The Taoist Method: Healthy Practice for Back Pain

02/26/2009 (last updated: 08/24/2009 13:35)
Michael Joyce

Low back painIt was just over fifteen years ago when I realized that teaching the martial arts was the path that I would set for myself. As an eager teenager, I literally trained until fatigue caused me to cease for the day. Often I would train until I felt pain, which I welcomed as a "sign of progress." William Blake once said, "The fool that persists in his folly will become wise" (and boy did I have a lot of folly in me in those days!). I can remember that not too long after I left high school and entered my college days, I began to feel the years of over-training, misuse, and injury on a day-to-day basis. The shock ofbeing a 20-year old with back trouble really concerned me and so I made a firm choice to find a way--any way--that would ease my pain and with it, my worries. It was at St. Louis University that I received my first lesson in Hunyuan Taijiquan; an adaptation of the original Chen Style Taijiquan that incorporated more of an emphasis in the internalcomponent of qigong.

As fellow students and teachers of the martial arts, we understand that there are numerous schools and styles--each grasping for a deeper understanding of how to invigorate the body for the purpose of health and longevity. Invariably many people will choose sides, and firmly stand behind their choice. There exists today, within relatively healthy people, a tenacity and optimism that they can fix anything. "Anything" is fixable. However, the moment someone becomes injured and the pain persists beyond the days and weeks, into months and years, the change is dynamic and quite concerning.

We, as westerners, tend to look higher on someone with a Ph.D. than a person who understands the internal arts of the East; to us, a doctor has the tag of science, and science (at least in our history) produces results. As someone who enjoys and embraces the sciences, I feel that it is my duty to reach out not only to those interested in exploring the realm of Eastern understanding, but also those who are skeptical of Eastern internal practices. The present is made from the past, and no society has explored the aspect a holistic well-being more than the East--in particular, India and China. For the most part, it is this area of the world that we will explore and benefit from their long history of scholarly study and refinement.

Out of the many therapeutic practices that exist today, I practice the movement therapy of both Chen Style Taijiquan, Hunyuan Qigong and a self-modified system of (mostly seated) exercises that attempt to elongate (lengthen) and circumduct (circularly rotate) particular areas of the body to promote optimal Qi (chi) flow.  More importantly, these movements aid in the recovery from the chronic aches and pains experienced by many people on a daily basis. In an upcoming DVD I will illustrate the full set of Taoist exercises and show how the practitioner can modify them in case of flexibility limitations, body size, and other various problematic conditions. In order to quell the enormous response from students and clients asking, "How can I ease my low back pain now," I've released a video on YouTube that briefly illustrates two of my favorite movements. The video also includes a "resting posture" that remains to this day, my "quick fix" for a low back ache after standing for long periods of time.


Taoist Method - Low Back Pain


The first movement should be performed slowly and at your own pace. Remember that everyone starts off at different places; after practice, we all will improve. The aim of this stretch is to elongate the muscles connecting to the hip and ribs (namely the internal & external obliques, quadratus lumborum, serratus posterior inferior and the erector spinae). The second exercise focuses more on stretching torso outward from the body and circling the body about our "center" (in this case, the center of gravity as in a normal, straight-backed seated posture). Be mindfulthat the slower you go through this exercise the more intense and fulfilling the stretch. The key to gaining the most benefit is to stretch outward from the body while keeping the buttocks flat on your seat. As you extend forward from the middle, stretch your chin forward like a turtle and relax/contract it back as you rotate to the side. The primary purpose of this particular pattern is to elevate the pressure in and around the sacrum, the sacro-illiac joint and lightly stretch the muscles: quadratus lumborum, multifidi, erector spinae and the tenionous thoracolumbar aponeurosis.

If we take the time to perform one or all three of these actions on a regular basis, a gradual (for some instantaneous) change in lousy, achey, compressive feeling that sets in during times of stagnation, poor body mechanics, overuse, and injury. Please stay tuned into TheInternalArts.Com and ChenCenter.Com for more on my series called, The Taoist Method and watch for the summer release of The Taoist Method DVD (schedule to be released by August 2009).

Michael Joyce is a dedicated martial arts instructor who has been studying internal martial arts since 1994.  Coach Joyce began his training with Shaolin White Crane gongfu, and later received his certification to teach Chen Style and Hunyuan Taijiquan under the tutelage of taiiji master Chen "Joseph" Zhonghua.  He holds a B.S. in Kinesiology and is also a licensed massage therapist. Michael Joyce teaches taijiquan, wushu, and self-defense classes in the Winston-Salem area of North Carolina and runs the Center for Hunyuan Taijiquan (