Shanti School of Taijiquan



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Guidelines for Practicing Tai Chi with
Chronic Pain, Arthritis and Fibromyalgia

Study Guide for navagating information pages

Spiral Anatomy Module 1 Check out the Spiral Anatomy™ Training Course for great packages including many videos on this topic. *Modules provide stepwise training on major topics*
Spiral Anatomy™- Movement and Energy Training
for Tai Chi, Sports, Chronic Pain and Rehabilitation

Practice Relaxation and Mindfulness Training

Tai chi and Qigong have many forms of meditation to relax the mind and body, which is probably the most important thing a person with chronic pain and fibromyalgia can do to relieve symptoms on many levels. Along with this is learning to using the mind to move energy and the physical body. (Check out these videos). This is how Tai Chi becomes a moving meditation. The Brain Workshop video and Brain Circulation Visualization also have a wonderful non-moving meditation that guides you to fill the brain (link to visuals) and body with energy, light and love. This meditation practice brings spiritual energy and earth energy to the heart, profoundly affects sense of well being calming the nervous system, reduces fear and anger, and trains the mind to bring healing energy to specific affected areas of the body that are in pain. This practice benefits sleep and reduces stress, anxiety and depression. A new study finds that elicitation of the relaxation response -- a physiologic state of deep rest induced by practices such as meditation, deep breathing and qigong-- produces immediate changes in the expression of genes involved in immune function, energy metabolism and insulin secretion. A great place to start is Spiral Anatomy™ Module 1.

***Read these articles:

Using Tai Chi & Qigong for Chronic Stress, Anxiety, PTSD, Depression, Sleep Disorders

Loosen Mind and Body with Massage: Massage, in its many forms, can be great for reducing anxiety, promoting relaxation, improving blood and lymph circulation, relieving chronic pain, reducing inflammation, reducing toxicity, improving digestion, improving sleep, reducing headache, reducing depression… I could go on. Therefore massage is highly recommended for those experiencing stress, anxiety, PTSD, Chronic Pain, Parkinsons Disease, Multiple Sclerosis. Read this attached PDF for more about the value of massage.

Practice Gentle Movement, Meditative Walking, Tai Chi and Gentle Stretching

One of the keys to relieving pain is to elicit relaxation of musculature which has been chronically working too hard. Tai Chi and Qigong exercises and Brain Workshop Exercises gently elicit postural corrections over a long period of time. We use specific techniques such as power stretching to open and loosen joints, and to bring the skeleton back into alignment in gravity. Private sessions are available. Spiral Anatomy™ trains the body to use the biomechanics of spiraling in the musculoskeletal system. This ancient movement and energy training called chan shi jing, or silk reeling, is prominent in Chen Style Tai Chi. Susan Matthews enriches this training by describing anatomical details and related physiology. This spiraling movement training is dramatically different than muscle-based exercise programs. The focus is not on muscle strength but on whole body unified mechanics (one snake), energy, joint flexibility, and much more. Read about Susan and her credentials and about private consultation.

"I just want to thank you for all your expertise in helping me overcome (and I feel cured of) a medium to large tear in my rotator cuff (I know that doesn't just happen on it's own), my arthritic knee, and don't forget 4% better in my bone density. I practice Tai Chi every day. Thanks a hundred-fold for your great teaching. Sign me on as a Tai Chi-er for life."  Pat

Practice Qigong to Increase Circulation

QiCircles (pronounced 'chee' circles) are qigong movements include something like rolling a mental ball in circles in various directions in the abdomen and chest, self massage, acupressure point stimulation, and other energy healing exercises. Qigong Practice video, Energy Gathering and Blood Circulation Qigong video with Susan Matthews details these QiCircles. These circular movements improve blood circulation to the digestive organs, kidneys, and other abdominal organs directly and can are practiced sitting in a chair or incorporated into other movements. QiCircles™ specifically increase blood circulation and lymphatic circulation to and from reproductive organs, bladder, prostate and change the state (tone) of the pelvic floor. These exercises can relieve incontinence and greatly improve sexual function. This is ancient training from Wu style tai chi for cultivating energy in the middle and lower dantien and kidneys. The exercises open and balance energy flow in the meridians. Likewise, they improve bone, blood and lymph circulation which boosts the immune system.

Practice Gentle Massage to Increase Lymphatic Circulation

Gentle massage with mindfulness reduces lymphatic fluid blockag and edema, a major source of inflammation and pain in fibromyalgia. Chronically tight muscles restrict flow. Tension and pain along major lymphatic pathways and in the microvasculature feels like energy meridian blockage and pain.

Commitment over time is key in order to give the muscles and skeleton time to change. Just as important as learning how to stand and walk differently is learning how to change one's mind.

"During the past year [2012-2013] I have been to five different specialist doctors, ten months of physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, and taken a variety of pain relieving medications for chronic pain. Not. only did I get no relief, I actually got worse. I did a private consultation and massage, attended two classes with Susan and am now almost pain free. Thanks to Susan I feel like I have regained my enjoyment of life.----- Sherry

"I had pain 10 years before I came to Susan and it was found I have a short leg. A shoe lift stabilized my spine but caused a nightmare with my muscles. I farm and it is lots of long hours and physical work. I got where I was very limited in what I could do. I was in constant, severe pain. I read an article about the benefits of Tai Chi and researched it on the web where I found Susan’s website and her background and degrees peaked my interest so I got in touch with her. I was a little confident when I met with Susan that it might help but I didn’t get my hopes up. I had been going to an occupational therapist and chiropractor which helped manage my activities somewhat. Susan helped me to learn how to relax and use my muscles correctly and helped me with balance and posture. I was stiff and rigid but now am relaxed and fluid. On a scale from 1 to 10 I feel my pain went from 7-10 to 0-1. I had decreased pain in my first Tai Chi class and lots of improvement in the following months. I have been with Susan’s Tai Chi class nearly 2 years now. Susan really takes time to figure out what is causing your problems and you always feel better when you leave. I am far more active now and enjoying being able to do things I had to quit doing. I can relax and have a lot better range of motion. I can do a lot more activities working or for just for fun. I don’t have to live with the phrase “no pain no gain” as Susan has taught me how do this without causing more pain. R Waschke, Dove Creek

"I had chronic back pain and terrible sciatica on both sides. I had been wearing a heel lift for a year. After only four months of taijiquan, my leg had changed so much the doctor said get rid of the heel lift. I started experiencing relief since the very first time I learned to open the pelvis in the back, and now I’m pain free."  
—K. Stange, D.V.M.

From anywhere in the world students train with Susan:

"I suffered from back pain, stiffness and occasional sciatica as a result of back and car accidents that left my entire spine feeling traumatized. Working on my physical posture with tai chi over several years improved my range and quality of movement but didn’t resolve all the pain. Having seen Susan’s “George Xu” DVDs, I knew immediately that she could offer me a very different approach. Words cannot express the difference a couple of private lessons over skype have made to my practice. The difference is huge. They significantly reduced the pain I had in just two short sessions. The first thing Susan did was a massive change in perspective. Taking the solid foundations of structure for granted she took my practice to a whole new level which I can now only describe as a “pure” energy practice which feels great. It opened up something I would never have found just working physically on my own. From her deep understanding of anatomy, neuroscience and tai chi, Susan could see exactly what was wrong. She showed me how to move with a different awareness and make a few key changes so that the pain just went, and all without needing to have any physical contact with me.  Susan is a very gifted and wonderful teacher, and I can thoroughly recommend her to anyone who wants to improve their practice. I love this method of teaching because it means I am now able to get access to Susan and her great teaching from any where in the world." Chris J England UK

This training is perfect for Seniors and persons who need to start any kind of movement at a little gentler pace. We explore the health benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong first with gentle qigong then learn gentle muscle- and tendon-strengthening movements are extremely effective in increasing mobility, flexibility, balance, coordination, and bone density without causing fatigue. She is gentle in her approach, allowing the practitioner to move at their own pace. Every caution is taken to protect the student from further pain. Remarkable results are frequently obtained within a short period of time, even by those who have been suffering with a high degree of pain for a long time. 

We, Ann Wilson, 78, and Darlene Griffin, 53, disabled, are enjoying tai chi with Susan Matthews. She has helped with a lot of various problems, such as low back pain, hand pain, incontinence, balance, arthritis pain, headaches, neck pain, and more. We enjoy the classes so much. Rumor has it, it is good for us. Dr. Heyl and Dr. Karen Libsch have recommended it to us as a tool to better health. Thank you for your time. —Darlene Griffin, Ann Wilson

Susan-Thanks for the new disk. I have really found that using the chi figure eights is very supportive during hiking and biking. Instead of feeling tired and straining muscularly, the chi circles just keep me moving on! Thanks, Kim

My husband and I gave up dancing because I was in so much pain. I have arthritis, fibromyalgia, diverticulitis, and several other conditions. Susan showed us how to move again, and my husband and I feel so much better after taking Tai Chi a short time that we recently started square dancing again!—Annella and Elzy Welch

Meditation and mindfulness techniques increase relaxation, employ stress management tools that empower the mind to help heal the body. These simple movements (easily performed in chairs) reduce high blood pressure symptoms, improve digestion, and improve brain function. Susan's Energy Gathering and Blood Circulation Qigong video is available to supplement home practice and are highly recommended.

"I had blown a disc at L-1 which left me in chronic pain. When I started taijiquan and qigong 7 years ago I was on heavy doses of pain killers, my blood pressure was sky high, and severe allergies caused massive outbreaks of hives. None of those conditions exist anymore. I had severe wrist and hand pain. My hands and wrists were so bad they had to put rubber grips on the doors at the hospital where I work so I could manage to turn the handle. Now I routinely carry two gallon jugs in each hand. "—C. Hughes, R.N. Cardiac Care

I can do things I couldn’t do before—no more neck pain, and I can garden without pain again. Tai Chi has really made my good life better; I believe in it. —Mary Colgan

Brain Workshop tai chi training is unique and affects the body and the brain in the following ways. First, movement with synchronicity, rhythmicity, and symmetry has been linked to brain activation during memory acquisition, states of consciousness, locomotion, neural repair, and rehabilitation.

Second, mental practice, including visualization and movement imagery, has significance for athletic training and for treatment potential. New imaging techniques show that when you visualize going over the movement in your mind (imagery), neuronal (nerve cell) activity in the brain actually mirrors that movement. Tai chi expands this idea with many sophisticated techniques that use specific mental imagery and visualizations of energy moving during physical movement. This is the hallmark of Tai chi. The result is that the brain strives to create the mental image, not an isolated arm or leg movement. Brain Workshop™ uses Tai Chi and Qigong plus scientific principles found in neuroscience and is the most effective set of tools for rejuvenating the aging brain. Movement along with mental practice stimulates the brain and body to maintain the flexibility of youth. 

Third, balanced, integrated, left- and right-sided movement is accompanied by balanced brain activity. Such movement activates the neural circuitry of the whole brain. Balance is accomplished by using two major components of Tai Chi training: central equilibrium training, or developing a straight spine with an energetic central plumb line, and spiraling in the joints.

Fourth, engaging and integrating multiple sensory systems both physically and with mind intention, wakes up the entire body and brain, and can speed up the healing process. These systems include visual, kinesthetic, the sense of gravity and position, muscle load, stretching and contracting, sensors in the skin, and the sensation of qi.

Fifth, using these techniques and others to train the mind achieves three levels of adaptation. First, increased awareness of the sensation of internal qi energy flowing in the body. Second, the ability to direct internal energy and physical movement to flow in harmony. Finally, the training cultivates awareness of, and harmony with, the energetic movement in the space surrounding the body. Matthews believes this is a critical step to truly feeling “at one with the universe.”

Relaxation and meditation training is the first step. Tai Chi and Qigong for Stress, Anxiety, Depression, PTSD, Insomnia

Nutrition Keys

The table below lists 5 key elements of nutrition and 5 key elements of exercise that complement each other and promote great health benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids, detoxifying antioxidants, movement biomechanics, bone strengthening exercises, blood circulation and meditation profoundly impact heart, brain and digestive health as well as balance, bone, joint and muscle strength,  weight loss, stress reduction and chronic pain.


Nutrition Keys

Systems Affected

Benefits or Reduces Symptoms

Omega-3 fatty acids

Heart, brain, digestive system, immune system, blood clotting, brain development

Inflammation, weight  loss, blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, diabetes

Antioxidants-fruits and vegetables

Brain, mitochondria - the cell’s energy powerhouse

Detoxification from environmental toxins, stress reduction, Alzheimer’s

Nutrients that support immune system and reduce inflammation

Immune system, lymphatic system, nervous system, joints

Inflammation, autoimmune diseases, asthma, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, weight loss

Nutrients that support digestion and bowel regularity


Weight loss, colon, diabetes

Minerals and vitamins

Skeletal and muscular system, heart and brain

Body building, athletics, muscle strength, osteoporosis



Exercise Keys

Systems Affected

Benefits or Reduces Symptoms

Biomechanics for walking, sports, tai chi principles

Skeletal and muscular system, heart and brain

Movement disorders, chronic pain, diabetes, obesity

Balance training

Skeletal and muscular system, brain

Balance, chronic pain, MS, Parkinson’s, foot problems, peripheral neuropathy 

Bone strengthening, power stretching exercises

Skeletal and muscular system

Osteoporosis, balance, strength

Blood and lymph circulation qigong exercises

Immune system, brain, digestive system, hormones

Gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular, migraines, nervous system disorders

Meditation, sleep
relax the mind and body

Brain, heart, all systems

Stress reduction, anxiety, PTSD, chronic pain, inflammation, digestion, Alzheimer’s

We describe 5 Nutrition Keys in our Nutrition and Exercise Class. is vital for both the body and the brain. Please reference for more details.

Nutritional support is vital for both the body and the brain. Visit Tai Chi Exercise and Nutrition page to learn more. Please reference for more details.

The following link gives a wealth of information about fibromyalgia. Hopefully after reading both these sites you can see that Tai Chi and Qigong practice seriously addresses many of the most pressing issues for a person with fibromyalgia and chronic pain in a gentle and safe way. People with all levels of mobility can find ways to practice and find improvement. Acute joint pain, chronic fatigue and depression are just a few symptoms of fibromyalgia. This site explains all about this little understood syndrome.