Online Tai Chi and Other Virtual Martial Arts Classes: Why Do It and How to Get Started

By Patrick Bailey

With so many pathways to achieve wellness, traditional Eastern martial arts remain one of the most recognized systems in the world. Aside from being hailed in movies and books, Eastern martial arts have a lot of health benefits that both old and young students can have.

Often, martial arts classes such as Tai Chi or Kung Fu are held through in-person classes where students are distanced in equal spaces, relatively close to each other. In some instances, students gather in circles and take turns in the middle for a return demonstration of techniques.

Shifting Platforms With the New Normal

As the world takes a 180-degree turn due to a global pandemic, many fitness and wellness services have to adapt to the “new normal” as well. Social distancing measures in place shifted martial arts classes from in-person to virtual ones. 

In some schools [1], virtual martial arts classes are being held as an extracurricular activity, and many martial arts schools have followed suit. Instructors now offer online courses, both live and recorded to help learners choose options that work for them.

Considering Online Tai Chi and Other Virtual Martial Arts? Why You Should Do It

If you’re someone who wants to try online Tai Chi and other virtual martial arts classes, you may be thinking, “What’s in it for me?”

Unlike regular exercise that can get repetitive at times, learning martial arts is a skill that proves to be useful in other areas of your life. Below are some of the advantages you can get from these classes.

Improves mood and fights stress

Tai chi [2] is a low-impact type of martial arts using gentle movements. It is often dubbed as “meditation in motion”, as participants use flowing poses. Tai chi is ideal for those who want to begin their journey in exploring Eastern martial arts, especially if their goal is to reduce stress and anxiety.

Other forms of martial arts such as Kung Fu improve cardiovascular health and blood flow. When blood flows better, your cognition improves, as well as your overall mood. Doing online classes that help decrease anxiety is something timely. When people struggle with the limitations of social distancing, taking virtual martial arts sessions may be what they need.

Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

Helps in muscular strength

According to Harvard Health [3], there is a growing number of convincing research that Tai Chi and other forms of martial arts improve one’s muscular strength. As movements sustain muscle flexion, people can gain upper and lower body strength. 

If you’re considering a dynamic form of exercise aside from using dumbbells or barbels, attending virtual martial arts classes can be a great option. Lacking outdoor activities can cause weight gain and muscular weakness, thus, having access to online Tai Chi and other Eastern systems that interest you can help avoid those risks.

Fights addiction tendencies

The University of Michigan [4] stated that dealing with the stress of isolation makes people prone to abusing alcohol and drugs. Addiction, in turn, causes immune system susceptibility to diseases such as COVID-19. This cycle of addiction along with a weak immune system increases the risk of people losing their health, and even their lives.

Practising virtual martial arts during these challenging times helps individuals develop self-discipline and focus on goals. The underlying principles of Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and Kung Fu is all about adhering to systems and sacrificing instant gratifications for the greater good. It is no wonder why martial arts have been a welcome treatment option for many drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers. It is an effective, holistic tool for battling substance abuse.

How To Get Started With Online Martial Arts Classes

The great thing about online Tai chi and other virtual martial arts classes is that you’re not confined to local establishments to get started. You can sign up under any instructor or company that offers classes as long as it fits your preferences and schedule. If you are ready to take a leap with online martial arts classes, here are some helpful tips.

  • Consider your online classes as a “real” class: It can be easy to devalue online classes by having a lesser level of commitment. However, it is important to consider online classes as if you are taking them in-person. If you need a higher level of accountability, you can sign up for a live instructor.
  • Have a regular working space: To get the maximum benefits of virtual martial arts classes, it is helpful to have space where you regularly do your sessions. Setting aside an organized space allows you to focus your thoughts on the activity, thereby decreasing mental clutter and stress.
  • Being open to new things: In the first few sessions, you may not find yourself keen on continuing a class that you feel doesn’t suit you well. However, a part of succeeding in martial arts is being open to new experiences even if you haven’t enjoyed it yet during your first time. Keeping a curious mind before quitting right away will open doors for you to learn new things.

Virtual Martial Arts Classes for Health and Wellness: Something Worth Trying

Are you searching for ways to ease the stress of changing times? Virtual martial arts classes may just be your cup of tea. With its numerous health and wellness benefits, you are sure to combine learning a new skill along with accomplishing your fitness goals.

Sources:

 

Featured image photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash



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Martial Arts for Over 50's

By Cameron Cromwell

A commonly asked question is, ‘Can I start martial arts if I am over 50?’ The short answer is, absolutely yes! It is never too late to take up martial arts. This is especially true with the variety of martial arts and training programs available today. Many schools are offering classes that are ideally suited for older beginners.

There are a lot of reasons why someone over 50 might be contemplating taking up martial arts for the first time, or even returning to martial arts after many years away. I have provided a list of benefits specifically this age group. If you decide to give it a try then there is nothing stopping you. However, to help you get the best start I have also provided some advice that you may find helpful.

The Benefits

Fitness

Strength is perhaps the most obvious benefit because martial arts is a physical activity. Any type of resistance training helps to keep the muscles strong and healthy. In turn, this helps you to stay active and mobile while reducing the chance of injury from normal daily activities, such as moving heavy items around. It also helps to keep pain and discomfort away as you get older.

Balance & coordination improves form the strength and conditioning of your muscles and by ensuring your core remains strong. Good balance and coordination help to avoid injuries from falling or not getting out of the way quickly.

Flexibility comes from good stretching of all parts of the body. This is an important part of any good martial art training because flexibility helps you to be more effective with the skills and techniques you are taught. Good flexibility can help you in all parts of your life by reducing the risk of injury from normal day to day activities. Muscles will lose their elasticity over time if we allow it and this increases the chances of pulling or tearing a muscle or ligament. Injuries like this can take much longer to heal as we get older.

Cardiovascular improves when you regularly exercise and get your heartbeat up. This has many known health benefits. By improving your circulatory system, which includes your heart and blood vessels, your body is able to efficiently deliver nutrients and oxygen to the tissues of your body and to remove carbon dioxide and other wastes. In turn, this increases energy levels, makes it easier to sustain energetic activities, and recover faster from exercise and even injuries.

Weight loss becomes more of a consideration for us as we get older. Most of us find it too easy to put on unhealthy weight. Life transpires against us by slowing down our metabolism and getting us to spend more time behind a desk or doing things that require less physical activity on a daily basis. On top of this, going for regular runs or hitting the weights at the gym does not burn off the fat like it
used to.

Excess weight takes a significant toll on our health and ability to enjoy life. This is especially true if weight gain continues unchecked. However, it does not have to be an irreversible trend. It does mean that as we get older we need to exercise differently, and perhaps a little smarter. There is a lot of evidence today that controlled, high intensity, bursts of exercise and muscle strengthening, such as that offered by most martial arts, is more effective for burning fat and reducing excess weight for people over 40.

Keeping active

Simply put, staying active slows down the ageing process and helps you to get more out of life. With better fitness, you will not become tired as quickly. This is important for everyday life, but it can really make the difference of enjoying yourself when it comes to enjoying our precious weekends and vacations.

Some people want to be able to keep up with their grandchildren when the time comes. Why not make it so that your grandchildren struggle to keep up with you.

Posture

Muscle strength, flexibility and greater self-awareness of your body help to improve posture. A better posture makes you feel better about yourself and to look more self-confident. It also helps to prevent neck and back problems that can develop over time.

Self-confidence

It is amazing how much more confident you look and feel when you maintain your fitness and strength with the knowledge that you can do things that many people cannot, even those half your age. It signals to others that you may be older but you should not be underestimated.

As we get older we learn to appreciate the value of not relying on physical strength alone, even if we know we can. Martial arts help to develop an inner strength that can be drawn upon when needed. This, in turn, helps us to remain calm when the situation calls for it.

Self-defence

The martial arts have always been about self-defence. Even non-contact activities like Yoga and Tai Chi owes its roots to combative forms of martial arts.

Do you need to learn self-defence? Well, hopefully not. However, it is a sad fact that some people will try to intimidate and even prey on older people. But, getting older does not mean you have to become more vulnerable.

However, don’t expect to become Bruce Lee. It would be irresponsible to suggest that simply practising martial arts will make you invincible. The truth is that most martial arts today have developed into a sport whereby very specific rules are followed. In the real world, where things can quickly become dangerous, these rules don’t exist.

Saying that, if you train to box and you find yourself in a fistfight you will punch, block and dodge hits better. This improves your chances of not getting seriously injured. Most attacks and street brawls end up on the ground and this is where Judo or Jiu-jitsu training comes in handy.

It is true that you will become fitter, stronger and more self-confident, and these will no doubt help you defend yourself if the need arises. Your posture and body language alone may discourage someone from becoming aggressive toward you.

Mental health

Martial arts are not just about physical abilities. The tradition of most martial arts today, especially those of Asian origins, place as much emphasis on a healthy mind and positive mental attitude as they do on good physical abilities. For hundreds of years, what we have come to call ‘mindfulness’ in recent years, has always been a valued part of martial arts training. The good news is that even a healthy inner self remains an important benefit of modern martial arts.

Social interaction - Martial arts provide wellbeing in lots of ways. For example, just by participating you engage in social interaction and you are likely to make friends. Friends help to keep you going when you are tired or feeling low. As we get older it is easy to allow ourselves to become lonely and isolated. Joining a martial arts class is a great way to prevent this from happening.

Endorphins - Classes with periods of intense training will increase your levels of endorphins. Sometimes referred to as a ‘runner’s high’ this is a natural way of creating a good feeling. Regular exercise and release of endorphins are linked to improvements in mental health in people of all ages. Just because you are older doesn’t mean you can’t participate in the type of training that releases endorphins, even if start gradually and build up over time.

Personal achievement - As you learn new skills and are capable of doing things you could never do before you will enjoy a sense of personal achievement. This is enhanced when you are feeling more physically fit. Once you start training it will not take long to start feeling the boost to your self-esteem and general good feeling.

Cognitive function - Martials arts require learning very precise and accurate movements. Often these movements become a trained response to other stimulation. The more complicated the response and movement the more practice that is needed to perfect it. This training develops a good connection between your brain and muscles. There are studies that show an improvement in the cognitive ability of people over 50 after only 8 weeks of practising Tai Chi.

Reduced stress - Unfortunately, getting older does not necessarily mean you will become less stressed. This is especially true if you have greater responsibilities at work or demands from your family and life in general. Stress, if not managed correctly, can have serious health consequences.

Martial arts teach you to relax as you train to be more effective. Most people find that the focus during training causes them to temporarily forget all the things causing stress in their life. Then there are the physical exertions of martial arts to vent any pent-up, negative, energy. The endorphins that are released help to reduce pain, and they also help you to sleep better which helps
to reduce stress.

Getting Started

If you are reading this then you are probably aware that as you become older your body becomes more vulnerable to injury. Not everyone shows signs of ageing at the same rates, but nevertheless we are all ageing. While there is a lot that you can still do, probably much more than you might think, you will need to consider two things:

1) Your starting point
2) The limitations of your body

If you are already reasonably fit you will find it easier to get started with martial arts, just as you would with any new sport. If you have not been doing any form of physical exercise for a while your muscles will need time to strengthen. Beginner classes are intended to help you gradually build up your fitness while learning basic techniques.

Can’t kick someone above their shins? No problem. If it is a flexibility issue then you will improve. If you have a permanent restriction, such as bad hip or knee, oftentimes it is possible to learn how to safely adapt. Martial arts can even help to improve some injuries. For example, if you suffer from lower back pain then martial arts will keep your core muscles strong which protects the spine. A slimmer belly from exercising takes considerable strain off the lower back.

Still not sure? You can always get a medical check-up. Use the results to help you decide the type of training that is most suitable for you. You can discuss the results with a potential school instructor when looking for a martial arts school or club to join.

Of course, there are some limitations and disabilities that will make most martial arts impractical. You will need to decide this for yourself, but don’t be too hasty in telling yourself you can’t learn martial arts. It is worth exploring the different types to find out if there is one for you. I have recently seen a martial arts program that teaches the use of a cane for self-defence, which included students in wheelchairs.

Types of Martial Arts

This would become a very long article if I attempted described every type of martial art that is practised today. Even the more commonly practised martial arts make a long list. For an idea of popular martial arts that might appeal to you have a look at A Guide to the Most Popular Martial Arts.

Selecting a Martial Arts School

In many ways, the martial arts school, its attitude, its culture, and the available programs are more important than the type of martial art that you choose. When making a decision here are a few things you may want to consider:

  • Ask to join a taster session – these are usually free.
  • Ask to observe a few beginner classes to see what they are really like – avoid clubs that focus on training fighters
  • Find a school that you can easily get to – you are more likely to stick with it if it is reasonably convenient to get to the classes.
  • Take a friend or family member. This can make it more enjoyable to get started.
  • Women only classes - some schools offer a friendly and less intimidating environment for women to get started.
  • Senior only classes - some schools offer classes that provide a training program designed for older participants.
  • Speak to the owner or lead instructor -
    • What are his/her credentials?
    • What is his or her attitude toward training?
    • What is his or her approach to helping older people to get started?
    • Can techniques be adapted to help students with physical limitations?

All martial arts have benefits. The best way to find out how you will personally benefit is to give it a try. Start with one and discover what you like about it. Sometimes it is the type of martial arts, sometimes it is the type of training, and sometimes it is just the class and the people in it that make it appealing.

If you are not sure about the school that you joined, for whatever reason, try a different school or martial art. Lots of people try more than one martial art for many reasons. You can even join more than one at the same time.

What to Expect

There is nothing wrong with engaging any type of martial arts at any point in your life. There are plenty of examples of people in their 70s earning black belts. I recently saw a video of someone in their 80s learning military-style self-defence for the first time, albeit in a suitably structured one-to-one lesson.

No matter how much you want to jump in with both feet and start training like could in your 20's and 30's it just isn’t going to work exactly the same. Even if you are reasonably fit, once you are into your 40's and beyond you need to think differently about your training. This is not to say you can’t be strong and fit, it just takes a different approach. Martial arts can provide ideal training as you get older.

Many schools that traditionally taught the hard-impact martial arts like boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai now offer non-contact classes. These are perfect for beginners and anyone wanting to enjoy the physical and mental benefits without the aggressive sparring that could lead to injury. These classes are just as fun and challenging.

 

Cameron Cromwell is the creator of Absolutely Martial Arts, a website aimed at introducing people to martial arts and helping them to get started.



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The Positive Impact Of Chinese Medicine On Men’s Health

By Sally Perkins

There is an undoubted disparity in how men and women engage with healthcare globally, with the global life expectancy of men five years lower than that of women, according to The Lancet. With this disparity more present in highly developed countries than the converse, this indicates that the problems are not merely related to gender but are actually a holistic reflection of the lives men are leading. In this respect, the all-encompassing approach of Chinese medicine can have a wonderful impact on men’s health.

Mental Health

Mental health is a key driver behind many of the problems impacting men. From simple mental illness to heart disease, there are a wide range of problems in men of which the risk factors are enhanced by mental health conditions. As one influential study published by The College of Family Physicians of Canada found, the idea of being masculine and keeping a stiff upper lip contributes to this. The impacts of mental health can filter into several areas of life that you might not expect. For instance, even a relatively mild diagnosis of depression can lead to weight loss or gain, feelings of resentment for family and physical conditions such as erectile dysfunction. The spiritual basis of Chinese medicine provides a good remedy to mental health conditions; Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism all provide a philosophical and spiritual basis on which to live life and ultimately keep people feeling mentally healthy.

Protecting the Heart

Mental health and the heart have a symbiotic relationship, and using Chinese medicine to protect against vascular disease and stress can have an all-round positive impact. Tomatoes, beef, cherry, saffron – there’s a long list of foods that will benefit the heart and also produce a feeling of wellness and content. With this feeling the body can protect against the types of stress that men will often harbor when not paying close attention to their mental health. In turn, this can provide a safety jacket against the stresses of the world as a whole and improve health overall.

Relieving the Strain

Prevention is one matter; remediation another. A powerful way that Chinese medicine can rectify issues is through acupuncture, which is noted by The Mayo Clinic to have studies showing it’s efficacy. The act of acupuncture itself is often described as relaxing and stress-relieving, and the impact after the fact is long-lived and has a great benefit on all-round health. Men can work towards all-round areas of health that intersect, like the heart and mental health, and likely feel greater ranging benefits as a result of the holistic treatment.

In holistic treatment lies the key to improving men’s health. The issues that predominantly impact men and lower their life expectancy have an impact on one another, with vascular and mental health being particularly interlinked. Reducing stress and protecting those vital systems is an ideal pursuit for Chinese medicine, and can possibly help to close that life expectancy gap wherever men are in the world.


Featured image Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash
Man image Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash
Tomato image photo by Thomas Martinsen on Unsplash



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Chinese Holistic Medicine Could Be The Ideal All-Round Treatment For Stress

By Sally Perkins

Western medicine has long espoused its own benefits while prescribing treatments from eastern and Chinese medicines as complementary. However, research is beginning to show that Chinese medicine can stand on its own two feet when it comes to certain conditions, including stress, as outlined in an influential study conducted by the University of Edmonton. When conducted with the supervision of experts and in a controlled manner, an anti-stress regimen lead entirely by Chinese medicine can be very effective.

Treatment Without Intrusion

Chinese medicine can effectively mitigate stress without ever requiring the prescription of medicine. Stress is a serious condition that impacts countless people and while many will brush it off on the odd occasion, several flare ups of stress can lead to long term consequences. As stress can strike anywhere – the commute to work being a common place, in addition to the comfort of the home – it’s important to find methods that can be called on for relief at any time. Chinese medicine has long provided for this through routines like tai chi. One article by NBC noted studies that found tai chi could be the best way to improve sleep and reduce long term stress. Most importantly, exercises it provides can be conducted at a miniature scale throughout the day to deal with sharp rises in stress, as well as creating a lower background level.

Using Medication

Stress, when left untreated, can manifest as long term conditions such as anxiety and depression. From here, the best solution is often a mix of western medicine and psychological treatment. As a result, up to 1 in 6 Americans are prescribed with anti-anxiety drugs today. However, what if many people could tackle their stress before it develops into something more?


This photo by Gratisography on pexels.com

It goes without saying that many people are diagnosed with anxiety and depression for reasons other than overwhelming stress, but, for those who are, Chinese medicine can be used early and effectively to help alleviate symptoms and boost recovery. Acupuncture, for example, has been found by studies to have a statistically significant reduction on stress, according to one Metro summary.

A Way of Life

If medicine is not required, then Americans can look to some core beliefs in Chinese society that can help to alleviate stress. American life is very stressful; a Psychology Today analysis found that over 57% of those surveyed reported significant levels of stress. According to Viacom, a lower percentage reported such feelings in China, and a significant amount reported being happier. While there are many factors contributing to these findings, the basics of life seem important. According to Viacom’s research, Chinese people are 60% more likely to than others globally to take simple self-care steps to reduce stress, including walks, listening to positive music and connecting with family.

Stress is a complex condition, but there are more ways to deal with it than just the one. Chinese medicine is a proven way to tackle it holistically, though medication, self-care and relaxation techniques. Try looking at your self-care routines and adjusting them, with the guidance of your physician.


This image from Negative Space on pixels.com

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Alignment - Part 3

By Steven Lubka

Performing a Cranial-Spinal Reset

Alignment : Chinese Medicine Living

Finally, I want to offer a technique for resetting the whole system when it is under stress. Anytime you feel tension or discomfort you can perform this to initiate a relaxation response.

The first step is positioning oneself in the above posture. The key points are as follows:

  1. You are lying on a firm surface
  2. The angle of your thighs to your spine is close to 90 degrees
  3. The angle of your shins to thighs is close to 90 degrees
  4. The ankles and feet are pointed
  5. The hips are positioned directly over each other, as well as all joints in the legs.
  6. The forehead is resting on the hands. It is very important that you are not resting the head on cheekbones or jaw joint. Resting the weight on one of these areas will be counter productive

Once one is in the following posture it is important to spent a moment attending to the breath. Allow the breath to shift into the lower belly, this will often happen automatically as the chest is pressed to the ground through the position. As one breathes they will feel an opening in the sides of the back. This mechanism of the breath force kicking back against the chest which is pinned to the floor serves to reset the spinal vertebra.

After one has spent a moment in the position it is time to address the skull. While in the position you now move to adopt correct oral posture. To really perform the reset you want to bring the molars together with a degree of force as you push the tongue against the roof of the mouth with 80% of the total force available to you at that time. If the amount of force available to you at the time with your tongue is enough to overpower the strength of the jaw muscles which keep the molars together decrease the force of the tongue. The aim of this is to release the jaw joint and it will only occur if the bite muscles are being engaged in this way. Performing this oral exercise while the body is rotated in this will serve to remedy any twisting of the skull, as well as the rest of the body. Once you have performed this on one side of your body flip yourself over and perform the same exercise on the other side. I recommend this highly as correcting the various ways the body is rotationally imbalanced is something which is often neglected.  

Finally, there is a quality which is essential the individual cultivates to really bring the total force of their being towards the journey of physical healing. This quality is the driving force of the whole process and if one were to do nothing else, I would simply suggest they cultivate it. The quality I am describing I would call , in my own words, a “felt sense” of the body. In other terms would could call it interoception and proprioception, the sensing of the internal condition of one’s body. This means that one must deepen their awareness of what their body feels like and be able to respond intelligently to the feeling state of the body. This carries emotional connotation as well. It is the refining of one’s sense of the emotional energies that circulate in the body, and the cultivation of a perspective of consciousness which is able to simply observe the impact of emotions without being drawn into reaction or identification with them. This quality can be cultivated through practicing continuous awareness of the various tensions once experiences in the body, as well as attending to each body part individually. What this means is to take a moment in meditation to feel what each body part is feeling. In one sense this is a coming home to the flesh, which we often turn away from or neglect. In another sense it is simultaneously important to develop an observer consciousness which is not attached to these things. This is a coming home to the spirit. If one does nothing else, cultivate these essential qualities.

I clearly remember the first time I ever tried to make myself feel better. Such a normal and commonplace action yet it struck me even at the time. I was 8 years old and I was looking forward to going to a favorite store when I found out it was closed. In that moment my mind reached for something else I could do to cope with the disappointment, something that might bring me pleasure. This is something we often do, and we even raise our children in this way. When there is emotional upset we seek something external to change our experience of those feelings.

However this represents a turning away from Self, from the ever present ground of being. It was my first encounter with the aspect of the ego which is focused on how it feels and is always desiring to feel better. What a mechanism! This was the beginning of my later drug addiction, at 8 years old. Addiction could not possibly exist in a being who is not seeking to experience pleasure and push away pain. And yet this function of egoic consciousness exists in many forms besides that of drug addiction. I think if we look at ourselves with an honest sense of inquiry we will find that we are all seeking a better experience most of the time. If we look with an even more discerning gaze we will also see that in doing this we actually create more pain for ourselves than if we didn't try to do anything about our negative feelings.

It is an important step in our journeys to heal the state of our body-mind, indeed this whole article has dealt with the process of healing. However, it is important to be aware of our motivation for doing so. Are we attempting to run from pain, to push it away as unacceptable, or are we seeking to meet our pain with the redemptive force of our loving attention?  For the rare individuals who are after Truth and not simply a better experience this is of the utmost importance. The path of self-improvement and healing is an ENDLESS path. One never reaches an end point. The only thing left for those who’s goal is something beyond this is direct insight into the nature of the Self. The act of trying to heal oneself or feel better is a pointer and a path in of itself, however this path does not lead to the ultimate goal. It prepares the seeker to be able to recognize and accommodate the divine perspective which will emerge later.

For me remembering the first time I ever engaged in the act of turning away from my pain, also always reminded that there existed something outside of it. It indicated that there was another state of being which was not concerned with how it felt and never attempted to change what was.

As always, this is a fantastic teacher for me. In remembrance of the Great Self, we turn ourselves towards our source , with endless devotion, without ceasing. The true God is a silent one, and a small one. There is nothing other than this.

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