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Five Elements Theory 101

Exploring the philosophy and medical history that contribute to tai chi aids in understanding of how we move.






There is an esoteric side of tai chi that dips in and out of the Tao, the I-Ching, yin-yang theory, and Buddhist philosophy.  Are these terms new to you or confusing?  Join the club.  This is an amazingly large body of knowledge and very few practitioners have completely wrapped their mind around all of these topics.  Unless coming from a philosophical background or having acupuncture knowledge, nearly no new practitioners have this stuff figured out.  Gaining philosophical understanding is a huge reason why people begin tai chi and yet it can seem intimidating at first.   This article is intended to introduce these philosophical principles and how they relate to the art.

Before we get started we need to understand one thing:

Tai chi leads to an understanding of the philosophical principles.  Philosophical principles are NOT initially needed to understand tai chi. 

This idea too often gets turned around and we are left feeling inept.  Tai chi is the philosophy so start moving and start your understanding.  Secondly, if you begin to research Five Elements Theory you will find authors who feel it is too advanced of a study and should be avoided by new practitioners.  It is thick.  I am not going to lie.  However, if you have a sense for how your movements are connected to your health, you make progress.  You make progress, you stick with tai chi.  You stick with tai chi  and benefit from it immensely.  So let’s introduce ourselves to Five Elements Theory and how it relates to tai chi. 

Five Elements Theory

Two primary forces (yin and yang) interact in the body.  Most people would accept that if your body is out of balance, you are less strong, healthy, and mentally alert. (OK, I’m with you).

What does the Five Elements Theory do?  It explains the relationship between the organs, the way energy gets to the organs (meridians), and how the energy (chi) primarily originates from the kidneys. (Sure, the organs each have a job, this job needs energy, the kidneys make the energy and send it along the meridian highways, check!).

Five Elements Theory Why is this chi energy largely associated with the kidneys?  The kidneys are said to hold opposing fire and water energy.  An imbalance here trickles down to affect other organs depending on the imbalance.  In practical terms, the blood is filtered by the kidneys sending fresh blood back in and toxins out.  (Still with ya.  A happy kidney factory means clean, well fueled organs).

How does this relate to health?  All poor health conditions are due to something that an organ is not doing. For example, bronchitis can be attributed to weak lungs.  Equally so, emotional difficulties are tied to organs and can lead to nervous system imbalances. (Whoa, so I can affect the two sides of this coin?  1) My eating, liquid intake, and exercise affects what arrives at the kidneys. 2) My activities affect how the kidneys function.  But what activities??).

Simplify this.  How does tai chi fit in to five elements theory?

Much of the meditation and concentration involves focusing on your belly where the dantien and mingmen are located.  These directly nourish the nearby kidneys.  The movements of taichi rotate and massage the center.  These activities balance the kidneys.  The kidneys then balance the rest of the system. (Tai chi is designed in-part to nourish and support the activity of the kidneys.  2500 years of research can’t be wrong I guess).

 For those that want to dive down the Five Element Theory rabbit hole I will send you off in a few directions here:

Some practitioners focus on strengthening a certain meridian and organ based on what season it is.  This makes a lot of sense and is quite intriguing.

Season Element Focus Why
Winter Water Kidneys,Bladder Generate energy to other organs to stave off fatigue, coldness, and weight gain.
Spring Wood Liver,Gall Bladder Increase strength and stamina for coming summer activity and processing of summer foods
Summer Fire Heart,Sm. Intestine Stabilize blood flow, blood supply, clarity and process foods of summer.
Late Summer Earth Spleen,Stomach Obtain energy from the activities and foods of harvest.
Fall Metal Lungs,Lg. Intestine Strengthen the lungs before the winter months.

Practitioners also link the directions of movements with the five elements to describe the 1) power that is supplied to the movement Five Elements Theory and to 2) identify which movements can be performed to alleviate health concerns.

Earth On Guard, Centering
Wood Retreat
Gold Advance
Fire Move to the Right
Water Move to the Left

Don’t get overwhelmed by the technical aspects of five elements theory

5 elements theoryYes five elements theory is complex but take away the pieces that you understand and let the rest sink in over time. Know that when you practice and your movements improve, the direct impact on your health can be felt.  We can learn and remain light-hearted.  Here is a funny and perfect example to keep you grounded.  Chinese Five Elements According to South Park

Acupuncture’s Relationship to Tai Chi – The Extraordinary Vessels

Progress in Tai Chi can be enriched with a basic knowledge of the Eight Extraordinary Vessels and acupuncture.




Acupuncture Smackyoupuncture!  I barely got my head wrapped around the Chinese words and foreign concepts and now you are telling me that there are a series of routes that run through my body that I didn’t know about AND I need to know this for tai chi??

Daunting isn’t it?  Still drives me nuts.  But not because I am overwhelmed (anymore) but because the more I progress and have novel feelings inside, I want to know what is going on. We are going to spend a few minutes on the relationship between acupuncture and tai chi.  This text will serve as an introduction to some of you or offer robust search criteria if you are so inclined.

The Eight Extraordinary Vessels (Qi Jing Ba Mai)

So imagine you grew up living in New York City.  Driving, riding your bicycle, taxis, the whole lot.  Then one day someone says, “Have you ever taken the subway?”  And you say, “What’s a subway?”  You never heard of this subway thing and it sounds nice and all, but you have your bicycle and enjoy a good walk.  However, now you know about this subway thing and are curious.  You try it once and are now second guessing the taxi system.  You start to see its role in NYC and hope to benefit from it when you know how to use it to get somewhere.  You have even heard of people who now only use the subway.  Scary.

Welcome to the Eight Extraordinary Vessels

Most accept that chi, an energy, resides and moves throughout the body.  The eight extraordinary vessels are the canals that connect the meridians which emanate from our organs.   Let’s beat this transportation metaphor completely into the ground.  The organs are cities which each have a purpose.  The meridians are the highways and the vessels are intersections of meridians and places to rest and refuel.

extraordinary vesselsWhat are the Eight Extraordinary Vessels?

The vessels distribute energy throughout the body and influence metabolic activity.

  • 2 Motility Vessels: Yin and Yang (Qiao Mai): facilitate motion up the legs and balance of the right and left sides.
  • Conception Vessel (Ren Mai): is the source of energy and influences the endocrine and respiratory system.  Flows up the center of the body.
  • Governing Vessel (Du Mai): influences the central nervous system.  Flows up the spinal column into the brain.
  • Belt Vessel (Dai Mai): runs around the center. Influences flow through vertical meridians by constricting or loosening.
  • Penetrating Vessel (Chong Mai): flows throughout the body and returns chi to the source. Influences other systems for this reason.
  • 2 Linking Vessels: Yin and Yang (Wei Mai): preserves yin and yang energy and distributes internal and external chi.

How does this apply to Acupuncture?extraordinary vessels

Acupuncture uses needles to detect and correct imbalances of energy flow along the meridians.  If there is too much or an undesired amount of an energy, it is released.  If there is too little, acupuncture builds it up.

How does this apply to Tai Chi?

  • Nourishing the organs: the movements of taichi are designed to drive energy to and between the organs.
  • Purpose of relaxing: Your ability to relax correlates with increased flow.
  • Awareness of injury/blockage:  Injuries and tight muscles (knots) are messages from your system that blood and energy are not traveling right.  In any other sport you say: “Aw d@%m I hurt my shoulder again!”  In tai chi you say: “Thank you for showing me that old injury, now I can work to release it.”

Does this blow your mind?  It is obviously more complex than what is presented here.  But as a beginner, can you see how these movements account for that feeling of well-being?  This is how so many different ailments have improved from tai chi.  For internally directed practitioners, further study of the eight vessels reveals the roadmap needed to balance your energy and move it around.

Here is more reading:

book on eight extraordinary vessels

An Exposition on the Eight Extraordinary Vessels: Acupuncture, Alchemy, and Herbal Medicine


book on eight extraordinary vessels 2Extraordinary Vessels

Progress in Tai Chi: Reducing Attrition in Tai Chi Classes

A few simple insights can sustain great development in you, your classmates, or your students.







If you are a teacher or a student of tai chi then this article is for you.  Actually, this article conveys one of the main goals of this website; expanded practice of taichi.  So many benefits have been ascribed to tai chi that it captivates the interest of nearly everyone.  However, we lose a lot of students who start off highly dedicated and then stop practicing.   So what happens?  Let’s start with some reasons that attendance is important and then talk about ways to increase involvement of practitioners.

Why increase the number of tai chi practitioners or why keep practicing?

  • Increased number of practitioners globally:  Not to sound too Pollyanna but by practicing tai chi we are contributing to a global sense of community and wellbeing.  If you are thinking “Meanwhile, back on earth…” and are not yet at a place where that is conceivable, it can’t hurt right?
  • Deeper development of Tai Chi in the U.S.: The more advanced as a group we become, the better instruction we receive in visits from China.  I have already seen a shift in workshop content from the basics to more advanced topics at times.
  • The bottom line:  We could get snarky and say that more students equal more income which is true.  However, if you are good enough to earn a living from helping people then we would hope that you are compensated and can pay the rent.

How do we sustain the group we work out with or make it grow?progress in tai chi

The following information comes from multiple teachers and from a survey that I conducted with my students.  Attendance of a free community class was low or intermittent.  I was reluctant to do a survey because I feared the answers but it was the perfect opportunity because pricing was not part of the equation.  I was happy to learn that much of the concerns were things that I could easily fix.

Creating Progress in Tai Chi

  • Show progress: Completion of a Qi Gong Set or a Tai Chi Form goes a long ways.   And there should be some reward for it (applause?  T-shirt?).  In tai chi we don’t typically have a belt system so marking progress in tai chi is more nebulous.  Dedicated practitioners often abhor the idea of belts because belts don’t equate to progress.  Many tai chi practitioners gravitated away from other martial arts for this very reason but the Japanese and Korean system might have something to teach here.  I would never advocate a belt system for taichi but the human intellect still likes to know that they are moving in the right direction.
  • Make tangible progress: Refer to the articles marked “Key Concepts” because nothing hooks a practitioner like actual progress.
  • Work out: No, this is not cross-fit but after 20 years of athletics, weight lifting, and a stint in the military, some of the most grueling workouts I have experienced were in taichi private lessons with Grand Masters.  When my student’s thighs are sore from proper pole-standing or they break a sweat they are gratified (and asked for more!).  Internal strength takes a while to develop and be sensitive to.  Our society craves feedback and light fatigue and sweating is sometimes expected after “activity.”
  • Ask about injuries: Share old sports injuries or repetitive (mousing) strains because the tai chi cannon and specifically the silk reeling sets have movements to cure and strengthen injuries.  I invite students to share and when I can fix it we both are pleased.  I have a friend who fixed the posture of a professional bass player, eliminating hours of pain, and gaining a long-term student.
  • Share resources:  The water cooler conversations include tons of topics that you have probably read in tai chi magazine, books, or seen online.  Print those for the next class and bring them in.

progress in tai chiI was extremely proud the first time I brought a student through the Chen long form.  It reminded me of an artist I heard talk of the importance of his first $50 sale.  When one practitioner advances we all do, and that includes society as a whole.


For more reading, here is a pretty bright and entertaining cartoon version of progress in tai chi.  Brisbane Chen Tai Chi

The Three Dantians

 Tai chi creates the foundational energy needed to develop the three main energy points in the body.






This is a quick article introducing the novice to the dantian and the more experienced practitioner to the idea that there are three of them.  These three energy centers have been identified in the body.  They control and store energy and energy potential. The three dantians are each associated with one energy, collectively known as the three treasures.  They are:

The Lower Dantian: (Jing) located two inches below the navel, it is the source of energy which builds the physical body and allows us to develop and use Qi and Shen.

The Middle Dantian: (QI) located at the heart, it is energy created from food and air and relates to our emotions and thoughts.

The Upper Dantian: (Shen) located at a center point just higher than the eye brows, it is related to our spirit and/or consciousness.

dantianAny reference to “the dantian” is most likely referring to the lower dantian unless a distinction is made.  A few reasons for this:

  • It is the first and original source of chi energy.
  • The other dantians and most tai chi energy points in the body cannot be felt until enough energy has been built in the lower dantian.  Energy then travels to these other points and lends them their “sensation.”
  • In martial terms it is the center for power.

What should we understand about the dantians?

Our goal in taichi and in qi gong is to build our energy within the body and increase the circulation of fluid.

How do we increase our energy in the three dantians?

The two important principles that begin cleaning and building energy are posture and breath.  We 1) maintain a good posture and 2) regulate our breathing.  Then we 3) coordinate our movements with our breath and at an advanced level 4) move our energy internally with our intention.

How do the three dantians relate to tai chi?

Hopefully this article points to the immense intelligence embedded in the tai chi form.  The moves were designed to activate and build the energy centers based on thousands of years of refinement and research.   As a beginner you automatically get to benefit from the intrinsic knowledge that the form possesses.  I would suggest Mantak Chia’s work on the Microcosmic Orbit if you are interested or ready to begin taking advantage of the energy you have awoken with taichi and are ready to move it around the body.
three dantiens

If you are looking for dantien – dantian – dan tian – dan tien you are in the right place.

Forgive the absence of exact sound pronunciation between Chinese and English.  There is a slight variability between what linguists call minimal pairs (b/p, t/d, g/k) which cause the trouble.   The most common spelling is dantian.  Read more about the reasons behind the differences in pronounciation here:

Tai chi 101 : Is it Tai Chi, Taiji, taichi, or T’ai Chi Chuan?

The Use of Meditation Tones

The kinesthetic, auditory, and physical feedback of meditative tones enhance progress.






This article is intended to clarify how tones are used in meditative sets.  There is an immense world history of chanting, singing, and using tones in meditation.  No religion or spiritual pursuit is devoid of them.  Equally so, taichi and qigong have sets that incorporate tones into the practice.

I love debate and on this topic as it is sorely needed.  Let’s present two scenerios.

Scenario 1:  A person learns the wrong use of tones, this leads to poor development, they miss the benefit, think it is malarkey, and quit before their progress takes off.

Scenario 2:  A person learns a qigong set with tones, the vibration makes them actually “feel” energy traveling in them, the kinesthetic, auditory, physical sensation keeps them highly focused, they benefit from the set’s intent.

How did scenario 1 happen?  Here are my thoughts:

Poor instruction:  It is so easy to receive poor instruction on qi gong sets with meditation tones.  Not because it is difficult but because 1) newish sounds have to 2) occur specifically on an inhale or exhale with 3) the focus on a specific part of the body.  Teachers, this one is on us.  We have to make sure we are providing accurate instruction or taking our class or ourselves to a workshop. Not hard to do, just specific.

Wrong debate:  Debate IS needed but not on whether you inhale or exhale or think of organs or think of meridians, etc.  People tend to learn one tone set and then see it as the golden rule.  The truth is that all combinations of tones, organs, and meridians, are used in different sets for different purposes.  Let’s keep the debate on accuracy of actions, not right and wrong.  I also feel there is no debate as to if tones are beneficial.  Tones are not part of every qi gong/meditation set.  However, if you have received instruction that includes tones, the difference is dramatic.   Here are a couple examples:

The Six Word Secret (lie zi jue)

meditation tones 1This is taken from Kenneth Cohen’s extremely comprehensive The Way of Qigong.  The Six Word Secret is a Qigong set that is designed to expulse negative or stagnant chi for the purpose of health or to make room for healthy chi to enter.  It is attributed to a Buddhist scholar from the 6th Century.  Six main organ systems related to health each have a corresponding tone. Imagine you are actually inhaling into the organ and emptying it out.  Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth, twice for each tone.

Yes figure out where your organs are!  (5 seconds on Google).  Trust me that eventually you will actually feel your organs but only if you are concentrating on the right place.



Lungs See-ahh
Kidneys Chrroooeee
Liver Shhhhuuu
Heart Hoo  (like in hook)
Spleen Who
Triple Burner (whole torso) Seeeeeee

Standing Pose with Meditation Tones

This exercise is taken from an October 2009 interview of Chen Youze from Kungfu Magazine.   It is designed to help draw chi down into the dantian in order to be built up and used.  The process involves standing meditation in horse stance, with the right hand in front of the heart and the left hand behind the back at the mingmen.

These meditation tones are thought, but not said, and breathing goes in and out of the nose because the mouth is closed.  Breathe deeply and feel the tone descending with the breath to the dantian.  All four tones would be considered one cycle.  Continue for approximately 20 cycles.



Exhale Heeee
Inhale Sheeeee
Exhale Shuuuu
Inhale Tschweeeeey

In summary, meditation tones are used for specific purposes, are aligned with specific breaths, and relate to specific locations that they arrive at and interact with.  The hard part is not performing an energy set that includes meditation tones but in finding an instructor.

As you can see, there is nothing difficult about making a sound and breathing in and out.  Use of tones should be pursued because the feedback is great and it dramatically enhances your ability to pay attention.  However, proper instruction is mandatory when using tones or you cannot get the benefit that that tone set is designed for.

Why Study Tai Chi Weapons

A weapon’s weight, length, and material are intended to  teach you a specific ability.





Weapons forms are an incredibly beautiful, fun, and are a way to practice some of the core principles of tai chi.  They are usually introduced after progress has been made in the open-hand form.  While you do not have to know an open-hand form to begin a weapon form, knowledge from the open-hand form speaks directly to the movements of all the weapons.  Your open-hand form and weapon form will benefit jointly as you progress.

Why study tai chi weapons forms?

  • They are interesting, beautiful, and a really good time.
  • The weapons forms are all a lot shorter than the open-hand forms so if you finished an open hand form you are in for a real treat.
  • They include movements from the open-hand forms so your other forms will improve and these forms will not be completely foreign.
  • Think of a weapon as an implement.  Its weight, length, and material are designed to teach you a specific ability.

There are four main weapons that all main styles share.  Let’s take a look at these four forms and discuss how their training can dramatically improve your tai chi.


Why Study Tai Chi WeaponsTai Chi Straight Sword (Jian/Gim)

Description:  The tai chi straight sword is a double-edged sword that usually weighs 4-8 pounds.  It is usually measured by holding the hilt of the sword upside down in your hand with the blade rising along your body towards your ear.  The correct length ends at your earlobe.

Purpose of the Form: The straight sword form teaches coordination between the hand and the body, flexibility, balance, and fitness.

Fighting:  The sword teaches cutting and stabbing but moreover teaches a lightness and intelligence over power.

Improving your tai chi: The energy of the sword requires you to be completely balanced.  It is tested by issuing into the sword in high one-legged postures and low stances.  New students of the sword typically have all of their focus on the sword itself and forget about the other side of the body.  This is natural and expected until the choreography is remembered.  However, in order to issue energy into the sword, an equal amount of effort has to be delivered with the opposite hand, often in the opposite direction.  Opening the chest and issuing force in different directions teaches balance.

Tai Chi Straight Swords on Amazon

Tai Chi Broad Sword (Dao)Why Study Tai Chi Weapons

Description:  Tai chi broadswords are a bit shorter than the straight sword.  They start off straight at the hilt, curve at the top, and are sharp on only one edge.  They weigh 5-10 pounds on average.

Purpose of the Form: The broadsword is a shorter, more energetic form.  The weight of the sword, quick movements, and spins develop physical fitness, wrist strength, and flexibility, especially to the joints of the upper body.

Fighting:  The broadsword is designed for power and hacking.

Improving your tai chi: The broadswords is a huge lesson in physics with a check to the ego.  Think of it as a guillotine.  The power is derived from getting speed behind the weight in one direction.  But now the guillotine is in your hands so how do you accomplish this?  Trying to “muscle” the broadsword exhausts you immediately and doesn’t allow much power into the weapon.  Instead, you use huge circles of the arms as centrifugal force.  You coil and launch your body bringing the blade down with your weight, or you spin your body and arms to cause a cleaver-like action.  So much about body mechanics can be learned from the broadsword.

Tai Chi Broad Swords on Amazon

Why Study Tai Chi WeaponsTai Chi Spear

Description:  Tai chi spears are usually around 7 feet long, are made of wax wood and have a spear head trimmed with horse hair.

Purpose of the Form: The spear form teaches twisting and suppleness and allows us to practice extending energy outside of the body.  This weapon provides a lot of feedback and can be difficult to keep a hold of so there is an aspect of amassing power with a modicum of restraint.

Fighting:  A spear stabs, cuts, blocks, and hits while being flexible so that the blows are not reverberated down the weapon.

Improving your tai chi: The spear is the child of the sword and the long pole.  It is the most dynamic of all Chinese weapons because of its light weight, maneuverability, length, flexibility, and speed with which you can move it.   The spear teaches lightness, parrying attacks, power, and cutting and stabbing.  Inherent to the spear form (and the pole) is the development of fa jing.  The spiraling and maneuvering of the spear allows a practitioner to learn how to develop power from the center and issue it into the hands and weapon.  The vibratory nature of the spear gives you tactile and visual feedback on your power’s development.

Tai Chi Spears on Amazon

Tai Chi Long PoleWhy Study Tai Chi Weapons

Description:  The tai chi long pole can vary from 8 to well over 12 feet.  Most poles are around 8-10 feet.  Poles are typically wood and often equal thickness throughout.  Some styles such as Chen use waxwood like the spear material.  The thickness of the waxwood pole increases tremendously towards the hilt and can be 2-3 inches in diameter.

Purpose of the Form: The pole form tests and increases the strength of the stance and exercises and strengthens the spine.

Fighting:  The pole form works to bring power to a single point quickly.  Due to its size, you have to issue from the center because you do not have the lightness, mobility, or circular movements of the other weapons   Secondly, the pushing and pulling of the pole improves rooting and translates to more effective partner work in the open-hand sparring.

Improving your tai chi:  Your stance is tested incrementally as your balance is extended away from you.  Extending the pole out in front of you parallel to the ground cannot be accomplished without your arms being connected to the legs and ground or the pole tip dips down. Straight Swords on Amazon

So why study tai chi weapons?

Tai chi weapons are implements in the truest sense of the word.  You begin to gain abilities and improve in the open-hand form.  The weapon allows you to test out your abilities and hone your skills.  It is non-judgmental and will either respond to your intentions or it won’t.  This feedback is fundamental to your progress.


Six Harmonies – The Cheat Sheet for Perfect Posture

Small postural improvements have huge impact on your health, practice, and mental state.







Here is a statement that needs to be intrinsically understood to progress in Tai Chi: Internal energy building and circulation, balance, and martial abilities are dependent on posture.  For those of you that are one step ahead of me, you are seeing the potential bang-for-your-buck by focusing on posture over other more trivial matters.

Posture is the tai chi version of the Pareto Principle which states that 20% of your activities realize 80% of the results and vise-versa.  Small postural improvements have huge impact on your health, sitting at your desk, your taichi form, balance, pushhands prowess, etc.

How do we evaluate our posture and make corrections?

We could have proper instruction, do chiropractic work or even Rolfing.   But thankfully, Tai Chi also has a blueprint to evaluate yourself and make corrections in real time.

The Six Harmonies – History

Dai Long Bang was a master of the internal martial arts who lived in the 18th Century.  His family cultivated and developed Xing Yi Quan, one of the two other major internal martial arts.   During his life he recorded a great deal of tactical points of martial arts and wrote “The Six Harmonies Fists.”  It’s from this work that the Six Harmonies are taken.

What are the Six Harmonies?

The Six Harmonies refer to coordination between three external joints (6 total, 3 per side) and the coordination of three internal processes that align emotion and intention.  “Harmony” does not only mean “moving together” despite this being a good start.  It also connotes a connection between the movements.

External Harmonies (san wai he) Six Harmonies

1) The hands harmonize with the feet.

2) The hips harmonize with the shoulders.

3) The elbows harmonize with the knees.

Internal Harmonies (san nei he) 

1) The heart harmonizes with the intention.

2) The intention harmonizes with the Chi.

3) The Chi harmonizes with the movement.

Coordination of the Six Harmonies

“Coordination” or “Harmonizing” includes good posture and the body parts moving in unison.  It does not mean you move like a robot or that your body parts aren’t moving in different directions at times.  Harmony can also refer to the angles of the joints being the same or the body parts moving in the same direction.  An example of this last point could be your hand traveling forward and your toes pointing in that direction.

Coordination of the External Harmonies

Coordination of the external harmonies is a straightforward alignment of pairs of joints.  In tai chi we are initially concerned with the hip and shoulder alignment because the other two harmonies will be dependent on this primary structural alignment.  This can easily be studied by looking in the mirror and making concrete adjustments.  Let’s take a look:

The hands harmonize with the feet:  the toes are pointed in the direction that the hand is traveling and the step and strike/grab arrive at the same time.  Proper alignment of hands and feet leads to heavy pushes or strikes where the support of the ground is felt rather than arm strength.

The hips harmonize with the shoulders:  the shoulders are aligned over the hips.  The hip joint (kua) and armpit are not collapsed.  Rotational power is generated by the hips and carried out though the torso.  You can accomplish this harmony by turning your whole torso as you move rather than just your arm and by keeping an upright posture as though you are sitting on an invisible chair.

The elbows harmonize with the knees: The elbows shrink and expand in unison.  A great example is shooting a free throw in basketball.  The player crouches down, springs up, and the hands are over his head releasing the ball at the second that the entire body has expanded.

Coordination of the Internal Harmonies

Internal coordination, harmony, is dependent on external coordination.  So if you have not checked your posture throughout different parts of the tai chi form, external coordination is the low hanging fruit.

Coordinating the internal harmonies is putting the intention and will (the brains and heart) behind the movement.  Yes you can just step forward and grab a doorknob.  This would be more akin to focusing on the doorknob, reading your body, and consciously reaching for and seizing the doorknob.

The heart harmonizes with the intention:  The heart is the emotional that sets the motivational fires burning.  Back to the doorknob for practicality and humor’s sake.  Imagine being mad at the doorknob and grabbing it.  Imagine that it is elusive and if you don’t grab it at the right second it will disappear.  When I first wrapped my mind around this I woke up to the fact of how unintentional I move about throughout the day.

The intention harmonizes with the Chi:  Your degree of intention will determine your degree of concentration.  Walking by a tai chi class you would just see someone taking a step.  The person however would be concentrating on the accuracy of this step and setting it in motion.

The Chi harmonizes with the movement:  Now it is time to act.  Your posture is good you are focused and choose to move.  The brain makes all movements happen.  Once your intention is set you fire off nerve impulses and off you go.

We began talking about simple movements and end the same way.  I hope this article provides 1) a way for us to self-monitor and make adjustments and 2) dramatically see the difference between a typical step and the movements of tai chi.

Betty Edwards in Drawing with the Right Side of the Brain described it the best when she talked about getting lost and forgetting about time when you incorporate intention and balance in the creative process.  If I get nothing else out of tai chi class, I at least get a break from the continual ramble of thoughts (grocery lists, where did I put my…) that usually accompanies my day.

Health and Tai Chi

Eastern and now western science continue to amass data on the health benefits of Tai Chi Chu’an.









How is tai chi good for health?  It’s the flexibility right?  No, it’s the meditative aspects isn’t it?  Can’t I get the same benefit from walking?

Here is the overall picture.  The average form can take 6-12 minutes.  How can 1) we receive such huge payback in benefits in this short of time?  And 2) why is this 6-12 minutes so different from any other 6-12 walking, swimming, or the like?

Firstly, yes the tai chi form does not take that long to do. 

However, it can take 4-12 months to learn the form correctly depending on style and motivation.  The payoff is huge in that it is fun to learn, you benefit immediately, and gain access to your own source of health and healing.  If I were promising something this great do you think you could learn it in a weekend?

Secondly, many resources tout the health benefits of tai chi but we would like to explain how these benefits are achieved.

You honestly do feel good from performing tai chi but old knee injuries don’t heal on the spot.  Leaning on our intellect to understand the process assists us in being patient as health manifests from within us.

Bone Health and Tai Chi

Bone health is dependent on the body generating the material to produce bone and on bones being under a load causing needed density.  Tai chi internal arts (qi gong) target the production of qi which is directly related to bone marrow generation.  The postures reintroduce your legs and spine to your body’s weight rather than throwing your balance in a direction to carry you forward.

health and tai chiOrgan Health and Tai Chi

The postures of tai chi put the vertebrae in correct alignment allowing the organs, which are connected to the backbone, to not experience undue pressure.  Tai chi movements massage the organs allowing them to perform their function.  I need to get a little bit gross here for medicine’s sake.  Much of the cancers and debilitating disease are related to toxicity and our inability to purge our system effectively.  The rotating on the organs and intestines, coupled with blood flow and hormone secretion, make us go potty, very effectively.

Joint Health and Tai Chi

Out comes my soapbox due to being highly athletic in a western sense and experiencing injuries from high school forward.  Western athletics lock the joints and stretch the surrounding muscles.  Tai chi uses the muscles on both sides of the joint to rotate it and warm it up.  Even as recently as the 2012 Olympics they were talking about new studies that include loss of strength due to static stretching.

Mental Clarity and Tai Chi

1) Paradoxically, slow learning makes us thing faster.  Many parallels are being drawn between the acquisition of music and art abilities (in adults!!) due to these same principles.  Here are two of many resources that make my point: Drawing with the Right Side of the Brain – Edwards, Effortless Mastery – Werner.  2)  Tai chi is an activity that encompasses the three learning modes: kinesthetic, auditory, and visual.  By accessing all three modalities simultaneously once or twice a week we benefit from being about to lean on all three modalities in all of life’s circumstances.

Stress Reduction and Tai Chi

We now know that stress is directly tied to degeneration, loss of sleep, aging, cardiovascular issues, and is implicated in poor diet choices.  Survey research indicates that peoples 1) perception of their mental state improves after tai chi and 2) outlook improves when asked their opinion on basic life questions.  Medical indicators such as diastolic pressure were deduced after 3 minutes of standing meditation.  Come on people! That’s 120 seconds!

Cardiovascular Effects of Tai Chi

The low stances and proper postures put a good load on your lower body.  Cardiovascular efficiency is produced because of the increased pressure to return blood from the legs without stress or tension in the upper and tai chi

Arthritis Management and Tai Chi

A Google search for Arthritis and Tai Chi introduces you to millions of people benefiting from tai chi.  Some claim that tai chi eliminated arthritis along with dietary changes.  Minimally tai chi can reduce the progression of arthritis and ameliorate the chief complaints: improved circulation, reduction in joint pain, and increased mobility.


Further Reading on Tai Chi and Health

The health benefits of tai chi – Harvard Health Publications
Tai chi: A gentle way to fight stress – Tai chi helps reduce stress and anxiety. And it also helps increase flexibility and balance. – The Mayo Clinic


The Art of Relaxation in Tai Chi (Song)

How do you do something that you already thought you were doing?







It is my DUTY to try to explain “Song” in a way that is understandable to a tai chi novice.  Readers with experience in tai chi are probably feeling the low vibrations of the beginning of a good belly laugh.  It is something that we practitioners are told one hundred times over the  first few years and it seems as though you can never be relaxed enough.  Secondly, how do you do something that you already thought you were doing?  An instructor looks at you and says “relax” and the student thinks “I am!

Let’s deconstruct relaxation in tai chi and put together some practical tips that give you feedback to move in the direction of song.

Relaxation as described by Taoist thinking involves releasing tension on a mental, emotional, and physical level.  As you can see, our general idea of relaxation is much more limited and we don’t have a word that embodies this state.  Calmness, clear thought, and high energy are all the casualties of tension.  By letting our minds and body’s taste “song,” this powerful relaxation, this productive non-sleepy relaxation, we experience a sense of feeling truly right.  Tai chi transports us into this feeling mechanically but when we get a sense of it we can make it happen throughout our normal day.

Practical tips to improve your relaxation in tai chi:

relaxation in tai chiRelaxing the mind:

If you are concentrating on your breathing you can’t be thinking about anything else.  Try it, it’s amazing.  This has helped my squirrel brain get off the treadmill many-a-time.

Relax the breath:

If you are anxious, even at a low level, you can’t fully inflate your lungs or belly (e.g. diaphragmatic breathing).  By having the sense that your chest and abdomen are full your breath is relaxed.

Relax the _________:

Think of relaxation in tai chi, not as a state, but as moving towards that state.  If you are told to “relax the arm” for example, tighten it as hard as you can and then release and extend it out slowly.  Now you can feel your arm relaxing.

Relax your body:

This largely refers to the separation of energy between the upper and lower body.  Loosen your lower back and adjust your posture to feel your body’s weight in your legs.  Pull up at the crown of the head and imagine your upper body being light.

Practical Example:

You are in a posture and your teacher says “relax.”  Breathe deep in the belly and truly think about your breath. Arrest your body parts and squeeze, and then let it go.  Relax your lower back, sink one inch lower and pull up at the top of the head.  “Ahh, very good grasshopper.”

The Origin of Tai Chi (in 68 seconds)

2000 years of development cannot be explained well in any small volume but your reason to join this great tradition can be.








The goal of this article is to:

1) introduce you to some names and places that will eventually become critical.

At some point in everyone’s development an understanding of the origin of tai chi becomes essential.  Typically you begin to be in a conversation about yoga/work/religion/running and you say; “that sounds like tai chi.”  A need arises to understand how tai chi can be related to so much simultaneously and your historical pursuit begins.

2) give you confidence in the great tradition that you are now part of.

It is humbling and exciting to know that by lifting your hands in the opening movements for the first time that you have just joined millions, and billions across the centuries who are reconnecting with their source energy.  Tai chi is not typically what we grew up with.  Development comes slowly at times and history provides us with a blueprint to know that we are building into something truly unique.

Meditation and Martial Application Develop

Origin of Tai Chi Bodhidharma was an Indian monk who traveled to China in the 6th Century teaching Buddhist sutras and meditation.  He stayed at the Shaolin Temple for several years and found the monks to be weak in body and mind.  He encouraged physical discipline and taught a yoga-based exercise set to extend and improve their meditation thereby improving their health and practice.  A group of eighteen monks (now revered as Lohan – heroes) created a system of exercises (Shao-lin Chuan) that are the basis for all qigong and martial arts forms including tai chi chuan.

In 722 AD Shao-lin received special acclaim from the Emperor who was visiting the area.  Up through the 14th Century hundreds of external forms were developed based on movements in nature and also spread to neighboring Asian countries to create arts like Tae Kwan Do and Karate.

The Internal Arts are Created

Chang San-Feng, a Taoist teacher, mastered the external martial arts of Shaolin Temple and became a bodyguard of the Emperor’s Origin of Tai Chi Court in Beijing.  He returned to the mountains of his youth and together with other masters dedicated himself to the development of a non-violent form of practice.  Here it is recorded that he developed a soft “internal martial art” which relied on energies from within.  His efforts were based on medical knowledge and Taoist philosophy.

Fast forward again to the 17th Century where the Ming Dynasty strongly encouraged scholars to study tai chi and record forms and uses currently in existence.  Legend has it that a local or traveling boxer taught the Chen family a system of exercises that resembles what we know today.

In the 19th Century a servant of the Chen family, Yang Lu-Ch’an learned the system, moved to Beijing to teach and further develop it, thus creating the Yang System.  Three independent systems, Wu, Wu Hao and Sun by Sun Lu-Tang developed out of Yang Style.  All current forms are either directly from these lineages or developed off of these lineages such as Cheng Man-Ch’ing Style, who studied and taught Yang Style before leaving China in 1949 for political reasons.


origins of tai chiTo Summarize the Origins of Tai Chi

1400 years spent studying nature and the body’s processes resulted in the movements of tai chi.  Masters of the external styles applied internal knowledge to the movements and development ensued for 500 more years.  Development and practice continues with five main families and with you.  By practicing tai chi you consciously decide to understand the inherent power that your body was intended to manifest.


Additional Reading:  Origin of Tai Chi