There are many Eastern practices that have been adopted by the rest of the world purely because they are based on a philosophy of life that mystify and intrigue. After having been an essential part of the Eastern traditions and culture for thousands of years, practices such as T’ai chi ch’uan, Qigong and Tao yin have been brought to the Western world by enlightened masters of the martial arts, yoga and meditation. It is without a doubt that they have enriched immensely our knowledge of the Eastern philosophy while helping us find the right balance for achieving peace of mind. Today, we are closer to understanding why the Eastern societies have always considered these practices first of all as spiritually enhancing.
1. T’ai chi ch’uan
T’ai chi ch’uan philosophy and practice stem out from a number of Chinese philosophical principles, including the Taoism and Confucianism. Within the Chinese classification system of the martial arts T’ai chi ch’uan is found in the Wudang category or the arts applied with internal power as opposed to the Shaolin category or the arts applied with external/hard power. Today, although there are schools teaching modern styles of T’ai chi ch’uan all over the world, they all can be traced back to at least one of the original schools: Chen, Yang, Wu (Hao), Wu and Sun. Traditional training for T’ai chi ch’uan is based on the philosophy so well expressed by the Taoist Lao Tzu: “The soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and strong.” To this end, the training process focuses on:
i) slow movements with a straight spine, abdominal breathing, encouraging natural motion; ii) applying the principles from iii) together with a partner.
There are medical studies suggesting that T’ai chi can be practiced as a form of alternative exercise and physical therapy that will have long-term health benefits (supports longevity, opens internal circulation of air, body heat, blood). Even more, due to its meditation component, T’ai chi cultivates calmness and clarity, focus and self-awareness, thus being amazingly efficient in stress management.
Qigong is a practice that has evolved within the Chinese culture for more than 4,000 years old before it spread worldwide. Throughout history, Qigong philosophy and practice have been kept alive by word of mouth, being passed on from master to pupil. Because only a few chosen ones had access to it, Qigong became a part of the elite lineage while the general population had little or no knowledge about it. Qigong literally means “life energy cultivation” and because of its undeniable health and spiritual benefits, traditional Chinese medicine used it for preventing and curing illnesses, Confucianism promoted it as good for the moral character and for longevity, Taoism and Buddhism saw it as a meditation practice, and Chinese martial arts encouraged it because it enhanced fighting abilities. The principles on which Qigong training is based have much in common with T’ai chi ch’uan because both of them ultimately help the body reach a higher state of consciousness or existence, of calmness and of self-awareness.
The Chinese medicine has a term defining the psychological and physiological disorder caused by improper practice of Qigong, called Zuo huo ru mo or “qigong deviation” which manifests through symptoms such as: pains, insomnia, headaches and spontaneous movements.
3. Tao Yin
Tao yin derives from the Taoist philosophy of yoga and consists of a series of exercises meant to create and cultivate a healthy balance between internal and external energies. Tao yin literally translates into “The Secret Island”. While Tao yin is a precursor to Qigong, it is also a part of the T’ai chi ch’uan traditional practice, having wide known therapeutic qualities such as calmative and tonic effects on the body, enhancing the activity of the autonomous nervous system, giving better mind control and uplifting the mood. Tao yin is also known as the Taoist Respiration Therapy because this practice promotes correct breathing principles based on the traditional concepts of Yin and Yang, and follows the rules of the five elements (Wu Hsing). Thus, Tao yin consists of a series of different respiratory exercises which are closely synchronized with various physical movements.