The Tao Principle of Thirds is fundamental to all qi energy (nei gong) training and is by far the most allusive to target as it’s always moving, and absolutely requires a good relationship between your body and qi through your mind’s intent and awareness. However, the real value of the Principle of Thirds extends far beyond only boosting training results and can be applied to all aspects of life for more effective results on all levels.
What Is the Tao Principle of Thirds?
The Principle of Thirds states that healthy individuals could exercise or perform any activity for best results to two-thirds or about 70% of their ability in:
- The length of time they practice or engage in any activity.
- The intensity of their practice/to which they engage in any activity.
- The effort they devote to practice or any activity.
For example, if stretching, you would not reach out beyond two-thirds of your maximum flexibility; if running, you would not run further than two-thirds of the distance your stamina would permit.
Why Adhere to the Tao Principle of Thirds?
The Principle of Thirds prevents injury or damage to the body, exhaustion of your qi energy, as well as strain in the mind or internal resistance to training another day. By keeping one-third in reserve, you will always be left feeling you could do more, and therefore don’t drain your reserves or sap your willingness to continue long-term training.
The number one reason top athletes don’t play professional sports is because of injury. They push too hard and snap, crackle, pop! The same goes for businesspeople who consistently use force—they get desperate, greedy, overwhelmed by their emotions or simply burn out before they achieve their ultimate goals. A smooth and steady flow can help you keep it together for the long haul and make your work, passion or sport more enjoyable for you and others in the meantime.
Focusing your intent without the push and strain is a training process for applying your full effort with relaxed attention. This keeps you from depleting your reserves. To start, in your practice (or when performing any exercise for that matter), you attempt to exercise to the point where you feel your system is functioning well and you can sustain this feeling for a while. When you finish, you want to have the sense that you could have practised a bit more. You don’t want to feel that you could have done a whole lot more—say two or three times what you did—but you don’t want to be exhausted from exercising.
Exercising moderation is so important because it accomplishes two key goals:
- Leaves a reserve in the energy banks of your body.
- Prevents resistance so that you continue training.
When you go beyond your comfortable ability, the body simply resists being forced into high performance. The cunning mind of any intelligent individual, fuelled by the powerful rebound from the push, will find any excuse not to train.
The Tao Principle of Thirds: Flipping Yin + Yang Aspects
If you are injured, unhealthy or compromised in some way, you would reverse the recommendations for healthy, resilient individuals: instead, you would take any exercise in length of practice, intensity and output of effort to only one-third of your capacity, keeping two-thirds in reserve. For example, when stretching, you would only reach out to one-third of your maximum ability or, when walking, only travel one-third of the maximum distance you could do when you were healthy.
Adhering to this guideline creates incredibly gentle, low-impact exercise, which in turn allows the body to heal. And, in the process, you prevent further setbacks from the body becoming stiff or closed down due to inactivity or overdoing it. The Principle of Thirds allows for complete relaxation of the mind, body and nervous system to support recovery because the body’s natural healing defences operate optimally while the body is relaxed and open rather than under pressure and closed down.
Applying the Tao Principle of Thirds to Everyday Life
The Principle of Thirds can be adapted to the needs of any individual depending on their current state of health and other personal factors. So it provides a general operating strategy rather than absolutes that can be limiting to some individuals. Yet the Rule of Thirds provides a framework for any individual to feel the present state of their body, mind and qi before practice to ensure they don’t push themselves beyond their ability. Being in touch with your present state of being and capacity is precisely what allows you to adjust accordingly.
Finding the balance between too much and too little is precisely what creates the space where you can exercise, practice regularly and gain much benefit over time. For sure exercising excessively once in a blue moon will yield a lot less than a small amount of practice several days a week. Once you get a sense of the “golden mean” in your practice, then you can apply it to all aspects of your life, where the benefits can be handsomely multiplied. So look for you own personal golden mean and try not to be in a hurry to get results. It’s the slow road that leads to success (one of my Five Principles of High Performance). The Principle of Thirds has been applied for millennia to help people heal, maintain lifelong training and allow their full potential to flourish.