Hurray! We’ve made it all the way to Summer. As we train all year round Summer training brings its own challenges. It is not in fact everyone’s favourite time for training. The heat gets to some, then there are the allergies, the quest for a tan, the food-filled lazy days of family holidays. Fear not, here’s how you can get the most out of our British Summer and max your Kung Fu and Tai Chi skills.
Use the heat
Joints and tendons are softened in the warm weather, so generally stretching is less, well, stretching. In this weather it is usually easier to raise your core temperature without a prolonged warmup. The warmth also makes us less tense, and our bodies more relaxed. This softer feeling of wellbeing is fantastic for Tai Chi practice, so use your winter strength to power those supple legs for fantastic dynamic stances. And you can now drop that Kung Fu Horse Stance lower than ever.
But don’t overheat – hydrate
As the weather warms up the heat can become a challenge – the more aerobic endurance training we do at this time is exhilarating but can leave you panting. It is important not to overheat, but allow your body’s natural cooling mechanisms to function. Staying hydrated for a 1 hour lesson should not be too difficult as long as you don’t arrive at class after a day at work with endless cups of coffee and no water. So be aware of how much hydrating fluids you are taking in during the day. This is also a good idea if you don’t want to down a litre of water one hour before class and then get stuck on the Tube needing the loo! So pace yourself.
Air con for summer training?
We don’t generally use training halls with air conditioning. Air con feels quite nice to start with, and you don’t feel so sweaty (as the drier air helps with evaporation). But the atmosphere rapidly becomes nasty to breathe, and the contrast with the outside temperature confuses your muscles and tendons. Hence we prefer open windows and doors with a through flow of fresh air. This is healthier for your breathing apparatus, but you may want to pack a towel for that sweaty racehorse rubdown you’ll need at the end of class.
Feeling the burn? Use protection
Hoping to show off your [undoubtedly awesome] physique? This is definitely the time to do it – but beware! Sunburn is bad for your training. Uncomfortable? Yes. Painful? Yes – but that’s not why it’s bad. Sunburn diverts your blood supply away from your muscles to your skin. If you try to train you will feel weakened and find it difficult to sustain your usual level of power, not to mention overheat. Sunburn is an injury, and the damage caused can have long-lasting consequences past not being able to sweat out the heat of all those sit-ups you are about to do before posing for your adoring fans. Athletes are constantly being warned about sunburn by their coaches, and if it’s true for their decidedly amazing physiques then it’s true for you.
So either save the physique for the selfies, stay in the shade, or use the correct level of sun screen protection.
Now this one is a real downer and the worst thing about summer for some people. We have plenty of people with hay fever who train with us, and they are only too willing to swap symptoms and remedies. Things that work for some are; salty nasal sprays, eye misters, eating local honey (needs to be all year round to stand a chance of helping you in the Summer), and herbal remedies based on summer meadow grasses and flowers. At least the classes are indoors…
The other “h” – Holidays
Ahhh, time for a well-earned break, with family and/or friends. You can make a decision here – do you want to train on your holidays or not? Not everyone has the same answer. Many students find it too long to go without strenuous physical activity. If young children are included in your holiday plans then they tend to provide a ready-made energetic solution. If not, then what do you want to do? You look and feel fit after all your Tai Chi and Kung Fu training. Will it all slip if you take a break? You may be surprised to hear that this is a win-win. If you do some physical training on holiday you’ll come back with your fitness intact .Win. If you don’t your Instructor will take one look at you and ensure that fitness is quickly restored. Win. See? Win-Win!
Use the light
Every year we think that the days will just keep getting longer and longer, but mid-summer is nearly upon us and then the nights start drawing slowly in. Maybe you are as busy at work as ever but the soft dawns of Summer are there to be savoured if you can get up early, especially if you have outside space to enjoy. Practising Ba Gua or Tai Chi early in the mornings with the birds going crazy all around you is not something that everyone has experienced – but why shouldn’t you? There is an early morning Summer energy before any heat or the disappointment of grey clouds and (whisper it) rain that is a benefit of living this far North of the Equator. Poets have written eloquent paeans to the dawn* – this is where you share their ecstasy.
And then there is the joy of twilight, as the heat fades from the day, the sky purples over and the blazing disc drops through gauzy clouds….Ah sunset over Clapham Junction, I remember it well. It makes you feel like you will live forever, even after two hours of deep stance training and the fastest Lower Crane Blocks this side of the Orient.
A brief mention of D in “sunlight”
Whilst avoiding sunburn, give a thought to your Vitamin D levels. Low levels of Vitamin D can apparently cause muscle weakness, which is why athletes take supplements (a contentious issue). I suggest you try using that as an excuse next time your Instructor challenges your punching power (Disclaimer: I accept no liability for the outcome of using this as an excuse for being a bit feeble). So don’t forget to power up with some safe sun exposure – and if you want to scare yourself about what low Vitamin D levels can do try reading what NHS London has to say on their “Are you getting enough sunshine vitamin?” page.
Okay, so sometimes the Summer vanishes to be replaced by one of the other seasons
Well, perfect time to get back into class and avoid that horrible weather, no? The exercise endorphins will see you through to the next sunny day.
You didn’t think we’d forget about food did you?
Now what you eat is up to you, but…there is a glut of fresh local foods available, fruits and vegetables that are just waiting for their opportunity to leap onto your plate and offer up their goodness. In general, traditional Chinese families do not eat raw vegetables, preferring light cooking to break open the cellular structures.
A modern method of achieving the same effect is to blend (like juicing but with all the fruit/vegetable left in) or you can just chew your salads really really well. Maybe save the tropical fruits for winter and gorge on the freshly picked, nutrient-rich strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, beetroot? And if you’re feeling really adventurous, learn how to make jam – our forebears’ method of preserving fruits for the winter and a major source of Vitamin C. On a December morning there is nothing like opening a jar of your own blackcurrant jam, and slathering it on hot, buttered toast – the aroma will take you right back to here.
*Maybe a little Keats?:
For ’twas the morn: Apollo’s upward fire
Made every eastern cloud a silvery pyre
Of brightness so unsullied, that therein
A melancholy spirit well might win
Oblivion, and melt out his essence fine
Into the winds
Endymion – Book 1
or try this Jack Kerouac haiku:
in the dark
Paean might be overstating it for Mr Kerouac, but Mr Keats seems enthusiastic enough….
Text and photos by Instructor Sharon Ngo (apart from the poems, obviously – pedants everywhere)