A bit of Chinese knowledge can sort out your back


Monday mornings these days are usually devoted to learning Mandarin Chinese and having a one to one kung fu lesson. Yesterday though, a touch of lurgy maybe, an aching back, a few symptoms of brain damage and the arrival of British Summer Time left me feeling tired if not stunned into inactivity. Luckily my Kung Fu instructor was sharing my languor over the Chinese lesson. We are those grandly titled students called autodidacts – self-learners – and meet once a week to push on with this undoubtedly difficult language.

Coffee and conversation were good substitutes – there is nothing quite like that mix of human observation and martial arts theory shared with a some laughs, over, maybe, a few too many mugs of French black coffee.

I was really not well enough for the kung fu lesson either. A real disappointment as in these days of convalescent seclusion, they are one of the high points of the week, teaching me and pushing me as well as making me feel that I am still a member of the real world.

My new back problem stemmed from that incident with the broken biscuit. I should have left it on the floor but instead, I bent over, oddly, even when I was fit I didn’t do it like that, with curved back and knees straight. It was an especially bad thing to do with a recovering fractured spine as the cracking sound and sudden pain told me.

It was yet another opportunity for the Chinese way to prove itself.

My instructor, Neil, a regular visitor to these blogs after our Monday morning sessions, is not just a martial arts expert but he is immersed in all the subsidiary disciplines too. Learning the language is just the latest development in his absorption in Chinese culture.

He is also remarkably effective at using Chinese acupressure massage as well as being highly knowledgeable about the human body.

A few times now, he has given me a back massage to help my spine in its recovery and yesterday, I was keen to benefit from his expertise. I sometimes think that he knows his students’ bodies better than we do.

This is no soppy feel-good process surrounded by rose petals in water, burning incense and light Asian music; on the contrary it is a pretty vigorous and challenging affair.

Lying on a duvet on the floor, with pungent smelling Chinese balm as a rub, I was pulled, shaken,bent in various directions, including heels over head, and pressed down upon with just enough strength to make a difference but not so much that I was going to shout out in pain.

It felt good. Not only was it teaching my spine that it could move again through all its natural range but Neil could also tell that I was on the mend. That large bump that had been there before was now nearly flat and, as far as he could tell, my recent pain was really only bruising from a jolt to my vertebrae. My physical recovery is really on its way now, whatever happens to my brain injuries.

When he was done, I was a human again – less of an over-cautious invalid.

So I may have missed a Chinese lesson in one way but I have definitely had another lesson in the remarkable effectiveness of Chinese medicine.

That mix of Chinese martial arts and Chinese medicine has proved its depth and profundity at each turn during my recovery from this serious illness.

In hospital, the doctors were surprized and then impressed that I could do my taichi form even on the ward so soon after my brain haemorrhage and the physical damage it had done to me. The amount of movement I managed to retrieve so quickly meant that they decided that I had no need of the two resident physiotherapists who were in fact available to me every day.

Those 66 moves stretch every part of the body including the brain. After the trauma of awakening from a coma I was pleased and relieved that I could remember them.

I was reminded, yet again, of the value of our tai chi style when my neurologist gave me some physical exercises to help me recover from the vertigo and dizziness that has come as part of this annoying package of disabilities. So many of them employed moves which were already there in my tai chi.

So, Monday morning was another landmark on this long road back to normal life. I didn’t miss a Chinese lesson after all.

Sie sie ni Zhongguo he sie sie ni Neil…..thanks China and thanks Neil.

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