Winter: the Dao of Storage

藏之道

The three months of winter are called closing and storing.
Water freezes, earth cracks.
Do not disturb the yang at all.
Early to bed, late to rise. (You) must await the daylight.
Make that which is of the heart/mind as though hidden, as though concealed,
as though (you) have a secret intention, already obtained.
Leave the cold, seek warmth.
Do not leak the skin.
Urgently hold onto the qi.
This is the winter compliance of qi;
the cultivation of the Dao of storage.a
To oppose these principles injures the kidneys.
(Consequently) spring will bring paralysis and fainting
(and) there will be little to offer (your) sprouting.1Neijing Chapter 2.

Winter is the time of the kidneys, which are the basic source of energy in the body. They act very much like batteries. At this time of year we need to recharge them by protecting and nourishing them. This is done by storing our energy rather than expending it.

This is the most yin of the seasons. When the weather turns cold, everything in nature goes to sleep. As the Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic, the Neijing, tells us, ideally we should reduce our activity, go to bed earlier, and get up later, so as not to ‘disturb the yang at all’. Like fish sinking to the bottom of an icy pond, or like a daffodil bulb in the cold ground, we should let our energy sink deeper inside us. It is only by storing its energy in winter that the daffodil can flower in spring. Similarly, it is only by resting and storing our energy now that we will be able to ’sprout’ – have the energy to increase our activity – when spring comes. So, this is not the time to start jogging, doing aerobics or anything else that will bring our energy to the surface and make us sweat, or, as the Neijing puts it, ‘leak the skin’. We should avoid rushing around. Instead we should go to bed early, get up late and stay inside where it‘s warm.

The mind also needs to rest. The kidneys are closely associated with the fundamental drive that is called zhì 志 in Chinese. Zhì is often translated as ‘will power’. At its most basic level, it is the survival instinct; that which keeps us going in the darkest times. In less extreme situations it is that faculty which identifies and works towards goals and towards attaining the things that we want. It is the zhì that is spoken of in the line: ‘Make that which is of the heart/mind (zhì) as though hidden, as though concealed’. Now is not the time to activate the zhì. To do so would call on the energy of the kidneys. Rather we should put away our desires in winter and let them rest. In this time of letting go and quietening desire, chapter 46 of the Laozi, the great text of Daoism, is worth contemplating:

Calamity: there is none greater than not knowing what is enough,
Offence: there is none greater than desiring gain.
Thus knowing enough of what is enough is always enough!

Knowing enough of enough is reflected in our passage from the Neijing in its instruction that we should make the heart/mind ‘as though (you) have a secret intention, already obtained’. It is usually with the attainment of our desire that we are, if only briefly, satisfied and able to truly relax. These passages point to a more subtle option, that of letting go of desire itself, which leads to a much more profound and enduring stillness.

Basho, the great master of the Japanese poetic form now known as haiku, who was deeply influenced by writings of the Daoist master Zhuangzi and Chinese Chan/Zen Buddhism, beautifully invokes the importance of stilling the heart-mind at this time of year in his winter poem 1687:

First let us cherish
the plum blossoms’ heart
winter dormancy.2No. 341. The original is: まづ祝へ梅を心の冬籠り (mazu iwae / ume o kokoro no / fuyu-gomori). My thanks to Rachelle Allen-Sherwood for her help in translating this poem. Any mistakes are my own.

Just as in Chinese, the ‘heart’ in Japanese is also the ‘mind’. It is the core of who and what we are. This poem celebrates the flowering of plum blossoms in the spring, which is possible only because they conserve their essence through the cold of the winter. In the terms of the Neijing, by observing the winter compliance of qi and cultivating the dao of storage, the plum blossoms have plenty to offer their sprouting when spring arrives.

Autumn is, ideally, the time when we gather that which nourishes us and let go of that which is no longer of use to us. Now, in winter, it is time to store what we gathered and to allow our systems to rest in stillness.

The dominant element now is water, which naturally flows downward, cleanses, nourishes and goes very calm and still when not disturbed. When water becomes still, it is able to let go of what it is holding in suspension, allowing the sediment to settle out of it. It then becomes clear and reflective, like a mirror.

Both Daoism and Buddhism use this image of still water becoming clear and reflective as a metaphor for the stilling of the emotions and the mind through breathing and related mindful practices.

Tai Chi Fundamentals (Energy Gates) is a powerful winter practice. It activates the water element in the body. Standing is very yin, as is Cloud Hands when we focus on the downward flow of energy. Both practices strengthen the kidneys and help them to store energy better. One way of complying with winter in our Tai Chi or Qigong, is to allow our form to go as smooth and liquid as possible, attending more to the inward and downward flows. To this end we should avoid stopping to correct ourselves. Instead, we should simply note any mistakes to adjust the next time around while maintaining the flow of our movement as best we can, without strain. The closing and bending actions of any form are the ones that encourage the storing of energy. It is also useful to focus on allowing the hands and feet to become very soft. This is the time to let go of the desire to accomplish anything in our practice.

At this time of year, it is best lie down and rest for a while after practice and gently put our attention on the kidneys, letting all of our energy collect there. During the day 3.00-5.00pm is a particularly good time to rest as it is the time that the kidney system is strongest.

Eating what is in season is always a very good way to comply with the qi of the time. Nuts, especially walnuts and chestnuts, are particularly good for the kidneys, as is lamb. Avoid cold food and drink as your body must burn energy to warm it up before it can be used. This is part of ‘leaving the cold and seeking warmth’.

Text and translations ©Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2017-18.

Notes   [ + ]

Wu Style Short Form

The Short Form

The Wu Style Tai Chi Short Form is a series of gentle flowing movements which takes about four minutes to complete.

Some of the Benefits of Tai Chi include:

  • It can be practised by anyone, young and old, strong and weak, healthy and sick.
  • It develops a high degree of relaxation
  • It releases physical and emotional stress
  • It promotes mental and emotional well being
  • It improves balance, physical coordination and flexibility
  • It tones and exercises every single muscle, ligament, tendon and joint of the body
  • It massages every lymph node and internal organ
  • It makes the arteries and veins springy and elastic, keeping them open and healthy
  • It energizes all the body’s internal pumps and improves circulation
  • It heals and reduces injuries and improves reflexes
  • It smooths out and regulates the central nervous system

Tai Chi balances and strengthens the flows in your body and thus improves your energy levels and increases your range of motion. The Wu Style is renowned for its healing and meditative qualities, and it contains many important healing elements that are rarely taught, even in China. It gives you the majority of the health and spiritual benefits of much longer Tai Chi forms.

B. K. Frantzis designed this short form with the help and encouragement of his Daoist lineage master, Liu Hongjie. Liu lived and studied with Wu Jianquan, founder of the Wu Style. We are very lucky to have such a direct and powerful lineage.

Tai Chi is more than a martial art and more than most forms of exercise. It has a deep philosophical and spiritual perspective. Its gentle, slow-motion movements and sophisticated methods of moving life force or chi within the body teach you to relax and open up to your full human potential on all levels – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. (BK Frantzis, Tai Chi: Health For Life p.16)

On-going Tai Chi Short Form classes are being run in Faversham.

Recommended reading

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

Frantzis, B. K., Tai Chi: Health For Life (Berkeley: Frog Ltd., 2006). ISBN: 1583941444.

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

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.

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

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