Frequently Asked Questions

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Anatomy and Physiology

Strength & Power are terms used to describe the capacity to have an effect or perform work. Physical strength can be distinguished from Strength of Materials. In our training, Structure is the best word for the kind of power generation that reinforces good posture.  The tensegrity model and anatomy trains provide valid physiological context. Benefits of cultivating and refining ones structure can include:

  • Balance - Refined awareness of the alignment with gravity results in exquisite balance.
  • Endurance - Awareness of structure, rather than effect. when moving results in greatly improved use of self. An efficient movement uses less energy.
  • Pain relief - Better structure means the body can move naturally and drop unnecessary habitual tensions.
  • Profound Relaxation - This is a state of relaxation as your baseline condition, rather than an exceptional, fleeting, or occasional feeling.
  • Resiliency - Injuries are lessened as the body is well knitted together.

As you move along the curriculum, poor structural patterns are naturally replaced with better ones. Many benefits can then be realized.

fascia (/ˈfæʃə//ˈfæʃiə/; plural fasciae /ˈfæʃɨ.i/; adjective or fascial; from Latin: "band") is connective tissue fibers, primarily collagen, that form sheets or bands beneath the skin to attach, stabilize, enclose, and separate muscles and other internal organs.[1] Fasciae are classified according to their distinct layers, their functions and their anatomical location: superficial fasciadeep (or muscle) fascia, and visceral (or parietal) fascia.

Like ligamentsaponeuroses, and tendons, fasciae are dense regular connective tissues, containing closely packed bundles of collagen fibers oriented in a wavy pattern parallel to the direction of pull. Fasciae are consequently flexible structures able to resist great unidirectional tension forces until the wavy pattern of fibers has been straightened out by the pulling force. These collagen fibers are produced by the fibroblasts located within the fascia.[1]

Fasciae are similar to ligaments and tendons as they have collagen as their major component. They differ in their location and function: ligaments join one bone to another bone, tendons join muscle to bone and fasciae surround muscles or other structures.

Wikipedia entry Fascia

Anatomy Trains - Fascia Overview -

Fascial Congress Video

Harvard Medical School Conf. Ctr.
October 2007

Click for the abstract.

Click for the
full presentation
(12min, 160MB).


Active fascial contractility: an in vitro mechanographic investigation

Schleip R et al., in: Findley TW & Schleip R (eds.), Fascia research – Basic science and implications for conventional and complementary health care. Elsevier Science, Munich 2007.


With immunohistological analysis we demonstrate the presence of myofibroblasts in normal human fasciae, particularly the
fascia lata, plantar fascia, and the lumbar fascia. Density was found to be highest in the lumbar fascia and seems to be positively related to physical activity. For in vitro contraction tests we suspended strips of lumbar fascia from rats in an organ bath and measured for responsiveness to potential contractile agonists.With the H1 antagonist mepyramine there were clear contractile responses; whereas the nitric oxide donator glyceryltrinitrate induced relaxation.The measured contraction forces are strong enough to impact upon musculoskeletal mechanics when assuming a similar contractility in vivo.

Full text (PDF) available here

The Spring-like Function of the Lumbar Fascia in Human Walking
Zorn A et al., in: Findley TW & Schleip R (eds.), Fascia research – Basic science and implications for conventional and complementary health care. Elsevier Science, Munich 2007 (plus video).

Although almost every person swings the arms and rotates the trunk in walking, the movement of arms and trunk in gait analysis are generally regarded as one inflexible passenger block serving no function in walking. We introduce the hypothesis that the clumbodorsal fascia acts as an elastic spring helping to propel the mass of the trunk forward.

We developed a model of a walking human body which included the legs, the pelvis, the back, the shoulders and the arms. We described the kinetics of this body using accurate mathematical treatment of applied mechanics. The legs are represented by invertedcpendulums. The pelvic and the shoulder girdle are represented by torsion pendulums and the arms by suspended pendulums. A crisscross arrangement of elastic springs acts as a model for the posterior layer of the lumbodorsal fascia (PLF) which is put under tension by the latissimus dorsi and the glutaeus maximus muscles, thus connecting diagonally the contralateral arm and leg pendulums, based on the anatomical findings from [2]. The PLF has an attachment at the trunk (spine) in the lumbar region. Anthropometric data were mainly taken from [3]. The two muscles were assumed to work isometrically, thus giving the LDF a pre-stretch as described in [1]. The elastic stiffness of the PLF in vivo is unknown – instead we used Young's modulus of human tendons. This set of interconnected oscillators in the gravity field was handled by formation of the appropriate Lagrange function. The obtained equation was solved numerically with Maple(TM) software. The time-dependent values of kinetic and potential energies during the cycle of movement were examined.

The lumbodorsal fascia, the latissimus dorsi and the glutaeus maximus muscle together form a continuous bowstring-like sling, being able to periodically exert a sagittal force helping to propel the mass of the trunk forward. Acting in this way, these two muscles (being the largest of the human body) can also do work in the normal walking movement in an efficient isometric way, in addition to the generally recognized triceps surae muscle. The values of the kinetic and potential energies during the stride cycle show a shift from pendulum to spring loading and back again. As such, the PLF acts as an active force transmitter.

In contrast to the traditional gait analysis, the pendulum action of the arms and the spring-like action of the lumbar fascia can have the potential to facilitate energetic efficiency in walking.

Here's some resources on understanding structure and your knees. Alignment is the most important principle to follow. The knee points at the centerline of the big toe of the foot. For the beginner, in a front stance, the front shin does not move past vertical. This limit must be respected when pushing or pulling.

Power will not pass safely through a knee that is out of alignment. The source of most knee pain is in the relationship betweent the hip and ankle, not the knee itself. A habitual misalignment, coupled with overtraining, will result in permanent damage to the joint.

Develop your awareness so that such misalignment does not occur. The Urban Retreat Center does not allow students to train improperly and damage themselves.

More about sports related knee injury from this article on Common Dance Injuries.

Getting started

Plex Media Server is used to deliver archived classes. Here's how to get access.

  1. You must be an 'Ongoing' student or have been personally invited by Sifu Kelley
  2. Go to and create a free web account, do not install a Plex Server (unless you want one). If you want more streaming options, sign up for their excellent PlexPass
  3. Contact me with the email address or username you provided to create the Plex account
  4. I will send you an invite via Plex
  5. Login and 'Launch' the web app. There's a big button
  6. Approve my invite
  7. Find your content. Look for a server called 'KG's Media'

Enjoy your training!

'Eating Bitter' refers to the effort and energy required to change your condition and is an important concept in authentic NeiJia methods. Instruction challenges you on many levels, without hard, bitter training you cannot come to know your limits, much less expand them. We eat bitter to taste sweet.

Fajin simply means 'Refined Force'. The question is, What is being 'refined'?

Training progresses from big movement, to small movement, to 'no movement'. The tendons must become strong and supple. Relaxation must be present in order to 'sink the chi' and for the bones to play their proper role. Fajin is the natural product of awareness and very specific internal conditioning.

Understanding the structure leads to relaxation, which leads to understanding the energy (chi). There are no shortcuts. To cultivate 'the energy' without a deep understanding of structure and relaxation, leads to 'artificial power'. Artificial power is easily defeated by natural power. This arises from the differences of the quality of the awareness produced by the differing training approaches.

We pursue wisdom as a lifelong process of self cultivation. To commit to this path is to commit to greatness.

As for how long it takes to manifest understanding, it depends on what you commit to the process. As a rule of thumb, three good practice sessions per week will enable reasonable progress. If you can only get two sessions in, you will maintain your level, but slip over time. Four sessions is best.

So much depends on how you define 'Proficiency'. Our training seeks to help you change your condition. Our methods are tools for refining the body, deepening your awareness and increasing concentration.

When refining, loosening or softening the body, progress can be easily measured in terms of range of movement, pain relief and raised energy levels. Structural accomplishment is similarly easy to quantify... you are much stronger.

Since measuring progress in awareness and concentration is so difficult, we endeavor to note the external manifestations or symptoms of such progress. This is why partner training is so essential. In solo training you may feel or believe that you've improved, but as soon as you touch another person, you know. Real skills grow from this knowing awareness.

Without the honest feedback provided by vigorous partner training, progress in self cultivation and self development is just talk and conjecture.

That having been said, a reasonable level of structural integration can be reached in three years of dilligent practice. You will notice immediately more relaxation and increased energy. Going beyond this, it's hard to say how long it will take since students are so different and have such wildly different expectations. Besides, it's the journey, not the destination. Try to manage your expectations keeping in mind the present moment. This is one important aspect of "Empty Cup, Beginners' Mind".

Ask yourself one question:

When all is practiced and perfected, will I want to be just like this teacher?"

Committing to a path of authentic self-cultivation requires a teacher. Sifu means teacher-father and is essential to true and full understanding. If you are on the fence about joining, consider that finding a good teacher is difficult is when you know nothing about your intended study. At the very least, try five different teachers from 5 different to learn enough to make an informed decision.

Over the years I have heard questions like this many times:

I do the form. Since joining, I can't do the form with the same shapes because it feels very disconnected. My form looks bad but it is starting to feel better. Why does it feel so disconnected?"

This is great news! Congratulations on being able to look deeper into your movement by applying Tai Chi principles and experiencing the beginnings of internal power. This is how we begin to change our mental reference. The body is always in the present, it's an illusion we hold that the mind can be aywhere but the present. A useful illusion, but an illusion nonetheless. Another way to look at this is the way a tool is not the task. Our movements, whether forms, drills or partner training, are the tools, the task is to be more in the present moment.

The classics refer to the relationship between formal movements and the internal feel as 'shape and secret' or 'posture and energy'. In outer door or public instruction the shape and the secret are not closely aligned. With inner door methods the shape and secret are as one. This is ok, but how to use this concept of shape and secret as a training tool?

The words 'shape and secret' refer more to a vague static condition and do not help us train better. Tai Chi energy is not static. The internal feel that arises from following Tai Chi principles is dynamic and constantly cycling through yin and yang. However, this still does not really help us to understand why our movement feels disconnected and how to be connected.

If we use the idea of posture and energy, rather than shape and secret, it becomes more clear what's going on in your practice. If the posture is correct, you can begin to feel the energy. If the posture is incorrect, the energy is obscured. We can safely assume that outer door methods are designed to deliberately protect the 'secret' or essential internal feel by using postures that do not align closely to the energy.

The are many reasons for obscuring this energy, to me it's simple:

  • When posture and energy align closely, changes occurs in perception. These changes cause agitation.
  • Teacher and outer door student have not agreed to the Sifu - Student relationship that can address this agitation.
  • Without the close guidance of Sifu, the agitation can cause harm.

The traditional outer door response from teacher is: "Just keep training, understanding and skill will come eventually." This is fine if you are willing to accept that 1 student out of 1000 will succeed. The outer door approach is fine if the student is not interested in deeper understanding, many are happy with the benefits of superficial practice. The level of committment required to successfully pursue inner door methods is very high. This is why outer door methodologies exist, nothing is wrong with this approach.

Inner door methods are for family members, it is not acceptable that the student 'not get it'. It's just not an option. The family member must receive the full, clear and precise understanding of shape and secret, posture and energy, or better still, action and quality.

I prefer to use the words 'posture and energy' and 'action and quality', rather than 'shape and secret'. Action means any movement. Quality means the fullness and completeness of the movement based on the internal feel. Clear language reliably leads to better training, high skill and deep understanding.

Our curriculum has many meditations, drills and exercises to help you change and, more importantly, understand why such change matters. Training for health or martial is really a question of emphasis. Both martial ability and health are byproducts of authentic training, not goals in themselves. Ultimately, we train for awareness and because we enjoy it.

Consider your health, if it's poor, you address the cause not the symptom. Martial ability and health are both symptoms of effective practice. Expectations of any outcome or end result limits your contact with the present moment and diminishes your ability to respond. Our method is to help you maintain awareness of the present moment. This applies to all of life, not only the training floor.

NeiGong means 'inside development' and QiGong exercises are a kind of NeiGong. Anyone can practice NeiGong. Authentic methods energize the body while calming the mind.

Benefits include:

  • Relaxation
  • Flexible Core Power
  • Increased Flexibility
  • Increased Concentraion
  • Increased Energy
  • Better Immune Function
  • Improved Digestion

The most important thing for a beginner to keep in mind about NeiGong is that the breath and movement are complimentary. Safe training using authentic methods follows a specific detailed process of progressive refinement. You will change if you train exactly as instructed.

Ranking and belts, no. My UCB Program has 5 levels of accomplishment. Uniforms, not so much. Students can display their membership and level, optionally, on training shirts or street clothes. On the left sleeve is a low contrast UCB logo, indication of membership and level. New students have logo only. Only members can wear the logo. You can add your name if you want.

Each level is denoted by a simple vertical bar. Levels are:

  1. Standing
  2. Stillness
  3. Pearls
  4. Bones
  5. Emptiness

Instructors receive a circle. That's it.

See the embroidered shirt listing to buy.

Coming soon. There are many different kids of fitness... We discuss in depth.

Yes! We have a complete still and moving meditation training curriculum. If your primary training is in seated meditation, you will find our approach to enhance stillness practice while providing physical fitness benefits. It is said that DaMo taught the Buddhist monks a series of exercises because their single-minded sitting was ruining their bodies.

Yes! It's called Tai Chi Boost for Seniors. This specialized curriculum consists of a short series of breathing exercises and simple movements 20 to 40 minutes long. These movements address posture, relaxation, balance, bone density and coordination. Training is gentle synthesis of the following activities:

  • Neigong (QiGong of Chi Kung)
  • Strength training (No weights are used)
  • Meditation
  • Stretching

See the retreats listing below for times and dates. Ongoing classes available based on interest. Gather a group of your friends and get in touch! (520) 770-1200.

Kelley Graham has developed an elegant neuro-based system for self cultivation that rests on the following 6 essential areas of inquiry and skills development.

  1. Social Connections
  2. Compassion
  3. Environment
  4. Mental Development
  5. Physical Development
  6. Purpose

The University of Arizona has an excellent overview available online. UA Science of Happiness Lecture Series


"I've been thinking about 'grace'. 'Grace' (capitalized) represnts some kind of spiritual experience; 'grace' has something to do with harmoniously integrated movement... what do you consider to be 'Natural Grace', is it both of these or one?"


Yes to both. I chose that word carefully. I feel that the purpose of training is to enrich all aspects of life's experience. For those on a spiritual path, the method is useful, for those who are not, still equally useful. Insight and truth are non-denominational. :) 

My methods emphasize the ability to engage and develop the parts of the brain associated with intention, will, restraint, discipline, empathy, compassion and insight. These things arise from deeper awareness. The result of this process is that a person strives to behave well and in accordance with the highest standards in any context. Professional, personal, private, spiritual, physical... Whatever the context, 'grace', is apparent.

'Natural' means arising from our genetic and cultural inheritance. The work is to discover these relations for ourselves. The joy is in the expression of these relations through thought and action. Hard work results in profound insight. 'Grace' connotes dignity and composure under stress. especially when taken in context with 'power'. 'Power' is central to complete and nuanced understanding of the phrase. This is a big topic.

Good question, thank you.

To contact Kelley Graham simply call (520) 770-1200 for an informal interview concerning your background, goals and intentions. You will be joining a tightly knit training commnuity. If you are more interested in self-paced online training, solo practice or private consultation, be sure to bring that up during the interview.


Brain Fitness and Wellness Using a Blended Approach

Needs & Benefits

This program addresses major physical, mental health and societal concerns that significantly reduce the quality of life of many individuals. This program will teach techniques to improve individual health and interpersonal relationships:

This 12 month program of intensive study is divided into two six month phases with three modules of practice and includes the following benefits.

  • Better concentration and focus
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved physical condition
  • Improved mind-body connection

Who It Will Help?

Participants are volunteers in the greater Tucson – Oro Valley community who are interested in exploring new ways and skills to improve their health, mental condition and lifestyle.


We are committed to transforming our community by helping families and individuals achieve excellence in healthy living. Meditation alone has been proven to be useful and effective, while physical exercise has its own well-documented effects. Our study will show how this brain fitness program brings the two approaches together successfully for improved wellness. The study will also explore how perceived risk and risk tolorance impacts wellness.


We have expert advisors and mentors in the areas of osteopathy, instructional psychology and internal medicine who identify measures and establish criteria. The resulting wellness model will show what works and how to apply findings to inform other similar programs.


  • The role of social interactions in the propagation of new habits and thought models
  • The effects of the method on the respiratory rate, resting heart rate, blood sugar levels and blood pressure
  • The role of meditation alone (mind) vs meditation with stretching and specific breathing methods (body) in stress management and recovery
  • The blended method and its relationship to mental acuity, risk, innovation and neuroplasticity

How Long Will It Take?

The 12 month program of intensive study is offered in TWO six-month phases with three modules of practice with 15 students.

Module One - Boot Camp - 8 Weeks

This module is designed to make a clean break into a new way of thinking. Foundational mental and physical tools are introduced with an emphasis on calming the mind to address habitual behaviors. Participants learn and practice two meditations and one movement routine. This routine includes stretches designed to simultaneously stimulate the body while calming the mind.

Module Two - Finding Ease - 8 Weeks

Stress and tension reduce our quality of life. Module two develops a stronger and more relaxed body. In addition to the continuing practice from module one, specific breathing techniques are introduced and developed that help the student recognize the mental and physical cues that occur when losing ease and becoming tense.

Module 3 - A New Normal - 8 Weeks

A new normal means that we have consolidated our gains and can move forward. No new materials are presented, only continued training. The outcome of this module is very simple:

  • Practice makes perfect. In order to permanently realize the gains of this practice, the brain must be given the opportunity to change.
  • Duration of practice and consistency in method determine overall success.
  • This approach to practice sets a lower baseline for overall stress and results in greater mental acuity and better overall health.

If interested, contact Kelley Graham at (520) 770-1200 for an intake interview.


Conversations with Dr. Maggie Martinez concerning ongoing unpublished brain research have focused on the following key points.

  1. There is a brain cocktail that is required for the brain to best make new synaptic connections, aka Learning
  2. This cocktail is affected by emotional states. Stressors inhibit the cocktail from having the correct balance and learning cannot occur.
  3. The button that is pushed releasing this cocktail is under volitional control.
  4. This control is learned during early infancy, so early in infancy that awareness of the button is not conscious at later developmental stages. One aspect of meditative practice is recognizing that we do have conscious control of that button.
  5. Play, fun and pleasure all contribute to the formation and persistence of the cocktail.

New Research Stresses the Responses to Stress
Just For Fun - Buddha on the Brain - Wired magazine
US Dept of Education on Competency-Based or Personalized Learning

Thursday, December 10, 2009 By Mark Roth, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Scientists used to think that the structure of the human brain didn't change much after infancy.

But in the past 20 years, there has been an explosion of studies showing just how adaptable and malleable the human brain is, and one of the most intriguing was published today by Carnegie Mellon University scientists.

Writing in the journal Neuron, brain researchers Marcel Just and Timothy Keller said that after just six months of intensive remedial reading instruction, children who had been poor readers were not only able to improve their skills, but grew new white-matter connections in their brains.

Read more:


From the Wikipedia article.

"Brain fitness is the capacity of a person to meet the various cognitive demands of life. It is evident in an ability to assimilate information, comprehend relationships, and develop reasonable conclusions and plans. Brain fitness can be developed by formal education, being actively mentally engaged in life, continuing to learn, and exercises designed to challenge cognitive skills.[4][5] Healthy lifestyle habits including mental stimulation, physical exercise, good nutritionstress management, and sleep can improve brain fitness.[6][7][8][9][10] On the other hand, chronic stressanxietydepressionaging, decreasing estrogen, excess oxytocin, and prolonged cortisol can decrease brain fitness as well as general health.[11][12][13][14][15][16]

Brain fitness can be measured physically at the cellular level by neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons, and increased functional connections of synapses and dendrites between neurons. It can also be evaluated by behavioral performance as seen in cognitive reserve, improved memoryattention, concentration, executive functionsdecision-making, mental flexibility, and other core capabilities.

Like physical fitness, brain fitness can be improved by various challenging activities such as playing chess or bridge, dancing regularly, practicing yoga and tai chi and also by engaging in more structured computer based workouts. Some research shows that brain stimulation can help prevent age-related cognitive decline, reverse behavioral assessment declines in dementia and Alzheimer’s[17][18][19], and can also improve normally functioning minds. In experiments, comparing some computer based brain boosting exercises to other computer based activities, brain exercises were found to improve attention and memory in people over age 60. [20][21]. Other studies have evaluated other brain boosting exercises and not found improvements. A study of 67 schoolchildren aged 10 compared 7 week Nintendo brain training to engaging in pen and paper puzzles. The study found that the brain training group suffered a 17 per cent decrease in memory tests after the seven week course, while the pen and paper group saw an increase of 33 per cent.[22] Many experts are skeptical with regard to the real value of different commercial brain boosting products. For example, a panel of experts gathered by Which? Magazine have concluded that ‘Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training’ for the Nintendo DS will not enhance brainpower at all." [23]

******************end Wikipedia excerpt*************************

When a deep, immersive calm is achieved and stressors are reduced, the brain can produce the neurochemical cocktail that enables formation of new neuronal connections. The brain and body are not separate. We have one nervous system, not two. The specific kind of concentration to achieve a deep, immersive calm requires the same level of effort as when learning a new language.

Urban Retreat Center curriculum engages your awareness using a physical tools. To accumulate knowledge, as in purely academic pursuits, is a less effective methodology. How do you know if you're training in just the right way to produce optimum brain fitness? Using the physical to train the mental produces better results then puzzles and games alone.

Real change is difficult and is not what you expect. Prepare to be surprised.