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.
|↑1||Dazhuan 1.12 化而裁之謂之變。|
|↑2||The character Yi 易 also means ‘change,’ as well as ‘easy’ and ‘chameleon’.|
|↑3||The cloth/clothing radical yī 衣 is embedded in the character 裁 cai.|
|↑4||The 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).|
|↑5||This 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.|
|↑6||Laozi 48. See Study Not Studying.|
|↑7||ICS Zhuangzi 19/51/27 – 19/52/1.|
|↑8||Si 私 means ‘personal’ or ‘private’.|
|↑9||And 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.|
|↑10||We 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.|
|↑11||For 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).|
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.
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.
The three months of autumn are called containment and balance.
Heavenly qi is quick, earthly qi is bright.
Early to bed, early to rise: all participate with the rooster.
Make that which is of the heart-mind peaceful and tranquil
in order to weaken the punishment of autumn.
Gather and collect the spirit and the qi.
Make the autumn qi balanced.
Do not direct that which is of the heart-mind outwards.
Make the lung qi pure.
This is the autumnal compliance of qi
and the cultivation of the Dao of gathering.
To oppose these principles injures the lungs.
(Consequently) winter will bring diarrhoea
(and) there will be little to offer one‘s storehouse.1Neijing Chapter 2.
In autumn the predominant element is metal, 金 (jin). The two systems in the body that are most strongly activated at this time are the lungs and the large intestine. Both organs have the function of gathering in what is essential and of letting go of what is not needed. In the cycle of the five elements, metal is traditionally the first, as much as any circle can have a beginning or end.
After the growing and lengthening out of summer (the element of fire), and the centring and integration of long summer, or Indian summer (the element of earth) it is now time to soften and draw our energy back in.
This is the best time to get back on track and to lay the foundations of our health for the next year. The way to do this is not to start dieting or running ten miles a day, as these are spring and summer activities; though even in summer it is better to walk. Rather, as the Neijing tells us, it is time to still our hearts and minds and to gather and collect the spirit and the qi. This is the appropriate yin response to this yin season. Just as the trees are drawing in and letting go of their leaves, it is time for us to let go of what we have been carrying around all year, which is no longer of any use to us.
Breathing is a very powerful way to let go of our tension, whether it is physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. It is one of the primary cycles of yin and yang in the body. Having inhaled we must let go of it before we can take any more in.
Just five minutes spent focusing on the breath each day — ‘making the lung qi pure’ — can have an extraordinary effect on your health and peace of mind through autumn and winter. Those who have learned longevity breathing are very well equipped to make the most of this time of year. But even if you haven‘t yet learned the full method, just sitting and focusing on your breath can make a big difference. Ideally keep your chest relatively still and allow your belly to move with the breath (out on the inhale and relaxing back in on the exhale), keeping the breath as smooth and quiet as possible with no stopping between the in and out breaths. Chapter 5 of Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body explains the method of longevity breathing in detail. 2B.K Frantzis, Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body, 2nd edition (Berkeley: Blue Snake Books, 2006).
Dragon & Tiger Qigong is also a very good way to strengthen and support the lungs. One of the primary references of ‘dragon’ in the name of the set is to the health of the lungs, because, as everyone knows, dragons are creatures of the air. Hence the potency of the dragon movements for the lungs.
The lungs are responsible for the distribution of the protective wei qi 衛氣 around the body. The stronger the lungs the better our immune system and general vitality.
The organ that is most responsible for letting go of what cannot be used in the food we eat is the large intestine. In Chinese medicine this organ is closely related to our ability to discriminate between that which nourishes us and should be kept, and that which does not and should be discarded. This faculty works on all levels: the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
Just as there is yin and yang in everything, autumn is not just about letting go of what we no longer need or what is holding us back. It is also about gathering in that which nourishes and strengthens us. In England apples and pears now hang on the trees. The crops that grew through the spring and summer are being harvested and stored for the winter. These two sides, letting go and gathering, must be balanced.
While in hotter places, such as Bermuda, autumn is not quite so apparent, the very beginnings of the cooler, dryer weather of November can occasionally be detected as the days shorten.
The very beginning of something is the best time to prepare for the coming change. It makes the transition easier. This accords with the Daoist principle of doing what is easy before it becomes difficult. Laozi 63 says, ‘chart the difficult when it is easy, act on the great when it is tiny’. While chapter 64 advises us to, ‘act when something has not yet come to be, regulate when it is not yet disordered’. 3See also Laozi 52, ‘To see the small is called enlightenment’. It is the hallmark of the wise.
In the same vein the Neijing, later in the same chapter as our Autumn passage says:
The sage does not treat those who are already sick,
but treats the not yet sick,
does not treat those who are already disordered,
but treats the not yet disordered.
The person who is already sick and then takes medicine,
or who is already disordered and then seeks treatment,
is comparable to one who is thirsty and then digs a well,
or one who forges weapons only after the war has begun.
Are not these measures also late!4Neijing Chapter 2.
Small, relatively easy adjustments at the beginning of a time of change can eliminate the need for making drastic alterations later on. The appropriate activities of each season prepare us for the next so long as we make the necessary adjustments at the right time. This is why people visit their Chinese doctor at the change of each season, even when they feel well, to nip any imbalance in the bud by adjusting their diet and activity. In this way they avoid getting ill later.
The reason many people fall sick in the autumn is because they do not adapt to the change of season. Now is the time to begin protecting ourselves from the cold and especially the wind with scarves and wind-breaking coats. The activities of the summer are over. Rather than spending our energies, it is time to start saving. If we continue to act in the autumn as we did in summer, we can expect to get sick. The Neijing warns us that if we do not act according to the dao of gathering, which is now underway, it will lead to diarrhoea in the winter. If this happens, at precisely the time when we most need to store and conserve that which nourishes us, our bodies will be unable to distinguish properly between what we must keep and what we must let go. And if we let our nourishment go we will become depleted and ill in the winter.
This, then, is the time to practise containment and balance, to let go of what we do not need and to gather and collect the spirit and the qi, and make the lung qi pure.
Eating what is in season is always a very good way to comply with the qi of the time. Eat more warming foods and drinks. Jasmine and, later, oolong teas should replace your green tea. It is a great time for fruit and vegetables: blackberries, plums, apples, pears, pumpkins, squash, leeks, courgettes and parsnips etc. Pears are especially good for the lungs. It is also a good idea to cut down on those ‘dampening’ foods that congest the lungs such as beer (anything made with yeast), sugary foods and especially dairy products.
Text and translations © Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2017
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.
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.
The tree is only as strong as its root.
More generally known as Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body, Tai Chi Fundamentals is a complete series of neigong exercises that is over 3000 years old. It is the foundation of the internal arts and it is the best place to start.
These on-going classes teach how to overcome stress-related illnesses through deep relaxation, heal chronic joint problems and build internal power and flexibility.
The Benefits of Tai Chi Fundamentals
- Loosens and strengthens the muscles.
- Protects the joints, improves their range of motion and heals joint injuries.
- Improves balance.
- Increases circulation and improves breathing.
- Releases and strengthens the nervous system (reduces stress).
- Heals and strengthens the internal organs.
The three exercises that are taught as Tai Chi Fundamentals are:
1) Standing Neigong or Zhan Zhuang – a powerful practice used by virtually all of the top internal martial arts and neigong masters to develop internal power. It will teach you to:
- Align your body correctly in order to achieve the downward flow of qi without blocking or dissipating it.
- Open, release and strengthen your energetic and nervous systems.
- Connect and integrate all the parts of your body.
2) Cloud Hands or Yun Shou – the most complete neigong movement. It contains all the essential energy elements of Tai Chi, but is much easier to learn. It will teach you to:
- Maintain all of the standing alignments and
- Connect the whole energy of your body while you are moving.
- Move in spirals by twisting your muscles and connective tissue
- Energize your internal organs and boost your immune system
“If you could only practice one single movement for health, Cloud Hands would be it.” (B.K. Frantzis, Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body, p.153.)
3) The Spinal Stretch – a technique unique to Daoist neigong and not commonly available to the public. This is the first level of spinal neigong and will teach you to:
- Open and release your individual spinal vertebrae and thus relieve spinal tension and pain.
- Open, release and strengthen the energy of your spine.
It is especially worth while for those who wish to heal injuries, manage chronic illnesses, reduce stress or considerably enhance their martial, athletic or intellectual power.
No prior experience is needed for these classes.
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:
- Breathing methods, in increasing complexity.
- Feeling, moving, transforming and transmuting internal energies along the descending, ascending and connecting energy channels of the body.
- Precise body alignments.
- Dissolving physical, emotional and spiritual blockages.
- Moving energy through the body’s meridian channels and energy gates.
- Bending and stretching the body, from the inside out and the outside in, along the yang and yin meridians.
- 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.
- Manipulating the energy of the external aura.
- Making circles and spirals of energy inside the body, controlling the body’s spiraling energy currents, and moving qi in the body at will.
- Absorbing and projecting energy to and from any part of the body.
- Controlling energies of the spine.
- Controlling the body’s left and right energy channels.
- Controlling the body’s central energy channel.
- Learning the capabilities and uses of the body’s lower dandien.
- Learning the capabilities and uses of the body’s upper and middle dandien.
- 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)
From 15 March 2020 all live classes cancelled due to the virus.
Starting: Join any time
Location: New Road Community Centre, 55-57 New Road, Minster-On -Sea, Sheerness, Kent, ME12 3PT
Time: 9.30 – 10.30am
Starting: Join any time
Location: St Thomas of Canterbury church hall, 63 London road, Rainham, ME8 7RH.
Instructor: Gary Short
Deal – live from 2 September 2020
Tai Chi for Relaxation & Health
Starting: Join any time
Location: The Landmark Centre, 129 the High St, Deal CT14 6BB.
Folkestone – staying online September – December 2020
Starting: Join any time
Location: Bar Invicta, Cheriton Road, Folkestone, CT19 5JU.
Instructor: Dave Willis
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.
Special Topic: Circularity in the internal arts
Time: 6.30 – 7.45pm
(from 3 Sept 2020)
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.]
(from 3 Sept 2020)
Join any time
Location: The Friends Meeting House, 6 The Friars, Canterbury CT1 2AS.
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.
Time: 11.45 – 1.00pm
(from 5 Sept 2020)
Details: New cycle begins 5 Sept 2020
One cycle takes 18-20 months.
Location: Fleur de Lis Hall, Gatefield Lane, Off Preston Street, Faversham ME13 8NS.
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.
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
From 15 March 2020 all live classes cancelled due to the virus.
Herne Bay attendees are welcome to join Matthew’s online classes, please contact us for details.
Time: 10.00-11.00 a.m.
Starting: Join any time.
Location: St Mary’s Retreat Hall, Clarence Rd, Herne Bay CT6 8TH.
Instructor: Fiona McArthur
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.
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
This article is written for teachers who are interested in this aspect of Tai Chi for health preservation and rehabilitation.