Heavy is the Root of Light
It is said that Tai Chi is Tao in movement.
Tai Chi is Tao is Nature.
To be Tai Chi Movement is to return to our Nature. To return to a place where there is balance and where things move in a harmony.
When we start our path in Tai Chi Movement, we do so because at some level we are seeking to rebalance, whether it is our health, or our mind and emotions, or a wish to understand better where we are and how we can live more in harmony with our world. We are seeking to find a natural balance once more.
Yet who is it that begins this journey? One who is out
of balance. What I have observed in myself and in the thousands of people who I have had the privilege to introduce to Tai Chi Movement, is that imbalance is doing Tai Chi practice. This makes the path very difficult and long.
Yin Yang Interaction
There is a saying, when Yang is in the yang place then the Yin can find its own place. When these two find balance there is harmony and the natural balance is restored. This is what is meant by “Heavy is the Root of Light” which is a line in the Tai Chi Classics – a body of writing from the masters of times past who wrote what they considered to be the essence of Tai Chi.
If you consider what happens when we are caught by tension, there is a tightening of muscles and mind, a ‘going up’ as it were. I suffered from asthma for a long time and to have the breath of life hindered in some way is very frightening, so I have a lot of experience with tension. Asthmatics are famed for their tight shoulders, partly because they lift them trying to get more air and partly because the experience of breathlessness is so frightening.
At the age of 12 I was introduced to what was actually meditation but was called ‘Self Hypnosis’. The essence of it was to relax my mind in the face of this tension, this fear of breathlessness and potential death. It was the opposite of what I wanted to do, which was to fight and tense and pull air in. Instead I had to learn to lower my mind.
This is very Tai Chi. ‘Sung’ is a prime quality of Tai Chi Movement. To Sung the mind, to let the mind sink to the Tan Tien, is again taken from the Tai Chi Classics. To Sung means to sink, which means to relax, to soften.
When I look at people who come to learn Tai Chi Movement, what I often see is a lifting where there needs to be a lowering, a hardening where there needs to be more transparency, a tension where there needs to be softness and a collapsing where there needs to be something firm. In other words they are out of balance, out of harmony with themselves. No matter how well they know the sequence, it is done out of harmony or from an unbalanced place.
So if Sung is important in Tai Chi Movement, then relaxation is also important. However if there is nothing to support you, why would you let go? Would you really relax into a void? No.
So to relax, first there needs to be something else there, we need to be able to relax around something.
If we come back to tension, and its manifestation in tight and lifted shoulders, we will see that the yang element is on top of the shoulders. But if we look at Nature, the heavy, the Yang is usually underneath. Think of a tree. Because the Yang is underneath, the tree can grow upwards without falling over. Heavy is the root of Light. When the Yang is in the yang place, the Yin finds itself.
Ushiba, the Founder of Aikido, talked about keeping the weight underside. Again if we look at how un-naturally people move, we see that they move with tension. The Yang is above, making them unstable below and they lose their balance. Not only that, but because movement is fighting itself, there is a woodenness to the movement. Harmony has been lost, flow has been lost, which hinders the flow of energy in the body, the Chi.
When the weight is kept underside, when there is Sung, there is natural harmony and flow. When the weight is underneath there is a lightness on top. How to enable this?
For me, the crucial element is to have a poised spine, a balanced spine. If the spine is puffed up or collapsed then harmony is lost. When we centre in the spine, the shoulders can relax because they are supported. When there is Spine, the weight descends into the pelvis and down through the legs, but when there is tension in the shoulders, when the Yang is above, this tension is mirrored in the lower back which blocks the flow in the legs making them more empty yin.
So when the Yang is in the right place, i.e. the vertical alignment of the body, then around that foundation, the muscles relax because they are supported. This relaxation is Sung. With this Sung the Yang sinks and the Yin is free to be light, making the moves seem like you are floating but well rooted.
The Tibetans talk about the mind riding on winds in the body. If the winds are blocked or out of balance then the mind becomes tight and “chatters”. When there is good alignment in the spine, the winds are more channeled, less frenetic so they become more harmonious and it is possible to sink the mind more easily.
When we sink the mind, the body relaxes, because of course the body follows or mirrors the mind. It is a circle.
We come to Tai Chi Movement with this circle revolving in an un-natural way. Tension in the mind creates tension in the body and unbalances the system which in turn creates tension in the mind. By understanding the correct use of the Yang principles in the body we can reverse this cycle into a harmonious and natural flow. This allows
us to move harmoniously in mind and body.
When the Yang is in its rightful place, order is restored. Again if we think about the tension of self- protection, the tension is a wall or armour between us and what we are afraid of. It is a surviving but from a cut off and often historical and un-listening place. That wall of tension is often there because there is nothing in the middle, there is no root or centre. When the Yang is in the middle, when the root, the centre is present, it is this root or centre which can protect us. Because of this reassuring presence, the muscles, instead of freezing into a wall, remain fluid and able to move and get us out of trouble.
This is true in all things. In Tai Chi Movement we begin with the body learning these principles through movement, whether it is in the Tai Chi Form or through, say, Shibashi. As we see that it is true, we move our exploration into the body of the mind – what I call studying the “dynamics of the mind”. At this point we may use the study of meditation to refine our exploration.
As we see that this is true in both body and mind we begin to explore it in our lives. We see there are places where we hide, where the Yang is displaced by hiding and the balance of Yin and Yang is out of harmony. So we begin to explore standing up, letting the Yang be in its rightful place. There is a ‘showing up’ rather than a hiding, a revealing rather than an obscuration, because the Yang is in its rightful place, Yin is in its rightful place.
We are not alone. We belong to lots of different families and structures and organisations. Each of these, like our body, is a closed unit, but if one component takes its natural place, this has a knock-on effect throughout that structure. As we stand up in our natural harmony, that has an effect on those around us. They too then have to make a choice to go with the old un- harmonious balance or to flow with a new more natural balance.
When you move, pay attention to your spine, and follow poise. Give attention to relaxing, to Sung and allow sinking.
I began learning Tai Chi Movement thinking of it as an exercise. And yet now I see it in everything. There is not one aspect of my life that it does not touch. It is an extraordinary guide to bringing harmony where there is none. It brings life where there is deadness. It brings movement where there is stagnation. It brings stillness where there is frantic activity.
How can we make a difference? How can we bring harmony to our life? To our world? It starts with me. It starts with you. It starts now. Let the Yang take its rightful place in you and the Yin can relax and become receptive. By being receptive you will listen. If you listen enough, you will understand. When you understand you will know what to do. In that “doing” will be more harmony. More Nature. More Tao. Because we are not alone. Like a ripple from a stone dropped in a lake, the ripples flow out endlessly and touch all things. When enough of us do this, a tipping point is reached and Nature is restored.
Heavy is the root of light. Let the Yang be in its rightful place!
Author: Richard Farmer
is the Founder and Principal Instructor of Rising Dragon Tai Chi and is based in Hereford, UK.
Images: Richard Farmer and Taiji-Europa