something, or help someone else understand. Maybe it was just trying to get your computer or phone to do what it’s supposed to do. We’ve all had times when it got too hard, too frustrating, too hurtful, or too impossible to keep going, and the only viable option seemed to be: give up.

Plow through the multitude of advice and self-help guides both on- and off-line and you can find innumerable references to make it easier for you to give up on things. Knowing when to quit – when to give up and walk away – has become a life-skill. There is merit in this: engaging in exercises of futility benefit no-one, least of all ourselves. If anything, they might cause far more harm or grief than abandoning them would. But how many things we pursue, or cling to, or believe in, are truly futile? How many just seem that way, because we lose hope, or faith, or motivation, or sight of our goal, or what set us in motion towards it in the first place?

The great African-American human rights advocate Frederick Douglass is often quoted as saying, “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.” Inherent in this statement is the concept of never giving up. In the remainder of the address this quote is taken from, Douglass effectively states that all things worth having require effort. More than this, there is no promise that our efforts will be rewarded with what it is we want, however without that effort we guarantee we will not have it. Within this ideal, futility is not the effort required to do something exceeding that which we are capable of, but rather our own fears, doubts, and insecurities overcoming our resolve to keep striving for what is important to us.

This is not to say that we should just persist with things no matter what. There are numerous situations where continuing to do something would be detrimental, even harmful, to yourself, or even to others. What makes the difference is your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about the thing you are deciding whether to give up on or not.

If something has true value to you, if it has true meaning, or is truly important to you; if something has true significance to you, is something you truly believe in, or is a fundamental part of your life, or the life you want, then never give up on it. It is worth the effort it takes to have it, and hold on to it. It is worth the fight, the struggle, the pain, the heartache, and the sacrifice required to have it.

I know when the lights go out in the universe, I would rather bow out knowing I never gave up on the things that meant everything to me, than spend my final thoughts regretting those I did.

The World Needs Heroes – Are You Ready?

kid-heroIt might sound like a throw away line from the latest superhero movie, however the fact is that the world does need heroes. We all do. Heroes inspire us and motivate us. They give us hope. They give us something to believe in, and something to aspire to be. They make us feel good about ourselves, and about the world at large.

For many of us our heroes are the larger-than-life people who have achieved great success in their lives. We find heroes amongst sports stars, entertainers, business and community leaders, and dare I say even politicians. These heroes are obvious because their success has put them in the public spotlight. They are interviewed and talked about and promoted to the extent that even though they might not be our personal hero, we cannot miss the fact they are heroes to somebody.

But then there are the others, the ones we often refer to as the ‘everyday’ or ‘unsung’ heroes. These are the ones whose faces you won’t see advertising the latest energy drink or sports footwear, or promoting their latest book, fragrance or clothing line. We find them in all walks of life: health professions, emergency services, military service, educators, religious leaders, volunteers, and parents to name a few. They become our heroes not just for what they do as much as for the fact that they do it at all, often without thought or need of thanks or compensation. They do it because to them it is the right thing to do – and for that they gain our admiration.

I have a number of heroes, and I would like to introduce you to two of them.

Jade is your typical 9-year-old Australian girl, who is constantly coming up with ideas to raise money for charities. She has supported everything from the preventing animal cruelty to research into childhood diseases. In her latest venture, she has taken it upon herself to make and sell what she calls ‘pink puppies’ – a folded piece of pink paper with a puppy dog face drawn on it. She drew her inspiration from the pink ribbon campaign known worldwide for raising funds to combat breast cancer – something she became aware of when her best friend’s grandmother commenced her own battle with the disease. Jade’s intent is to sell her pink puppies for 25 cents each, and donate all the money to Cancer Council Australia. She started by folding 50 pink puppies, which if sold will raise $12.50 for Cancer Council Australia. When asked if she thought it was worth all the work for a relatively small amount of money, she said, “it still helps, doesn’t it?”

Across the world, Emma is an all-American 10-year-old girl, who recognised a problem in her school and made a decision to try to fix it. That problem is bullying – an anti-social behaviour that is being increasingly recognised and publicised for the physical, mental, and emotional trauma it causes, particularly in school-age children. To tackle this in her own school, Emma decided to form an anti-bullying club to help other kids recognise bullying and give them the confidence to put a stop to it. In Emma’s words, “We don’t want kids to be bullied because we think it is wrong. We are hoping that when we are doing this we can encourage the bullies to stop! We want to help people feel better about themselves, which will help people step up to bullies.” Emma took a proposal to form the anti-bullying club to her school principal, and is waiting for the green light to go ahead.

Jade’s and Emma’s stories show us what it is to be a hero. At ages where all they should be worried about is what they’re going to do with their friends on the weekend, they have taken it upon themselves to make a difference in the lives of others, and to make our world a better place. Their selfless actions and altruistic intentions should inspire all of us. They show us that it is not just the act itself, but the intention behind the act, the desire to stand up and do something – anything – to make a difference, no matter how great or small, that is what makes a real hero.

Jade and Emma show us that we all have it within ourselves to be a hero. Are you ready to be a hero to someone today?

“I think a real hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”

– Maya Angelou

Who are your heroes? What makes them a hero to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Words vs. Actions: Which is Greatest?

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When was the last time you heard someone say, “actions speak louder than words?” How about, “the pen is mightier than the sword?” Words and actions have been stuck in an endless grudge-match since both coexisted. Both have their merits and pitfalls, their strengths and weaknesses. Yet does one have an advantage over the other? Are words in fact stronger than actions? Or will actions always win out over words?

There’s no question that words can be very powerful, a topic I’ve touched on before. We’ve all felt their power at one time or another in our lives: “you’ve passed”, “you’ve failed”, “you’ve got the job”, “we’ve given the job to someone else”, “I love you”, “I hate you”, “I’m so proud of you”, “I’m so disappointed in you” are simple examples of phrases that have most likely had a profound effect on you when you’ve heard them. Even “yes” and “no” can be powerful within certain contexts; just think about the impact either word can have in answer to the question, “will you marry me?”

Words have proven their power through the evolution of language and communication. It’s important to realise that our use of words is not only for pragmatic reasons. Consider the difference between reading a book in order to obtain knowledge and information, and reading one purely for pleasure and enjoyment. Consider why we read poetry, or listen to songs. Greeting card companies exist because of the power of words. Words influence us. They are powerful enough to alter our thoughts and our emotions. If they can alter our thoughts and emotions, then they can also influence our actions and behaviour. If our can be determined by words, then perhaps they are more powerful than actions.

However, what are words without actions behind them? Consider a situation where someone says they can do something, but then demonstrates they really can’t. Or makes a promise, but fails to keep it. Or apologises for something they did, and then does exactly the same thing again. The words become meaningless, and words without meaning have no power. They lose their ability to influence, convince, or support anything. In this sense, words need actions; they are dependent on actions to reinforce them, to give them credence and credibility, to make them mean something. Actions reveal the level of truth behind the words, and that determines what influence the words have upon us.

For example, if someone says, “you can trust me”, and then demonstrates through their actions that you can in fact trust them, this will have a powerful effect on your perception of that person and relationship with them. However, an equally powerful effect will occur if that person’s actions demonstrates that you cannot trust them. The words themselves are unchanged – “you can trust me” – so they are not what determines the direction of influence. It is the actions the person undertakes after speaking them that determines their meaning (or lack thereof), and the ultimate outcome. If words can only derive their meaning from the actions behind them, then it surely it stands to reason that actions are stronger than words.

Consider what happens though when there are no actions, or to put another way, when someone undertakes the action of inaction. You’ve probably encountered this situation numerous times: ever sent an email or left a voice message and not had any response from the recipient? Ever scheduled an appointment with someone and they just haven’t shown up? Ever told someone something and their only answer was silence? Those who follow the concept of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) tell us that a person cannot not communicate: that is, even when someone does not respond to us, that lack of response is in fact a response in itself. The problem is, how do you know what they’re trying to communicate to you? Are they ignoring you? Are they indifferent? Are they considering? Do they simply have nothing to say or contribute? Or perhaps they haven’t had time to respond? Maybe they didn’t get your message at all? How do you know what they’re telling you?

The fact is you cannot know what the lack of action means without some form of clarification, and this will almost always be through the use of words. Words can explain both action and inaction, and thereby give those actions context and meaning, which then helps our understanding and comprehension. In fact, sometimes words are all you’ve got to be able to convey something to someone else.

Consider a couple separated by distance – perhaps one is a soldier stationed overseas, or needs to travel for business, or for whatever reason just can’t be with the person they belong with. Under these circumstances, the physical presence that conveys the love, security, and support through the many non-verbal cues and actions that occur when they are together is absent. Does this mean all those things suddenly stop, or change, or become less important? Not at all. However, many couples struggle with this situation simply because while they detect this absence – that something is ‘missing’ – they are unable to resolve it, or at least accommodate it, through other means. In this instance, words can be vital, because they might be all you have. We know that words influence feelings, emotions, and behaviours, and if it’s all you’ve got, then doesn’t that make them a great asset in terms of maintaining what you share as a couple?

This is not to suggest words can substitute for actions, nor that one needs to become a poet or bard in order to use words effectively in this type of situation. But saying something – saying anything – about how you feel about someone, what they mean to you, how important they are to you, or your relationship together is to you, can help ensure that you don’t ‘lose’ anything during your time apart.

Now here’s the real kicker. Ask a couple that’s been through this: was it the words themselves, or the action of expressing them, that made the difference? What do you think they will say?

It’s easy to keep going around in circles with this discussion, and therefore why words and actions have been squaring off for so long. Is one stronger than the other? Sometimes, yes, one does appear to be stronger, or have more meaning, or more power, than the other. Ultimately though, both words and actions are equally powerful; it is the context that determines the balance between the two. What does this mean in practical terms? My advice would be: don’t choose a side, or better yet, choose both sides. Just say what you mean, and mean what you say, and you will have the power of both.

Where do you stand? Are actions more important than words? Are words more powerful than actions? Are both equally important to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

3 of Tai Chi’s Lesser Known Health Benefits

Tai Chi

Reproduced with permission from Gold Coast Tai Chi Academy

Tai Chi (T’ai Chi Ch’uan) is well-known and widely practiced for its health benefits. It’s particularly regarded for its ability to improve balance, range of motion, and lower limb strength, and has been highly researched to establish its effectiveness as a form of exercise for the elderly. In fact, there has been a great deal of research conducted on Tai Chi and Qigong exercises, and both the scientific evidence and the range of health conditions Tai Chi can prove beneficial for is constantly growing.

As a physiotherapist who practices and has been involved in teaching Tai Chi, I keep an eye on the evidence-based research coming out about Tai Chi and its benefits to people, so I can use this to advocate for Tai Chi as a form of therapeutic exercise. What has been interesting is seeing the breadth of research that is being undertaken, and the health conditions that Tai Chi is being shown to produce positive outcomes in beyond the classic falls prevention, various forms of arthritis, and age-related deconditioning. Conditions that I don’t believe most people would normally associate Tai Chi as being able to influence, much less produce positive outcomes. I’d like to illustrate this by bringing three such conditions to your attention, which you may not have been aware of.

Tai Chi and Breast Cancer

g32025800000000000058a37129c5f09d9942b164d878e1e23852dd1738This has been of particular interest to me having had someone I care about recently undertake their own battle with breast cancer, as well as a number of past patients. Over the last several years researchers have been examining the effectiveness of Tai Chi as an intervention to prevent or improve secondary health conditions experienced by breast cancer survivors.

For example, a recent study by Galantino and colleagues (1.) has shown the feasibility of Tai Chi in improving the well-being of postmenopausal breast cancer survivors who have developed arthralgias (joint pain) as a side effect of being prescribed aromatase inhibitors (eg: Aromasin, Arimidex and Femara) to reduce estrogen production. Their study demonstrated statistically significant improvements amongst their test subjects for anxiety, depression, emotional well-being and fatigue, as well as the Sit-and-Reach test, and near statistical significance for pain severity, physical well-being, the Berg Balance Scale and Timed-Up-and-Go Test. This is important because, as the authors state, there are very few interventions that have been developed to counteract the side effects associated with this form of post-breast cancer therapy, and consequently many breast cancer survivors stop using their medication. If Tai Chi can limit the negative side effects of this type of therapy, not only can it improve people’s physical and emotional well-being, it can potentially increase adherence to medication regimes, and thereby reduce the risk of these survivors developing future complications.

The benefits Tai Chi can have on post-cancer symptoms experienced by many breast cancer survivors have also been demonstrated by other researchers. Huang and colleagues (2.) found that breast cancer survivors who engaged in physical activities like Tai Chi and Qigong demonstrated a proportional decrease in cancer-related fatigue compared to those who did not, while Sprod and colleagues (3.) demonstrated changes in biomarkers including insulin, glucose, and cortisol levels which correlated with improvements in health-related quality of life, physical functioning, social functioning and general mental health. Overall, the evidence is growing that breast cancer survivors – particularly those who are post-menopausal – would gain significant benefit from regular Tai Chi practice.

Tai Chi and Depression

Depression is an all-too-common, and in many ways still poorly managed, mental health condition in many societies, and one I encounter frequently amongst patients, particularly those suffering from chronic pain. While it is difficult to locate studies that have solely examined the relationship Tai Chi can have on depression, many studies exist where depression has been one of the variables measured as part of using Tai Chi as a form of therapeutic intervention.

One chronic pain condition that has been well-researched in terms of the effects of Tai Chi is fibromyalgia. An example of this is the research from Wang and colleagues (4.), who measured a number of physical, mental and emotional well-being indicators, including depression, amongst their participants who were engaged twelve weeks of Tai Chi training. Not only did they demonstrate improvements in measures of depression at the end of the twelve weeks of training, but these improvements persisted 12 weeks after the cessation of the training. Similar improvements in mental health measures, including depression, were reported the studies described for breast cancer suffers above.

Results such as these have led researchers and clinicians to call on health professionals to support patients wanting to explore Tai Chi as a form of complimentary therapy to treat issues such as depression. In their editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine, Yeh and colleagues (5.) called on physicians to ‘prescribe’ Tai Chi for patients with fibromyalgia, while psychotherapist Mary Ann La Torre (6.) advocates the use of body movement – in particular, Tai Chi, as a means of creating change and enhancing healing in psychotherapeutic treatment.

On a personal level, not only am I aware of the impact Tai Chi has on my own mental health, I have had patients with a variety of conditions where depression has been a component (for example, chronic pain, cancer, and HIV-positive status) who have all anecdotally reported improvements in their mental health and well-being having commenced Tai Chi training. It would be interesting to see future research specifically investigating the effects of Tai Chi on individual mental health conditions, such as depression, as these results would likely be transferable across a wide range of health conditions where depression is a factor.

Tai Chi and Diabetes

Another condition of close personal interest to me, not only because of its disproportionately high incidence amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples, but also because several people dear to me have either Type I or Type II diabetes. It is well-known that exercise is beneficial for the management of both types of diabetes, so it would be reasonable to expect that Tai Chi would produce similar benefits. However, what is interesting in the research being undertaken is that Tai Chi is not only beneficial for the secondary conditions associated with diabetes, for example, impaired mobility due to peripheral vascular complications (7.), it also has a direct effect on cellular physiology. For example, several studies have demonstrated that Tai Chi practice can increase insulin sensitivity and thereby reduce A1C levels (a better indicator of blood glucose levels over time, as opposed to the immediate result from a blood glucose monitor) (8.), and increase the levels and enhance the activity of regulatory T-cell levels (9.) which improves immune system functioning.

This is critical for those with diabetes, as being able to effect changes at the cellular level means better management of the primary complications associated with diabetes, which can then result in reduced risk of developing, or progression of, secondary complications, such as peripheral vascular disease and neuropathies.

IMG_9858These are only three examples of the wide range of health conditions that Tai Chi is proving itself to be able to make positive changes to. As quality of studies improve and researchers start to identify the specific ways in which Tai Chi can make changes to our health, it is my hope that we will see Tai Chi become a ‘treatment of choice’ in both managing and preventing ill-health.

Do you do Tai Chi? What ways has Tai Chi improved your health and well-being? Please feel free to share your answers in the comments section below.


 

References

1. Galantino, M. L., et al. (2013). Tai Chi for well-being of breast cancer survivors with aromatase inhibitor-associated arthralgias: a feasibility study. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 19(6): 38-44.

2. Huang, X., et al. (2010). Factors associated with cancer related fatigue in breast cancer patients undergoing endocrine therapy in an urban setting: a cross-sectional study. BMC Cancer, 10: 453-459

3. Sprod, L. K., et al. (2012). Health related quality of life and biomarkers in breast cancer survivors participating in tai chi chuan. Journal of Cancer Survivorship: Research and Practice, 6(2): 146-154.

4. Wang, C., et al. (2010). A randomized trial of tai chi for fibromyalgia. The New England Journal of Medicine, 363(8): 743-754.

5. Yeh, G. Y., et al. (2010). Prescribing tai chi for fibromyalgia – are we there yet? The New England Journal of Medicine, 363(8): 783-784.

6. La Torre, M. A. (2008). The role of body movement in psychotherapy. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 44(2): 127-130.

7. Orr, R., et al. (2006). Mobility impairment in Type 2 diabetes: association of muscle power and effect of tai chi intervention. Diabetes Care, 29(9): 2120-2122.

8. Bronas, U. G., et al. (2009). Alternative forms of exercise training as complementary therapy in the prevention and management of Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Spectrum, 22(4): 220-225.

9. Yeh, S., et. al. (2007). Tai chi chuan exercise decreases A1C levels along with increase of regulatory T-cells and decrease in cytotoxic T-cell population in Type 2 diabetic patients. Diabetes Care, 30(3): 716-718.

Reconciling Australia: It Starts With Our First Nations

Partnerships-Full-Image

“Partnerships”

In the mid-90’s I had the privilege of attending an advanced cultural awareness workshop for staff of the (then) Department of Human Services and Health in Canberra, at which Aboriginal Elder Aunty Mary Graham was one of the main facilitators. Aunty Mary shared many gems of information over those days, however one of the main statements she made that has always stuck in my mind was this:

“Aboriginal people will never have their Martin Luther King [Jr.]”

It was a statement made as part of a discussion on the diversity of Aboriginal peoples aimed at broadening the participants’ understanding of Aboriginal Australia as a ‘nation of nations’ – a land where each Clan/Language group was as separate and distinct from each other as other countries of the world are. The overarching message was that the Government must recognise that attempts to engage in consultation or partnerships with Aboriginal peoples needed to be done at local (community) levels; that there was not – and never will be – ‘one person’ who could speak for or claim to represent all Aboriginal peoples.

In that sense, Aunty Mary’s statement is very true, and I appreciate and agree with it from that perspective. However, to my way of thinking, it’s also a sad statement, because in a broader context, it also suggests that Aboriginal peoples will never achieve unity amongst ourselves. When you consider the achievements of Dr Martin Luther King Jr., one of the main things he did was unify people. In leading the American Civil Rights Movement, Dr King not only provided a voice for African-Americans, he gave them a common cause to rally to, and in doing so, brought African-Americans (and in a broader sense, all Americans who believed in racial equality) together in the spirit of unity. As a result, Dr King is credited with achieving, “more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years …” (The King Center).

Australia’s Aboriginal peoples may never have our Dr King, however, we do need to create that unity amongst our First Nations. There have been attempts, the latest of which has been the formation of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (Congress). Congress was established under the premise of being a representative body for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that could act as our national voice, particularly when dealing with Government. Congress states that as of January 2014 it has over 7,500 individual members from all over Australia – a considerable figure given it was only formally established in 2010. However, whether this can be considered sufficiently ‘representative’ (about 1%) of the almost 670,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in Australia is subject to debate, as is Congress’ continued existence, given the Australian Government’s recent decision to discontinue its funding.

What isn’t debatable is the need for a unified voice that led to the formation of Congress in the first place. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples still only make up approximately 3% of the total Australian population, giving us a relatively small voice in Australian affairs. Divide that by the number of First Nations (estimated at about 600 prior to European settlement), and the voices of individual Nations becomes even smaller. This would not necessarily be a problem if Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples enjoyed an equitable status in areas such as health, education, employment, and social justice, with non-Indigenous Australians. The fact that we don’t, and that the scales are tipped so far away from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, should be reason enough for us to unify and seek solutions to common problems.

Ironically, in my observation at least, it is these very inequities that steer us away from unity. There is conflict between and within nations, communities, and sometimes even families, over what needs to be done and who has the ‘right’ to make those decisions. We fight over who should or shouldn’t have access to services, who should or shouldn’t be able to speak for our peoples, even who should or shouldn’t be identified as Aboriginal. This is not to say that there aren’t real issues within nations and communities that require resolution, however, when you consider that many of these issues only exist because of the effects of both historical and current policies and practices that have been imposed upon us, you have to question whether much of our internal conflict stems from a continued – perhaps now self-imposed – ‘divide-and-conquer’ strategy. As an Aboriginal person, I find this highly distressing, divisive, and confusing. I can only imagine how it must appear to non-Indigenous peoples. How can we possibly expect to achieve Reconciliation within Australia, when we’re unable to achieve it amongst ourselves?

It is crucial that all First Nations be able to retain their individuality in their identity, their Law, their cultural practices and beliefs, and their ability to determine their own futures. However, if we are going to make changes and improvements for the betterment of our peoples, we need to unify to address common issues. We need to reconcile both within and between communities and nations, and present a united front – a united voice – to combat the injustices we face. We need to adopt the old adage of “strength in numbers”, because as a minority within our own land, we need all the numbers we can get!

And if we can reconcile amongst ourselves, we give ourselves a greater chance of achieving Reconciliation amongst all of Australia. We can achieve a lot with 670,000. Imagine what we could achieve with 22 million.


I would like to acknowledge and thank the Making Two Worlds Work project for permission to use the image, Partnerships, in this article.


This post appear[ed] as part of the Deadly Bloggers Inaugural Blogging Carnival, held during Australian Blak History Month. To read other posts from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Bloggers, visit the Deadly Bloggers website.

If You Want to Learn, Teach

TeachYou may have come across a version of George Bernard Shaw’s original quote, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” It was originally intended as a criticism of the teaching profession as a whole, however today it is more often used as a derogatory observation of a person’s actual skill or proficiency, the implication being they have chosen to teach something because they are not good enough to be successful at actually doing it. Of all the reasons someone may decide to teach something, this is perhaps the most misguided and nonsensical. The ability to teach – to convey knowledge, impart experience, demonstrate a skill and guide another’s growth – is invaluable: our world, our species, would not be as developed as it is today without those who have chosen to teach others. While it is easy to understand this in terms of the student learning from the teacher, one way that I’ve discovered and come to appreciate the importance of teaching is the amount of learning that the teacher gets from the student.

I’ve become a teacher in a variety of roles. As a physiotherapist, I teach people ways to maximise their functional abilities and avoid injuries. As a guest lecturer and non-fiction writer, I teach students about engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples using the principles of cultural safety. In martial arts I’ve taught people forms and self-defence. Even as a father, a friend, a mentor, or a blogger, I ‘teach’ others by sharing my knowledge, understanding, ideas, experience and skills. Over the years I’ve developed a strong affinity for teaching, much of which stems from how teaching advances my development. When I teach, I’m every bit as much a student as those who I’m teaching. I learn something from every teaching experience I undertake, and so I develop my own abilities further. For me, there are three main ways this occurs:

1. Teaching Tests What I Know

I know how to perform safe manual handling, how to engage with someone whilst being culturally sensitive, and how to perform a Tai Chi or Qigong set. I feel confident saying I know how to do these things, because if asked to do them, I know I can. Teaching someone else how to do them, however, takes me beyond simply knowing how to do something. It tests whether I really understand what it is I’m doing, and it does this with a simple, single word question: why?

‘Why?’ is a fantastic question, however it’s one we tend to stop asking ourselves once we think we know something. The moment a student asks you ‘why’, you immediately discover your own level of knowledge and understanding about something. This is reflected in your ability to provide a meaningful answer. It does not mean you must have an answer; in fact, as intimidating as it might sound, it can actually be a very positive thing if you don’t, because it enables you to recognise your own limitations, and offers you an opportunity to develop yourself further. When I first started teaching, I dreaded being asked questions – especially, “why?” – because I lacked confidence in my ability to answer them. Now I relish them. I seek them out and encourage people to ask me questions, because it’s a great way to check what I know, and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know. It both enables me to expand my understanding (see 2.) and identifies opportunities for me to learn more (see 3.)

2. Teaching Expands My Understanding

One of the great things about teaching something is that students will always think of something you haven’t thought of. This usually presents itself in the form of a question that you weren’t expecting, and commonly starts with, “why does…”, “what if…”, or “how can…”. Often they will come from a perspective that I had not previously considered. This is of tremendous benefit as it requires me to think outside of my own box, and expand my own viewpoint. It gives me a new way to apply my knowledge or skill, and tests whether my ability is at a level where I can do this successfully (see 1.), or whether I need to learn more in order to be able to do so (see 3.) Either way, my understanding expands, and my development continues.

3. Teaching Encourages My Learning

There is a saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know”, and this becomes quite apparent when you try to teach something (see 1.). When I first started teaching, I felt that as a teacher, I needed to know everything about whatever it was I was trying to teach. This was both positive and negative: it encouraged me to learn more about the things I was going to teach, but it also made me anxious about whether I knew enough to be able to teach. Over time, I’ve learned that it’s okay not to know things, and that when it comes down to it, I can’t always know what I don’t know. However, revealing the limitations in my knowledge and understanding gives me the opportunity to learn and improve myself. In many ways, it actually directs my learning more efficiently than simply trying to learn everything about something could ever do. This is because it allows me to take what I already know, and then selectively seek out what I would like to know in order to increase my understanding of something. In this way, teaching enables me to identify gaps in my knowledge or understanding in ways that other strategies, like self-reflection, for example, could never do. In this way, teaching and learning become an endless cycle: the more I learn, the better my ability to teach becomes; the more I teach, the better I can identify opportunities to learn more; and round and round it goes.

Whatever your field of interest, if you want to improve your knowledge, understanding, and ability, I encourage you to try teaching it to others. Develop a course, present a seminar, start an online discussion, or just try to explain it to someone else. You might be amazed at what you learn from it.

Do you teach something? What do you get from teaching? How do you find it benefits you? Please feel free to add your thoughts to the comments below.

You Really Can Write Everyday: My 4 Tips

iStock_book_typewriter_writingIf you’ve ever tried to be a writer, at some point you will no doubt have come across the sagely advice that to become a good writer, you must write every single day. There is certainly truth to this: writing is a skill, and like any skill, the more you do it, the better you will become. However, unless you live in total isolation and are completely self-sufficient, how can you possibly write every day? Surely, this is an unachievable ideal; a brass ring to reach for that forever remains beyond you grasp. Who but an already well-established professional author has the freedom to be able to write every day?

I have to admit, that’s how I used to think. I thought being able to write every day was a fantasy, a dream, a form of motivation, at best, but not something that could actually be achieved. Not with the demands of my life. For me, finding time to write was a luxury, and one that I seldom had opportunity to indulge in. I wrote when I could, and those times could be few and far between. Writing every day was an impossibility at best, and I dismissed those who claimed to write every day as either being in unique positions in their life where they had minimal other commitments, or engaged in spreading falsehoods.

Then, through my muse, I found reason to try it for myself. Without even realising the significance of what I was doing, I wrote every day. Just a little bit, more often than not, but consistently, every day, for about three weeks. By the end of it I had about 14,000 words on-screen. The most I’ve ever written for a single piece.

It was, in many ways, a revelation. There was no denying it. No way to rationalise my past ‘inability’ to be able to do it. I’d just written every day and produced my largest piece of work to date. Not only that; I’d done it with relative ease. How? Well, when I thought about I found four key things that made this possible for me:

1. Give Yourself a Big Purpose

You would think that wanting to write a novel, or even a short story, would be purpose enough. My motivation to write, apart from the enjoyment I get from the process itself, is to be read. I want people to read and enjoy my writing. That is a great purpose, however, until now it obviously hasn’t been enough to spur me into writing on a daily basis. Perhaps because the desire to write competed with my belief I could not do it every day? Who knows?

When I undertook the task of writing every day, the ‘every day’ part was not my main motivation, at least not directly. My main motivation was to try to help someone, to try to give them something to look forward at a time when they really needed it. My purpose was bigger than story writing – it was about creating something positive in someone’s life, and that was big enough to drive me beyond my self-imposed limitations.

Your purpose does not need to be as profound as mine. However, it needs to be big enough that it will not just motivate, but drive you towards your goals. It needs to be important enough to become a high priority for you. Writing a short story or novel might be all the purpose you need. If not, you might need a bigger purpose. Perhaps you want to make a loved one proud, or be an example to your children, or maybe what you’ve got to share is time critical – it needs to be out there right now.You don’t need to become obsessive about it – it just needs to be desirable enough that you find yourself not just wanting, but needing, to pursue it.

2. Set Realistic Goals

On reflection, I think one of the things that has subconsciously demotivated my desire to write every day is seeing other writers boast about being able to write two-, three-, even four-thousand or more words a day. On my best day it still takes me a considerable amount of time to be able to get to those sorts of levels. And at this stage of my life, there’s no way that can be achieved on a daily basis.

What I realised, though, is that there’s no rule that says to write every day you must meet a minimum word count. You could write a hundred words a day – say, a medium to large paragraph – and in three to six weeks you’ll have a decent length short story. When you are writing regularly, how much you write in a sitting becomes irrelevant. What matters is that you are writing regularly – that is what will get you from start to finish.

Having said that, having some sort of goal is a great motivator, and ensures you will make a minimum amount of progress with each sitting. The key is to make your goal realistic, and achievable – you should be able to hit your goal every time. For example, for my last piece of writing, I set myself a goal of a minimum of 421 words every time I sat down to write. I chose this number for two reasons: first, because on a personal level it has significance to me, and second, because I knew that I could hit this number every time I sat down to write. In practice, I often wrote more than that, sometimes significantly more, which was great. But as long as I wrote at least 421 words, I was satisfied that I’d achieved my goal for that sitting.

And therein lies the reason for setting a realistic and achievable goal: success. Success can be its own motivation. The more you succeed at achieving your goal, the more you will be motivated to achieve them again and again. Had I set my goal at, say, a thousand words, I would have struggled to achieve this, and the times I didn’t would have been demoralising, which is highly counter-productive. Having a realistic goal ensured positive feedback and continuous motivation to keep achieving.

3, Don’t Commit to Writing Every Day

Sounds like I just contradicted myself, doesn’t it? How can you possibly write every day if you don’t commit to writing every day? Believe me, it does work, and it follows the above tip on setting realistic goals.

When I set out to write regularly, I knew it was pointless trying to commit to writing every day. I knew that because, inevitably, something would likely come up that would prevent me from writing every single day. So instead of committing to writing every day, I committed to planning to write every day, with the caveat that if for whatever reason I could not, that was okay. It was not the end of the world – I could just pick it up again when the next opportunity presented itself.

In committing to a plan to write every day, but allowing for the possibility that I may not be able to, and the flexibility to work around that, I removed the pressure that trying to meet a commitment to write every day would have imposed. I removed the guilt and the sense of defeat associated with not being able to meet a commitment of writing every day. I removed the sense of urgency and frustration that goes with trying to find the time to write everyday. As a result, a strange thing happened: I wrote every day.

This is where the irony comes in. By having the desire, but not the commitment, to write every day, I actually found more opportunities – or perhaps, created more opportunities would be more accurate – to write on a daily basis. In this plan, I could only succeed. If I managed to write every day, that was fantastic. If not, that was just fine as well. There was no down side, and I believe because of that, because the whole process was positive, it motivated me at a higher level, consistently, than I have previously achieved. Writing became something I wanted to do, rather than something I had to do, and for me, that is a critical distinction.

4. Share Your Progress

In my experience, success is much more rewarding when you can share it with others. The support and inspiration that comes with shared success can boost your motivation and drive significantly, particularly when it comes from those whose opinions or approval mean something to you. I was fortunate enough to have almost daily feedback on my successes, and every time I did it fired me up and made me want to achieve even more. It has since inspired me to seek out feedback for larger projects. For example, I have introduced a meter to indicate my progress towards writing my first novel on my writing website, as a means of showing fans and followers my progress, and seeking their support and encouragement. If you’re achieving your goals, you have every reason to celebrate that, and sharing that experience with others will help give your motivation a huge boost.

This is what worked for me. What’s worked for you? What ways have you found to help you work towards your writing goals? Still looking for some? Try my tips and let all of us know how the helped you. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.