Saturday, July 23, 2011

Manifesting Yin and Yang in Tai Chi (Taiji)

One of the fundamental principles of tai chi is that we start in wu ji, or neutral emptiness. As we begin to move, wu ji separates into yin and yang, the opposite poles of the universe. In other words, our body manifests yin and yang throughout the forms. Yin corresponds to empty/insubstantial and storing energy. Yang corresponds to weighted/substantial and delivering energy. Throughout a form, our hands and feet continuously transition between yin and yang.

Brush Knee
I've been working hard on Sun style for a couple of years, so let's look at Sun-Style Brush Knee. We are facing South (forward) as we finish Open and Close Hands. From Open and Close Hands, we move to the West (right) into Brush Knee. In the Yang 24, we move East (forward) into Brush Knee from Crane Spreads Its Wings. The same principles apply, but the actual movements differ slightly.

When we finish Open and Close Hands, we are neutral for an instant. As we move into Brush Knee, we begin to shift our weight onto the left foot. As we shift our weight, the left foot is becoming yang and the right foot is becoming yin. The left hand is becoming yin as it extends outward to store energy. The right hand is becoming yang as it sweeps down to brush past the knee. The left foot is substantial and the right hand is delivering energy.

At the instant we pick up our right foot to step out, yin and yang are at a maximum in the hands and feet. When we place our right foot, it is becoming yang. The left hand is starting to move forward past the ear, becoming yang and delivering energy. Our left foot is becoming yin (insubstantial) and our right hand is finishing the brushing movement and becoming yin. As we finish shifting our weight onto the right foot, our left completes the follow step.

Let's look at the hands in detail. At the instant the weight starts to shift to the left foot, the left hand is becoming yin and the right hand is becoming yang. When we step out, the hands start moving toward the other pole. The left hand starts to become yang to deliver the energy and the right hand starts to become yin to store energy. You can use intention to feel the difference in your hands through this form.

The body is moving as a whole. There is unity between the upper body and lower body. The opposite hand and foot manifest the same energy. When the right foot is yang, the left hand is also yang. When the left foot is yin, the right hand is also yin. The left and right feet manifest opposite poles of energy. The left and right hands manifest opposite poles of energy. We are clearly distinguishing between yin and yang throughout the Brush Knee form.

Double Weightedness
If we do not properly distinguish between yin and yang, then double-weightedness occurs. Double-weightedness, sometimes called “weakness of double-yang”, means that your posture limits your potential to step or move. Your body needs to have yin and yang on each side of the body. If you try to make the right leg and the right hand both yin or both yang, you are double weighted. Your movements become just movements and not tai chi.

It is informative to point out that as we move from one pole to another, we must move through a neutral position where our weight is equal in each leg. We become double weighted for an instant as we move from one single weighted posture to the next. This is not the same as being double weighted in a static posture.

Take Home
Here is the lesson I want you to take home from this. You can use this explanation as a guide to study your own forms. Take time and analyze each form separately and then as a sequence. You may learn something new.

On one of his TCA teaching videos, Dr. Paul Lam said, "One of the most fascinating things about tai chi is that it looks like we are repeating the same thing. But each time we do that, there is something else that is deep and meaningful to it. So, I invite you, when you do your practice, to approach it with a fresh feeling each time and look at the movement from different aspects and to see if you feel that you have learned something fresh and gained some extra depth in the movements."

© 2011 Eric Borreson


  1. " We become double weighted for an instant as we move from one single weighted posture to the next. This is not the same as being double weighted in a static posture."

    As you, the person, is matter, moving in time, that instant may be possible to disolve, as you, the person, may be able to make the interaction with the universe, the earth, matter/space, and so make the interchange there.

    Could this be possible, could this be a part of keeping the process dynamic and so alive continously and interact with the universe so dooing, as all the ancient books indicate?

  2. It is certainly true that awareness of yin and yang is a necessary part of maintaining continuous movement.

    I try to focus my writing on translating the somewhat obscure ancient writings into a modern understanding that includes biomechanics. I really don't understand how to interact with the universe.