I am 64 years old and have been on long-term disability for over 10 years due to a form of arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). I previously studied and practiced several external martial arts and they all eventually made my AS symptoms worse. I have had the disease my whole life but only diagnosed in the ’80’s. It became so bad at one point I was bed ridden for almost 2 years. It causes difficult symptoms in multiple body systems. I have had to get steroids injected into my eyes a few times to bring down inflammation. The disease primarily fuses the spinal vertebrae together, which of course reduces, restricts and eventually collapses the vertebral separations so they cannot move normally, or at all. I have tried physio, multiple drug therapies, meditation and exercise all with no or next to no improvement in my symptoms.
I met Master Chen Zhonghua in the early 2000’s, attending a weekend seminar just outside of Victoria, BC. I was very impressed with his direct, mechanical explanations and demonstrations of Practical Method (PM) Chen Taiji. I was not able to practice the art as my arthritis became so bad that, as previously mentioned, I became bed-ridden. For many years, I wanted to study the art seriously but thought I never would. A couple of years ago I moved back to Edmonton where two of my brothers live. I was a Facebook friend with Tim Duehring for several years and he suggested I try PM by studying with Allan Belsheim here in Edmonton. In October of 2018, I met Allan and he accepted me as a student.
Within 6 months of beginning my study and practice of PM my AS symptoms became more manageable. I began to experience, for the first time, a reversal of the encroaching fusions up and down my spine. I should mention that the addition of PM was the only thing I did differently. I have been gradually reducing and removing medications from my life and am taking the least amount of meds ever, since the AS got bad in the early 2000’s. The logical correlation to the improvement in my spinal function is the study and practice of PM.
I now practice 2 – 3 times a day for about 1 to 1.5 hours, plus attend classes between 2 – 4 nights a week. I have felt the benefits of the emphasis on straight body posture and the ‘bowing’ of the spine, locking the spinal column while stretching up from the crown of theand stretching down from the tailbone, while reversing the normal curve of the lumbar spine. The emphasis on relaxing skeletal muscles, while stretching the body parts has also provided me with symptomatic relief. I am much more flexible, stronger and my overall health improved.
I believe it is important to mention that a big element of improving and ameliorating AS symptoms has been the PM attitude towards physical training. One of the attitudes is that students should work towards training gains without doing any damage to the body. For perhaps the first time I am working hard each workout while allowing for variation in my training intensity depending on how my body/mind is doing. I went to class last night and was very tired as well as experiencing pain due to a release between my top cervical vertebrae and my skull a few days previously. My teacher got me to back off on my training intensity, relax more and not go as low or stretch as far. This kind of teaching emphasizes the life long learning necessary to increase one’s skills in PM.
This is not an attempt to attach a causal relationship between practicing PM and improvement in my AS symptoms. It is a personal reflection on the process of finding ways to cope with a terrible, wasting disease that leaves most people bent over in the classic AS ‘stoop’ or kyphosis with a forced forwardposture. This is no miracle. It is the product of hard work as well as a newfound appreciation for working within the limits of my body’s capacity to train. I am experiencing ongoing separations between many of my spine’s vertebrae. Each new separation means that my spine becomes unstable and vulnerable. Practical Method Chen Taiji as taught by Master Chen Zhonghua is a set of tools that if used correctly can lead to a healthier spine. Perhaps even for those, like me, who suffer from Ankylosing Spondylitis (spinal arthritis)?
Student of Allan Belsheim & Master Chen Zhonghua, Edmonton PM Studio
June 18, 2019