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Embracing the Yin, containing the feminine

by Firouzeh Tajadod(more info)

listed in chi energy martial arts, originally published in issue 21 - August 1997

My Taiji Master used to say “Women are naturally better than men at Taiji”. I used to think that he was merely flattering us women, as in fact he did not have many senior female students. If we were indeed better, why and what was it that was natural to us, but hard for the men to achieve?

I could see the women students seemed more graceful, with softer, more rounded movements, while the men’s form was more precise and firm. Women easily understood the quality of staying and relaxing in a position, but had difficulty in taking and holding a strong stance.

For either sex to create good Taiji practice, a strong foundation must be built. It’s important to let go of certain beliefs, and embrace the apparent contradictions of the form – to stretch and relax at the same time, to remain alert but calm. One must let go of the conviction that the exercises are difficult or unattainable, and put aside the judgmental mind which compares our performance with others. To achieve this, Taiji Masters emphasise the traditionally feminine traits of co-operation over competition, letting go and surrendering to the moment.

In practical terms, this means relaxing the body, letting gravity support you, and using your imagination to feel yourself sinking deep down into the earth, right to the core. In doing this your energy follows your mind, and you can begin to let go of trying to “get it right”. The more one tries, the more rigid the body becomes, feeling nothing but the inability to relax. This letting go is emphasised in Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching, with the phrase:

“Empty yourself of everything.
Let the mind rest at peace.”


Surrendering is considered by the Chinese to be part of Yin, female energy. The other positive qualities of Yin include softness, yielding, waiting, stillness, receiving, gathering, dark, moist, deep, sensitive, moon, reflective, water and passive. Some of the negative aspects of Yin are manipulation, suffering, victim, darkness, brooding, secretive, distant, sacrificial and blaming.

The Tao Te Ching illustrates this by saying:

“Yield and overcome;
Bend and be straight;
empty and be full:”...
“... Yield and overcome,
Is that an empty saying?
Be really whole,
And all things will come to you.”


It is necessary to acknowledge both the positive and the negative aspects of Yin, and to equally embrace both aspects. The same technique can be applied to Yang energy, again embracing both the positive and the negative aspects of male energy.

In the Universe itself all form that is alive has structure and shape and inherent within it is contained the law of opposites – both male & female energies. It is important to understand that each energy works within and in accordance with its own nature, abiding by the universal laws. This dance between Yin and Yang is not a battle, but harmonious, and they act in unity – as an expression of the Tao.

“The way of nature is unchanging.
Knowing constancy is insight.”


The real challenge is for us to take an external theoretical understanding of yin energy and to actually internalise it – finding a bridge to cross over into that silent, quiet place, and into the seat of Yin, by letting go of our anxiety. This is an important passage for a man as well as a woman. To embrace Yin is to accept all aspects of the feminine nature – within men as well as in women.

This “step-over” involves taking risks and making discoveries. It means taking a leap into the unknown. When I first learnt the form, each week I was given a new posture to practice. I found that I could gradually let myself be more daring – forgetting the external projection of how it looked. As I learned to tune into my inner feelings and body sensations, I started to find a new relationship with playing the form. It happened quite simply – by relaxing my muscles and opening and stretching the joints, my breathing changed naturally, and I discovered that I had a greater sense of being alive, being present and in the moment. That is when I understood the phrase in the Tao Te Ching:

“In the silence of the void,
Standing all alone and unchanging,
Ever present and in Motion,
Perhaps it is a Mother of ten thousand things,
I do not know its name.
Call it Tao.
For the lack of a better name, I call it great.”


When you watch Taiji, the graceful movements seem to draw you into a very calm and peaceful space that the Taiji player has projected. If you have already started learning Taiji, then you will agree that all your worries and preoccupations gradually dwindle away whilst you move through the postures. Often, at the end of a session, the intensity of your worries and concerns with the outside world has softened, or you find that you have a new solution to the old problem that was on your mind. This is why Taiji is often known as “meditation in movement”.

In Taiji we often use water as an image to work with, allowing the body to be soft and yielding like a stream of water, not holding on or grasping onto any experience.

The I Ching describes this as “the Receptive acts in opening and rests in closure” which, to my understanding, means that if there is too much water there is a flood. In the body this is reflected by meaning that if there is too much relaxation, you fall asleep!

The point to make here is that in softness there is strength. Strength is knowing the collective power, or the gathering of power of knowing when to stop.

“Under Heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water.
 Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better.”


Softness and strength ebb and flow like the Yin/Yang symbol of the two fishes – one black with a white dot in its fullest part, and the other white with a black dot. They sit in the exact and opposite place to one another. It is important to acknowledge that the symbol is like a single freeze frame of film – the reality is the whole moving picture. So it is with the Taiji fishes. They are moving externally as can be demonstrated in the changing of the seasons, and internally by the changing and ageing process of our bodies and of our understanding.

Taiji’s strength comes from listening and understanding, of waiting and being alert at the same time.

So what does embracing the Yin actually mean to you? Perhaps reading this article has inspired you to reflect upon it for a while, and to notice if your thoughts are then echoed in your own Taiji practice.

Reference

Lao Tsu Tao Te Ching. Translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English. Wildwood House Ltd, London, UK, 1973. ISBN 07048-00078.

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About Firouzeh Tajadod

Firouzeh Tajadod teaches Taiji and conducts workshops throughout the UK. For more information, please contact her on 0171-723 4155.

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