Tai Chi and pain relief – ITN Tonight documentary

An ITN film crew came to our Summer Course in Cornwall this year to film us for an ITN Tonight documentary on pain relief. You can see the Tai Chi in the last five minutes of the programme.

We went down to Sennen Cove first thing in the morning to do some T’ai Chi and warming up exercises for the course and they interviewed some of our students.

The documentary is about opioids which are prescription drugs given out by doctors to help people with long term pain. Unfortunately although these are very good in the short term, but when they are used for longer periods they become less effective and can lead to addiction and a variety of unpleasant symptoms. However some people have found that more natural methods can be effective to help people manage their pain and T’ai Chi is one of these methods. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine long term pain can be caused by obstructions in the energy meridians which choke the flow of Chi or life force. T’ai Chi exercises can really help to improve the flow of Chi and so people feel less pain. T’ai Chi also helps the body and mind to regenerate more quickly and so in the long term the amount of pain suffered is reduced and so overall less side effects are experienced.

If you are interested in looking at some alternative approach to pain relief then have a look at our Association’s main website and see if there is a class or course near you.

Chee Soo on the radio talking about Tai Chi

Chee Soo talking about the benefits of Tai Chi on the radio in 1977.

Chee Soo: It’s “T’ai Chi Ch’uan” is the Mandarin, in Cantonese they call it “Tai Ki Kun”, but it’s no longer tweeted as…

Posted by Taoist Cultural Arts Association on Sunday, 5 July 2015

Heartlands Healing light festival 24th/25th January 2015


Tao Yin - deep breathing

Tao Yin – deep breathing

There will be a Tai Chi information stall plus a weekend of demos and taster sessions so come along if you want to meet some of the teachers from the local classes or have a look at our online resources.


Taoism – an ancient Chinese philosophy with a modern application

Tai Chi dance at the Summer Course in St Just

Tai Chi dance at the Summer Course in St Just

As China has opened to the West more and more people throughout the world are becoming familiar with Tai Chi, Chi Gung, Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine but few realise that underlying all these is one important philosophy which has been central to Chinese culture for generations – Taoism.

The Tao is not a thing, it is more like a set of natural principles which govern the Universe and everything in it including ourselves. It is not a religion but a philosophy, however it is not an academic study. It is unique to every individual because it represents our path through life, the lessons and outcomes we learn through the practical trials and errors each of us makes on a daily basis.

The Tao is different to Western philosophies in that it is not based on the normal logic of good and bad, right and wrong, black and white but instead it admits these apparent contradictions as two sides of the same coin. Winter becomes summer, day turns into night, the cycle goes on, neither is right or wrong but are like the swings of the pendulum, when the extreme is reached the pendulum swings back the opposite way. In this way the Taoist sees that life is a process, these apparent extremes are really just two different aspects of the same thing which evolves one into the other and back again. Once we start to recognise the pattern around us we can start to relax with the flow of the current rather than fighting it.

1024px-Yin_yang.svgAs mankind has evolved into the technological and industrial age we have found enormous benefits though the development of machinery, labour saving devices and so forth, but on the other hand factory work is monotonous, factories create pollution, and the more we rely on machines the less able we become to do things for ourselves. Food is more plentiful than every now but in modern western countries health problems such as obesity, hypertension and heart disease have become prevalent. We either learn to work alongside nature or suffer the consequences, and this is not just something that applies on the macro level but to every one of us as individuals. After all despite our computers and mobile phones we only have to look up at the stars to see that the Universe is immense, and it is only through thousands upon thousands of years of natural development that we have become what we are today, natural creatures designed by nature and living in a natural world.

Well so much for the theory which makes perfect sense and we are all aware of it on some level or another, so what are we going to do about it? Although some of the problems of our society may seem overwhelming it is the opportunity and responsibility of each of us to become aware of these patterns in our own lives. The Tao principle is something which manifests around us but is also expressed though our own nature and so by understanding our selves we can learn to communicate with it, and interact with it. This is not something we can really learn through reading books, or obeying a set of laws but by a series of experiments of trail and error we can start to develop a closer relationship with the Universe and recognise the messages it is trying to bring us.

The Tai Chi exercise called Sticky hands has been developed as a way we can learn one of the basic Taoist principles which is yielding. As we navigate our lives we meet obstacles along the way just in the same way water flowing along a stream meets a rock and flows around it. The energy inside us is a precious commodity so why waste it by struggling through life when we can take advantage of the current flowing around us? In this exercise you make contact with a partner and gently test each other’s balance, with practise you can learn in a practical application how to maintain your equilibrium even when faced with stressful situations.

Chinese Taoist philosophers like Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu were struggling with the same problems of society and civilization that we are today at a time when most western countries were still in a very primitive stage of development. Although many scholars have debated these ancient texts the true legacy of Taoism is the practical lessons of balance and moderation, sensitivity and awareness which can be cultivated not through discussion but by the practice of Taoist Arts such as Tai Chi, Chi Gung and Traditional Chinese medicine. By making us more reliant on labour saving machines, transport, technology, drugs and medicines there is one crucial natural principle that has been left behind which is very important and that is evolution. Making things easy for ourselves is actually making us weaker, not that the Taoist would advocate the opposite that life should be harsh, or that this is wrong, but that we must always bear in mind our roots and our origins and what has made us strong. After all we are the survivors, as were our ancestors, we are descended from the person who turned round and jumped off the trail when the Tiger came, some others did not. This enormous back catalogue of natural experiences has given us many dormant abilities which are no longer being developed in the modern age. For example many modern medicines are designed to eradicate the symptoms of disease and take away the pain. Now I am not advocating that we should relish pain, far from it, but it is pain that tells us not to put our hand into the fire, pain tells us when something is wrong, pain is bad, but pain is also good, and nature has evolved it for a reason. The reason is that Nature has found important lines of communication to warn us of danger and set us back on the path when we wander, and this is a natural and powerful process we can learn to understand and accept as a guiding principle within our lives, and it is not something that we necessarily need experts, specialists, or priests to translate for us but it is something every one of us experiences every day.

What is Chi?


Acupuncture meridians

For most people a Tai Chi class is their first encounter with Chi – a word which is unheard of in the West but is central to the Chinese world view.

The meaning of the word Chi

Chi or Qi (pronounced ‘chee’) is a Chinese word that does not have any direct translation into English, Chinese was not created with translation into English as a criterion so some Chinese words simply do not have English language counterparts. Chinese words are often best understood by looking at word combinations that form a set and getting the meaning by the general usage. Sometimes people talk about “Chi energy”, but Chi is never translated as “energy” in a Chinese-English dictionary. Most of the word combinations involving Chi are associated with air or breathing. My teacher Chee Soo wrote about Sheng Chi 盛气 or vitality energy and it is this idea which relates Chi in the human body to health which is the most important meaning in relation to Tai Chi and Chi Gung.

Where is Chi located in the body?

Different types of Chi are created in the body by the internal organs, the lungs produce clean air chi, and the spleen produces food chi, these are called post natal or post-Heaven types of Chi. Another type of energy is stored in the body before we are born, this pre-Heaven or pre-birth Chi is stored in the form of Jing or essence and is located in the kidneys. Each organ contributes it’s special type of Chi to the mixture which makes the Chi which flows around the body.

Chi is stored in the Dan dien or lower cauldron which is located just below the navel and is distributed throughout the body along lines called jingluo or meridians. The Chi circulates around the organs and throughout the entire body, it has two major functions: the Yin function is nourishing the body, this also includes regenerating the tissues and repairing damaged and ageing cells and body parts; the Yang function is the primary motive force of the body, it provides movement of the muscles and also the distribution of essences around the body and the blood stream, it also warms the organs and maintains the required body temperature for us to live comfortably. Chi also defends the body from attacks by external factors like cold and wind with a layer of protective energy called Wei Chi.

The history of Chinese medicine

The quantity and quality of a person’s Chi is very important for health which is why acupuncturists use needles to control the flow of Chi around the body. Chinese medicine has a history going back for more than five thousand years and texts such as the Yellow Emperor’s classic or Nei Ching originating from the Xia dynasty of 2,600 BC are still used as an important reference manual by Chinese medicine practitioners today. Although many people have heard of acupuncture in actual fact it only comprises about ten percent of Chinese medicine treatments, herbs and preventative methods account for the other ninety percent. For example many millions of people practice Tai Chi and Chi Gung or energy development exercises in the parks every morning before going to work. These exercises originate from the traditional Chinese philosophy of Taoism or roughly translated living in harmony with nature.

Is Chi real?

To the Chinese Chi is not just a concept or a metaphor, but how can it be investigated by Western scientific methods? In 1962 a Korean scientist named Kim Bonghan discovered microscopic structures in the body almost too small to be detectable. The Bonghan channels were found to surround the internal organs and also followed the pathways described in ancient Chinese medical texts and known as the Chi energy meridians or jingluo. These structures were almost invisible because they were microscopic and transparent and for years his work went unrecognised because other scientists were unable to reproduce the dye he used to make them visible. More recently scientists have discovered new types of dyes which can be used to highlight and photograph these structures.

meridian-doll-portraitOne interesting characteristic of these channels is that they can transmit light. The human body generates light known as biophotons although they are at too low a level to be seen under normal circumstances. One theory suggests that the meridian pathways act a bit like a fibre optic super highway sending DNA based information from the organs in a network that connects the entire body. Another avenue of research has found that as well as particles of DNA these channels also contain hyaluronic acid which is found in the aqueous humour in the eyes and is also linked to many important body functions such as wound healing, lubricating the joints and strengthening cartilage and brain development.

However the term ‘Chi’ has been in use by Chinese medicine practitioners and Chi Gung and Tai Chi teachers for many generations before the advent of modern western science, and the reason is that it is a very useful concept which can help people develop their health and vitality. In our Tai Chi classes we have many exercises which help people to understand how to use Chi instead of physical strength, so even without the use of microscopes and special laboratory equipment it is perfectly possible for ordinary people like you and me to develop a useful understanding of Chi, and how it can be developed and used in a variety of situations. By understanding how Chi is made and how it can be cultivated we can improve our health by changing our diet and the way we live. Although increases in our levels of health can be measured by scientists, more importantly we can learn to take responsibility for our own health and well being without relying on doctors, drugs or surgery. The key to understanding this approach to health comes from these opening paragraphs of the Nei Ching: “Do not wait until you are thirsty to start digging a well.”, or as we might say in the West “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

How can we cultivate Chi?

Chi levels in the body can go up or down, we can be full of vitality and at other times we might get run down and sick. We know that the lungs provide clean air chi to the system so deep breathing and learning to expand the breathing capacity is a traditional way of boosting the Chi. A clean natural diet avoiding toxins is another way we can increase Chi. Cultivating Chi is a bit like storing energy in a battery, we can charge it up or run it down, if we learn to charge the battery and avoid depleting the store we can always have a plentiful supply of energy even as we get older. Chi Gung and Tai Chi exercises help us to build a store of energy but also improve the circulation of Chi, think of the sap flowing around a tree in springtime, the tree flourishes and buds turn into shoots and new leaves and growth occurs every year at this time. As we get older the movement of energy around the body can get stuck and some areas become starved of energy and we get ill. Tai Chi exercises help the chi to flow in a continuous circle around the entire body so the whole system is constantly nourished and regenerated.

Excessive physical exercise burns up vital energies, so does taking drugs, drinking alcohol and excessive sexual activity. Certain foods also deplete the store of Chi such as junk foods, artificial additives, anything which is not what we might consider a natural diet. As we become more sensitive we develop an awareness of the effects of what we take into our body and how we spend our energy. Of course we all have to live in the modern world and give time and energy to our families and work so it’s not possible for us to become monks and live in a mountaintop monastery to cultivate energies. Taoism, the ancient Chinese philosophy on which Tai Chi is based gives us a clue as to how we can practically apply philosophy to increase our levels of energy and the key concept here is balance and moderation.