Awareness of the many benefits of meditation and exercise in today’s world is much greater than at any other time in our history. It is virtually a revolution in terms of the growing popularity and acknowledgement of the well-being they bestow. Yet over 2000 years ago, Taoist masters, such as Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, were promoting the importance of meditation and energy cultivation.
Many masters have studied the impact of negative thinking on the mind and body. They discovered that the mind is easily swayed by the outside world. Our mental state can influence our internal harmony in terms of the functioning of our organs and our immune system. When negative emotions, such as anger, fear, hate and worry, are generated, our health can be weakened, which can lead to serious illness.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, excessive anger will affect blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, digestion and the functioning of the liver, not to mention that it upsets those around us. Excessive fear will begin to shut down the body and create problems with the kidney system which is the gateway to vitality and which helps to generate heat in the body. It is part of the water element and relates to our level of courage. Weakness in the kidney system will cause the body to lose vitality and thus affects sexual functioning and our ability to face life confidently. Excessive worry will slowly weaken the spleen affecting the stomach and digestive system, leading to ulcers and an inability to absorb nutrients from food. There will also be a build-up of toxins due to sluggishness in eliminating waste from the body.
Masters of traditional Chinese medicine and internal health arts are well aware of the relationship between the mind and body and have developed many methods to address imbalances that may arise. One tool that does not require a physician is the practice of qigong (energy work). It will bring a lifetime of good health and well-being. Many methods fall under this heading, such as Tai Chi, Microcosmic Orbit, Self Healing Qigong, Eight Section Brocade, Walking Qigong, etc. The first requirement for all qigong practices is a calm mind; without calmness, nothing can be achieved. An agitated mind will create turmoil in the body. The nervous system will be highly excited causing the organs to overwork. In this state, the mind cannot focus on subtle matters; even trying to perform delicate tasks will prove to be difficult. Most people require a good 10 minutes to calm down. For this reason, in our Tai Chi classes, we do the warm-up, Fa Soong Gong (Balancing Yin Yang etc.) and Hun Yuan Qigong (Lower the Qi and Cleanse Internally) before the Quiet Standing, to bring about a more peaceful state.
Tension creates blockages which inhibit the flow of blood and qi (energy) throughout the body. Our worries, fears and negativities are greatly highlighted when we begin to calm down. Sometimes a certain event will continually play on our minds. Occasionally, we might shudder, shake, cry or laugh. This is how the body begins to adjust to the energy as it is released. In the classical literature on qigong, blockages are impurities and the practice of calming the mind is the catalyst for a purification process. As we learn to be calm, blockages are released and our energy levels rise. This is due to less resistance in our systems. As a result, we may experience heat or vibrations as the previously blocked energy begins to flow through our bodies. The more we practise, the better we feel.
As we begin to recognise and deal with the causes of blockages (such as tension and trauma), we learn to flow more in our everyday lives. Instead of becoming overly attached to things, events and people, we develop a more balanced approach to life. If not, we could become slaves to our gadgets which give us a false sense of freedom. For example, our love affair with technology, such as the smartphone, dominates many people’s behaviour instead of being their servant. The Qigong training makes us more aware of the big picture, the transience of life which in turn highlights the precious nature and sanctity of existence. Gradually we learn to cherish every moment by living it fully. Worrying excessively about the future or living in the past means that the present is not being valued. If we continue our Qigong practice daily, we discover just how wonderful the present moment can be.
In the famous “Tao Te Ching”, Lao Tzu outlines many of the important principles which enable us to live our lives according to the Tao (the Way). Learning to be natural is one of them. This means casting aside artificial behaviour, such as trying to get your way by lying, cheating or bullying others. When we go against our true nature, trying to be someone we are not or by adopting someone else’s lifestyle, we become inauthentic. All inauthentic behaviour will have certain negative consequences; we may feel unworthy or do things that will further compromise our integrity.
Lao Tzu also talks about being good-hearted and spontaneous. For example, when we meet people we like or comfortable with, we tend to be more spontaneous and less contrived. We are not trying to cultivate a relationship with them for the sake of gaining something. When we are not spontaneous, our relationships become tainted and are based on what we can get or how we would like to be perceived, rather than just the joy of friendship with another person.
Another important principle that Lao Tzu advocates are simplicity. Our lives can become incredibly complex. Relationships with family, friends and work colleagues all have different values and requirements. Being able to see things clearly and simplify our lives helps us conserve our energy and allows us to put our energy to better use.
One of the main tenets in “Tao Te Ching” is personal development. This is a lifelong pursuit. Lao Tzu encouraged us to study the classics and practise self-discipline. With the right attitude, we can learn and grow from all things in our lives. Self-awareness developed through Qigong practice or just the habit of taking note of our shortcomings can bring great insight into ourselves and prevent us from repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Study and contemplation help us to become stronger and refine our character. In other words, instead of being arrogant or ignorant, we gain perspective and see others more clearly, making us more compassionate.
One quality which Lao Tzu advised us to cultivate is the ability to live frugally. It is not about being stingy. It is learning to appreciate what we have and make good use of our resources. Often we waste things or just buy something new because it is in fashion. However, if we can enjoy a simple meal and make the best of our resources, we become more self-sufficient and contented. This quality will calm the mind and help us to stay centred under difficult circumstances.
According to the Taoists, each of us has a great untapped potential and qigong practices help to realise this potential. Knowledge can free us from the binding chains of conditioning and enable us to live an empowered and fulfilling life. The above principles can help us to transform ourselves in both our inner life and our outer life. They are already embodied in our Tai Chi and Qigong practices. This training is based on a deep body of knowledge that can transport us to a place of great peace and harmony. This is the abode of the true self, pure and untainted by all the usual goings-on in our lives. This sanctuary is waiting to be discovered by each of us.