Monthly Archives: August 2013

Yin and Yang Changes Everything

“Okay, yeah, I’ve heard of this yin and yang thing…it’s that strange black and white swirly symbol, right?”

“Ying and Yang, you mean?”

“Uh, no, never heard of them…”

Whether you have heard of Yin and Yang or not is not important, but that they exist in every facet of your life is important, and more to the point, you have a large amount of control over how they impact you. These two concepts that we borrow from the Chinese philosophy known as Taoism (pron “Dow-ism”) go hand-in-hand to describe a great number of systems with which we humans interact.

Yin and Yang represent two opposite ideas such as cold and hot, wet and dry, black and white, less and more, light and heavy, etc. I propose to you that the versions of Yin and Yang that may describe our individual lives are generally controllable, and beneficial if we can control them appropriately.  The ways that we feel, eat, act, and live we generally have control over.  Excesses and deficiencies in these areas are what drive us to feel good or bad, behave appropriately or not, and perform well or not well.

Food and drink are a prime example.  While periodic over- or under-eating is not going to greatly affect us, consistently eating too much of some foods and not enough of others may, if our body is unable to withstand that activity over a long period, adversely affect us. We have learned that drinking too much alcoholic beverage over many years can lead to weight gain, systemic diseases, or even death.  We are now learning how eating too much meat, sweets or grains over time can lead to health complications.  And while coffee and tea have driven civilization forward over the past several hundred years, increased caffeine intake over many years can exacerbate various health conditions.

In studying Tai Chi, we learn that a constant interplay of changing balance from one side to the other, from Yin to Yang, helps us move forward on generally an even keel. Your life can similarly have an even keel, moving forward without running into major problems, if you learn how to maintain an adequate level of exercise, learn to hydrate your body consistently with the correct liquids, and seek to maintain a more calm or less caustic personality such that our interpersonal relations do not stress us out.

Can you now see this interplay of Yin and Yang in your life? What in your life could you do more of, or less of, to seek to regain your balance going forward?


Creative Destruction and Learning

It struck me, in reading the I Ching yesterday, that #48, Ching / The Well, is followed intentionally by #49, Ko / Revolution, signifying the need for both strong fundamental structures and periodic tearing down of those structures. Schumpeter’s creative destruction of capitalism is the modern embodiment.

When you are learning an art as complex as Tai Chi / Taiji, the structure of the series of exercises must be broken down into elemental portions, just as to learn to apply the quadratic equation, you must start with addition and subtraction.  Once you get to the level of putting the elemental parts together, you have to destroy your concept of what the Tai Chi movements mean.  Instead of being a series of distinct exercises, the Tai Chi forms or patterns are now a vehicle for several higher functions: meditation via breathing, self-defense via applications, and a basis for weapon and two-person activities.

Where does the added function of Qi come into play?  Is it in the exercises, in the self-defense applications, in the meditation, or in the weapons/two-person forms?  The answer is all, and none of the above. The Qi must be “found” by the Tai Chi player as he/she learns to weave everything together.  The player builds the foundation, the superstructure of the forms/patterns, and as fluidity improves, knowledge of how the body moves coupled with how the body interacts with other bodies allows the player to begin to see what expression of Qi actually means.

Once you get to a very high level, it is very instructive to step back and see how to teach all this to a total beginner.  Only if the player is successful in that translation exercise will he/she be able to destroy the foundation previously built so that the true value of Tai Chi can be found. Hint: the true value is different for every single player, which as it turns out is true for most of life’s endeavors.


Marketing Tai Chi – Sex Sells?

On his website Tai Chi Master, Bruce Franzis asks his readership what it is that will move Tai Chi into the public consciousness like Yoga, Kung Fu and Karate in the past.  Certainly we’ve heard of it’s relaxation, arthritis and balance benefits…  but is Tai Chi firmly in the public consciousness as a life-extending art, or just as fringe medicine.

Franzis asks in “Tai Chi Tipping Point: Will Tai Chi Go Viral?” if it will take the weight of a Hollywood superstar to push Tai Chi into the limelight…and presumably students more readily to teacher’s doorsteps.  Tai Chi has somewhat been in the US public ken for the past 40 years, but has not risen to the levels of Yoga or Karate/Kung Fu.  This presence in the public’s mind has happened, he points out, with Jane Fonda promoting Yoga and separately with David Carradine promoting Kung Fu.  He does not mention Karate’s surfacing due to the Karate Kid franchise, but perhaps he does not need to.

The real question, though, is that beyond celebrity, what ideas in Tai Chi will benefit those who seek it?  Is it sexy?  Does it provide relaxation?  Can you get a cardio workout from it?  Can you train an army with it?  Will you prolong your life by doing it?  These of course can be applied to any endeavor, and with Tai Chi as any healthy activity the answer is “it depends on how you apply it.”  If you blend it with less smoking, a better diet, a kinder outlook and other types of exercise, then the answer will be that Tai Chi will probably benefit you.


On Being Present

My personal track record for “being present” has not always been stellar, and in those situations in which I was not always present, my results suffered.  But, in those situations in which I was full on, always present, my results improved.

While providing caddying services for golfers as a teenager, I found that by being available even when all the other caddies had decided the sun was too hot or a milkshake was a cool thing to go get enabled me to snag a job when it presented itself.  While working for a landscaping company, winter lay-offs were de rigueur. But when I asked not to be layed off during my second winter, odd jobs suddenly appeared that kept me busy for 30+ hrs per week (sometimes 80 hrs if the snow kept falling).

In later years, I grew complacent, thinking that my roles, when I did them well, were very necessary.  When I did not do them well, I knew that time was short, but not how to properly change direction.  While quitting is not optimal, at times you do need to change direction, so that opportunity cost does not outweigh your current gains. My last fulltime employer let me know in no uncertain terms that my complacency, or habits of not being present while being present, was getting the best of me. At his request, I changed direction.

While the change in direction was in parts painful, it was vastly necessary. My outlook on life has changed, my health has vastly improved for the better, for the long haul, and I’m interacting with a whole new cast of characters.  Are you similarly less than present in aspects of your life? Will you need a change in direction to refocus your goals?