Centuries ago, in their quest for vibrant health, exceptional wellbeing and all-round vigour, Taoist sages made the discovery that the mind and body are inextricably linked with the thoughts, emotions, attitudes and beliefs. All these factors are involved in one's health and wellness. And the breath plays the lead role. Dean Jones reports.
Taoist sages have long understood that the breath is the connection between mind and body, and that breath, and the innate life-force within it (which they called qi - pronounced 'chee' or 'kee') are directly tied into one's state of health and wellness. These same sages discovered that health, fitness and wellbeing could be advanced to exceptional levels with simple, dynamic, easy exercises and breathing techniques which they developed over the centuries. Today this system is known as Qi Gong.
In our frantic, chaotic romp through 21st century life, the ancient Taoist skills of health, balance, focus, internal energy cultivation and management, longevity training and wellbeing have never been more in demand, or more needed. The modern world offers up a barrage of pollution, both industrial and electronic, and all that before the day's first coffee break. It seems as if it's getting a lot harder to just survive the vagaries of daily life, let alone thrive and prosper.
Amid this seemingly uncontrollable state of affairs, Qi Gong practitioners are known to deal with modern life issues with ease, almost as if they are dancing with life, in harmony, with an equanimity and grace that is almost magical in expression. Best of all, this state of equilibrium is attainable and easily accessible to anybody.
Qi Gong aims to rejuvenate and regenerate body, mind and spirit, re-energising and harmonising the emotions so that we can do more than just survive daily living. In this state we can experience relaxation, high energy, poise, opulence and exceptional health, allowing us to move through our world with focus and balance, contributing positively to the outcome, whatever it may be.
Mantak Chia, a world authority on Taoist Qi Gong, has been leading a quiet revolution in authentic, healthy living for the last 30 years.
The Tao Yin teaching that Chia intends bringing to South Africa in November is of special interest to Tai Ji practitioners, athletes and those seeking an improvement in their health.
Tao Yin blossomed out of the time-honoured traditions of Chinese medicine, martial arts and the spiritual practices of Taoism and Buddhism. It can be described as a series of revitalizing exercises that develop inner strength, power, flexibility, resiliency and suppleness, working with integrative principles to create harmony within the body and mind.
Taoism recognises that there is no separation between our physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual selves, and that imbalances in one area will affect and be reflected in the others.
The Tao Yin movements promote an emotional balance, mental clarity plus a heightened state of awareness. This is because the physical movements are guided by the degree of awareness and the strength of the mind, which in turn stimulate the flow of qi or life-force within the body.
One of the key principles of Tao Yin is to access and engage the 'centre', or Tan Tien. This is the body's psycho-physical hub, where all motion/movement begins. It is also the area where qi is stored and cultivated. Tao Yin teaches us to move from this centre, the core of the body, accessing and developing our internal power and true strength. The act of focusing and sinking our qi to the centre has the effect of switching on the body's 'second brain', located in the gut according to the Taoists. Recently, western science has confirmed what the Taoists have been propagating for centuries, that there is another centre of bodily intelligence located in the intestines that has the ability to react, learn and process experiences.
The Taoists refer to this 'body brain' as the 'feeling mind', and it is the cultivating of the Tan Tien that is a primary goal in Tao Yin and Tai Ji. One's health is fostered and enhanced through these gentle exercises as the flow of qi in the meridians is activated, opening them and strengthening the life force. The easy stretches of Tao Yin liberate qi to flow freely and joyfully where it needs to, bringing health, nourishment and life to one's being.
The beauty of the Tao Yin movements is that they have been known to aid relaxation and bring into play a clearer, more focused mind, which has the effect of freeing energy which in turn engenders improved health and vitality. As one learns to move from the centre of the body, one begins to develop resiliency within.
The 'Iron Shirt' exercises, which are part of Tao Yin, train one's posture, working internally on a deep, visceral level, using qi and one's mind power/intent to nourish and strengthen the internal organs and induce balance. The exercises also develop the flow of qi and strengthen the fascia, tendons, bones and muscles. The practitioner comes to understand and refine the inner secrets and the fundamentals of posture, energy control, breathing, mental acuity and intention (mind/heart power).
Taoist Fusion practices are known as the beginning of 'inner alchemy', and are a profound process whereby one learns to gain understanding and control of the energies within. These energies are sometimes referred to as the 'five elements' or 'five phases', namely wood, fire, earth, metal and water. These terms are not the literal elements, but rather poetic descriptions, a metaphorical way of explaining the expression of energy as it manifests in, and as, the universe.
The 'Fusion' meditations train the practitioner to access and connect with the energies within, as expressed through the five elements and contained within the internal organs. The focus is on controlling the generation and flow of emotional, mental and physical energies within the body. Taoists teach how to locate and dissolve the negative energies hidden within our bodies. They were the first to discover that negative emotions are stored or held in the various organs, and that these energies, if unchecked, have an extensive effect on the state of our health, leading to sickness, disease and degeneration.
Using the Five Element theory. Fusion meditations are said to neutralise negative emotions and energies, purifying and transforming them into their original, positive, creative energy. This leads to an exceptionally well-balanced flow of 'pure' life force, as well as fostering a connection to the perpetual energy of the universe, allowing one to access and utilise this energy in daily life.
Fusion practices take one deep into the magnificence of the human condition, opening the channels in the body – the 'thrusting', 'bridge', 'regulator' and 'belt' channels or meridians.
These meridians are responsible for the higher functioning of qi.
Taoists recognise the need for humans to absorb the natural forces that surround us, the energies of the earth, sun, stars, and cosmos. They understand that it is this absorption of all the natural forces that nourishes the nervous system, organs, glands, senses, soul and spirit of a human being.
The daily practice of Taoist Qi Gong is believed to provide an uncomplicated, manageable medium that allows access to that desired state of relaxation, effortlessness and ease. This is achieved by having all energy channels, centres and chakras open and flowing with life force, allowing one to be centred, alert, clear-headed, aware, positive and supremely opulent in the midst of all conditions, taking one into the full enjoyment of the miracle of existence.
'The challenge facing us all is to negotiate
the grand thoroughfare of life with verve, élan and
a liberal dash of panache - to walk our paths with a swagger
that exudes our unshakeable inner confidence, sparkling energy and zest.'