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   [ + ]

The Three Swings

Swing 1 MB
The First Swing

Tai Chi Fundamentals Part 2

The Three Swings complete the ancient neigong set the first half of which includes Standing, Cloud Hands and the Spinal Stretch. They build directly on the alignment and movement principles of Standing and Cloud Hands.

It is important to have the basic alignments of each swing in place before moving onto the next, otherwise it is possible to damage your knees or lower back. This is why it is not a good idea to try to teach yourself the Swings from the book without the guidance of a properly qualified instructor.

In this course we build up each movement with preliminary exercises that, if followed, will protect you from such dangers and help you get the movements working.

The Benefits of the Swings

1) The First Swing opens up the hips; stimulates and strengthens the qi of the lower jiao, which extends from the lower dantian to the floor (that part of the body cavity that controls the function of the kidney, urinary bladder and the intestines: those organs responsible for the filtering and removal of impurities from the body). It also allows the deep relaxation of the arms and shoulders.

2) The Second Swing is the basis of all stepping in Tai Chi (Hsing I and Bagua), it teaches how to turn the waist and legs from the kua; stimulates and strengthens the qi of the middle jiao, which is between the lower and middle dantian (that part of the body cavity that controls the function of the small intestine, spleen, stomach, liver, gallbladder and pancreas as well as the adrenal glands: those organs responsible for the transportation and transformation of food into energy and blood).

3) The Third Swing completes the work of the first two swings; makes the spine open and springy; opens up the shoulders and the neck; and stimulates and strengthens the qi of the upper jiao, which extends from the middle dantian to the crown (bai hui) (that part of the body that controls the function of the heart, lungs and brain: those organs responsible for the circulation of blood and chi).

Experience in Standing and Cloud Hands is needed for this course.

Recommended Reading

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

Frantzis, B. K., The Power of the Internal Martial Arts (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1998).

Frantzis, B.K., The Chi Revolution (Berkeley: Blue Snake Books, 2008). ISBN 978-1-58394-193-5.

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.

Practice principles

Wu Style Taiji, Single Whip

 

The teacher leads to the door,
The practice is for the individual.

The Golden Mean: Strain is not gain

The most important principle in the internal arts is the Golden Mean. This means that you should not do anything to the point of straining yourself physically, energetically, emotionally or mentally. When you begin to feel any kind of tension, strain or pain you have gone beyond your comfortable range. Whenever you reach this point you have gone too far, next time do less. Going slowly allows you to notice when you are nearing the end of your comfortable range so that you can change direction before moving into strain.

Staying within your comfortable range will allow your body to release open. As it does so your range will grow. The golden mean is about being like an energy efficient light bulb: producing the most light (maximum flow/power) for the least possible expenditure of energy.

Not demanding perfection

It is quite common for people not to practise because they feel that they will get it wrong. This is a one of the largest barriers to improvement. Practise whatever you can remember, even if you know that you are not doing it quite right. As long as your knees are not hurting whatever you do will benefit you.

If you practise what you know regularly you will quickly have something to work on and improve. Whenever you come to class you will learn or be reminded of another piece of the puzzle. This will allow you to correct what you have been practising at home. You will soon find that you remember more each time and can practise more accurately.

Remember you do not have to do these postures and movements perfectly to get a great deal of benefit. In fact no one has ever done Tai Chi, Neigong or Qigong perfectly. It is working slowly and gently in a certain direction (towards the ideal of balance, openness and connected flow etc) that will make our journey smoother, happier and healthier.

The best time to practise

The simple answer is any time is better than never. Traditionally two hours before dawn is considered best. Whatever time you choose, try to do it at about the same time each day. Find what works best for you. Usually it is better not to practise just after eating.

Practising before bed

Some people find that if they practise too close to the time they go to bed that they cannot sleep. This can be anywhere from five minutes to two hours or more. Others find that it can help them get to sleep. The only way to find out is by trial and error.

How long to practise

At first it is easiest to get into the habit of regular practise by doing a few minutes each day. Do it when you are waiting for the kettle to boil or when the ads come on when you are watching TV. Over time as you find that the body likes it, gradually build up the time according to your comfortable range. A little every day is much better than a lot once a week.

Why Tai Chi Fundamentals?

A complete health and healing system in its own right, Tai Chi Fundamentals (TCF) is the easiest and most effective way to learn all of the essential alignment and movement principles of Tai Chi, making it much easier to learn a Tai Chi form. Learning TCF first will save you from many of the bad habits that people develop when they only learn the Tai Chi Form. It will also help you protect your knees and spine. If you have already learned a form, TCF will help you to stabilise your alignments and to embody many of the more subtle aspects of the form that often elude many people.

Special note for women

Tai Chi, Qigong and Neigong increase blood circulation. You may find that practising while you are menstruating increases the flow. If so it is better not to practice during your period.

Making the most of relaxation

The internal arts are some of the most effective relaxation methods available. Many people have told us that they have never felt as relaxed as after one of our classes. This is the power of letting go.

Relaxation brings innumerable benefits including increased circulation, stress reduction and strongly enhancing the body’s ability to heal itself.

To make the most of these benefits, especially when something significant happens, we recommend that you take things very gently for the rest of the day. Allow your system to adjust to and deeply absorb its new level of openness. If you give yourself the time early on, and practise what you learned for the next few days you will greatly increase the likelihood of making the change permanent.

If, however, you take your new body and use it to do something very strenuous (work or play) you will use up what you have newly acquired and you will end up where you started. This is a very short term approach, which will prevent you from gaining the profound benefit you could have had. Worse still you may injure yourself since you have opened up your system and then put great strain on it before it could stabilise itself at its new level.

Releases

As your system opens up, things that have been stuck can begin to move. As the tissues of the body open, parts of the body may involuntarily twitch or shake. This is similar to water starting to move through a blocked pipe that is beginning to clear.

Moving and opening the internal organs can cause toxins that have built up in them to be released and you may feel a bit nauseous. If this happens, rest and drink plenty of water to flush the toxins from your system. Blocked emotions can also be released and you may suddenly feel waves of anger, fear, grief, anxiety or even joy. These are emotional memories that have been trapped in your body. Allowing them to play themselves out, without getting caught up in them again, will free you of them.

Drinking Bird

When learning the “Drinking Bird” exercise in the Tai Chi Fundamentals classes it is relatively common for people to experience extremely vivid dreams. If this occurs reduce the number you do (which should never be more than three in a day) and the degree to which you do it. The dreams are a form of clearing and releasing and do not tend to last for many nights.

More about emotional releases

It is quite common for these practices to bring up old feelings from your past. Emotions, at the end of the day are a specific type of energy and the internal arts free up the energy of many different layers of your being. The good news is that if you keep practising and letting these feelings go, they will be cleared from your system and you will be free of them. The bad news is that while you clear them you will feel them – good, bad and indifferent.

While this work is not particularly comfortable, it might make it easier if you think of these feelings as emotional memories (which they are). You felt these things a long time ago and they got stuck inside you, just as an old injury can get stuck inside you. When someone feels an old injury release they don’t tend to confuse it with a present injury, since there is usually a wound that they can see and touch. But it is a bit trickier with emotional blockages as they are harder to distinguish from something that is happening right now, but it is possible to make this distinction. Over time you can get to a place where you can watch (and feel) the emotions release without being caught up in them. Remember, you are not your emotions, just as the sky is not the clouds.

Do your best not to act on, or speak from, these emotions, you do not want to practise them, as that would strengthen them and embed them deeper into your system. Also try not to blame anyone for how you are feeling, even yourself. That is just a distraction that will keep you from letting go of what is coming out. These are very good opportunities for practising compassion with yourself and then with others.

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)

Still Breathing

This course is a specific application of Longevity Breathing. It explores the breathing exercises in Master Bruce Frantzis’s first meditation book, ‘Relaxing Into Your Being’. While not meditation proper, these exercises are the foundation of Daoist Meditation, ‘Meditation Fundamentals’ if you like.

The Benefits of Still Breathing:

  • deeply relaxing
  • enables your mind to settle and concentrate for long periods of time on whatever you chose
  • reduce stress
  • calms the emotions
  • builds stamina
  • directly strengthens the body’s health and the mind’s clarity

A person’s time does not return again, the present does not once pause.
Thus in a person’s life, each breath is an attainment.
The previous breath is not the present breath.
Thus receive and cultivate it and renew your life.

(Guo Xiang’s commentary on Zhuangzi Chapter 3)

Daoist Longevity Breathing is especially useful to those with:

  • high levels of stress
  • anxiety
  • a restless mind
  • anyone who want sto become more present and alive

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

The Still Breathing course is not running at the moment.

Anyone who can breathe is qualified 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

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

Immortals Cloud Playing

Advanced Neigong

Immortal Cloud Play, more commonly known as Gods Playing in the Clouds is the oldest of the neigong sets. It is said to have come out of the Kunlun mountains 5000 years ago.

It is a set of six movements, each of which is repeated twenty times before seamlessly flowing into the next one. While the movements seem to be relatively simple they actually contain all sixteen components of Daoist Neigong and form the bridge between neigong and Daoist meditation (or shen gong).

This course is taught with the expectation that you are familiar with the material from Tai Chi Fundamentals, Heaven & Earth and Longevity Breathing.

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

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