Students frequently ask about the relationship between Taiji and Qigong. Different people have differing opinions. And the same person might have different understandings as their study deepens. I would like to share my thoughts on this subject so it's comprehensible for everybody.
Firstly, why are there so many different ways to spell Taiji Qigong? The correct and official spelling is Taiji Qigong which uses the pinyin system. Pinyin is the official Romanisation system for standard Chinese in mainland China. It is often used to teach standard Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters/ideograms and is considered the International Standard. Pinyin literally means "spelled sounds."
The many other variations include: Tai Chi, T'ai C'hi, Tai Ch'i, Qi Gong, Chi Gong and Chi Kung, which are all either from the Wade-Giles system or have been incorrectly phonetically written. Wade-Giles was the system of transcription in the English-speaking world during the mid-19th century and has been entirely replaced by the pinyin system.
The word qigong was not popularly used until the mid 20th century. Before then, different qigong exercises were known by the myriad names, or categories, of exercises. Qigong literally means to exercise, or nurture, qi, which is the energetic intermediary between physical essence (jing, 精) and spirit (shen, 神). But a simple literal interpretation of the word qigong is insufficient to convey the full meaning. Qigong is mind/body/spirit integrative exercise—any mind/body/spirit integrative exercise is qigong. Taiji form (if practiced correctly) is one type of qigong, but other basic qigong exercises are also essential components of traditional taiji training. Yoga is qigong; simple exercises such as walking or riding a bicycle, or even many daily life activities, if done in awareness and understanding of qigong principles, can be qigong.
Qigong, then, is a big-picture concept. In traditional practice, there are two basic categories of qigong practice: static and dynamic. Static qigong refers to meditation in sitting, standing, and lying-down postures. These are the most fundamental, and therefore the most essential, qigong training methods. Dynamic qigong refers to moving meditation, which as stated can be in many forms.
Literally, wu (无) means “no” and ji (极) means “extreme.” In contrast with taiji, which means “grand extreme,” in wuji there is no differentiation of yin and yang: no good/bad, happy/sad, attraction/aversion. Wuji is a subtle void, but it is not empty—it is full of undifferentiated energy from which arise yin and yang and the “10,000 things.”
“Wuji is the mother of taiji” (or “taiji comes from wuji”) is a very famous saying in taiji practice. But few people understand how to translate this saying into practice. As a result, some, if not most, practitioners spend their time practicing taiji forms but never experiencing wuji, the foundation of taiji practice.
Putting it to practice.
Wuji is realised in deep meditation and is practiced in sitting, standing, and lying down meditation exercises. Indeed, meditation is called “wuji” in traditional practice. To return to wuji is the goal of meditation (or, to be more accurate, some forms of meditation — which I detail a little later).
Wuji is a profound state of mental and physical relaxation, of mind/body/spirit integration. To experience wuji is to know the bliss of a mind undisturbed by ego, by thoughts of judgments of good/bad or attraction/aversion. To realise wuji is to feel the energy of the universe in you. This energy is the mother of taiji. When the energy is full, it is natural to want to move. Once the intention of movement arises, the energy is separated into yin and yang (soft/hard, left/right, up/down, store/release, etc.), and taiji movement is born. After moving it is natural to return to stillness. This is one example of the wuji/taiji/wuji progression.
Ultimately, words and rational thinking are inadequate to convey the feeling of wuji. How do you describe the taste of a strawberry? Wuji can only be known experientially. The thing to understand is that the many different meditations are techniques to lead you to stillness, but quiescence is the common destination of all.
So the standing, sitting, and lying-down meditations are wuji practice, and are the beginning point for efficient taiji practice. Understand, however, that in wuji one has deep awareness of being, we don't drift off with the fairies, but experience a much deeper and more profound awareness than the daily busy mind, but no intention to “do” something. Once the intention to do something arises it is no longer wuji, but rather the transition to taiji movement. Intention is of course an important aspect of taiji practice, and there are also essential standing and lying-down meditations which utilise intention to focus or direct the qi. And so while wuji is practiced in standing, sitting, and lying down meditations, not all static meditation exercises are wuji practice.
Progression in Taiji Practice
Following are the different static and dynamic qigong exercises in traditional taiji training.
1 Wuji meditation (static sitting, standing, and lying-down) – the “mother of taiji,” this is the deepest level of energy cultivation, and of mental/spiritual awareness.
2 Intention meditation (static standing, lying-down) – transition to taiji movement which uses intention to focus energy and train mind/body connection (nervous system function), and practice of relaxing the mind and body while the mind is engaged with intention. (Please note that there is a difference between “relaxed intention” and “mental force.” Do not use mental force to “guide” qi – this is against taiji principles, is not the correct path, and can even cause problems in some cases. As the Dao De Jing says, “For the mind to dictate to one’s qi is called violent.” Learn to relax in intention and you will progress naturally and correctly.)
For taiji practice in particular, the static meditations have the following purposes. Sitting meditation is the best modality to train your mind: awareness of reality and mental principles. In addition, it increases awareness of your physical body. It also enhances your nervous system, which increases your reaction time. All contribute to the ling (agility) quality of your practice. The ability to move with lighting quickness, and to perceive a situation or even to foretell an occurrence, is an aspect of ling. The often held secret in taiji tradition is that this skill comes from sitting meditation. (The problem with secrets is that, if they are not made common knowledge, they are eventually lost.)
Standing practice primarily develops your strength, alignment, posture, economy of movement, and sleep quality. Lying-down practice will help with your sleep, relax your mind and body, and, importantly, prevent overuse of the body and injury. With this foundation, you can start to incorporate the “gong” derived from meditation into movement.
3 Simple, repetitive movement. Here we begin to incorporate fundamentals of, stance, posture, and weight shifting/waist turning/chest opening and closing with yin/yang taiji movement and reverse breathing.
4. Which style/form?
There is nothing new in the taiji form in terms of stance, alignment, coordination, silk reeling energy, application, etc. except the choreography. There are many styles and forms of taiji, the major ones being Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun. Each style has its own features, but all styles share the same essential principles. It is entirely down to personal preference. At the Norfolk and Norwich Taiji Qigong School we teach The Mother Form from The Hidden Immortal Lineage. Also known as The WenShi Lineage (Yin XianPai), the Hidden Immortal Lineage (YouLong Pai), the 'Just Like a Dragon Lineage' as the masters in this lineage were hermits, just like hidden dragons. The Mother Form is a powerful Taiji Qigong set that offers the same benefits of longer, more complex forms, but in just eight simple yet challenging movements that are relatively easy to learn for astounding health benefits not found in most Western exercise systems.
5 Integration into daily life
Finally, you can apply physical quality cultivated in the form practice to daily activities: your jogging, dish washing, vacuuming your house, holding a baby in your arms, gardening, even waiting at the bus stop. It is a higher level of practice as the application is infinite. And it is the ultimate goal of practice: to improve the quality of daily life. Mentally and spiritually, you are applying the awareness and mental principles to your daily life while you interact with family members, colleagues at work, and strangers on the street.
All of the above are qigong – all are energy nurturing, mind/body/spirit integrative exercise at their deepest levels. The exercises are interrelated and interdependent – it is the combination of exercises that yields efficient practice and realszation of the widest benefits of practice.
This is Taiji Qigong.