Most people naturally gravitate towards either movement or stillness practices. In the world of the Tao energy arts, movement practices include qi gong, bagua and tai chi, while Tao meditation arts practices include standing, sitting and yoga. Whether you move or basically hold some sort of static posture, you can develop incredible internal power for health, martial arts and meditation.
However, to get best results, movement and stillness practices ideally become intertwined yin-yang arts, allowing you to approach nei gong (internal power) training from opposite directions. So as you combine both aspects, you widen your range of capacities, and through contrast, easily find your weakest links.
Tao Meditation + Energy Arts: Twigs of the Same Branch
If you look more closely at the two classic methods of practice in the East—qi gong and yoga—you’ll notice that both actually incorporate movement and stillness to varying degrees.
In qi gong, of which bagua and tai chi are complex forms, standing practice is integral to the process of releasing excess tension and blocked qi to focus the mind’s intent. Later, sitting qi gong/beginning meditation practices also play a fundamental role in honing and clearing that which the moving practices brings up from the depths of your being.
Whereas in yoga, you start by learning seated postures to open up your body and focus the mind’s intent. You develop your “seat” so that you can withstand the rigors of meditating for long periods of time, such as maintaining good posture and open energy channels. Later, however, you begin shifting your attention to the transitions (movement) between postures to gain maximum results by maintaining the flow and momentum you have generated in your postures.
So although movement and stillness practices work from opposite ends of the spectrum in the beginning, both eventually intertwine to include aspects of the other. With this, Tao meditation and energy arts can truly be considered twigs of the same branch.
Striking a Balance between Movement + Stillness Practices
The question is not about which form of practice you prefer, but rather how you can get the most out of your practice time. Start by observing your regular practice routine. Are you naturally drawn towards more or less movement in your practice? If you’re already incorporating a lot of movement, you might consider redressing the balance by adding either Taoist yoga, standing or sitting qi gong.
Movement and stillness practices create a powerful synergy for directing the mind’s intent, which is the vehicle for releasing stress and tension, and preparing you for the initially challenging task of remaining aware of multiple strands of nei gong while moving. The more focus you have and can maintain, the greater result you obtain from the same practice time, and the better chance you have of moving towards incorporating all 16 nei gong components in your form.
For those who are drawn towards stillness practices—yoga, sitting or standing, whether for health, stress relief or meditation—movement practices have a lot to offer you. Qi gong not only opens up the body in a smooth and balanced way, but also circulates qi (your life-force energy) and fluids stronger than you can while only holding static postures.
Practising moving qi gong before yoga or sitting practice (e.g. breathing or meditation) will bring your internals online, so your organs and fluids are activated and alive when you come to sit. This will definitely boost your ability to release any tension or blockages you encounter.
Breathing in Stillness + Movement
Whole-body, deep breathing is the first of the 16 nei gong and one of the most profound ways to develop qi, health and vitality, whether for stress relief, meditation or both. Many people take for granted that they can breathe well because most of us are successful enough at it that we don’t die! But there’s a big gap between merely surviving and thriving. Poor breathing can slowly sap your life-force energy. Learning to breathe well is a critical component of any form of exercise—external or internal (see my six-part series on deep breathing techniques). For all its seeming simplicity, breathing has many physical and energetic components that comprise its many layers and applications, profoundly impacting the quality of your life.
Practice Smooth + Continuous Changeovers
For now, it makes sense to focus on the quality of your breathing without any other external markers of success. Just make your breath as smooth as possible. However deep or shallow, long or short your breathing might be at the moment, just work out how you can create a smooth and continuous flow. Don’t force, strain or demand your breathing to achieve anything.
In my deep breathing series, I’ll introduce you to breathing in stillness and build up to teaching you methods for spherical breathing while in motion.
Balance Is Fundamental to All Tao Arts
All Tao meditation and energy arts are about restoring balance in your system, so you can live a more relaxed, peaceful and healthy existence. You can practice any aspect of training as you have time and feel it’s appropriate for you in the moment. That said, you can gain a lot by training movement arts if you find yourself only engaging in stillness practices, or meditation arts if you find yourself only engaging in movement practices.