Tai Chi Chuan And Chinese Philosophy
No one can tell you what makes your body live. Scientists have some explanations for how your brain thinks, how your lungs breathe and how your heart pumps blood around your body and how the process repeats itself. But, what governs this process?
For over two thousand years the Chinese have alled this process, this subtle life force, Qi. The Chinese believe that we are born with a sotre of Qi inherited from our parents and that we acquire more on a daily basis from the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Qi flows through the body along lines known as "meridians," one corresponding to each of the major organs of the body. If there is an imbalance in the Qi, or blockage to its flow along the meridians, we fall physically or mentally ill.
The concept of Qi, or internal energy is the first principal of Tai Chi. The second basic principal is the theory of Yin and Yang.
Everything on our Earth is made of pairs of opposites: light and dark, positive and negative, male and female, etc. They are used to explain the continuous process of natural change. But, yin and yang are not only a set of corresponding opposites; they also represent a way of thinking. In this way of thought, all things are seen as parts of a whole. No entity can ever be isolated from its relationship to other entities. No "one" can exist in and of itself, and yet there are no absolutes. Yin and Yang must, necessarily, contain within themselves the possibility of opposition and change.
The character for Yin originally meant the shady side of a slope. It is associated with such qualities as cold, rest, passivity, darkness, inwardness, down and decrease.
The character for Yang originally meant the sunny side of the slope. Its qualities are heat, stimulation, movement, activity, brightness, excitement, light, up and increase.
Working with these ideas, Chinese thought and medical tradition have developed five principles of Yin and Yang. They are the Five Elemnts that were used in early China: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water.
In terms of the body, the elements are also corresponding to the internal organs. A Chinese Doctor will relate to these elements in a diagnosis and will see if there is too much, or too little, of one element or another. For instance, noting if there is too much fire in an organ.
Western medicine has overlooked the fact that the mind/body link is a two way street. What affects the mind, affects the body, and vice-versa. In contrast, Chinese Medicine is based on the view that the boday and mind function as one holistic unit and constantly influence one another. This relationship can be negative and result in ill health, or positive and result in well being. The Great Masters of Tai Chi concentrated on the latter.
If there is a force - Qi - that regulates the functions of thebody, it may be possible to cultivate and increase it. What the Masters and their followers discovered over many Centuries is that the mind governs both the positive and negative aspects of Qi. In the techniques they developed, which we now call Tai Chi Chuan, and QiGong, you train your muscles and joints, and also train your most powerful organ - your brain. In the form of your imagination, you send a constant stream of positive, health enhancing messages to your body. With every movement you make and every breath you take, you increase your store of health and wll being - Qi - and circulate it around your body, increasing its strength and immunity against dis-ease and premature aging.
So far, we have covered the Physical Health aspects and how they wrok. But, no less important are the Spiritual and Philosophical Aspects of Tai Chi.
The spiritual side of Tai Chi has to do with Living, with a capitol L. In other words, Living with the entire Spirit. Not a spirit in the sense of an ethereal ghost-like form that will float away when one dies, but spirit in the sense of what is driving a person here and now - in the present. It is grounded in the precepts of Taoism, the most ancient spiritual philosophy of China.
The Masters who founded and developed Tai Chi derived it directly from the founders of Taoism, Lao Tsu, Chang Tzu and others, who lived pre year Zero Era of the West. They were spiritually grounded in this form of pragmatic thought, combining nature, reality and spirituality. Their spiritual orientation found its way into the very essence of Tai Chi. Charasteristics of this approach to spirituality have to do with such real-life things as compassion, dilligence, open-mindedness, honesty, humility, perseverance, simplicity, self-confidence, patience, non-possessiveness and sensitivity.
A Taoist writer by the name of Lu Yan wrote in his well-known book, "Secret Of The Golden Flower," about Taoism and Taoist thought, which amazingly sound exactly like Tai Chi Principles. For example, the Doctrine simply requires single-minded practices: "One does not purseu experiential proof, but experiential proof comes of itself."
This idea is something that every Tai Chi practitioner comes to know well. One will enter one's deepest states of mind in Tai Chi - and in life - when one is whole and of "one mind." This can be seen simply as letting go and being in the "now" moment, completely. Unifying one's mind and spirit as a single totality is the essence of Tai Chi.
The idea of experiential proof coming of itself can also be seen as the Chinese notion of "Wu Wey," or the way of "action without action," an important idea running through Taoist Spirit and the Discipline of Tai Chi.
So, as we can see, Tai Chi is a practice of Tao. It gives us a better understanding of ourselves, better control of our Qi, which is the essential energy that keeps us alive to function better, to enjoy good health, and to have the longevity and a sense of well-being to enjoy it all. And that, my friends, is what REALLY makes your body A-LIVE, A-LIFE, A-LIFE FORCE!
Lily Cohen, Master Teacher, Tai Chi Chuan, QiGong