My Father’s Beauty Secret

Do you want firm, young skin, especially around the face and neck?  Today, I’m going to share with you my father’s BEAUTY SECRET!  I’m not guaranteeing anything, but the results are amazing, so I recommend you try it.   

Every morning, my father exercised in our yard, visible to anyone.  He practiced tai qi.  But before he practiced tai qi, he exercised his entire face.  

  • If you’re ready to begin, stand still and begin moving all of your facial muscles  – your mouth, cheeks, forehead and jaw – to the right, to the left, up and down and basically all around.  Don’t hold back.  Remember, the whole point is to exercise every single muscle in your face.  
  • Simultaneously, begin blinking your eyes.  
  • Once you have a good rhythm going, your lips should be moving in and out (imagine a fish) but with the entire jaw moving around (mine moves to the right, clockwise).  It’s ok if the mouth movements are a bit jerky.  Your nose should also naturally scrunch up and down.  The jaw movement will also exercise the muscles in your neck.
  • Continue doing this for several minutes.  
  • To end the exercise, clack your teeth together (but gently) at least 20 times with your entire face still in motion.  This will have the effect of you looking like you’re smiling and then not smiling, smiling, not smiling, with all teeth bared when smiling.  (When I asked my father why he had to do this, he said this part had the added plus of making your teeth stronger.) 

Now, I admit, this looks a bit odd, and for those of you who have children or pets, you may want to remove them from the premises so as not to scare them.  But forget about how you look for about 5 minutes a day, and you’ll end up looking great. Honestly, my father’s skin is still nice and tight, and he’s in his eighties.  It’s true he also has very strong teeth, and they’re all his own.  

Ladies, if you practice this regularly, you can forget about many of your expensive facial creams.  All jokes aside, you’ll not only look great, you’ll also end up saving a ton of money. 

A Passage from Lao Tzu about Simplicity

On my way to work the other day, I found myself thinking of this passage from Lao Tzu which I have always liked:

The five colours blind the eye.
The five tones deafen the ear.
The five flavours cloy the palate.
Racing and hunting madden the mind.
Rare goods tempt men to do wrong.

Therefore, the Sage takes care of the belly, not the eye.
He prefers what is within to what is without.
*

In this passage, Lao Tzu tries to tell us that too many distractions can lead us astray from living simply. 

To live simply means that we get rid of things that “muddy” our lives and make us feel confused and less peaceful.   Too many desires or too much desire can make it easy for us to get carried away or become disappointed.  But when things are simple, we can find happiness from “what is within” rather than “what is without.” Simplicity allows us to enjoy the smallest things in the present moment.  If our minds are too busy, it’s difficult to enjoy the taste of tea or whatever is in front of us.  We’re too busy thinking of what we need to do or, perhaps, regretful of what we didn’t do.

My father told me that there are two kinds of happiness.  One is when we forget ourselves because we are caught up in excitement (as when we attend a rock concert), and one is when we forget ourselves because we feel peaceful.  The difference between the two, he said, is that when we feel excited, it tends to be fleeting, but a feeling of peacefulness tends to be longer lasting.

Now, if there is too much disorder around us, we may first have to get rid of the chaos in our environment.  Some people choose to leave their environment and take great risks in doing so.  When our environment is not orderly or is full of ups and downs, we spend a lot of time and energy worrying about our health and our safety, and it drains us of energy.  If basic necessities like food and shelter cannot be met, then it is indeed difficult.  Once our environment is more stable, our bodies and minds can relax.

To live simply means that there is order.  Orderliness allows us to see more clearly. Our rooms, for example, become messy if we don’t clean them regularly.  Then we often can’t find what we are looking for and can feel easily overwhelmed, tired and frustrated.  It’s easy to say, I’ll clean later, but later, the rooms are just as messy.  But if we start putting away one thing at a time, then we arrive at a sense of order.  We may have to take a little time every day to keep the rooms neat, but, in the end, cleanliness and neatness give us a sense of calm.  The less things you have, the easier it is.

Keeping one’s mind simple is like cleaning a room.  All sorts of thoughts and worries pile up in our minds that can make us feel heavy and tired.  We may be too self-critical or worry too much about what other people think instead of accepting what is and what we have to work with and stop blaming ourselves or other people.  We may feel we don’t know where to start or how to deal with things we have to face.  Some people try to escape reality through drugs and alcohol or other ways which don’t help their problems go away and can make things worse.

To get rid of “noise,” some people close their eyes, even for brief moments.  Some people listen to music.  Others read or knit.  Whatever we are doing, when we are able to shut out more outside distractions for a period of time, we can feel more peaceful.  Our minds aren’t so busy.  We don’t need to feel bombarded or care much about what other people are thinking or doing. 

When we can empty our minds, we don’t worry.  We can actually see more of our surroundings without feeling “pushed” this way or that.  We can see more without being judgmental about ourselves or others or situations.  We can then focus better on what we do.

So every day, I try to set aside some quiet time for myself.  This helps keep me healthy and gives me a sense of peacefulness without drugs, alcohol, or feeling like I need something to numb myself to be happy.  During my quiet time, I read, write, draw and do something I enjoy.  Or I can do nothing at all.  This doesn’t mean the bills I have to pay will go away.  It means simply that I give myself some time to rest and to relax.  Then, when I have to face the things I have to do, I feel I have more energy. 

In the morning, we get up, brush our teeth, get dressed.  We work, eat and go to sleep at regular times. Our bodies exercise and empty themselves of waste.  It’s equally important to give the mind activity, rest and empty the mind of waste.  The simpler and more regular our daily routines are, the healthier and better we tend to be.  The more things we have to juggle, the more difficult it is to keep ourselves balanced. And when our routines become disrupted, it can make us feel very unsettled and usually take us some time to regain a sense of order again.

Now, while I was walking to work last week one day, I felt rushed.  My head was very busy and full of congestion.  Suddenly, I said to myself, Stop thinking.  Just walk. Whenever a thought came into my head, I repeated this exercise, and one thought after the other would appear and disappear until I was just walking.  I felt lighter.  I no longer felt rushed.  I just walked and rode the subway, and by the time I got to work, I was smiling inside.  

When I was little, I once remarked to my father, “Dad, you never take a vacation.” He replied, “I take vacation every day when I drink tea.”  Now, when he drank his tea, he wanted to be alone, and he wanted quiet.  He did this every night.  I asked him why he wanted to be alone and quiet when he drank his tea.  He said, “Because I meditate.”  

At that time, I didn’t understand what he meant.  But today, it is one of the most beautiful lessons he taught me – that if I care to live simply and take a little time to clean out the busy thoughts that are in my head and give my mind some rest – if I can learn to enjoy tea without any expectations of myself or others and just enjoy quiet – I can take a vacation every day.

*Translation from the Tao Teh Ching by John C.H. Wu (Shambhala Dragon Editions)

Why Respecting the Elderly is So Important

From the youngest age, I was taught to respect those who were “older” than I was, and this “rule” or tenet was very curious to me.  Why should I show respect to someone simply because they are older, even if I didn’t know anything about them and especially if didn’t particularly like them?  This is a cultural tenet that is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture and in many other cultures.  

When I visited China in my early 20’s, I saw something that has stuck vividly in my mind ever since –  the parks were filled with old people who seemed happy and content. They were exercising, playing chess, playing instruments, singing opera… Some were just sitting there, watching or chatting.  They didn’t particularly pay much attention to me as a foreigner because they were ok with whatever they were doing and enjoying the moment.  It led me to think hard about why old people in America seemed so much more isolated and lonely (at least, that was my impression at the time and still is in many ways).

To be happy, most of us need to be active and need social interaction.  As human beings, we recognize that other people are ourselves in some way – whether they are of a different race, a different color, a different culture, young or old.  But when it comes to old people, many of us shy away because we don’t want to see ourselves getting old, losing our physical strength and beauty and losing certain abilities to do what we did before.  It may feel more inviting to want to take care of a child because you can influence their growth and because they are naturally less inhibited and new to many experiences.  But I feel lucky every time I meet an old person.  It doesn’t matter if they are set in their ways or old or crabby.  And whatever their stories may be, they have something to share and to give, pieces of wisdom and of life.  

We all have difficulties.  But when we are young, we feel invulnerable. We know that we are physically fit and beautiful and have our whole lives ahead of us.  And then, as we grow older, we realize that our parents are visibly growing older.  We also realize that our parents have made mistakes.  They’re not invulnerable.  We may feel angry and disappointed when we realize that our parents are not the perfect people who we wish them to be and that they have a lot of say in our lives.  We also recognize, on some level that someday we will also be old, and, for many, find ourselves confronting our own emotions about our parents and about ourselves when we have children.  And some of us may had to confront our mortality, disabilities or limitations for other reasons.

I have met many old people who have very rich lives, whether they are rich or poor.  It is true that many of them struggle with loss of hearing or sight or have difficulty carrying their groceries, simple things that a lot of us take for granted.  Some of them reminisce a great deal about the past.  But their past and present is important.   I will tell you why – old people have lived and survived.  They have witnessed a great deal of change, whether in the larger world or on personal levels.  They have experienced many joys and disappointments, and they remain, in spirit, young and timeless. Despite their physical limitations, they are, in many ways, more accepting and wiser and have something to teach us.  

Perhaps you have observed that older people often become more childlike.   Sometimes they have less control of their emotions.  In some ways, they become like children again. I have observed grandparents with their grandchildren, and, often, it seems to me that grandparents are much more free in spirit and less uptight than the child’s parents. They care less about other people’s opinions.   They have learned to accept on many levels what simply happens in life – past, future and present – and recognize that the world changes, people change, in whatever way, that their parents and friends grow old and sometimes die.  And if you listen – they all have incredible stories to tell.  

But why is this important to us?  We can learn from older people’s stories and spirits so that we can recognize and become more accepting of change and that change in our lives is inevitable.  Most old people have worked very hard.  Many have sacrificed for their children. They have suffered, for better or for worse.  But if we don’t respect the elderly, in many instances, many feel their lives are empty and unimportant which also has an impact on their physical and emotional health and on our society. Isn’t it better if we help take care of the elderly so that they can continue to feel valued, stay healthier, share their wisdom, stories and spirit?  To do this, it is important to help people as they grow older.  We all need help during our lives but especially as we find our capacities diminished.  

In China and other cultures which place an emphasis on respecting older people (as opposed with American culture which tends to glorify youth), this respect for the elderly gives them a sense of well-being and makes for a more beautiful, rich and happier society.  When a person has a sense of respect and well-being in society, it makes everyone else around them feel good, whether you are young or old.   When I saw the old people in the parks, I was amazed and felt hopeful and good.  

I have to come to the conclusion that older people in China receive a great deal more respect from society (along with other factors, such as continuing to be an integral part of their children’s lives), and this respect helps make them feel less marginalized and healthy in all ways.  Unfortunately, for many elderly, this sense of well-being, which is good for all of society, is threatened in the face of the fast-paced demands of modernized society.  (Here is a link on the increased rates of suicides amongst the elderly in South Korea due to modernization.   I want to emphasize, by the way, that I don’t mean to post this out of any disrespect for Korean culture.  Much of the same is happening in China and elsewhere in the world where people are facing similar challenges.)  

Old people are often stubborn and often don’t want to accept help.  But it’s our responsibility to be proactive and take care of them because they have taken care of us. And for ourselves, in our old age (which someday, hopefully, you will be lucky to experience), as stubborn and independent as you may be, wouldn’t you feel healthier and better if you knew people respected you as an important part of society, for what you have given and can continue to give?  This helps elderly people to remain healthy and productive.  And this helps all of us.

In practice, this only means that we spend more time with elderly people.  That’s all it takes.  And society, not to mention our own persons, is better off because of it.

Speed painting of Roger Federer!

I have watched this video so many times over the years, and it never ceases to amaze me.  

The spontaneity and freedom as a joyous process is so apparent, as well as the the process of having learned to pare down to the essential.  The seemingly effortlessness and simplicity with which the artist creates the piece brings up in my mind the essence of Taoism or “going with the flow.”   (Well, I think it takes a lot of work for most people to get to this point.)  

Three other things come to mind:  1) How do we perceive? (Blanchard is painting a large canvass where he cannot see the whole picture),  2) the process of creating and being, and 3) I bet this keeps the “old” man healthy in mind, body and spirit.  

Enjoy!

Simple and Easy Tai Qi Exercise

(For an idea of the general movement and posture below, please click here.  The movement is at the very beginning of the video with slight variation and without hands falling down to the sides.  At any rate, an excellent video to watch tai qi practice.)

This exercise is very simple and helps you feel good in moments.  You can do this anywhere – in your office, the elevator, the kitchen, wherever you are – when you want a bit of a refresher, but if you’re afraid people will think you’re strange (or stranger than you already are), you can do this exercise also in the privacy of a bathroom stall. 🙂

  1. Stand with feet apart at hips’ width, with feet parallel to each other.  (You may feel a bit pidgeon-toed).
  2. Relax your knees so they are just slightly bent.  (Don’t worry if your knees shake a little when you first do this).
  3. Feel the balls of your feet on the ground.
  4. Hands should be relaxed by your side.
  5. Imagine the top of your head being held by a string, while you feel the balls of your feet on the ground.  Your body should now be in a relaxed, balanced posture, grounded to the earth and yet feeling light on top.  If you find yourself leaning forward or backward, adjust your body so it feels relaxed, almost as if you are sitting on a stool, with knees slightly bent.
  6. Take several moments in this position to breathe.  When you breathe, you should feel your abdomen expanding slightly and that the center of your breathing is coming from your lower abdomen (and not your chest).
  7. Now, begin to raise both of your arms up slowly from the side, palms facing down, wrists and elbows very relaxed so that they naturally bend as you move your arms upward, until your elbows reach chest height and your hands (with wrists bent forward) are at about face height.  In this position, you will look a bit as if you are a cricket with elbows bent at around a 45 degree angle.
  8. Point your fingers out just a little (without being rigid) and begin to draw your hands in slowly towards you, as if they are gliding on air.  When you do this, your elbows should bend also so that your hands and arms should move towards you in a slightly arced motion.   
  9. As you draw your hands and arms inwards, your forearms will soon reach a vertical position to your body, your wrists bent naturally forward (as if you could shake them).  Now, raise your hands up from your wrists, fingers naturally spread apart, and with palms, facing outwards, slowly allow your hands and arms to glide gently down as in a waterfall towards the sides of your body. 
  10. When your hands have reached the front of your hips, your palms should be slightly horizontal to the ground.  Allow your hands to drop gently to the side of your hips so that you are back to your original starting position.  Pause for a few moments.  Feel your posture.  Breathe. Relax.

You can do this exercise more than once (by repeating steps 7-10).  Don’t rush or hurry.  Even though your legs have not moved in this position, your thighs may feel a bit sore from the weight of gravity, which is normal.  When you have gone through these steps several times, all the movements of your arms and upper body in this position end up in one continuous flow.

What is Qi?

qi

Traditional Chinese character for qi

The concept of qi plays a central role in Chinese culture, traditional Chinese medicine and the martial arts. According to traditional Chinese medicine, people often fall ill because qi becomes unbalanced or gets blocked in the body and does not flow well. Acupuncture, massage, the administration of herbs and other medicinal techniques are aimed at helping to restore the balance and flow of qi.  In the martial arts (also known as gong fu), one’s qi can be cultivated through training of mind and body, leading to agility, strength, stamina and increased awareness and longevity.

Tai qi (or tai qi quan)* is one form of Chinese martial arts which has become popularly practiced around the world due to its purported health benefits.  It emphasizes bringing qi into balance through focus on a systematic coordination of postures and breathing exercises.  You may have seen people practicing tai qi in the parks, their mind and bodies engaged in a series of slow, circular movements as in a dance.  In China, millions of people, young and old, practice tai qi or qi gong** daily in the parks or public squares.  At many workplaces, people gather together and start off their day by practicing tai qi or qi gong exercises.  Tai qi and qi gong have been known to help improve physical coordination, stamina, strength and flexibility, improve circulation, as well as help bring about improved emotional health and a sense of calm and clarity.  In relaxed movement, our minds also relax.  This is why many people refer to tai qi as meditation in movement or as mindfulness in motion.

Qi is also the underlying concept in feng shui 风水 [fēngshuǐ], which is literally translated as the words, “wind, water,” and, in ancient times, literally meant “the Tao of heaven and earth.”  Feng shui attempts to bring about balance in qi as it relates to our environment and surroundings and is believed to impart good health and fortune.  As a simplified example, we can position ourselves in light and space to feel good.  We know, for example, that a dark, cramped room doesn’t make us feel as good as being in a bright and open space.  

In the end, I don’t have a good answer for what qi is.  To me, it is the energy we receive and project.  Applied, it is the practice of bringing about balance and harmony with all things around and within us.  Children are full of “good” qi because they are natural and in harmony with themselves.   When we grow up and become adults, however, we tend to find many conflicts inside and outside ourselves due to our environment and experiences.   Application of a basic understanding of qi can help bring about a greater sense of harmony, lower stress, increase positive energy and allow us to become more vibrant.  

Here are a few ways to practice this in our daily lives:  

  • Eat and drink in moderation.  It is good to have the belly half-full and not until you feel stuffed.  Chew slowly.  Enjoy the flavor and texture of the food you are eating.  Also, try to keep a balanced diet and avoid eating fast food or eating too many processed foods (eating processed foods adds strain on your liver).
  • Sit and stand relaxed and comfortably.  Try not to slouch and maintain good posture.  This does not mean you need to force yourself to be rigid and straight! Enjoy silence, and feel yourself and your surroundings.
  • Try to go to bed early, if possible, and get regular sleep.  Our bodies go through processes throughout the day at regular, natural intervals, usually in 24 hour cycles,  These include changes in melatonin secretion, body temperature and bowels, as well as others.  In the West, we call these “circadian rhythms.”  In Chinese medicine, regular sleep cycles and deep sleep cycles should coincide with the Chinese clock or calendar (based on the movement of the sun, moon, stars and planets) to help increase kidney and liver functions, aid in digestion, as well as to help keep hormones in balance.
  • Keep your home clean and organized.  This gives us sense of peacefulness and helps reduce chaos around us and within us.
  • Try not to rush through tasks.  When you wash the dishes, feel the warm water and the bubble suds.  Or when you fold clothes, be aware of the smell of the clothes and the warmth of the cloths.  When you do each task, be aware of your body and your senses as you are doing it.  This is called mindfulness.
  • Try not to expose yourself to unhealthy or polluted situations.  If something does not feel good or feels uncomfortable, try to remove yourself from it or pull back.  Enjoy nature as often as possible.
  • Exercise regularly.  We all know that exercise is good for our health.  If you have some physical limitations like arthritis, try to take daily walks which is not as stressful on the bones and ligaments and can be very therapeutic for both mind and body.
  • Watch less tv.  Watching tv can be relaxing, but it is completely passive.  If you take half an hour out of watching tv every day to enjoy tea, take a walk or do almost anything where you can practice mindfulness, you may find not only that you feel better but that you also tend to get more done.
  • When it comes to work, don’t push yourself too hard so that your work feels painful.  If you stare at the screen too long, your eyes will become tired.  Turn off your screen or look away and take a break.  Look out the window and see the trees, animals, buildings, or whatever catches your imagination so that you temporarily remove yourself from the hustle and bustle around you.  If you learn to take these few moments to relax, you will find yourself able to focus longer.
  • Don’t think too hard.  Go with the flow.
  • Finally, try to keep life simple.  This is easier said than done, but with practice, you can learn to brush away distractions and see that many things are not as important as you thought.  Meditation and practicing mindfulness can help you to achieve this. My father once told me, keeping your life simple is like polishing a mirror.  If you don’t polish the mirror regularly, the mirror becomes dirty.  At some point, without regular cleaning, it will take more work to be able to see clearly.  Start by taking an effort to slow down.  Stop what you are doing and take 15-20 deep breaths.  At first, for many people, this may feel difficult because we are so caught up in rushing and doing things without being aware of our bodies and ourselves in our environment.  Feel your body from head to toe.  Be aware of the silence in and around your body.  Practice this once or twice a day.
  • Even if it is just one thing out of many things you do every day, try to do it mindfully.

*Note: the Chinese character for qi [jí] in tai qi is actually different from the character, qi, as we have discussed in this piece, and means “supreme” or “ultimate.”  Tai qi quan can be translated as “ultimate supreme fist” or “ultimate supreme boxing.”   

** Qi Gong (气功 [qìgōng]) uses the same basic principles as tai qi and plays an important role in tai qi training.     

The Game of Mahjong

MahjongI look at the tiles in front of me, 16 in all, arranged in a straight line like Scrabble tiles. The type of mahjong I like to play is a bit like Rummy 500. You either create sets of three of the same suit in linear numbers (like having a 7, 8, and 9 of spades) or sets of three or four tiles of the same number or character (like having 3 or 4 aces). The tiles are big and thick, like little bricks. They have weight. There are four players at the square table, and each of them has a wall of bricks in front of them – two layers of tiles, arranged face-down in a long, horizontal row.

Chinese people love to play mahjong. It’s a a lot like playing cards but with tiles. There are so many different games you can play, but the most popular ones I know of are ones with 13 or 16 tiles in a hand.  The one with 13 tiles is a bit more difficult and takes more thought. With each one, of course, there’s always an element of luck involved because you never know what tile you’re going to pick. Everybody starts by first deciding how much money each point will be worth. Then eight arms stretch out towards the table, and you hear that kwala, kwala! sound of the mahjong tiles being shuffled in circular motions. Each person constructs his or her own wall (this is all done very quickly), and the game begins.

After I have picked my 16 tiles, I start arranging them in order, usually by the same suit. No one else can see my hand.  There are three suits – sticks, numbers and biscuits, and then there are a full set of three characters, which can be considered another suit. There are often two or more tiles that go together, like 3 and 4 of sticks.  I may have one 3 stick and two 4 sticks, which means I have 3 possible sets I could make (2, 3, 4 of sticks, or 3, 4, 5 of sticks or 4, 4, 4 of sticks), depending on whether someone else throws out the third tile to make my set. If someone throws out the right card, I yell out, “Peng! (hit!)” or “Chi! (eat!),” and everyone stops as I reach out to take the tile which I then match up with the pair from my hand. I then lay the entire set on the table in front of me for everyone to see.

Now, when people yell out “Peng!” or “Chi!” everyone gets very excited. You start watching as one set, then two, then three, start appearing on the table. As a person lays out more sets, they end up with less and less tiles in their hand. Other people around the table start to lean forward to examine the tiles on the table more closely, and you start hearing rumbles of, “Watch out!” or “Be careful…” or “Don’t fang pao! (don’t lose, or, figuratively, don’t blow the cannon!) Just because a person has many sets in front of them doesn’t mean they’re going to win. If you pick a tile that completes a set in your own hand, you don’t have to lay it out for everyone else to see. And sometimes, you can win without having Peng’ed! or Chi’ed! a single time. 

Each person takes turns in leading a hand in the game, and each hand takes about 5-15 minutes. As the minutes tick by, people start getting more and more alert because every person is completing their sets. Eyes start darting. Sometimes, the winning hand comes as a total surprise. 

When you win, you yell out, “Hu le!!” (won!) usually with a great deal of excitement on your face, and everyone else’s faces get excited, too. No one wants to throw out the losing tile because if you do, you have to pay money to the person who won. The person who throws out the losing card usually lets out an expression of their own and starts reaching for their stash of money which is now about to get a little smaller. Now, every so often, a person yells out, “Zi mo!” (self grab!), and this gets everyone very excited because it means that the person who zi mo’ed was lucky enough to pick his or her own winning tile. When someone zi mo’s, every person at the table has to pay the winner (and zi mo is worth an extra point, so the winner usually gets paid more than triple).

Taking the lead goes around in a circle to the left. A complete game goes for four rounds and usually takes 2 hours. In between rounds, some people get up and drink tea or go to the bathroom or get a bite to eat. It’s time to take a break. Oftentimes, when friends come over, people play two games in one afternoon or evening.

The money isn’t the reason people play, usually. There are, of course, many who play mahjong to gamble. But as a social game, the money’s just something that makes things a bit more exciting. If each person starts out with $10 in their purse, you could end up winning something like several dollars to $20 for the night (or lose a similar amount), depending upon how much everyone has agreed each point is worth. Some winning hands have a lot of points, and some hands have only very few points.  

During hands, people chat a bit and talk about their friends, families or whatever it is that they want to share. It’s not a quiet game like poker. There’s lots of Aiyas! (when someone has made a mistake) or Zhenmebang’s (What do I do’s? when people are wondering what their next move will be). Sometimes, people even slam down a tile onto the table in their excitement. There’s a lot of laughing (usually coming from the winners, but sometimes also from the losers or anyone else). It’s loud, from the tiles to the expressions. And then there are the frequent moments of silence in between, when people are concentrating or waiting, or when everyone is holding their breath to see what tile is coming out next onto the table.

In China and elsewhere, many older people like to play mahjong, and it’s very common for people to play mahjong in elderly homes and in the parks. They say that it keeps their brains nimble and helps to fend off dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. It makes sense, in a way. Mahjong doesn’t require too much thought (like Chinese chess), but it keeps you on your toes. For each new hand, you physically have to stretch out your arms and move them around in circular motions to shuffle, and then you have to reach out to get the tiles to build your wall. You have to stretch out your arm each time you pick up a tile or throw one out. And you usually sit up straight when you play. So mahjong is physically good for you, too. You end up chatting and laughing and making all kinds of expressions throughout the game. When you add all these things together, no wonder many people think mahjong is healthy for mind, body and spirit.

If you win, that’s even better. You can treat your friends, perhaps, or just keep your winnings in your pocket. But by the end of the evening, everyone usually leaves satisfied, knowing they just had a good time.