One of the great old founding masters of tai chi chuan (taijiquan), Wang Zong Yue, stated in his tai chi classic, known as the Taijiquan Jing: “Yin cannot be separated from yang and vice-versa. When yin and yang complement each other, you will interpret the tenacious energy, or dongjing, correctly.” Dongjing translates to “the energy of understanding something.” Dongjing is a path to enlightenment. And using tai chi with this approach makes it a path to enlightenment as well. But how do you start to see the yin and yang in your tai chi chuan, so that you can develop your body and mental energies? Below are three ways you can do this. After sharing this advice with my past tai chi students, I’ve watched their progress skyrocket. They have one breakthrough after another, and often wind up sharing things with me that become a learning experience that I can also enjoy!
First, seek to understand yin and yang in your body as the “push” and “pull” of every tai chi posture. The only way this works is if your movement originates from, and maintains connection to, your torso. You must learn “whole body method” (also called “torso method”) from your teacher. Your torso – especially your spine – is the pivot point through which every movement passes. Think of your body as a revolving door. Postures that well express the push and pull include: “High Pat on Horse,” and “Brush Knee Twist Step.” Think and feel: Where does each posture simultaneously push while pulling? In “Brush Knee Twist Step,” for example, as one hand pushes forward, the other brushes above the knee and pulls back toward the thigh — all while a twist step is executed. The spine is like a pulley wheel (oriented horizontally) and the right and left sides of the body are like the ends of the rope. Sometimes the push/pull is emphasized more in the arms, sometimes the legs, and sometimes it’s found in one leg which then crosses over to the opposite arm.
The second way to understand the interplay of yin and yang is by the “solid” and “empty” of every posture. Which arm or leg is dominant? Which is passive? In “High Pat on Horse” you finish in a back-weighted stance, with the right leg solid and the left side empty. The right arm is dominant while the left is passive. Every tai chi stance exhibits a mix of solid and empty, or yang and yin, respectively.
The third way to easily find yin and yang in your tai chi moves is to consider where you are covered (protected) and where you are exposed. This is important to understand for developing martial arts skills. For example, in “Brush Knee Twist Step,” your strike is strongly rooted on the front and back axis. But you are weaker on the left and right axis. The lower side of your ribs is exposed on the same side as the hand that pushes. Be aware of this vulnerability and know that you can always change to cover it if needed. On the other side, the side of your head is exposed. Though you are well-protected in front and have a powerfully rooted stance head-on, you must train to be light and agile in your legs so that you can quickly change your stance to protect yourself on the vulnerable sides, if need be.
There are many other ways you can analyze the yin and yang of each tai chi posture, but if you train in just the three mentioned above, you will make great strides in your progress. Tai chi is more than a follow-along routine. It is a deeply contemplative mind-body art. Slow down. Feel. Listen. Slowly the yin and yang will reveal themselves to you – first in your tai chi, and then in your life.