by Bernard J. Stankay
By definition, Tai Chi (pronounced tie-jee) is the Great Polarity, or more simply the harmony of opposites in life — yin and yang. In the simplest sense, you can draw dichotomies in, for example, sexuality (female and male), senses (soft and hard, insubstantial and substantial, down and up, dark and light, silence and noise), emotions (sadness and happiness), concepts (evil and good, humility and arrogance), biology (relaxation and tension, exhales and inhales) virtually anything; the list is endless. Perhaps more applicably tai chi teaches that there should be balance in whatever ways you perceive life. However your perceptions guide you, the art of Tai Chi teaches that to live a happier life we should seek to understand the scope of our perceptions and strive to keep them in balance to the degree that it betters our health and well being.
But there is more to it than simply opposites and the balance of those — something dynamic. If you look carefully at the symbol of Tai Chi (taijitu), within the largest core of the dark portion is a small circle of white, and within the largest core of the white symbol is a small circle of black.
According to tai chi, this first depicts the dynamic notion that within every aspect of life is an element of its opposite particularly at the extreme of the aspect. The second dynamic notion depicted in the taijitu is that everything in life evolves in its own way and in its own time. Think of the taijitu forever spinning with its contents reshaping and changing coloring from discrete colors to endless shades. Life is like the waves in an ocean–everything is born (or has a beginning), builds, peaks, recedes and transforms (for waves, from a discrete wave back to unifying with the whole ocean) in its own time and then the cycles go on.
These notions are applicable to all there is in the Universe. It can be a life, an action/process or a thing–even a thought process. As the great philosophers tell us, the only thing constant in life is change. As the law of the conservation of energy states: energy can be neither created nor destroyed but can be changed. As the law of the conservation of mass states: mass can be neither created nor destroyed but it can be rearranged in space or changed in form. Of course Einstein discovered how matter and energy transformations correlated (E=mc2).
As the taijitu notions apply to a LIFE, every element of which we are made, as is also the case with everything around us, was created in the core of a star, even oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, etc. The transformations into us is nothing short of miraculous (The Big Bang Theory by Singh). And there is our own body. If it were not for the fact that our cells in our many body parts are constantly dying and being reborn, we would be nothing but dried up stumps. It is only by constant cellular death and rebirth that we fully experience the beauty of life.
As the taijitu notions apply to THINGS, water can be a mist or a tidal wave. Even the greatest mountain will wear down to dust in its own time from weather and earthquakes. The Tai Chi Classics say that the softest soft is hard and the hardest hard is soft.
As the taijitu notions apply to thought PROCESSES, follow an emotion. If in the process of experiencing an emotion, especially a strong one, you allow yourself to follow it (not easy to do), you will find that it too works like a wave in the ocean births, builds, peaks, recedes and transforms.
As the taijitu notions apply to ACTIONS, there are the health and exercise aspects of Tai Chi with the form and essential principles. One of the universal notions to which you gain insight in the Tai Chi form is Newton’s laws of motion — in effect, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the Tai Chi form, you learn, among other ideas, to understand the effects of Newton’s laws of motion relative to gravity, body mechanics, and body alignment. But instead of studying physics, you learn it by using and feeling your body through applied postures and principles.
If you relax your body, it naturally sinks and your mass and downward motion generates a force against the ground which is returned according to Newton’s laws. But the direction of the sinking and returned forces depend entirely on how relaxed you are. If any one of your muscles or other connective tissues are tense or not balanced on either side of your body, if you do not have proper body alignment from head to toe, if you push into the ground rather than relax and release, or if you are experiencing in that moment mental stress of lack of focus, as you move downward, you will not have central equilibrium. Rather than flow with Newton’s laws of motion, you will instead add to or subtract from the force, down or up, which will further unbalance your body causing you to further tense to offset it. You will in effect disrupt this natural process that your body has evolved for millions of years to flow with. Tai Chi teaches you all natural body movements to conserve energy and maximize power as needed.
Furthermore, over time, imbalances can cause problems in joints, muscles, etc. Traditional Chinese Medicine explains that tension in any parts of the body blocks chi (energy) flow and leads to disease. The good news for you is that this is yet another cycle of yin and yang that you may experience. You do have the ability to work to re-balance yourself. Tai Chi is one method for re-balancing the body and the mind.
So, in order to feel and allow your body to, for example, flow with Newton’s laws of motion in Tai Chi, one of the essential principles you study is relaxation. But it is not the idea of relaxation we think of in Western culture. The term is Sung which is an active relaxation throughout your body to create central equilibrium whether still or in motion. In a recent publication, Dr. Peter Wayne touches upon this in what he refers to as active relaxation explained in his The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi.
In Tai Chi, art imitates life which imitates art or perhaps art IS life and vice versa. Tai Chi is an art that has evolved for over 2,500 years for the specific purpose of giving us a means to perceive ourselves, particularly our physical, mental, and spiritual health and potential within this aforementioned continuum of the Universe. If we cannot understand the laws of the Universe as are applicable to our mind and body to the degree that we cannot feel the laws of the Universe manifesting within our minds and bodies, then do we really understand our true potential? As Cheng Man-ch’ing, the tai chi Grandmaster who introduced tai chi to the United States, said, “This is serious…we are studying the Tao” — that is the harmony of opposites, the Great Polarity.
Stay well my friends,