Taoist concepts are synonymous with the Tai Chi and Qigong Internal Arts Experience ... and Can Deeply Enrich Your TC / QG Journey ...
Tai Chi and Qigong are simultaneously "hard science," and "profound philosophy." Our newsletters talk a lot about the hard science aspect, so here we explore the deep philosophy of Tai Chi ...
After submersing yourself in all things Tai Chi over the long course of a half a century, and having the good fortune of meeting and connecting with some of the world greatest Tai Chi and Qigong masters ... masters who so graciously and generously shared with you their pearls ... legends like Grand Tai Chi Champion, Master Luk and Sifu Olive Hui in Hong Kong; Famed Kung fu Master Coach and Qigong for Love teacher, Master Li; Grand Tai Chi Champion, Sifu Hong Yijiao; Master Woo and Professor Jose Miltion in Brasilia; the brilliant and beautiful Dr. Michael Steward, Sr.; Sifu Abela in Australia; Paul Lam in Australia; Doria Cook Nelson in Los Angeles; Roger Jahnke; Jais Booth in San Francisco; Mohamed Essa in Egypt, Hilda Cardineas in Belgium; and so many others, Donald & Cheryl Rubbio; Elizabeth Keith; Maria Lopez in Mexico ... so many I can't name everyone ...
... and when all of these great Tai Chi and Qigong minds were so happy to share what they knew with you ... you feel like you should pay some of those pearls forward, and pass some of the knowledge your half century has gathered on to others ... which is the Tai Chi way ... a flowing continuum of very unique human beings who fell in love with Tai Chi, and passed it on to each ensuing generation with open hands and open hearts. What a beautiful example to the world the Tai Chi and Qigong family provides.
One of those pearls of wisdom I feel compelled to share about is the "Tao te Ching," by Lao Tzu, the father of Taoism, or Taoist Philosophy, a profound book which was recommended to me early in my Tai Chi journey in my early 20s. As you read it you quickly become aware of Tai Chi's deep connection with Taoist Philosophy, and how profoundly that awareness can effect your Tai Chi or Qigong practice. So, we thought we'd discuss it here.
YIN YANG SIDE BAR:
Taoists saw the universe as made from the tension dynamic between positive and negative polarities. This is fascinating when you realize that today modern physicists see the universe in the same way, everything, every single thing in the universe is the creation of positive and negative polarities in quantum particles that make up us, our world, and our universe.
Our busy daily lives are primarily "yang" energy, but when we slip into the repose of meditative mind-body experiences we allow a "yin" energy to permeate our tight lives. Yin energy loosens us, it opens us, and relaxes us. Tai Chi is designed to make space for the Yin energy to permeate our active lives, because it teaches us how breathe, loosen, and open, even when active, because the moving Tai Chi forms are the normal activities of the body, over time, woven with a meditative mind-body experience of letting go, yielding, and become open to flow.
The Taoists call the Tai Chi symbol, a symbol illustrating the "Yin" and "Yang," or "negative" and "positive" polarities of all existence, respectively:
For centuries, Tai Chi and Taoist Philosophy have woven together to form a way of living, whereby the principles of Tai Chi or Qigong can be used in our lives, helping us to become more aware of the fluid energy dynamics of life, our consciousness, and our unfolding futures that form from our consciousness. The highest purpose of Tai Chi is to find balance between our Yin and Yang aspects, consciousness or being. However, Tai Chi is a Yin or Feminine art, which makes it the most powerful art in finding balance, because the world is way over balanced with Yang energy and approach. So Tai Chi's Yin approach and development makes it a powerful tool to help the world find balance in all things. This is deep Taoist philosophy, but I'm getting ahead of myself here, let's just look at the practical/physical ties between Tai Chi and Taoist philosophies approach to the world and to life, then we'll move on to the larger philosophical implications.
Below you'll see Taoist quotes that show the physical connection to Tai Chi forms, but that is only the surface, as the Tai Chi journey unfolds within us the more profound Taoist insights about the way we carry ourselves in all aspects of our lives and in our world expand through all aspects of our lives, which is discussed further down in this article.
No book on earth offers a way of seeing the world that mirrors the internal experiences of Tai Chi and Qigong meditation practice the way the Tao te Ching does. Like Ta Chi, it is nebulous and ever changing, simple and infinitely complex, elegant, effortless, powerful and profound.
On the physical parallels between Taoism and Tai Chi, Chebucto.ns.ca
offers a great overview of how Taoist philosophy relates to Tai Chi physically, offering the following quotes from the Tao te Ching, the seminal book on Taoist philosophy.
Yield and overcome;
Bend and be straight.
-- Tao Te Ching (22)
He who stands of tiptoe is not steady.
He who strides cannot maintain the pace.
-- Tao Te Ching (24)
Returning is the motion of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.
-- Tao Te Ching (40)
What is firmly established cannot be uprooted.
What is firmly grasped cannot slip away.
-- Tao Te Ching (54)
Stiff and unbending is the principle of death.
Gentle and yielding is the principle of life.
Thus an Army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.
The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.
-- Tao Te Ching (76)
Contrary to popular opinion, Taoism is NOT a religion, but an observation of the energetic reality of existence, the ebbs and flows of consciousness and energy that moves behind the scenes of everything. Physic's quantum field is a perfect metaphor, as the sub-atomic particles that make up existence are energy waves or knots that appear as physical, and then recede back into their energetic nature. The quantum field itself is nebulous and unknown, but its results--quantum particles--can be seen and observed. Tai Chi practice enables us to to experience the unknowable as it untangles the particles, or knots, in our lives. We cannot see the Qi or the flow that untangles us, but we can feel the results emerging from our field of awareness ... as we practice relaxing ... or sinking into our Tai Chi forms.
|Illustration of sub-atomic physic's Quantum Field's waves. The particles can be observed, the field from which they come is mysterious.|
When doing Tai Chi, we may not "feel Qi or energy," but we can feel where it is blocked or tangled, and the combination of breath, visualization, and flowing movements, help us to untangle our knots, and then we feel the effortlessness or flow that results in our letting go around our tangles of thought, emotion, or tension. This takes time. You'll notice how much more effortless your "first Tai Chi movements" are, and then as you learn the entire Tai Chi form, over time your other newer movements take on more effortlessness. This is because the process of learning and playing Tai Chi untangles the knots beneath the field of awareness, and allows the natural flow of life to course through us.
Tai Chi and Moving Qigong's principle concepts of rooting, yielding, sinking, are described eloquently in the lines of the Tao te Ching. The Tao te Ching is a powerful addition to any TC or QG enthusiast's, or teacher's, knowledge base.
The first thing to realize is that Taoism, or The Tao, or The Way of the Universe, cannot be understood with an analytical approach, like memorizing facts in school. Its concepts describe realities that are loose and nebulous and ever changing ... yes, just as our Tai Chi and Qigong forms are loose and ever changing ... always flowing into something new that we do not really control as much as allow it to flow through us.
Tai Chi makes Taoism understandable, because the Tao can only be "felt," it cannot be known or stated in words. The Tai Chi journey of going within and sensing our being, rather than always thinking about our existence, can lead to this awareness of the ebb and flow of the Tao.
Just like when doing Push Hands, over time, you get a sense of the connected flow of you and your partner, and you can sense when to recede almost even before they push, and know when they are vulnerable and off balance even before they know they are. It is not something anyone can teach you to feel with words, unless you have also invested the time to "feel" the dynamics of energy, of advancing and yielding as required by the constant changes of the situation. Your partner in Push Hands can change their dynamic, motion, and force instantly, and your Yin, Receptive, Internal practice of Tai Chi enables you to relax out of the way of that change in flow, to adapt instantly, on a deeper level than your analytical brain could ever figure out. It feels instant and effortless when you are in the zone, flowing with the Tao.
"I was at a gas station buying a drink, when the clerk
handed me my change and accidentally dropped a
coin out of my hand. It hit the counter, and tumbled
down toward the floor. My hand accepted the other
coins the clerk had been pouring into my hand, and
then just swept down in a flowing arc to catch the
dime the clerk had dropped long before it hit the
floor, clinking into my hand with the other change
he'd given me. The clerk went "Wow!" and then
I went "Wow!" because it was not anything I had planned,
or controlled, because if I had, my circuits would have
froze and glitched. It was instantaneous and without
thought, and I was as surprised it happened as the
clerk was. This only came from decades of Tai Chi's
feeling, sensing, and relaxing out of the way of deeper
actions than we can control. This is the Tai Chi way,
the Way of the Tao."
-- Bill Douglas, Founder of World Tai Chi & Qigong Day
Now, beginners at Tai Chi and Qigong will feel "glimpses" of this sense of "letting go" from time to time, and the more years and decades you practice, the less physical and analytical your movements will become, and the deeper you can free-fall into that nebulous space of mind that Taoism describes. Sports professionals call it "being in the zone." Tai Chi helps us cultivate this state of being, and it is not something you can "think through," it is only something you can surrender to, and then ride like a surfer as you learn to attune to the way it feels when you let go and feel the flow.
A time comes when once you begin flowing into your Tai Chi forms, your Tai Chi moves you, as it has been emblazoned on the engrams of your cells, wired into your neurology, and woven into your consciousness. Then you begin to strive to "relax out of the way," and the Tai Chi becomes a flowing meditation, a constant letting go, to allow the Way of the Universe to flow through your relaxed frame, and to untangle the knots you've squeezed into your psyche and physical body.
TAI CHI AS A WAY OF LIVING ...
When we sink into our Tai Chi forms (I'm using Tai Chi here, to also include Moving Qigong forms), there is a deep letting go involved, which Chinese masters called "Soong." This imagery enables all the large muscles to let go, so that a higher intelligence within us takes over, and this higher consciousness knows which essential muscles are required to perform tasks, ie pushing, yielding, advancing, punching, blocking, kicking, etc.
When we slip into this deeper state, Tai Chi becomes a meditation, whereby the analytical mind relaxes out of the way, and a deeper more powerful energy or nebulous awareness flows through us. The metaphor of Left Brain / Right Brain thinking applies here, the Left Brain being the Yang, or Conscious Analytical Thought" awareness, while the Right Brain Thinking would be the nebulous awareness where motions flow through you and you experience the sensations and the results without overly controlling them. This is where great insight and art wellspring from, this state of non-thought that Taoism describes and advocates.
This is not to say that analytical training to refine movements is not important, it is a very important part of Tai Chi journeys, but it is something that will fade in importance as the deep internal experiences of non-thought, non-effort, and opening to the flow of energy become your deeper more eternal goal.
When in this state, we must let go of desires, fears, grudges, and all the tethers yanking the mind around. As we exhale, and soong, or sink, through our forms, receding and expanding, feeling and breathing, the sensations of the movement flowing through us offer a microcosmic model of what happens when we let the Tao, the Way of the Universe, flow through our more open relaxing lives as Tai Chi unfolds us over the days, weeks and months or learning how to surrender ourselves to the flow of the forms.
When we do Tai Chi for months and years we find that we are far more centered, more powerful, and more effortless than before. We attune to a higher deeper way to move.
This can translate into the way we live. Taoism observes that at the core of existence is benevolence, and when we surrender to the Tao, or the universal flow of energy, we become an agent of that flow, and we become nurturing to all things.
"I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures."
-- Lao Tzu, the Tao te Ching
The Tai Chi and Qigong master flows quietly throughout society nurturing all he/she connects with, maybe emerging as a Yang force when we do WTCQD celebrations and gain media attention, or do education seminars in our cities to let the public know the myriad benefits of what we practice or teach. Our goal and desire becomes the betterment of others. This is the way of the universe. To be nurturing to all things is a very Yin or feminine force, and Tai Chi is known as an Internal Art, or Yin Art.
It helps us bring that Yin balance into our lives. The world is overwrought with Yang energy. Yin, or feminine energy, is "listening" "yielding" "receiving" "nurturing" "compassion."
"The feminine values are the fountain of bliss.
Know the masculine, Keep to the feminine."
-- Lao Tzu, Tao te Ching
Tai Chi practice makes us more powerful in the Yang, more power, more force, more effective, more productive ... but this is rooted in Tai Chi's ability to teach us how to surrender, and sink, and yield, not in building power for the sake of power. Tai Chi is known as "the highest martial art" and that is not because Tai Chi's focus is power and strength, it is the result of Tai Chi's yielding soft nature, which Lao Tzu and Taoist philosophy know to be the most powerful.
TAOISM AND TAI CHI ARE ABOUT BALANCING THE YIN AND YANG ENERGY
Taoism's Yin Yang symbol, is also known as the "Tai Chi symbol." Tai Chi is known as an Internal Art, a Yin art, a feminine art (not relevant to sexuality, but a way of approaching life). Weaving Tai Chi and Qigong into society at large can have huge implications down the road for the world, because it fosters such balance.
Even if a Tai Chi teacher has no concept of Taoism, or Yin or Yang, he/she is still expanding this Yin Balance into the world, as he/she invites their students to "feel" the sensations of "sinking" and the mindful awareness of motion, breath, and "soong" or letting go. Observation without intention is a very Yin behavior.
When we flow through Tai Chi forms, once we get over the analytical part more, we begin to let our mind relax open to the sensations flowing through us ... we know when we are out of our Vertical Axis (alignment of the 3 dan tiens) when we feel strain somewhere in the field that is our body and our consciousness, and our higher awareness, the Qi, the Way of the Universe makes adjustments on very subtle levels to correct posture or to shift something, or to let go deeper around a tension or pressure. This is a high level of consciousness far beyond analytical.
The Universal Post or Standing Qi is a bulwark of many Tai Chi styles, and perfectly illustrates this "opening to higher awareness." It is a static pose with feet shoulder width apart, and arms raised in a circular shape as if hugging a tree. Then the goal is "just to stand." It is bio-feedback on its highest level. The knots in your mind and heart are felt in the knots that build up in your body--shoulders, neck, head muscles. Then as you become aware of them, you use the breath, visualization of energy, and the practice of letting go around and under these knots, to allow a free flow of energy. You cannot tell these muscles to let go with your thinking analytical mind, you have to play at letting go around these places, to allow the deeper expanse of flow of Qi to take place. This cannot be understood and held in your brain, it has to unfold through you as you play at "Universal Post." It is not a "holding thing" but a "surrender and letting go art."
Master Kuo Lien Ying (Guang Ping Yang Style) practicing
Universal Post in San Francisco
"Universal Post" helps us understand the absolute need to let go, in order to experience the "soong" and "flow of Qi."
Tai Chi takes this to a whole new higher level, as it teaches us how to bring this into our movements, and ultimately, if we let it, into our way of life and living.
This "soong" experience in Tai Chi is an experience of the Tao flowing through us. At this high level of practice you don't "think" about fixing forms, you "feel" your presence with total mindfulness by letting the mind let go of everything, so the bandwidth of the mind can relax open to everything, and the mis-alignments in our body or forms well up as waves of sensation that are fixed or alleviated or reduced by the letting go in each exhale as our being "sinks" into the "soong" state of effortless motion. When the mind immerses in the "sensations of our being" the spinning merry-go-round of the mind stands still, all the spinning thoughts just melt away. There is only the sensations, the breath, the motion.
To the mind that is still,
the whole universe surrenders.
-- Lao Tzu, Tao te Ching
This Yin approach to being can expand out into our daily lives, helping us become better listeners, better contemplators. This can happen on a societal level, as we become better at sensing "tight spots" in our personal relationships or even social policies, and realize that if we can "let go" and "yield" at the appropriate times, we can avoid calamities and conflicts that seemed so "out of our control" before Tai Chi's Way unfolded through our consciousness thru our continual practice of mindful awareness of "tight spots" in our physical, emotional, and mental being when playing Tai Chi.
We begin to realize that almost all of the huge problems we had earlier in life came because we were in a big hurry all the time, knotted up around the idea of urgency the world is ruled by. We felt we had to be moving, rushing, catching up. But in the Yin state, we open to what is flowing through our experience "right now" at each given moment.
Emily Dickinson wrote that the future is made up of a huge amount of "right nows." Very Taoist.
This slowing modern life down, even as it speeds up, is a prescription for the future. Our modern rat-race always-behind world, becomes a flow into possibility as we relax around the change flowing through us, feeling, sensing, contemplating possibilities before rushing into things and then always cleaning up the mess our haste resulted in.
Being here and now is the Taoist Way. It is the Tai Chi way. Feeling not making, flowing, not controlling ... feminine yielding qualities that Tai Chi promotes. Important qualities for all people living in our modern times.
The key to growth is the introduction of higher
dimensions of consciousness into our awareness.
-- Lao Tzu, Tao te Ching
The biggest hurdle people new to Tai Chi face, is the mind's constant rush.
Tai Chi's slowness drives us crazy at first, because it goes against the way of the world, which is rush, rush, rush. Therefore, we simply cannot learn Tai Chi in its deepest form without learning how to let go of control, expectation, and most importantly self criticism. We have to learn how to be "in the moment" experiencing the forms "flowing through us" just as life, or the Tao, or the Way flows through us.
When we are in that special state, when we become observers in our own being, our own lives, letting that Tao or Flow or Higher Awareness expand through us, we feel almost completely un-self-conscious, and that is when we feel most connected to our forms, to our selves, and to our world. This Tao or energetic nature of being exists within everyone, everything. This is why many feel kinder, calmer, more compassionate to others after practicing the Internal Arts for years, because we immerse ourselves in the Tao, the energetic foundation of all reality that connects us all. We become kinder because we "feel connected" to others in a new way.
Our actions become more socially focused, less self focused. This sounds like a paradox, that by "turning within" as the Internal Arts are designed to get us to do, we become less-self focused. But, it is true. Because the deeper we look into ourselves, the more we realize that we are entwined with everyone, connected by the Tao, the Universal Way.
Manifest plainness, embrace simplicity,
reduce selfishness, have few desires.
-- Lao Tzu, the Tao te Ching
Compassion becomes our way of being ... not because someone told us it was right ... but because we "feel harmony in our field, our consciousness, our being" when all things are nurtured. We feel disturbance when others suffer. We begin to realize that compassion for all beings is compassion for ourselves, for we cannot extricate ourselves from the field that all beings are a part of.
Just as all atomic particles in the universe are like waves that emerge from the same field of energy, the Quantum field ... Taoist insights show us that all human beings are like waves emerging from the energetic field of existence called "the Tao," the energetic nature of life and the universe, that exists beneath the surface of all of us and everything.
NOTE: New scientific research shows that meditation students' brains become activated at the sight of others' suffering, and also the action part of their brains were stimulated indicating that they felt compelled to act to alleviate the suffering of others.
As Tai Chi demands us to surrender into the meditative Soong state of letting go through the changes of life, it requires us to let go of our preconceptions, prejudices, grudges, fears, etc. When we let go of all our baggage, we feel more at home in the moment, in our bodies, and in the unfolding world, however it will turn out. Most people who play Tai Chi as moving meditation for years will tell you, they feel closer to people. This is because when we let go of our baggage to sink into our Tai Chi forms, we merge with the flow of the Tao, loosening to let the changes flow through us ... and in those moments we are connected to ...
When we flow through our Tai Chi forms we feel like liquid, able to flow through hardness, or around it, or to yield away from it. We feel like water. Holding onto our rough edges would be like water holding onto minerals that make it too dense to flow through a filter. The water can only flow through the channel if it can let go of all those things. In that moment it becomes pure and fast and powerful. Tai Chi is not a spiritual practice, but its requirement of "letting go of what we grip" results in a deeply spiritual effect.
We begin to find that the highest things, like love, "flow through us." There is no need to hold on, because love is limitless. The courser things like fear and grudges begin to feel like weights we cannot wait to let go of, which we are required to do if we want to flow through our Tai Chi forms with power and grace, which can only be acquired by yielding looseness.
Trying to flow through Tai Chi forms when angry or resentful is a fruitless process. Tight thoughts spur emotions, which release chemicals, which tighten the body and restrict breathing. Only when we let go of the tight rigid thoughts, and then emotions and feelings, can our body shift into the liquid flow Tai Chi players strive for. We discover via our Tai Chi journey that our mind, heart, and body, are inextricably intertwined ... and we discover there is a state of letting go that can allow these things to recede and allow our being to flow smoothly through our forms and our lives as we become more and more adept at it.
At this point ... Tai Chi becomes a way of living ... not an exercise we do once in a while.
We become more spiritual, not because of a dogmatic rule to be so, but because "we feel nicer" when we flow with the Tao, which is compassion and connection. We feel worse when we "hold tightly onto things." We begin to "nurture all things" because it makes us "feel good" to do so.
Patience and compassion become the Tai Chi way, the way of the Tao. Tai Chi is a technology that can help us "relax open" to our highest potential as a being on this planet--to realize the answer to life's largest question: Why we are here--
to benefit all things.
by Bill Douglas, Founder of World Tai Chi & Qigong Day
Bill has been a globally recognized expert on Tai Chi and Qigong.
He and was the 2009 Inductee to the Internal Arts Hall of Fame in New York; and is the ; author of the best-selling Tai Chi book, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to T'ai Chi & Qigong," (published worldwide in several languages). He's writtten Tai Chi related articles or been commissioned as a source for magazines and for media worldwide, including Prevention Magazine; WebMD; Kung Fu Magazine, etc.
His work has been reported in American Airlines American Way Inflight Magazine; Reader's Digest; etc. He has been the Tai Chi Expert for famed naturopathic best-selling author, Dr. Andrew Weil's websites for nearly a decade.
Bill was the Recipient of:
Extraordinary Service in the Field of Qigong Award, National Qigong Association;
Leadership Award, National Tai Chi Chuan Federation;
Media Excellence in the Advancement of Qigong Award, World Congress on Qigong;
He is author of the best-selling TC book, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to T'ai Chi & Qigong"
Bill has been a Tai Chi source for:
The New York Times
Wall Street Journal
and media worldwide.
He has presented Tai Chi Meditation Programs for industry, penal and drug
rehabilitation, and for social health institutions, including for:
National Parkinson's Foundation
American Heart Association
Associated Wholesale Grocers
Catholic Hospice Professionals
National Catholic Youth Conference
Kansas City Drug Rehab. Program
and for major hospitals and health networks nationwide.
and for KU Medical Center, working closely with
Cardiac Rehabilitation; Chronic Pain: Dementia:
Center on Aging; Neurology; and other departments
expanding the use and availability of TC and QG
throughout modern healthcare.
PBS Affiliate KCPT TV Covers the Amazing Results of the University of Kansas Hospital's Turning Point Center for Hope and Healing Tai Chi and Qigong Meditation Program.
"The best [man] is like water. Water is good;
it benefits all things and does not compete
with them. It dwells in [lowly] places that all
disdain. This is why it is so near to Tao."
-- Lao Tzu, the Tao te Ching