Friday, 29 August 2014


"When the Student is ready, the Teacher will appear."

Tai Chi is a form of martial art and a gentle exercise that combines deep breathing and relaxation techniques with slow, flowing, graceful movements.  To be fair, I don't think I have ever done anything gracefully in my life!

Tai Chi can be carried out individually or in groups.  Because Tai Chi is largely based on technique, it does not require great strength or flexibility, although practice on a regular basis will aid suppleness and physical strength.  It has become an increasingly popular activity for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) and is associated with stress relief and overall health improvement.  As a martial art, Tai Chi involves considerable focus on spiritual aspects and on increasing self-concept and concentration.  The majority of teaching in the UK only deals with the exercise side of Tai Chi.  It is important to remember that Tai Chi is an internal martial art and therefore does not involve combat.

The physical and psychological effects of Tai Chi have been examined extensively in both older people and those with chronic conditions.  Research has been conducted into the impact of Tai Chi had on people with chronic health problems, including multiple sclerosis (MS).  Although as with most research, the research was not free from qualitative or quantitative limitations or biases, but the groups concluded that there was evidence that the exercise was of medical benefit.  They found that long-term Tai Chi practice had favorable effects on the promotion of balance control, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness and reduced the risk of falls in older people.  It was also found to reduce pain, stress and anxiety.  Tai Chi has been shown to improve body awareness, balance and coordination and therefore to impact positively on self-confidence.  It is a remarkably effective exercise proven to help mental relaxation, while strengthening both the mind and the body.  Tai Chi therefore is found to impact positively on general health and general well-being.

My friend, Rose is a NAKMAS (National Association of Karate and Martial Arts Schools) Thai Chi / Chi Gung Instructor. Rose herself has Degenerative Disk Disease which is a severe and progressive back condition which impacts upon her mobility.  She also experiences Chronic Pain.  She understands what it is like.  How debilitating.  How painful.  How tiring. Rose is therefore passionate about developing 'Tai Chi for Mobility' to share what she has learnt, to share the principles of Tai Chi to enrich the lives of others living with debilitating conditions and disabilities.  The idea is to bring appropriate gentle exercise within the reach of people who think exercise is not for them and find traditional sports daunting.  I had to give it a go.

Rose explains that the Aim is to "help people achieve a better quality of life. Tai Chi exercise provides the framework for the body to work at its best, by improving our posture, balance, co-ordination, concentration and reduce stress these things help the body to do its job more easily."

The first thing we are taught is to 'lift the head to raise the spirit'.  Stand naturally straight and keep your head and neck upright, but relaxed.  If your head is down then your spirit cannot be high.  By straightening your back and lifting your head, the spirit will lift.

know that some people are rather sceptical about alternative therapies. Tai Chi isn't a cure for MS, it doesn't claim to be.  Rather it is a gentle exercise, a gentle exercise that aids posture and balance and it can alleviate stress; it leaves you with a feeling of calm, and when it is undertaken in good company this does indeed lift the spirits.

Friday, 22 August 2014


"And therefore since I cannot prove a lover,
I entertain in these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain." (William Shakespeare, Richard III, Act I, Scene I)

On 22 August 1485, the penultimate battle in the Wars of the Roses was fought with the might of the Lancastrian army ranged against the Yorkists. . . Bosworth Field saw the two great dynasties of the day clash on the battlefield: the reigning House of York, led by Richard III, against the rising House of Tudor, led by Henry Tudor, soon to become Henry VII. 

Having stayed the night in the 'White Boar Inn' later to be re-named the 'Blue Boar Inn' so as not to be associated with the 'White Boar' Richard's emblem, Richard set off for Bosworth.  (There is now a pub called 'King Richard III', close to the original location of the 'White/Blue Boar Inn').

Richard rode out to Bosworth Field, just outside Sutton Cheney, towards Market Bosworth, riding out over 'Bow Bridge'. The Bridge now shows two plaques, one explaining the legend claiming that Richard struck his spur against a stone, where a 'wise-woman' foretold of his defeat in battle, the other claiming that Richard's remains are buried nearby.

Richard III was 32 years of age when he died in Battle at Bosworth Field, the last British Monarch to die in Battle, his body was brought back to Leicester and publicly displayed, then interred by the Grey Friars, a local order of Franciscan monks.  A few years later, a tomb was erected within the Grey Friars’ church. Meanwhile the victor of Bosworth, Henry Tudor, was crowned King Henry VII – then in 1538 his son, Henry VIII, split from Rome.  Across the land monasteries were demolished and dissolved, and the Grey Friars were no exception.  During the 17th and 18th centuries, the land in the ‘Grey Friars’ area of the city was built on and the precise location of the original church lost underneath houses (which was to eventually become a Leicester City Council Car Park).  This car park was famously excavated by the University of Leicester in 2013, and it was then that the remains were found, and Richard III became known as the 'King in the Car Park'.

These remains have been subjected to rigorous and intense scientific scrutiny and analysis to confirm that they are indeed the remains of the notorious King.  The fact that Richard suffered from Scoliosis, a degenerative curvature of the spine has assisted in the identification process.

Richard became King in 1483 and was King for two years before he met his death in 1485.  Describing Richard, Simon SCHAMA explains, "...whom we have been conditioned to think of as either the incarceration of godless villain or (by impassioned devotees) as a northern hero vilely defamed by Tudor propaganda." (Simon SCHAMA, A History of Britain: At the edge of the World? p268).  He is a undoubtedly a notorious king; perhaps best known through the propaganda of William Shakespeare which saw Richard III as the protagonist in the murder of the 'Princes in the Tower' where Princes Edward (aged 12) and Richard (aged 9) (sons of Kind Edward IV) were lodged in the Tower of London upon their arrival in London, (but this was the traditional residence of monarchs prior to their coronation), and were never seen againIt is unclear what actually happened to the boys.  It is generally now generally assumed that they were murdered, and murdered at Richard's instruction. Although some believe that one, or both, princes were not murdered; some believe that one or both managed to escape.  It is also William Shakespeare's text which famously sees Richard III cry out the famous lines: "My horse, my horse, my kingdom for a horse" (Act 5, Scene 4).  Simon SCHAMA see Richard III as, "much more interesting  but also much more sinister than either of those stereotypes allow. . .". (Simon SCHAMA,A History of Britain: At the edge of the World? p268). 

There was a statue of Richard in Castle Gardens; this statue has now been moved, and relocated to 'Cathedral Square' near to the new (King Richard III) KRIII Exhibition Centre.  This centre was opened on 26.07.14 telling the full story of the 'King in the Car Park'.  It was now been agreed, after a court ruling, that Richard's remain will remain in Leicester.

The Battlefield is just outside of Market Bosworth, has an excellent Visitor Centre, holds re-enactments and is a splendid place to go for a doggy walk.

Oh, and Benedict is going to be taking on the role next year.

Friday, 15 August 2014


The proper name for difficulty swallowing, or the medical term is 'Dysphagia'.  Actually I think it is more properly called 'Oropharyngeal dysphagia'.

Apparently, quite a lot of people with MS, it is estimated perhaps a third of people with MS, probably experience some changes in their swallowing at some time, experience swallowing difficulties, and find it difficult to swallow: 'Dysphagia'.  And it isn't just difficulty swallowing, but difficulties with other associated activities such as eating and drinking and even speaking and forming sentences: 'Dysphasia'.

So, this is another thing that I have discovered that MS can cause difficulties with, swallowing difficulties. And just like any other symptom of MS, swallowing difficulties may come and go.  Changes in swallowing can occur or happen during a relapse, and then improve, or disappear completely.  For others, difficulty swallowing may simply be a symptom that develops over time as the condition progresses.  You don't really notice it at first, don't notice that you are struggling or perhaps dribbling, but then all of a sudden you do.  You do notice.  You notice that you are dribbling.

The MS Society has found that, "Between 30 and 40 per cent of people with MS experience difficulties with swallowing at some time although for some people changes are so small that they are hardly aware of them."Dysphagia can also be made worse by lack of saliva or dry mouth, and it is known that some medications used to control MS symptoms can cause having a dry mouth as a side-effect.  So, that is helpful.

I have recently become aware that I experience difficulties with swallowing.  This feels really strange, when you have to think, have to concentrate on doing something as automatic as swallowing.  You do not have to be taught how to swallow, you are just born with the ability, it just happens, you just can, you just do.  So it comes as something as a shock as you take a mouthful of tea or coffee or water or juice, and then you think 'now what?'  What do I do now? You have to try and remind yourself to swallow it.  It is there is your mouth, but you have to concentrate to actually do something with it, to swallow it.  Surely swallowing should be second nature? Believe me it isn't.

Swallowing problems ('Dysphagia')might include difficulties with other associated activities such as eating and drinking and with speaking ('Dysphasia'):

Swallowing problems ('Dysphagia')might include difficulties with other associated activities such as eating and drinking and with speaking ('Dysphasia'):
  • Changes in speech can go hand in hand with small changes in swallowing
  • Problems chewing
  • Coughing and spluttering during and after eating
  • Excessive saliva, which may cause dribbling
There are different forms of 'Dysphagia' depending on whether the difficulty with swallowing occurs in the mouth or throat, and there are various ways that it can be treated, these include:
  • swallowing therapy
  • dietary changes 
  • feeding tubes
A Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) may be consulted to suggest exercises that can help, or a Dietitian may be consulted for advice about changing your diet, to possibly advise about softer foods or thickened fluids that may be easier to eat and drink.  There are therefore simple changes that you can make which may make a difference.  These include:
  • Ensuring good posture when eating and drinking
  • Ensuring that you are relaxed
  • Eating slowly and chewing well

A few people have suggested drinking through a straw, and I have found that this does seem to help a little bit, although it has to be said that this isn't always ideal, but I am finding and realizing that very little to do with MS is ideal, you just kind of get on with it, and learn how to deal with it. You adapt.  You learn not to worry if you dribble.  You learn, you have to.

Friday, 8 August 2014


They say, 'You are what you eat.'

Good nutrition and eating a healthy balanced diet is essential for the maintenance of good health generally. We know this.  Diet is an important tool to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to promote good health.  There is no cure for MS.  No single diet can treat or cure MS, but poor diet and poor nutrition can worsen existing symptoms of MS such as fatigue and weakness.

It is noted that it is difficult to measure or monitor how effective diet is in managing MS, as for a lot of people their symptoms come and go.  With MS as with a lot of conditions a low-fat, high-fiber diet is recommended.  And actually you do not have to have any condition to recognize that a healthy diet, a low-fat, high-fiber, lean protein, whole grain, low sugar diet, can be beneficial for general health and well-being.  Going easy on sweet foods can help you to manage weight as added or extra weight can be a contributing factor in MS-related Fatigue.  So although no link has been found between sugar consumption and MS, it is probably best not to over-indulge.  A high-fibre diet can help to ease constipation, which is an MS symptom for some people. 

Drinks with aspartame (which is an artificial, non-saccharide sweetener used as a sugar substitute in some foods and beverages.  In the European Union, it is codified as E951, caffeine and alcohol can irritate the bladder and therefore those that experience bladder-related issues with their MS are best to avoid these drinks.

So a varied, well-balanced, low-fat, high-fiber diet with lean protein, whole grain and low sugar that contains the three major antioxidant vitamins (which are beta-carotene, vitamin C, and viramin E) is recommended.  That shouldn't be too difficult!  Beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E can be found in colorful fruits and vegetables, especially those with purple, blue, red, orange, and yellow hues:

Beta-carotene and other carotenoids:apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, green peppers, kale, mangoes, turnip and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon;

Vitamin C: berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, kiwi, mango, nectarine, orange, papaya, snow peas, sweet potato, strawberries, tomatoes, and red, green, or yellow peppers;

Vitamin E: broccoli, carrots, chard, mustard and turnip greens, mangoes, nuts, papaya, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach, and sunflower seeds;

Antioxidants are important.  I'm not exactly sure how, as that is all 'science' but antioxidants are chemicals that block the activity of other chemicals known as 'free radicals' and 'free radicals' have the potential to cause damage to cells.

It is now suggested that eating five or six smaller meals throughout the day, or adopting a 'grazing' approach may be better for your health and weight management and metabolism rather than eating the recommended 'three square meals' a day i.e. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, as it is easier to maintain blood sugar levels; which ensures energy levels are stable.  Most people will recognise that hunger and blood-sugar levels affect our mood.

So moderation is probably the key.  A little bit of what you fancy probably does do you good. But, there is room for alternative arguments and more research in the future.

Friday, 1 August 2014


Everyone gets grumpy now and then, everyone sulks.  Everyone gets irritable, ill-tempered and grouchy.  Everyone gets in a bad mood, gets snappy, unpleasant and cross.  Everyone experiences an unhappy mood. Everyone gets sad.  Feels lonely.  Feels miserable.  Feels gloomy.  I simply can't be the only one?  I know that I am not; I know that I am not the only one and I know that I am not alone.  I know that when I am in pain I don't want to communicate. I want to grab my cat and lock myself away. I find it difficult to sustain interaction when I am in pain. This isn't necessarily the best way to cope. I'm sorry.

So, I have just signed up for #100HappyDays. This is an initiative of the Random Acts of Kindness (#RAK) Foundation.  What a fantastic idea. Let's give this a go. Let's be HAPPY.  A number of my friends have signed up for this with me, so we can encourage each other and share the happy.

"We live in times when super-busy schedules have become something to boast about. While the speed of life increases, there is less and less time to enjoy the moment that you are in. The ability to appreciate the moment, the environment and yourself in it is the base for the bridge towards long-term happiness of any human being. we need to be reminded to take joy and take pleasure from the small things. And in doing so, we may discover that these things are not so small after all.  These are in fact the big things."

Apparently, "71% of people tried to complete this challenge, but failed quoting lack of time as the main reason". These people simply did not have time to be happy. Do you have time to be happy? Are you prepared to make time to be happy?

"The idea is simple.  The idea is to every day submit a picture of what made you happy!"

"It can be anything from a meet-up with a friend to a very tasty cake in the nearby coffee place, from a feeling of being at home after a hard day to a favor you did to a stranger."  Your favourite beer or favourite fabric softner on special offer at the SuperMarket.  A cuddle with the cat, or watching your favourite TV Show or a piece of music played on the radio and a photo that captures that moment. A snap-shot of a moment that captures; that truly captures the happy.

"It is important to remember that the #100happyday challenge is for you - not for anyone else. It is not a happiness competition or a showing off contest. If you try to please / make others jealous via your pictures - you lose without even starting. Same goes for cheating."  It is important to remember that happiness is not a competition.  Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy  This reminds me of the quote by Henry David Thoreau, (theAmerican author, poet, philosopher, historian, and leading various other things) which was on a card sent to me by a dear friend, “Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder...”

People successfully completing the challenge claimed to:
 - Start noticing what makes them happy every day;
 - Be in a better mood every day;
 - Start receiving more compliments from other people;
 - Realize how lucky they are to have the life they have;
 - Become more optimistic;
 - Fall in love during the challenge.

Even when the challenge is over the collected 100 happy moments can always remind you about the beauty of your life. I think that that is something worth finding the time to do. more information.