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Yoga and Taichi Chuan, the fundamental relations

October 7, 2010

On the profound and deep level yoga and tai chi are one and the same. They are two emanations of the same thing. To the few practitioners who study both yoga and tai chi, it is clear that the two paths are like two sides of the same coin. In fact, as one goes deeper into the study of these arts one realises that the commonalties are the essential things and the differentiating factors are the superficial things that fall in the realm of cultural difference, habitual difference, personal preference, attachment, political power play and so on. For people who reach understanding of both yoga and tai chi, the commonalities and relations are overwhelming and the differences become less important. This does not mean that the differences are a bad thing – on the contrary, the differences are what make the arts attractive to each other. The arts of yoga and tai chi have so much to gain from each other that it is certainly worth investigating both paths, even just on the basic level.

For people who only study one of the two arts the commonalities are not clear and the differences will be quite profound. So let me try to explain some commonalities. Let me start with the essence, the roots: The word yoga means unification – to become one, to become whole. This wholeness is absolute. On the superficial levels the wholeness of yoga refers to unity of the movement of all parts of the body, and the unity of movement and breath.  On the more profound level it becomes the unity of mind, body and spirit, the unity of the individual and the environment, the unity of man with the devine, the higher power, the universe. In the end, we are looking at a human that is unified and connected, at one with the universe, or the supreme reality, or as the Chinese call it – tai chi – the Supreme Ultimate.

The word tai chi means the “supreme ultimate”. The word “chuan” tai chi chuan means fist and it refers to the martial aspect of tai chi. Tai chi chuan is a system of martial art exercise through which the human body becomes relaxed, integrated, healthy and potentially highly effective in combat. The term tai chi is very broad and reaches very deep into ancient Chinese culture. It is such a lofty concept that it is hard to grasp it intellectually. Supreme ultimate means the great that has no greater, the infinite universe, the unfathomable greatness. The ultimate extends from the vast voids of the sub-atomic realm to the vast voids of endless space around us. From the vantage point of our tiny planet and with the limitations of our form and our senses, the supreme ultimate is truly hard to grasp. The only way to grasp it is to experience it, to “do” it, to “be” it. And this is what yoga and tai chi chuan are in the fundamental sense: they are pathways of being and doing that lead to unification and experiential universal consciousness.

There are many other ways of reaching wholeness and universal consciousness. For instance a near-death experience or the use of drugs like LSD can lead to states of universal consciousness, but apparently their effects tend to wear off. These ways can be called a quick fix in terms of universal consciousness. Tai chi and yoga on the other hand, are not quick fixes at all. They are disciplines that require many years to learn, and some times a life time to master. So why bother to practise yoga or tai chi if the promise of enlightenment is so far down the line?

The truth is that most people who practise yoga and tai chi are not really bothered with enlightenment, the universe and everything- they just want a good workout! And that is great, because the paths of yoga and tai chi are perhaps the most healthy systems of physical exercise out there. Both disciplines lead to an increase in strength, flexibility, body control, co-ordination, cardiovascular fitness, longevity, relaxation and mental calm, and both paths lead to a decrease in stress, tension, high blood pressure, stiffness, aches and illness.

Yoga and tai chi have many physical and technical similarities too. Both systems have breath, posture, relaxation and harmonious movement as core movement principals. In general tai chi motion is smooth, flowing, slow and continuous; whereas yoga movement consists of flexible static postures linked by harmonious movements.

The focus of both systems is on developing the body’s core strength and control, and the correct placement of the extremities as a means of calming and focusing the mind.


About the Author

Hans Menck teaches martial arts and martial yoga in Cape Town and Stellenbosch.

He has practised martial arts for 30 years and has spent 10 years travelling abroad seeking out the best masters he could find in a vast array of martial arts. He has studied aikido in France and Japan, tai chi chuan and various styles of fung fu in China and Australia. He is also highly graded in karate and an expert in knife fighting and traditional weaponry. Hans has left behind his career as successful design engineer to pursue his passion for martial arts and to live as a warrior-teacher and healer.

Please contact at / / 074 182 6490

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