“Qi is the basic material of all that exists. It animates life and furnishes functional power of events. Qi is the root of the human body; its quality and movement determine human health. There is a normal or healthy amount of qi in every person, and health manifests in its balance and harmony, its moderation and smoothness of flow.” — Livia Kohn, Health and Long Life: The Chinese Way
I am really excited about teaching my first classes based in the principles of Taoist Yoga. Because the bulk of my personal practise, training and teaching has been in the Hatha Yoga tradition of India, I’m a little nervous about stepping out into new territory. Nonetheless I’m committed.
It was nearly two years ago, during an amazing workshop in Yin Yoga held by Ajna Yoga, I first experienced the magic of Taoist yoga. Led by local yogi Michael Taylor, this five-day immersion in the ancient yoga of China, revitalized and transformed my yoga practise first as a student – and now, as a teacher.
The roots of Taoist Yoga stretch far back into the mists of prehistory, originating in the same ancient healing systems that brought us acupuncture, Tai Chi and Qigong. In ancient times, this practise was termed ‘Yang Sheng’ the ‘Art of Nourishing Life’ or ‘Art of Guiding and Leading Energy’.
Taoist yoga may not be well-known as Hatha but there are many correlations between the two yoga philosophies. Some scholars suggest this may be because many yogic practises and postures show up first in the historical records and sacred texts of China and Tibet, crossing into India centuries later.
Fundamental to both schools of yoga is the existence of a life force energy the Chinese called Qi and in India was called Prana. Both agreed that the purpose of yoga, through posture, breathing, and meditation, was to channel and store this life force energy in the body, helping us achieve longevity, optimum health and to accelerate our spiritual development.
Where Taoist yoga differs, at least in way yoga is practiced today, is its emphasis on what it defined as Yin and Yang energies. When we are active and energetic, Qi flows through our muscles, the Yang layer of the body. When we are still, Qi moves through the more resistant connective tissues and skeletal system, the Yin layer of the body.
The key to vitality, is to allow Qi energy to fully permeate all aspects of the body, and to do that, Yin and Yang must be brought into balance.
Today most of our exercise is yang oriented, whether we are bicycling, jogging or lifting weights. Even most forms of yoga practiced today utilize mostly yang energy. Although Hatha Yoga (Ha-meaning Sun and Tha-meaning Moon) was originally meant to balance polarities within the body, most classes in the west emphasize movement, muscular contraction and heat, and overlook the quieter qualities of Yin.
In the Taoist view, this overemphasis on Yang creates an imbalance in our energetic and physical systems, leading to sickness, poor health and accelerated aging.
I would begin in movement, utilizing Yang energy to build heat in the muscles. With a focus on being pliable and elastic, I worked to gather and “flow” qi energy through and around the body in a series of standing postures very similar to Tai Chi or Qi Gong.
Then I came down to the floor to focus on rest and stillness. Here I used long passive stretches to open the denser more resistant Yin tissues, ( fascia, tendons, ligaments, joints and connective tissues) and thereby encourage Qi to saturate more deeply into core of my body.
It wasn’t long before I began to notice the benefits of balanced practise firsthand. My body responded like a parched flower drinking in water. Afterwards, I felt supercharged with a deep grounded dimension of calm. I began not only to experience increased overall energy, but a wonderful loose-limbered sense of well-being.
This is why I’m sold on the benefits of Taoist Yoga, and why I am excited to share its practice with others. If you want to join me, please click on the bodydivineyoga.com link for more information on my classes. For more on Yin,Qi and connective tissue click here….