“Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.”
The Tao Te Ching: Chapter 78 - 6th Century B.C.E.
The TaiJi (or Tai Chi) symbol represents the interplay of yin and yang captured here, as if in a photograph, while in perfect balance or “right relationship.” TaiJi translates as “the Great Polarity”. The Chinese pictorgram for Yin depicts the “shady side of the mountain” and yang depicts the “sunlit side of the mountain.” The qualities of these two polar opposites are commonly represented as having the following correspondences: Yang is masculine, active, dynamic, and expansive and is associated with heaven, light, heat, and the more ethereal forms of energy. Yin is feminine, passive, intuitive, and associated with the earth; dark, cold, and the physical (observable) world.
Two of the fundamental concepts of Yin/Yang theory are often overlooked. ”Yin within yang” and “yang within yin” are represented by the small circles of white within black and black within white of the Taiji symbol. These are meant to depict the seed of each polar opposite within the other. Nothing is completely yin, or completely yang. Once extreme yang is reached, the seed of yin within
yang is poised to initiate a shift back toward yin. The Taiji symbol represents the constant flux of the universe, its' shifts, cycles and adjustments.
Yin and yang only measure the relationship of one thing to another. Spring is considered a yang season yet it is a time of yin compared to summer. Midnight is more yin than sunset, yet sunset is yin compared to noon. The common definitions sited above leave us with a sense the yin is somehow less desirable than yang. Some references go so far as to equate good with yang and evil with yin. These associates are not found anyway in the Classic Taoist literature.
We cannot have daylight without a contrasting night. On a physical level, if one is always “active, dynamic, and expansive” one never rests and the body simply cannot maintain health – too much yang, too little yin. The Taiji symbol shows both polarities in equal proportion. The only undesirable condition is one where yin and yang fail to maintain a dynamic balance.
Modern economic, social, educational and political models emphasize progress, achievement, precision, control, competition, dominance, and hierarchy. These are all yang characteristics. The yin aspect invites us into a more collaborative mode, emphasizing listening, patience, personal growth and power, leadership based on collaboration and respect, mentoring and a more egalitarian society. The Great Polarity simply describes the forces of nature and the universe. Yin and yang are constantly and continually seeking equilibrium, homeostasis and right relationship. The seed of yin is poised within our current systems.
The Practice of Tai Chi Chuan
Martial Arts are commonly viewed as a masculine, competitive field of study. In fact there is a strong female lineage of Taoist practitioners whose practice and proficiency in the internal martial arts earned them the title of Immortal. Lao-tzu, who has long been crediting with authorship of the fundamental Taoist Classic the Tao Te Ching, is said to have had female teachers. It is no surprise then that the “The Great Mother” is present throughout the Tao Te Ching. Accurate translations refer to The Great Mother and The Great Father equally - in right relationship.
Tai Chi Chuan is one of the many forms of martial arts. Taij, we know, simply means Great Polarity. Chuan is commonly translated as “boxing” or “fist.”
In this context fist literally means grasping the principles of yin and yang.
TaiJi (Tai Chi) Chuan then, is a system of defense that promotes internal strength, health, flexibility and longevity. Properly taught, it invites us to explore the subtle interplay of relaxation and tension, rootedness and expansion, suppleness and strength, to explore yin and yang in “right relationship.” It is a practice of self-awareness, personal development and self-cultivation. It is through self-knowledge that the martial aspects of Tai Chi Chuan are born. As an internal martial art, regular practice enhances our body's innate ability to protect, repair and reproduce on a cellular level, while at the same time improving muscle strength, flexibility and balance.
My Tai Chi Chuan lineage is from Professor Cheng Man-ch’ing. He taught “As you grow more relaxed, you become less afraid. As you become less afraid you become more relaxed.” Turning down the volume on our fear, we can hear our inner guidance which provides us with the strength and clarity to stay in our integrity; mentally, physically, and spiritually. We naturally project a sense of confidence, strength and balance. We no longer give away our power in the face of perceived threats and our very posture (physical, emotional, and spiritual) often prevents any real threat.
The Power of Yin
How do we access the power of yin? We yield like water. Tai Chi Chuan teaches us to “Move like Water”, which is important because the human body is more than 70% fluid. Emphasizing our fluidity enhances our overall strength in that it supports our body’s natural state. Yielding does not mean being overrun rather yielding simply means to listen. To listen to our own internal voices, to patiently wait until the chatter subsides and we can hear the firm, clear voice of our inner guidance. We learn to listen to others without the filter of our limiting belief system. By teaching ourselves to relax mentally and physically in to each present moment, we discover a subtle strength that wil “dissolve the hard and inflexible.”
Professor Cheng taught that “arrogance and fear draw trouble.” Internal power and centerness create well-being for the practitioner and for those around them. The human organism is a dynamic inventory of 100 trillion cells. A positive influence on a cellular level benefits the entire organism. So too, a positive influence on the individual benefits all of humanity.
Professor Cheng warned that letting go of our fear and learning to relax is hard work. The process of yielding and listening is gradual and may take a lifetime (or more) to perfect. True relaxation embraces life. Avoiding those things that make us uncomfortable or that challenge our beliefs keep us tied to our fears. Living in a bubble lacks the active, dynamic, expansive yang aspect of the Great Polarity. It limits the development of our personal power. Personal power is a gift we give ourselves and others. It invites others to see their own potential.
To quote my immediate teacher; “Think globally. Act very locally.”
Nourishing and cultivating our internal power will manifest as positive change in the greater environments of our planet, our community, and our families as well as in our physiology. Any single action you take to quiet the mind, soften the breath and access your inner ocean will be a step toward health and well-being.
Regina Gibbons MBA, M.Ac., is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in Marblehead, MA. (www.Wellspring-Medical.com) She has been studying and practicing Tai Chi and Chi Kung for over a decade. Since 2002 Regina has trained under the guidance of Peter Wayne, Ph.D., Director of the Tree of Life Tai Chi Center. As a member of Team Northrup, Regina creates personalized plans for individuals to regain and maintain optimal health in all areas of their lives.