Tailoring Change

There is an intriguing phrase in the Dazhuan, the Great Treatise, the largest of the ten ‘wings’, or primary commentaries, of the Yijing. It is about the nature of change. It reads:

Hua and cai are called bian.1Dazhuan 1.12 化而裁之謂之變。

Translated directly it says:

Transformation and tailoring are called change.

The standard words for change in the Yijing are bian and hua.2The character Yi 易 also means ‘change,’ as well as ‘easy’ and ‘chameleon’. As well as being used separately, they are often employed together as a cover-all term (bianhua) for all forms of change. While there is a great deal of overlap between the two, hua generally means ‘transformation’, the changing of one thing into another, whereas bian generally means the less permanent change associated with alteration and alternation, such as that of the seasons.

The phrase is interesting because it introduces a third, less common and seemingly more specific term: cai, which means ‘to cut out cloth’, ‘to make clothes’. Clearly, the ramifications of this use of cai require some exploration. From the basic meaning of ‘shaping cloth,’3The cloth/clothing radical yī 衣 is embedded in the character 裁 cai. cai came more generally to mean, ‘to fashion’, ‘to fit a pattern’, ‘to trim, pare, cut out’, and subsequently, ‘to regulate’.4The Analects uses cai in the sense of ‘to prune and shape’ behaviour (Analects 5.22). The Huainanzi uses cai in the sense of ‘to measure or judge the appropriate degree’ of something (Huainanzi 9.27 & 10.118). The Guanzi uses cai in the sense of ‘to fashion, to make’ (Guanzi《形勢解》3:34:13, 64/7b6 ), and in the sense of ‘adjust appropriately to’ (Guanzi《心術下》2:67.6). Xunzi uses cai in the sense of ‘to regulate’ (ICS Xunzi 9/39/12).

Tailoring is about making and adjusting clothes to fit someone specific. When the Dazhuan says that ‘transformation and tailoring are called change,’ it is highlighting the importance of adapting to circumstances. ‘Change and transformation’ (bianhua) is not random. It is about adjusting very precisely to the present conditions, internal and external.5This is one of the many meanings of the phrase ‘neiwai xianghe’ 內外相合, meaning ‘the internal and external unite,’ from the Taiji Classics. It is about finding the right fit, right here, right now.

If we consider the metaphor more closely, the paring away aspect of tailoring also resonates with the dropping away of all that is extraneous, which is so important in Daoist practice:

In practising Dao one loses daily.
Lose and lose until you arrive at not-doing
Not-doing, yet nothing is not done.6Laozi 48. See Study Not Studying.

In this sense tailoring is about trimming away whatever does not allow a person to fully adapt and move with the current situation, whatever that may be. The answer to the question, ‘what is it that gets in the way of the ability to change in this way?’ is: whatever is not natural (ziran 自然, literally ‘self-so’).

One of the classic descriptions of adjusting to conditions is in the Zhuangzi. It is most likely the first recorded iteration of the now hackneyed slogan, ‘go with the flow’:

Confucius was at Luliang contemplating the water falling thirty ren (forty fathoms), its froth flowing for forty li (fourteen miles). Turtles, alligators, and fish could not swim there. He caught sight of a gentleman swimming there. Thinking that the man was bitter and wished to die, he sent his disciples down to the flow to rescue him. However, several hundred paces further down the man hopped out and leisurely strolled along the bottom of the bank, singing, with his hair draped like a blanket.
Confucius followed and spoke to him, saying, ‘I thought you were a ghost, but clearly you are a man. May I ask, do you have a special way of treading water? ’
The man answered: ‘No, I have no way. I started with what was familiar; I grew with what is natural to me; and am fulfilled with what has been man- dated (for me).’ I go in where it swirls together and get out where it rushes and tumbles everywhere, I go along with the way of water and do not do my own thing to it. This is how I tread it.7 ICS Zhuangzi 19/51/27 – 19/52/1.

The key terms come at the end of the passage, the swimmer ‘goes along with’ (cong 從) the way (dao 道) of water without any interference, without doing his ‘own thing’ (si 私) to it.8Si 私 means ‘personal’ or ‘private’. He has no way of his own, he simply follows the way of the water. Not imposing one’s private agenda on the world is an important element of the Daoist understanding of naturalness (self-so-ness), which confers the ability to follow along with reality and by so doing remain healthy and whole.

It is precisely the ‘personal’, all of our likes and dislikes, our expectations, that get in the way of our perceiving reality as it is. It is only by seeing clearly that we can adjust to and go along with what is actually occurring.

What is so challenging to us is that this cutting away, this removal of what is not natural to us, is the removal of all the ‘personal’ desires and aversions that we mistakenly believe we are. It is only by going beyond the personal, beyond ‘yes’ and ‘no’, ‘like’ and ‘dislike’, that we can get out of our own way and properly become ourselves.

In the context of practising the internal arts, there are many ways of making adjustments to best suit external and internal conditions. For instance, externally, seasonal adjustments are crucial. There are at least three main ways to make them:

First, and most obviously, the size of our movements can be altered to suit the season. Everything being equal, our bodies are relatively more open in the spring and summer and more closed in the autumn and winter. If we make use of the middle – the 70% rule – the size of our stances will change as our ‘Goldilocks range’ naturally follows the seasons.

Second, within our forms, we may move our emphasis to the relevant element as the seasons change. A Taiji form done to accentuate the water element (kidneys, lü jin, absorption, fluidity – tong 通) in winter, will feel quite different to a wood element form (liver, peng jin, expansion, rising, springiness – tanxing 彈性) in spring.9And just to complete the list, fire element (heart, ji jin, projection, twisting and spiralling – zhuan 轉) in summer; metal element (lungs, an jin, compression, alignment – zheng 正) in autumn; earth element (spleen, zhongding, smoothness – shunli 順利) in long summer and throughout the year.

Third, one might emphasise different neigong forms with the seasons: Fundamentals (Energy Gates) in the winter, Heaven and Earth in the spring, Spiralling Energy Body in the summer, Immortals Cloud Playing (Gods) in long summer and throughout the year, Bend the Bow in the autumn (Dragon and Tiger also works very well in the autumn, but since it is not as elemental it is not as seasonal).10We should remember that, while seasonal adjustments are the general context for our practice, there are many, more subtle levels of change, such as that made for more immediate changes in the weather, for different times of the day, and even for different phases within one’s practice. For instance, exactly where we change from opening to closing through a particular movement in the form can change depending on what produces the optimal flow of energy (qitong 氣通) at that moment. Eventually bianhua can be manifested moment to moment.

Adapting our practice to the seasons is an effective way to tune back into the world around us. It allows us to move with the currents rather than being drowned by them. Returning to the world, becoming more present and being able to see what is in front of us as it is, is the much needed antidote to the hi-tech, distracted age of anxiety that we are presently living in.

Internally, there are three primary contexts that will transform the way we practise: health, the martial arts, and meditation. These three fundamental applications can and should interweave with the external adjustments that we make.Which is also part of ‘naiwai xianghe’.

Bruce, a natural fighter himself, reminds us regularly that, ‘not everyone wants to fight, but everyone wants to be healthy and strong’. The health applications of these arts apply to everyone and are the reason why the vast majority of people take them up in the first place. This being so, and since physical strength and stability are the foundation of the martial and spiritual applications of the internal arts, we’ll focus on health here.11For information on the martial side of the internal arts see: Frantzis, B. K., The Power of the Internal Martial Arts, revised edition (Berkeley: Blue Snake Books, 2007). For information on the spiritual side, the realm of Daoist shengong, see Frantzis, B.K., Relaxing Into Your Being (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2002); Frantzis, B.K., The Great Stillness (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2001); Frantzis, B.K., Tao of Letting Go: Meditation for Modern Living (Berkeley: Blue Snake Books, 2009).

In terms of the body, one of the most important aspects of tailoring is that of the form itself. One’s form needs to fit one’s body and its specific capacities. This is the opposite of the ubiquitous ‘one size fits all’ approach to teaching forms, where people try to force their bodies into a stylised configuration, usually that of a specific master. What is forgotten with such stylisation is that the master’s form is correct for his or her particular body and skills. This is why different masters develop different looking forms. For instance, Wu Jianquan had an extraordinarily open body and was particularly skilled at throws, and both were reflected in his Taiji form.

Tailoring the form in this way does not mean that anything goes, one cannot just do one’s own thing, but within any form there is far more possible variation than most practitioners realise. Taiji is an embodiment of certain principles, not an external shape.

An important aspect of realising the nature of change and transformation is that it can help us let go of the desire for perfection and the inevitable frustration that accompanies it when we never get it ‘right’. In a world of constant flux, how can there be a single, perfect configuration that holds true for all time? Doing a form correctly means get- ting as much neigong working as possible, given our present level of integration, here and now. It will be different tomorrow.

Beyond fitting the form to one’s capacities, particular health conditions require additional modifications. Doing a form generally for health will not necessarily be the same as doing it for a specific ailment, although there is likely to be a great deal of overlap. The way one does the form to tonify or heal an internal organ, for instance, is not precisely the same way that one does it for improving blood flow, or healing joints, or nerves.

Transformation and tailoring are called change, and change is the way that we constantly adjust and pare away what would otherwise get in our way. Change is the ability to go along with reality, with that which is so-of-itself. The internal arts are essentially bianhua practices. They teach us how to change and transform along with circumstances. Initially, the tailoring is physical: how to move from one position to another with- out getting stuck. Gradually our practices show us how to change in ever more subtle ways.

If we learn to tailor change we can be like the swimmer at Luliang, leisurely strolling next to the turbulent rapids that he has just effortlessly negotiated.

Text and translations © Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2017.

Notes   [ + ]

Making Use of the Middle

or
Goldilocks was a philosopher

 

There is a short phrase in the Taiji Classics that is easily glossed over. If we take the time to look at it a little more closely, it reveals surprising richness, depth and relevance to our practice of the internal arts and, beyond that, to the art of living. The phrase is: wú gùo bù jí 無過不及, which we will initially translate as:

Neither gùo nor bù jí.

A standard translation for gùo 過 is ‘excess’ and for bù jí 不及 is ‘insufficiency’. Translating these terms in this way is accurate, but it does not tell the whole story. Any traditionally educated Chinese reader will immediately recognise this phrase as a reference to a passage in the Confucian classic, much loved by the Daoists, the Zhongyong 中庸.

Zhongyong is often translated as The Doctrine of the Mean.1Following Legge’s 1861 translation. Later in 1885 he opted for The State of Equilibrium and Harmony, for the “Sacred Books of the East” series, but returned to Doctrine of the Mean for the second revised edition of “The Chinese Classics” series of 1893. Zhōng means ‘middle’, ‘centre’. The Chinese name for China is zhōngguó, ‘Middle Kingdom’. Yōng, means ‘ordinary’ as well as ‘use, employ’ and ‘constant’. A very direct translation would be ‘the middle of the ordinary’ or ‘the constant centre’. Both terms evoke the central place (zhōng) of balance in any situation, place or state. What is ‘ordinary’ (yōng) if not the absence of extremes, whatever the circumstance? It is also possible to read this title as ‘making use of centrality’. The phrase zhōngyōng first appears in the Analects where it seems to follow this last meaning: ‘Becoming virtuous by making use of centrality (zhōngyōng), that is attainment!’2Analects 6.29.

Our phrase from the Taiji Classics is actually a direct quotation of the explanation of the meaning of the phrase zhōngyōng by the Neo-Confucian scholar Zhuxi. He says:

Zhōng is the name of that which is not one sided, does not lean (bù piān bù yĭ), which neither gùo nor bù jí. Yōng is level and constant.3Zhong Yong Zhang Ju 1. The phrase bù piān bù yĭ also made its way into the Taiji Classics. Swaim translates it as: “No leaning, no inclining.” (in Fu Zhongwen: Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan). Oddly, the two phrases of this sentence do not appear together in the Taiji Classics.

Let’s look more closely at these terms before turning to the Zhongyong. Gùo 過 means ‘to pass by, to go beyond’, jí 及 means ‘to arrive at, to come to, to reach, to attain’. Bù jí 不及, then, means ‘not reach’. Our phrase from the Taiji Classics now reads,

Neither go beyond nor do not arrive.

The Zhongyong, can fill out its meaning for us:

The master said: ‘The Way (dào) is not traveled (xíng), I know why: those who are knowledgeable go beyond it (gùo); those who are foolish do not come up to it (bù jí). The Way is not made bright (míng), I know why: those who are worthy go beyond it (gùo), those who are unlike (the worthy) do not come up to it (bù jí ). No one does not eat or drink, but few are able to know flavour.’4Zhongyong 4.

The dominant metaphors of this passage are of travelling along xíng 行, and illuminating (making bright and clear) míng 明, the way dào 道. The word translated as ‘attainment’ in Analects 6.29 above, zhì 至 ‘arrive’, is the same word that Zhuangzi uses for one who has attained the Dao: literally, ‘one who has arrived’. Arriving somewhere necessarily involves neither going beyond it nor failing to get there. The language of ‘going beyond,’ ‘not coming up to,’ and ‘arriving in the middle’ is intimately bound up with the fundamental metaphor of Chinese philosophy and practice: that of the Way.

Those who acquire knowledge and the worthy are usually exemplars and paragons in the Confucian tradition, but in the Zhongyong Confucius warns that such people fail to attain the way because they go beyond it. Theirs is the mistake of overreaching, of excess. The foolish and those unlike the worthy (usually just translated as ‘the unworthy’) fall into the opposite error of not coming up to the Way. Theirs is the mistake of falling short, of deficiency.

If we are in any doubt about this reading of the Zhongyong, there is a passage in the Analects where Confucius makes it absolutely clear that gùo and bù jí equally miss the mark:

Zigong asked, ‘Who is more worthy, Zizhang or Zixia?’ The Master replied, ‘Zizhang gùo (goes beyond it), Zixia bù jí (does not come up to it).’ (Zigong asked,) ‘So then is Zizhang better?’ The Master replied, ‘Gùo (going beyond) is the same as bù jí (not coming up to).’5Analects 11.16.

The pursuit of the middle is equally important to the Confucian and Daoist traditions, though the focus of each is somewhat different. Confucians emphasise the Dao of man, which to them means the realm of human relationships. They employ the mean within the lĭ 禮, a term usually translated as ‘rites’, but which includes what we would recognise as etiquette. Greeting your friends and how one behaves in public are equally part of the Confucian rites.

Daoists, emphasising the dao of Heaven, make use of centrality on all levels of one’s being: the physical, energetic, emotional, the mental, and so on. Our passage in the Taiji Classics is primarily concerned with the application of not going too far and not falling short physically, energetically and martially. It is unlikely that it is being used in reference to the rites, despite the phrase having been borrowed from one of the greatest of the Confucian masters of the Song dynasty renaissance.

In the Daoist classics, one of the most important images of tending towards and attending to the middle is that of drawing a bow:

The dao of Heaven is like drawing a bow.
What is high it draws down, What is low it lifts,
What has too much it lessens, What does not have enough it adds to.
The dao of Heaven lessens what has too much
while adding to what does not have enough.
The dao of men is not so, it lessens what is not enough by offering more to what has too much.6Laozi 77.

Making use of the middle, then, is directly related to the art of knowing what is enough:

Calamity: there is none greater than not knowing what is enough
Error: there is none greater than desiring gain
Thus knowing enough of what is enough is always enough!7Laozi 46. For an application of this principle see, The Great is the Enemy of the Good.

Considering these passages from the heart Chinese philosophy, it becomes clear how true to tradition Master Bruce Frantzis is when he refers to making use of the middle as finding the ‘Goldilocks point’: neither too much nor too little, but just right. This is what he means by the 70% rule. In this regard Bruce often tells the story of the man from Sung, the classic version of which is found in the writings of Mencius:

Gongsun Chou asked Mencius, ‘May I ask in what you are most developed?’
Mencius answered, ‘I understand words, and I am good at cultivating my flood-like qi.’
Gongsun asked, ‘May I ask what you mean by ‘’flood-like qi”?’
Mencius answered, ‘That is difficult to explain. Qi can be developed to great levels of quantity and stability by correctly nourishing it and not damaging it, to the extent that it fills the space between Heaven and Earth. […] One must work at it, but not rigidly. Do not forget about it, but do not help it to grow either. Do not be like the man from Sung.
There was a man from Sung who was worried that his crops were not growing, so he pulled on them. Wearily, he returned home, and said to his family, ‘Today I am worn out; I have been helping the crops to grow!’ His sons rushed out to look, but the crops had already withered.
Those in the world who do not help their crops grow are few indeed. Those who abandon them, thinking it will not help, are those who do not even weed their crops. Those who help them grow are those who pull on their crops. Not only does this not help, but it actually harms them. Mencius 2A.2.

This is a beautiful illustration of finding the Goldilocks point in any endeavour: neither helping our crops grow, nor neglecting them; neither going beyond what is needed nor not coming up to it.

While Goldilocks may not set a very good example when it comes to breaking and entering, she is a great exemplar of the principle of avoiding the extremes of too much and too little.

Making use of the middle is the ultimate principle of balance that we can apply to any aspect of life: from exercising or working in the garden, to finding the balance between work and home. Within Tai Chi, neigong and qigong, finding and maintaining balance is practiced on progressively more subtle levels. The first concern is with physical balance, which is not just about standing on one leg but also includes balancing the left and right sides of the body, the top and bottom halves of the body and the blood, lymph and nerve flow throughout the body etc.. The next level is energetic balance, followed by emotional and mental balance and so on. At each level of refinement the principle is the same, only it is applied to more of who and what we are.

The seemingly innocuous phrase from the Taiji Classics with which we started, ‘neither go beyond nor do not arrive’ is truly one of the most important subjects in our practice of the internal arts and in life.

 

Text and translations ©Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2011 & 2017.

Notes   [ + ]

Why So Slow 1

When people first join my classes they often comment on how slow they are, even compared to other Tai Chi classes, punctuated as they are by regular tea breaks. There are several reasons for this deliberate lack of haste.

The first reason is obvious enough. The breaks give your nervous system time to absorb whatever we have just done. It makes it much easier for the body to retain the new information and then to integrate it. If the class just kept moving on to the next thing without any pauses, only a fraction of what was taught would be retained. It is the equivalent of the famous tea cup that, once full, overflows. There is only so much that it can hold and until it is emptied, the tea is drunk and made part of the drinker, it simply will not be able to hold any more. The least beneficial aspect of such a way of doing things is the impression left that you have learned much more than you actually have. Being in the room when something is being taught is not the same as truly learning and embodying it.

The second reason for the easy pace is to encourage us to let the mind slow down. We live in a frantic world, in a culture where everything is rushed: everything must be done instantly. We have reached the point where we get frustrated at waiting a couple of seconds for the computer to perform tasks that would have taken hours or even weeks to accomplish just a few decades ago.

These days, we rarely even stop for a cup of tea . Instead we drink it on the run, in the car or while we are working. And we view this a progress! Pausing in class for a cup of tea is the opportunity to do just that: it is a chance to become present, even if only to enjoy a cup of tea with no other demands on us.

Being present is one of the fundamentals of Daoist practice. The first step is to be in the body. The more present we become to the body, the more our minds penetrate and merge with it. This can only be achieved by slowing down the mind to the same speed as the body.

The mind can move much faster than the body. Think how quickly your mind can move even from one end of the room to the other; much faster than you could run the same distance. Your thoughts can run so far ahead of something you are saying that you fall over your words.

In order for the mind to saturate the body it must first slow down to match the speed of the body. Otherwise its attention endlessly flies off in other directions. These other directions are most often into the future or the past: thoughts about what you’ll do next or this evening, or next week or on the other hand memories of this morning, yesterday, last week, last year. These days people spend most of their lives in the past and the future and very little of it in the present. It is one of the contributing factors to our age of anxiety.

I regularly have students who want to know what’s next before they have engaged with what I have just shown them. This is the mind racing into the future and neglecting the present. Overcoming the ‘what’s next’ syndrome is part of the antidote to our lack of ease in the world. Slowing down the mind to the point where in can saturate the body with awareness brings us into the present and brings about calmness and stability.

The third reason for going slowly follows on from the first two. Once we have allowed our nervous systems to absorb the new pattern and our minds have slowed down enough to be in the body to whatever degree we are able at the moment, we can begin to integrate what we have learned. This involves making the new element that we have learned a part of the way the body works rather than something we do only when we focus our attention on it. It is of course only through practice that we are able to integrate new skills.

On a deeper level, integration (the sixteenth element of neigong) involves bringing together all of the different parts of ourselves. At first it is physical integration; aligning and connecting the limbs and torso to the point where the body works as one thing. The root meaning of the word ‘health’ is ‘whole’. Using the body as an integrated whole makes one healthy. This same principle applies to all of our other bodies: the energy body, the emotional body, the mental body etc.. As each body becomes integrated within itself and with the other bodies we move towards ever greater wholeness, balance and presence.

These are the reasons why in class we do something and then have a cup of tea and a chat. It allows our nervous system to absorb what we have just done before moving on to the next layer. It gives us the opportunity to relax into the present and over time it gives us the space to integrate the various elements of our practice and ourselves.

 

©Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2010 & 2017.

What We Teach

D&T 6
Dragon & Tiger Qigong, Movement 6

Where To Start

Tai Chi Fundamentals

We generally recommend Tai Chi Fundamentals as the place to start. This ancient neigong set teaches all of the essential alignments and movement principles in the most simple format possible. It is the foundation of the internal arts and it makes learning any Tai Chi form much easier.

Dragon & Tiger

Another place to begin is with qigong. Dragon & Tiger will quickly give you a sense of the body’s energy. It is like giving yourself acupuncture (without the needles). The beauty of this qigong is that you need learn only seven movements to practise a complete set that will balance and strengthen all of the major meridians (energy channels). It is particularly good for healers of all kinds as it protects against and clears the negative energy that they are often exposed to in their work with others. Dragon & Tiger is good for those who are only interested in qigong, whereas Tai Chi Fundamentals allows you to move on to Tai Chi more easily.

Longevity Breathing

Matthew has often heard B.K.Frantzis say that if he could only teach one of the many disciplines that he has mastered for general health it would be breathing. It follows that if you only ever learn one aspect of the internal arts breathing would be an excellent choice. With relatively little effort you can learn the most essential practice for letting go of stress and gaining optimal health. It can be done anywhere, any time.

The Next Step

Wu Style Tai Chi Short Form

The Wu Style, as taught by Grand Master Liu Heng Jie to B.K. Frantzis, is taught entirely in terms of the 16 components of neigong. It is the only form that I know of that does so. This form is specifically designed to contain all five of the neigong systems, of which Tai Chi Fundamentals is the first and most essential. Its effect is to amplify the power of any neigong that you practise. It is considerably more difficult to learn than the neigong, but having studied Tai Chi Fundamentals for some time, you will be able to practise the form with content from a very early stage.

Heaven & Earth NeiGong

Heaven & Earth is the gateway to all higher level Daoist energy and meditation work, including high level Tai Chi and Bagua. It is taught with the expectation that you are familiar with the material from Tai Chi Fundamentals, without which your progress will be limited.

And beyond …

Wu Style Tai Chi Long Form

You will need a firm grasp of the Short Form (Matthew’s recommendation is at least three years) before taking on the Long Form. This class is significantly more demanding than any other that Matthew teaches. In order for a person to really benefit from the Long Form over the Short Form, they must be willing to invest much more practice time.

The minimum experience required to join this class is that you have done at least one cycle of the Wu Style Short Form.

Please contact Matthew if you are interested in attending.

 

Immortal Cloud Play (or Gods Playing in the Clouds)

This is the advanced neigong set, the bridge into genuine moving meditation.

Qigong

D&T 2
Dragon & Tiger Qigong, Movement 2

The difference between ‘Qigong’ and ‘Neigong’

‘Qi’ (or ‘Chi’) is the Chinese word for ‘energy’ or ‘life force’. It is what differentiates a living body from a dead one. The modern term ‘qigong’, meaning ‘energy work,’ is used to cover all forms of Oriental energy exercise, however there are actually two distinct forms of such exercise:

Qigong – which starts outside the body and works inwards.

Neigong – which starts inside the body and works outwards.

Although Qigong (pronounced ‘chee-gong’) is an old term, it has only come into general use over the last fifty years or so. In that time it has come to be used as the general designation for all energy practices. However, when used as a technical term (as it is on this web site) it refers to those exercises which affect the energy meridians on the surface of the body and through these affect the energy deep inside the body. Qigong uses the breath to move the qi, and activates only one or two energy lines at a time.

Neigong (pronounced ‘nay-gong’), meaning ‘internal work’, is an ancient term (over three thousand years old) for those practices that are the original source of all exercises that are today covered by the general term qigong. It focuses on the deepest energy channels, which then open and strengthen all the meridians of the body. In neigong the qi is moved directly by the mind and many energy channels are activated simultaneously. In total there are 16 components of neigong.

Strictly speaking, everything we teach is neigong, with the exception of Dragon & Tiger which is a meridian qigong system.

Both qigong and neigong work differently to Western forms of exercise.

Neigong

Gods MB
Immortal Cloud Play

The 16 elements of Neigong

Anyone who has read any of Bruce’s books will have come across his list of the 16-Part Neigong System, these are the basic components of Daoist neigong. They are:

  1. Breathing methods, in increasing complexity.
  2. Feeling, moving, transforming and transmuting internal energies along the descending, ascending and connecting energy channels of the body.
  3. Precise body alignments.
  4. Dissolving physical, emotional and spiritual blockages.
  5. Moving energy through the body’s meridian channels and energy gates.
  6. Bending and stretching the body, from the inside out and the outside in, along the yang and yin meridians.
  7. Opening and closing all parts of the body’s tissues, including the joints, muscles, soft tissues, internal organs, glands, blood vessels, cerebrospinal system and brain, as well as all of the body’s subtle energy anatomy.
  8. Manipulating the energy of the external aura.
  9. Making circles and spirals of energy inside the body, controlling the body’s spiraling energy currents, and moving qi in the body at will.
  10. Absorbing and projecting energy to and from any part of the body.
  11. Controlling energies of the spine.
  12. Controlling the body’s left and right energy channels.
  13. Controlling the body’s central energy channel.
  14. Learning the capabilities and uses of the body’s lower dandien.
  15. Learning the capabilities and uses of the body’s upper and middle dandien.
  16. Connecting every part of the physical body into one unified energy.

Each of these can be viewed as a major heading for a category of internal gongfu (practice and accomplishment – the ‘gong’ in neigong is short for ‘gongfu’). Each category has a great many layers.

Of the literally hundreds of neigong and qigong sets that Bruce learned in Japan and China he chose six (five neigong sets and one qigong set), which together can lead to the mastery of all sixteen components or categories.

The hall mark of these sets is that they are all very old (Dragon & Tiger is the youngest at 1500 years). They have been tested over millennia and have been found to work. They are also highly efficient, they give you extraordinary out-put for relatively little input. And finally they are all very safe when practiced sensibly.

The five neigong sets are: Energy Gates (which I call ‘Tai Chi Fundamentals’), Heaven & Earth, Spiralling Energy Body, Bend the Bow and Gods Playing in the Clouds (which I call ‘Immortal Cloud Play’). The qigong set is Dragon & Tiger.

Each of the sets has many of the 16 components in it. For example, Tai Chi Fundamentals can contain virtually everything – eventually, but each has its particular focus. For instance, alignments (#3) and outer dissolving (#4) are best learned, initially, through Tai Chi Fundamentals. It is easiest to learn opening and closing (#7) from Heaven and Earth. Feeling and moving energy along your acupuncture meridians and manipulating the energy of the external aura (#8) are most easily learned through Dragon & Tiger.

Several of these components span the different neigong sets and you learn progressively more subtle aspects through them. For instance controlling energies of the spine (#11) begins with the spinal stretch that is learned in Tai Chi Fundamentals, it continues with Heaven & Earth and is highly developed in Bend the Bow (which is its primary focus) and is completed in Immortal Cloud Play. Without the spinal stretch you cannot do the spinal work in Heaven & Earth, without Heaven & Earth you cannot do Bend the Bow etc.

Bruce used to teach the breathing (#1) in Heaven & Earth, where it is most effectively integrated into movement. But he found that most people just weren’t getting it. So he now teaches it separately as Longevity Breathing and this is later put into Heaven & Earth and the other sets. More complex types of breathing such as reverse breathing are also taught separately (at level 2 of Longevity Breathing) and then are put into Bend the Bow and Immortal Cloud Play. It is worth noting that Bruce considers any natural breath (at seventy percent) that is shorter than two minutes insufficient for reverse breathing.

Tai Chi Fundamentals and Heaven and Earth are the two core practices. Without them the more difficult and subtle components (9-16), which are developed by Spiralling Energy Body, Bend the Bow and Immortal Cloud Play cannot be attained. But Tai Chi Fundamentals and Heaven and Earth (and Dragon & Tiger) will give the vast majority of people all they ever need or want. There is no requirement to learn all six sets. In fact Bruce often advises people to do one or two practices well rather than many badly. From my observations most people who try to do it all too quickly end up with much less than they would have had, had they spent their time focusing on the basics.

In terms of the internal martial arts and neigong Bruce has this to say:

“The alphabet of Ba Gua is neigong. The alphabet of Tai Chi is neigong. The alphabet of Xing Yi is neigong. The alphabet of qigong is neigong. The alphabet of Daoist Meditation is neigong. You can look at Tai Chi and Bagua as types of writing based on these fundamental letters of the neigong alphabet.”  (O’Brian, J., Nei Jia Chuan: Internal Martial Arts Teachers of Tai Ji Quan, Xing Yi Quan and Ba Gua Zhang, p.116)

Longevity Breathing

Breath is the measure of life, learn to use it well.

The Benefits of Longevity Breathing:

  • Increases breathing capacity
  • Relaxes the nervous system
  • Improves mental concentration and physical stamina
  • Calms the emotions
  • Massages, cleanses and strengthens the internal organs
  • Releases open the spine

Healthy breathing is the foundation of a healthy life. The Daoists consider any breath less than 20 seconds in length (10 seconds inhale and 10 seconds exhale) to be stunted and detrimental to health.

“The strength or weakness of the breath is a major factor in determining the mind’s clarity and the body’s health and vitality.”

B.K. Frantzis, Relaxing Into Your Being, p.38.

On this course you will learn how to:

  • maintain the method of circular breathing in daily life, even in difficult circumstances when you need it the most
  • considerably increase the length of your breath without straining your system
  • smooth out the irregularities in your breathing
  • massage your internal organs with your breath
  • relax and release your nervous system
  • perceive the relationship between what your breath is doing and your emotional state

Daoist Longevity Breathing is especially useful to those with:

  • cardio-pulmonary problems
  • asthma and other breathing problems
  • high levels of stress or anxiety
  • chronic pain
  • poor sleep

Breathing methods, from the simple to the complex, constitute, one of the sixteen components of the complete Daoist neigong system.

No prior experience is needed for this course.

 

Recommended Reading

Frantzis, B.K., Relaxing Into Your Being (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2002). ISBN: 1556434073

Frantzis, B.K., Chapter 5 ‘Breath & Chi’ of Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body, 2nd edition (Berkeley: Blue Snake Books, 2006). ISBN 1-58394-146-0.

Frantzis, B.K., Tao of Letting Go: Meditation for Modern Living (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2009). ISBN: 978-1-55643-808-0

Dragon & Tiger

Our Qigong set

Dragon and Tiger is a 1500 year old traditional Chinese medical Qigong system consisting of seven movements that are performed as a sequence. As it does not require precise body alignments, Dragon & Tiger is relatively easy to learn.

The Benefits of Dragon & Tiger Qigong

  • It quickly gives you a recognizable feeling of qi in your body.
  • It increases your energy levels and vitality
  • It opens and clears the majority of your body’s energy meridians.
  • It increases your defence against invasion from viruses, the elements and negative qi.

You will learn

  • to feel and work with the qi in your aura and acupuncture meridian lines
  • to project qi from your hands for healing and/or physical power
  • to stretch and move your joints, release tension, stress and pain
  • to release stagnant qi from, and then draw fresh energy from the environment back into your system
  • to stimulate the protective layer of qi on the body’s surface
  • To pull and push qi

For health

In China, Dragon & Tiger is known for its powerful preventative and healing effects for cancer, and for mitigating the effects of radiation and chemotherapy. More generally it protects against and speeds up the recovery time from many illnesses.

For Healers

Techniques from this highly effective qigong system have been applied in Qigong Tui Na bodywork for centuries in China to heal others energetically by clearing blockages in the energy aura.

For those in the medical and healing professions Dragon & Tiger is an excellent way to understand how medical qigong works, and it is especially beneficial to their own health because of its protective and clearing effects.

For Everyone

Ideal for any age or fitness level, B.K.Frantzis recommends Dragon & Tiger (along with ‘Tai Chi Fundementals‘) as the best introduction to his system.

Why this Qigong?

The most complete qigong systems have hundreds of movements that take over an hour to perform (this is one of the differences with neigong, which focuses on few movements with a great deal of content). Dragon & Tiger will give you the vast majority of the health benefits of the best qigong systems in a much simpler and shorter format.

“Of the hundreds of qigong systems, which I have personally studied or researched, in my opinion Dragon & Tiger is the easiest complete system to rapidly learn and gain great benefit from. Even when done imperfectly and by people who have limited range of motion or are wheelchair bound, the exercise is immensely beneficial.”   (B.K.Frantzis, Dragon & Tiger Instructor’s Manual, 2003. p.ii).

Recommended Reading

Frantzis, B.K., Dragon and Tiger Medical Qigong: Develop Health and Energy in Seven Simple Movements (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2010).

Frantzis, B.K., Dragon and Tiger Medical Qigong Volume 2: Qi Cultivation Principles and Exercises (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2014).

Image copyright ©Matthew Brewer, 2019

Different to regular exercise

Wu Style Tai Chi, Cloud Hands

How Qigong and Neigong differ from Western forms of exercise

The internal arts of qigong and neigong develop the ability to use the mind to control and enhance the flow of your life force. Unlike western exercises, qigong and neigong do not focus primarily on muscles. They are much more concerned with the nerves and blood flow.

The Nervous System:

The nerves are one of the main links between the body and the mind and they are one of the main conduits of energy in the body. The soft continuous movements of qigong and neigong gently release the nervous system. This is even quite different from yoga which uses strong stretches to lengthen body tissue. Such strong stretching does not release the nervous system. You can have a strong, flexible body and still be tense.

By releasing the nervous system the body can let go of its habitual tension. The more the body is free of tension the easier it is for blood, lymph and energy to move around the body, and the more the joints and cavities of the body can open up. Most joint pain comes from a lack of space in the joints. Releasing the nervous system also improves your coordination and reflexes, and helps to calm the mind.

The Circulatory System:

Along with the nerves, the fluids of the body are the other primary conduit of energy in the body. The stronger your fluid flow is (including blood, lymph, sinovial, interstitial and cerebral spinal fluid), the stronger your energy and vitality.

The western view of the circulatory system tends to focus on the heart. This involves raising the heart-rate during exercise in order to keep the heart strong. In the internal arts the focus is on the entire circulatory system. Their gentle twisting and pulsing movements are designed to keep all of the blood vessels soft, springy and open, which allows the blood to flow more easily. Twisting the tissues and opening and closing actions (of the joints, cavities, blood vessels etc) move the body fluids through the vessels. This means that the heart does not have to do all of the work and does not have to strain. The heart along with all the other internal organs and the spine are also kept healthy by the gentle massage they get from Longevity Breathing techniques.

Each of the 16 neigong components enhances your circulation in different ways.

Mindfulness:

Another characteristic of the internal arts is that they fully involve the mind. They are about ‘making the body conscious’. This could not be further from the mindlessness of western exercise, consider the joggers you see wired into i-pods, or people on a treadmill watching television. One of the main benefits of being mindful of what you are doing is that it is much more interesting. The more you do qigong and neigong the more you find, and the more subtle your awareness of your body and mind becomes. People rarely stop qigong and neigong because they find them boring. The ability to go into your body makes it much less likely that you will hurt yourself, as you will be able to listen more carefully to your body during any activity or exercise. This ability also gives you an early warning system if something does begin to go wrong inside. The earlier you catch something the less of a problem it is.

Qigong and neigong also develop the ability to focus your attention inside and outside of yourself for long periods of time without becoming tired or distracted. An important aspect of longevity practices, from the Daoist point of view, is that they keep your mind clear and present right up to your last day. Living well is much more important than simply living a long time.

What to look for:

There are literally thousands of different internal practices, many of which were designed for specific purposes. Most of them are safe, some are dangerous. The safest, and often the most beneficial, focus on the downward flow of energy in the body for the first few years, as we do in Tai Chi Fundamentals. It is the downward flow that opens and heals the body and releases blocked energy. When choosing a qigong or neigong the best are those that have been tested over a very long period of time. Be sure to ask what it was designed to do, whether it is a complete system and how long it has been around (several centuries is traditionally considered the acceptable minimum). There are many people teaching partial systems and these can destabilise your body, energy and mind. A complete system will strengthen and balance all of the major energy flows in the body.

Deal & Folkestone

Deal – live from 2 September 2020

Tai Chi for Relaxation & Health

Day: Wednesday

Time: 1.30-2.30pm

Starting: Join any time

Location: The Landmark Centre, 129 the High St, Deal CT14 6BB.

Folkestone – staying online September – December 2020

Tai Chi Fundamentals and Qigong

Day: Thursday

Time: 1.00-2.00pm

Starting: Join any time

Location: Bar Invicta, Cheriton Road, Folkestone, CT19 5JU.

Instructor: Dave Willis

Term dates

Charges

What to wear

Canterbury, Faversham & Whitstable

All of the classes below are running, but online via Zoom (video conferencing) rather than at the venues.

If you wish to join these classes please contact me.

Canterbury

Special Topic: Circularity in the internal arts

Day: Thursday

Time: 6.30 – 7.45pm

(from 3 Sept 2020)

Details:

We’ll be looking at circularity through exercises taken from many of our neigong, qigong and Tai Chi sets. The idea is that you won’t have to learn a new form/set. Once we get circles working, we will look at how to apply them to the form(s) that you already know.

Prerequisites: (Ideally) familiarity with Tai Chi Fundamentals or any of the other neigong/qigong sets.

[Location: The Friends Meeting House, 6 The Friars, Canterbury CT1 2AS.]

Tai Chi Fundamentals

Day: Thursday

Time: 8.00-9.00pm

(from 3 Sept 2020)

Join any time

Location: The Friends Meeting House, 6 The Friars, Canterbury CT1 2AS.

Faversham

Tai Chi Fundamentals

Day: Saturday

Time: 10.00-11.30am [online time: 10.15 – 11.15am]

(from 1 Feb 2020)

Join any time

Location: Fleur de Lis Hall, Gatefield Lane, Off Preston Street, Faversham ME13 8NS.

Wu Style Tai Chi Medium Form

Day: Saturday

Time: 11.45 – 1.15pm

(from 5 Sept 2020)

Details: New cycle begins 5 Sept 2020

One cycle takes 18-20 months.

Prerequisites: none

Location: Fleur de Lis Hall, Gatefield Lane, Off Preston Street, Faversham ME13 8NS.

Whitstable

Tai Chi Fundamentals

Day: Wednesday

Time: 6.30 – 7.30pm

(from 8 Jan 2020)

Join any time (there’s no need to book, just show up)

Location: St Peter’s Church House, 154 Cromwell Rd, Whitstable CT5 1NA.

Wu Style Tai Chi Long Form

Day: Wednesday

Time: 7.45 – 9.00pm

Presently closed. Not suitable for beginners.

Recommended Prerequisites: Three cycles of the Short Form.

Please contact Matthew if you wish to attend.

Location: St Peter’s Church House, 154 Cromwell Rd, Whitstable CT5 1NA.

Instructor: Dr Matthew Brewer

Term dates

Charges

Pay for classes (Paypal)

Gift Certificates

What to wear

Articles & Interviews in PDF

Articles

For those who like properly formatted articles, here are all of the articles from the blog (and some that have not yet made it there) in PDF format.

Embodied Philosophy

Being Way Oriented

Do Not Let the Great be the Enemy of the Good

Making Use of the Middle

Nurturing Life

Rounding Off the Corners

Study not Studying

Taiji and the Procrustean Bed

Tailoring Change

Why So Slow 1

Why So Slow 2

Seasons

Autumn

Winter

Spring

Summer

Long Summer

Bibliographies

Laozi (Daodejing, Tao Te Ching)

Interview

with Master Bruce Frantzis on the Tai Chi Classics.
Reproduced from Tai Chi Chuan & Oriental Arts, Vol. 35, Autumn 2010,
with kind permission from the editor.
Bruce Frantzis on the Tai Chi Classics

Chronic Pain

This article is written for teachers who are interested in this aspect of Tai Chi for health preservation and rehabilitation.

Teaching Tai Chi for Chronic Pain