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Transforming Tai Chi into a Powerful Health Practice

Okay, the title might seem like a bit of an oxymoron – you’ve been told that Tai Chi in itself is already a powerful health-creating practice.  In fact, that’s not quite true…

You see, Tai Chi Chuan or “Grand Ultimate Fist” was developed primarily as a martial art and has long been considered one of the two or three most dangerous martial arts ever devised.  Of course, its health benefits have not been lost on the people who’ve practiced it down through the centuries.  The catch is this – to make Tai Chi work for you as a health practice, there are some things you need to know.  Otherwise, you risk spending a lot of time just waving your arms and, yes, probably feeling a bit calmer for it all, but leaving a lot of “health profit” on the table.

I’m often asked if practicing Qi Gong is “better than” practicing Tai Chi or vice versa.  While there’s no simple answer to that question, I can tell you this:

You can used Tai Chi itself as a world class Qi Gong system in itself… if you know how.  And only a small percentage of Tai Chi instructors have any idea how to do that. 

Styles of Tai Chi:

While nobody can prove much about the real origins of Tai Chi, many say the original style comes from the Chen village in Hunan province.  Chen is certainly an amazing style – it’s characterized by both spherical and helix movements, a sophisticated use of energy and changes in tempo punctuated by sudden explosions of power.

I admit Chen is far and away my favorite style, and I’ve studied it and Yang style intensively, and Wu style to some extent.  Here’s a quick look at a Chen style form – note however, this is an advanced form and you can use Chen as a powerful health practice without any of the more difficult moves:

Later on came the Yang family style, derived directly from Chen.  And the original Yang style, which is pretty hard to find these days, did look an awful lot like Chen, whereas the modern Yang style – the most popular style worldwide – looks quite different.  Full of soft, circular movements that are less complex than those of Chen, this style is characterized by an even pace and moves a bit more slowly.  Here’s a quick look:

Later still you get the Wu and Sun styles, both derived from Yang.  I freely admit I don’t like Wu very much – I find its postures a bit weird and impractical.  Just don’t tell my Tai Chi partner – he’s a Wu style man and loves it!  Sun is the most recent style and quite beautiful to watch.  Unfortunately, I’ve never had a chance to experience it personally.  

How to Practice Tai Chi for Incredible Health:

Granted, this could easily be the subject of a book rather than this short blog post!  That said, I hope to give you some indications you can use right away if you already know any Tai Chi form or even part of one.  

First, a word about “forms” or routines.  A form is a series of movements strung together, and that’s what you see people doing when they’re practicing Tai Chi.  Typically, each Tai Chi style has a “slow” form – the  one you learn first – and a “fast” form that tends to be more combat oriented.  

Chen’s traditional slow form is 88 movements, while Yang’s is 108.  Now there are shorter ones available and I’d highly recommend learning a shorter form to start with, especially if your goal is health and not martial skill.  After all, it takes about 30-40 minutes to do the Yang slow form, and about half that long to do the Chen slow form, if you’re using the longest version in each case.  For health purposes, you don’t necessarily need that.

So how do you transform your Tai Chi into a super health-creation machine?  Here are the basics:

  1. Keep in mind that Tai Chi is SO sophisticated that you can only focus your mind on one element of practice as you go through the form.  This fact will actually help you a whole lot!
  2. Practice the form once through, focusing only on performing the movements as smoothly as possible.  Don’t obsess about whether each movement is perfect and correct – some of the precision is only necessary for martial applications.  For now, just focus on making your practice smooth, harmonious and calm.
  3. Now go through the form again, but this time make sure that each movement begins in and issues from your lower Dantian, just below your navel.  You’ll want to really slow things down for this!
  4. Then, next time you practice, focus on matching the movements to your breathing.  Typically, you inhale on movements the rise or move toward your body and exhale when going the other direction.  Obviously, it’s intended that you exhale when doing striking movements.  You’ll need to breathe abdominally, of course, though it doesn’t matter if you use Normal Abdominal Breathing or Reverse Abdominal Breathing.
  5. After that, go through the form again, but this time make sure it’s your spine that originates each movement.  Link your mental attention to your spine so you can “watch” and feel each movement as your vertebrae open, close and rotate.
  6. This time, stay acutely aware of your lower Dantian and of packing energy into it as you go through the form.  You may feel like you’re a giant ball of energy by the time you’re done.  Every time you inhale, feel the breath sink into your Dantian and every time you exhale, feel that same energy push out from the Dantian in all directions, forming a sphere of energy around you.
  7. Finally, this time you’ll focus on nothing but “rooting”.  Rooting is like sinking into the ground, it’s what keeps you stable and, for martial purposes, it’s what lets you upset your opponent’s balance while keeping your own.  Rooting has health advantages in that it drains tension and excess energy from your torso down into your lower body, leaving you calmer, more centered and less stressed.  So with each step, feel as if that foot is sinking right into the ground and carefully observe each time you transfer your weight from one leg to the other.

Do this regularly and you’ll be amazed not only at how great you feel, but at what your practice is revealing to you.  Tai Chi is like a vast ocean – you can swim in it all your life and still learn something new every time.

In conclusion, here’s a wonderful video on Tai Chi at the Chen village today, where many people from all over the world gather and even live in order to be “close to the source”:

Have you practiced Tai Chi before?  Please share your comments here!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Breathing for DEEP Emotional / Spiritual Health

Last time, we talked about the health benefits of Normal Abdominal Breathing and how to practice it.  We also said that breathing this way will greatly calm your emotions over time, especially if you meditate regularly and make this kind of breathing your “default setting”. 

However, you can breathe abdominally and still miss the ultimate point.  How so?  Let’s start at the beginning…

As you know, chest breathing – i.e., the unhealthy way most people in our culture breathe – is linked to negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, anger and the rest.  But chest breathing is just a symptom of a bigger problem – captivity to your ego.  This tormenting ego captivity that’s so pervasive in the West is a direct result of our rationalistic culture.  It’s linked to a whole complex of things, including the “me against the world” mentality, the feeling that the human being is totally separate from the “hostile” world around him, which he has to dominate by force. 

Even though Normal Abdominal Breathing creates better health, if you practice it without dislodging these mentalities and the emotional complexes beneath them, your gains will only be marginal.  You see, the ultimate purpose of your breath work is to take you beyond ego captivity!

Ego captivity is what Hara expert Karlfried Durckheim called a “fundamental lack of trust in life itself”.  On a deep level, the chest breather is afraid to surrender to the natural process of breathing.  He feels he has to breathe on his own or he’ll cease to exist.  He can’t seem to let himself surrender to his breath and “be breathed” instead of breathing by force. 

So here’s the paradox: even though we abdominal breathers consciously watch our breath, our purpose is to surrender to it.  The chest breathers, on the other hand, ignore their breath, yet can’t surrender to it. 

You can feel this for yourself, even doing abdominal breathing.  It’s an emotional / spiritual tension that manifests itself most strongly as you transition from inhaling to exhaling.  It’s as if something hesitates, something in you tightens up.  An expert can verify these hidden emotional / spiritual tensions in his or her students by checking their posture, since almost every hidden tension is stored in the posture and knocks the posture out of alignment. 

Breathing only reveals its full significance to the extent you are able to surrender to it, to life and to the greater life force within you.  And you can only do that to the extent you’ve gone beyond the ego-centric fear for bodily welfare.  So we have even more paradoxes here!  Many people will say they trust in God, yet their breathing reveals something very different…

How can you go beyond your ego-captivity and enter into the real mystery of breathing?  The first step is simply to keep practicing.  Sit and breath properly, and pay attention to what your body reveals to you.  Did you find some hidden emotional / spiritual tensions you weren’t aware of?  That’s okay, just acknowledge them and continue.  Practice and time overcome all obstacles!

For more information on mastering breathing, meditation and movement, click here.
~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Breathing Your Way to Superb Health

You can learn a lot about a person just by observing how they breathe…

  • When they’re relaxed, whether standing or sitting, can you hear their breathing?
  • Do their shoulders and chest rise when they inhale?
  • Does their lower abdomen move at all?
  • Are they inhaling or exhaling through their mouth or their nose?

All these are key questions that can tell you volumes about their physical health and, for that matter, their emotional health and how they relate to their body.

Compelling Reasons for Breathing Right:

Simply put, your body-mind organism has been designed to breathe in a particular way, and if you knock that natural breathing out of whack, you’ll eventually reap the consequences.  The breathing that’s natural to the human person is what’s sometimes called “Normal Abdominal Breathing”.  Why should you bother with it?  As Bill Nye the Science Guy loves to say, “consider the following”;

  • It enhances the circulation of blood, lymph fluid and energy (chest breathing restricts all of them)
  • It takes the burden off the heart (chest breathing makes your heart work harder)
  • It massages your lower digestive tract, leading to more efficient elimination of toxins (chest breathing leaves your lower digestive tract stagnant and sluggish, leading to auto-intoxication)
  • It calms the emotions and reduces the energy-sapping “inner dialogue” (chest breathing tends to increase negative emotional content)

Practicing Basic Normal Abdominal Breathing:

Getting started is super-simple.  You can start with the following exercise while sitting or standing, and later graduate to doing it while walking:

  1. Keeping your chest and shoulders relatively stationary, expand your lower abdomen outward as you inhale through your nose
  2. Contract your lower abdomen as you exhale through your nose
  3. With each breath, use your mental attention to feel the breath sink down to your lower abdomen
  4. Breath at whatever pace is comfortable for you – this should feel completely gentle, natural and unforced, even if it seems a bit awkward at first 😉

Once you’ve got the hang of that, you can experiment with these auxilliary practices (NOTE: If you have high blood pressure, please consult your physician first):

  1. As you inhale, instead of just expanding your abdomen to the front, allow your waist to expand all the way around, as if it were a big inner tube
  2. As you inhale, relax your perineum completely and feel the breath move all the way down to it and push against it.  Then, when you exhale, pull up on the perineum, more or less as you would doing a Kegel exercise (the Kegel or PC muscle exercises have lots of other health benefits I don’t have time to get into here). 

Breathing and Your Personal Resilience:

Proper breathing can dramatically increase your physical health on all levels, balance your emotions, reduce your stress and, over time, utterly transform your relationship with your body.  It’s pretty hard to overstate the benefits of paying attention to your breathing.

Of course, its real value comes when you transition from doing Normal Abdominal Breathing as an exercise for a few minutes a day to making it the “default setting” for how you breathe all day long. 

To get the whole story on how to do that, go to this website:

Now, go enjoy a few good lung-fulls of fresh air!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Want Health? Then You Can’t Afford to Ignore This…

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”
– Thomas Edison

Hi all,

Edison was right, all those years ago, and despite the power and political clout of the pharmaceutical industry, people will likely look back at the medical and health practices of the our time and shake their heads saying…

“What WERE they thinking??”

Ancient cultures made some miraculous medical discoveries, and none more far-reaching in its effectiveness than the science of BREATHING. Sounds ridiculously simple?

What if I told you that just by using certain breathing methods for minutes a day, you could detox your whole body? Here’s the scoop…

Beyond “Deep Breathing”

Taoist longevity masters discovered that although ordinary “deep breathing” is really good for you, there’s something even better. Yes, it’s a great idea to go outside first thing in the morning, expel all the stale air from your lungs and take in some crisp, clean air to oxygenate your system (and wake you up ;-), but there’s more…

They discovered that the human body is designed for “abdominal breathing”, not the chest breathing adults are used to, and that when you change over to abdominal breathing, amazing things happen. For one thing, it will detox your whole body continually (a big plus in our toxin-filled society). Here’s how:

Your body eliminates toxins in 3 main ways – through your lungs, your skin and your bowels.

Abdominal breathing uses the whole lung and eliminates toxins through the lungs more efficiently than chest breathing. Abdominal breathing continuously massages the lower digestive tract, allowing your intestines, kidneys and bladder to eliminate waste products far more effectively than they usually do.

And now the “piece de resistance”… they discovered that through breath control they could access the body’s energy field. You can too. Focus your attention on the tip of one finger as you practice abdominal breathing and you’ll notice something…

Your finger feels like it’s breathing too! Eventually, you’ll learn to feel this sensation everywhere. To make a long story very short, using this dynamic allows you to eliminate toxins directly through your skin.

The Taoist masters also noticed that normal abdominal breathing and the special exercises that use it radically improved the circulation of blood, lymph fluid and energy throughout the body and eased the burden on the heart muscle. And they enable you to gather energy all day long instead of just expending it.

There are further benefits on the emotional and spiritual levels too, but I’ve run out of space for today, so…

To learn more about these miracles, just hop on over to:

For anyone who grabs a copy this week, I’ll toss in a free copy of my book, The 5 Pillars of Life in case you don’t already have one 😉

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger