When a man’s body is at ease and his spirit is recovered, he becomes One with heaven.
– Chuang Tzu
The path to enlightenment, as taught by the Center of Traditional Taoist Studies, requires a personal commitment to develop the entire being — beginning with the physical self. Contentment — which is the goal of enlightenment — is nearly impossible without a healthy body. Accordingly, the early masters of Taoism created an integrated program whose first priority was physical development. The Taoist science of chi gave birth to the practice of Chi Quong. Chi Quong is a rigorous exercise program that not only builds the body’s channels for chi but also regulates
he flow of chi through them. Consistent with Taoism’s recognition of the mind/body link, there are both physical and mental Chi Quong exercises or, more traditionally labeled, internal and external Chi Quong. A Westerner would likely find that physical Chi Quong resembles the early morning tai chi exercises performed by Chinese practitioners in parks throughout the world. Mental Chi Quong is known as “meditation” in the West.
Physical Chi Quong’s mastery of body and mind requires focus and concentration, thus teaching the practitioner how to control thoughts and actions. In doing so, he also learns to manage individual desires — the prerequisite for spirituality. It is a Taoist tenet that an individual undisciplined in the physical realm can never be spiritual. Thus, physical Chi Quong is a practical step towards achieving a spiritual state. Said another way, if the body is the “house” of the soul, it must be in good condition lest broken windows make it functionless for the spirit. Physical Chi Quong’s primary goal is flexibility, the best indicator of youthful chi. And in the Taoist formulation, flexibility yields longevity. Chi Quong’s second goal is to improve sensitivity. By feeling the body move through hundreds of prescribed motions, the practitioner becomes sensitive to the signals it emits. Consequently, he can detect any malfunction — whether illness or injury — in their early stages, allowing for prompt treatment. Physical Chi Quong develops the body’s invisible
channels of chi, which are arranged in a configuration called the “meridian system.” Diagrammed, the human meridian system resembles the circulatory system, as it is comprised of pathways that roughly follow the arteries and veins throughout the body. In essence, blood can be thought of as the “life force” of the visible world, while chi is the “life force” of the unseen world.