Lao Tze says in Tao Te Jing: “The universe is like a Tuo Yue; it is hollow but it cannot be exhausted. In its reciprocating motion, it produces energy endlessly.” TUO YUE is an ancient Chinese equivalent to the bellows. It is made of a leather sack called Tuo and a flute like blast tube called Yue.
Lao Tze used Tuo Yue as an analogy for the universe and human body to express his teaching of health and life preservation art. In ancient Taoist practice, human is considered a microcosm of the universe. The two are inherently isomorphic. The ultimate wisdom to preserve life and health is to learn from the true nature of the universe.
The universe is hollow, with no beginning and ending. It is expanding and contracting at the same time as if it is breathing. The conflicting and converging of the YIN and YANG (representing two forces of opposite nature) keep the universe in its never-ending motion. Everything is changing and nothing remains still. Nothing is gained nor is lost in this motion, instead all the matter and energy move and transform in an endless cycle.
Tuo Yue refers to the Qi Gong practice that resembles the endless expanding and contracting of the universe. It aims to train the human body into a Tuo Yue that can expand and contract endlessly. Through this motion, energy in human body can circulate in Jingmai (a path through which the life-energy known as “Qi” flows) smoothly in a cycle with no end and all the blockages will be cleared. In this way, humans will be able to have a strong immune system and live a long healthy life.
Tuo Yue and the beginning of the universe
When we observe and learn from the universe, a natural question will be: where does the universe come from? Lao Tze, in this regard, shares a lot of ideas with modern quantum physicists. Lao Tze believes that “everything comes from nothingness.” The state of nothingness is not static but in constant and reciprocating motion like a Tuo Yue. Out of the Tuo-Yue motion, endless energy is produced. Modern quantum physics believes that a vacuum is not really hollow, but possess an invisible energy which is called “vacuum energy” or “zero-point energy.” This energy drives the expansion of the universe and affects the existence of every being in the universe. Modern physics has observed the phenomenon of something coming out of seemingly empty space. Subatomic particles (particles that make up an atom) are found to emerge and disappear in a vacuum in very brief intervals. In quantum field theory, the emergence of particles is represented as oscillation of quantum field, or existence of energy, and the disappearance of particles is viewed as the absence of quantum field oscillation, or absence of energy.
In this sense, both the physical form of the subatomic particles and their energy are popping in and out of existence in every moment. Everything that we see as tangible and constant are essentially not always there! This is probably what Albert Einstein meant when he said, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” What we consider as reality is nothing more than an image created by our sensory perceptions. Everything, from the smallest particle, to a human being, to the gigantic universe, has the same life cycle: birth, grow, decay and death. The cycle has no end and continues forever.
Tuo Yue and Qi Gong Practice
Ancient Taoist practitioners embodied the above insight about the universe and human life into Qi Gong practice. In Qi Gong practice, an ideal human body should be like a Tuo Yue – an empty skin bag. This emptiness is essential, for Lao Tze had found that everything physical will decay, only the formless emptiness can generate energy endlessly. Through long, thin and slow breaths one gradually empty the body and mind and build an endless cycle of Qi circulation that cultivate life energy.
Taoist life preservation art believes that there are two kinds of Qi, one is called the genuine Qi that comes before our physical body take form. Genuine Qi is the source of life. Each of our breaths consume a little bit of the genuine Qi, and when it is depleted, the physical body will die. The other one is the Qi (energy and air) we get from breaths and metabolism activities that keeps our body alive. It comes when we are born and begin to breathe with our lungs. The ultimate goal of Qi Gong practice to use the breath to generate genuine Qi.
Just like the water in a fish tank has to be circulated and oxygenated to keep the fish healthy, our body needs to be oxygenated and refreshed through long, deep and strong breaths. In modern life, people do not realize that they do not breathe correctly. They mostly have shallow, short and fast breathe, like those of a mouse. Chuang Tze (Taoist philosopher, an contemporary of Lao Tze) once said: “Ordinary people’s breathes reach their throat, a true master’s breathes reach his heels.” He was talking about two completely different kinds of breathing. Ordinary people’s breathe is shallow and it only reaches the throat and lungs. A Qi Gong master can reduce the loss of genuine Qi by making the breath so deep that Qi goes all the way to the furthest part of the body and so slow that it seems to stop. “The breath that reaches the heels” is the holy grail of Qi Gong practice. It is close to how a fetus breathes in the mother’s womb — there is little air coming in and out yet every cell of the body is oxygenated and nourished. It is achieved through a truly calm mind and extremely soft abdominal breathing that over time dramatically slow down the metabolism rate of human body—a state similar to hibernation. Our body can benefit a lot from simple Qi Gong practice as introduced below.
First, find a quiet place with fresh air. One may stand or sit upright and practice abdominal breathing. Inhale fresh air through the nose while expanding the abdomen and relaxing the chest. Exhale stale air through the mouth while contracting the abdomen. Breathe deeply into the diaphragm; hold the breath for about three seconds and let out the air through the mouth slowly while making a “Shee” sound. By the end of the exhalation, one may tighten the sacral muscle for about three seconds. Repeat the exercise ten times each morning and evening.
From my experience, I have found that it would help even more if one practices nutation at the same time during the above process. Nutation is movement that happens at the sacroiliac joint that is where the sacrum meets the two sides of the pelvis. Nutation (from neutral again) is where the top part of the sacrum would move down and forward relative to the pelvis being fixed in place. In the Greek language, the word sacrum means “sacred.” There is but one bone in our bodies that is holy – the sacrum. With the right stimulation, a powerful life force will awaken from the sacrum. It is a holy force called “Kundalini.” The word kundalini is a Sanskrit term that means “a coiled energy originating from the base of the spine.” And, once the kundalini is awakened, tremendous power is unleashed. In Chinese culture, there are similar ways to releasing this energy, referred by them as Qi.
There are other schools teaching different techniques to open up “blocked” Jingmais. In nature, if any channels are blocked, the organism will die from lack of nutrients. For example, if a fish tank’s water is not fresh and healthy, the fish would die from a lack of oxygen. Similarly, if a tree’s branches were blocked and the air was not fresh, the branches would fall off and die. Likewise, if any of the Jingmais in human body are blocked, the body would fall ill or even die from the lack of obtaining nutrients. Practicing Qi Gong in the method above will help strengthen all the Jingmais throughout the whole body so that it can thrive, obtain all nutrients that it needs to obtain better health and a longer life.