Taoist Movement

The way we move shapes the way we interact with and ultimately experience our physical being and environment. For most of us, this process happens under the radar of our consciousness. We generally accept that there are things we can do well, and other things we do poorly, and that’s just the way we are. While it is true that genetics plays a powerful role in what our ultimate potentials may be, we are incredibly adaptable beings, with equally impressive powers for self-transformation.

Transforming the way you move begins with an investment in changing the way you think, feel, and experience movement. Each of us has developed a complex set of neurological codes (called engrams) that define physical action in our nervous system. When we want to sit, our nervous system enacts a code that sets off a chain of muscular contractions that result in a sitting motion. When we want to stand, walk, reach, or manipulate an object, a similar process occurs. These codes are paired with a lifetime of experience: physical feedback telling us what sitting, standing, walking, and all other actions are supposed to feel like. The combination of these codes and experiences form both our way of moving and our ideas about movement – like a program, which is just as much an expression of our personality as it is a factor in its formation. The problem is, many of these codes are formed by default, a mixture of genetic tendencies toward suboptimal movement patterns and environmental influences, such as compensations for major and minor injuries.

Taoist martial arts and mind-body developmental disciplines are processes of redefining your entire system of movement and physical interaction. Ultimately, practicing them will lead to a transformation that will change your experience of physical being into one of effortless action/interaction. A transformation of this kind isn’t easy though. It is somewhat like how you may imagine changing a tire on a moving car (that you were driving) might be like. It’s not impossible – you just have to slow down…a lot.

Moving slowly is important. The faster you go at anything, the harder it is to pay attention to the details and the more likely you are to rely on old habits. Slowing down gives you the chance to actually feel what you’re doing. If you’re trying to change on such a fundamental level as rewriting your way of moving, you must turn your awareness inward and go deep into observation and evaluation of your body/motion. In essence, you’re meditating on your movement. To do that, just begin by standing still for a moment. Concentrate on your breath, and feeling your whole body all at once. Then begin to move. Feel all the parts of your body as they relate to each other in motion. Relax, move slowly, and explore every movement as though it was the first time you’ve ever moved. Beyond this initial step of internal attention, transforming the way you think/feel/do movements requires a set of guiding principles, some standard by which you can evaluate the quality of your movement (in both thought and action).

The overarching principle that guides the Taoist approach to action (physical or otherwise) is harmony. This harmony is achieved by following the natural way of things. That is to say, the way in which things behave and interact without us interfering by imposing our ideas of the way we think things “should” be (or move). To follow the natural way of things you must be in tune with the natural way of things, hence our first step of turning our attention inward. In terms of transforming our way of moving, we must “listen” closely to our bodies, and become acquainted with the way the various parts of ourselves interrelate. Once we have a good sense of the present state of our physicality, we can begin to generate motion through our body-structures that harmonizes with the way our bodies “want” to move and interact with our environment.

Advancing in Taoist movement disciplines builds upon this foundation of heightened inner awareness and a constant quest for harmony in motion. Understanding that you cannot achieve true transformation without first being willing to redefine the way you think about and perceive motion is a huge first step along that road.