Relax and Breathe: The Taoist Way

It was about 35 years ago when I first consulted the Oracle from the Chinese classic I Ching, tossing coins to construct a hexagram that would offer a vision of my future. Que sera sera. What shall I be? I was casting about for the next move in my journalism career, looking for an opportunity, even a living wage. I was advised that I should wait. Good things would come.

I wasn’t asking the right questions, obviously, from the Taoist perspective. It was a beggar’s approach to a sacred text of Taoism. A “living wage,” or even fame and fortune, has nothing to do with the Way forward. I was not deserving of an honest answer, not a true believer. Still, there is almost always no harm in waiting, and I believed.

Patience as a remedy runs through the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching, and it doesn’t matter if your circumstances are a step removed from the ancient remedy. Yes, it is easy to rush in, but it is almost always better to consider carefully the move you will make. Wait.

By most accounts, Bruce Frantzis rushed in. He is a Taoist priest, martial artist and teacher of the ancient Chinese arts of Chi Gung, energy work, and its ancillary martial applications of Tai Chi and Ba Gua. Rebelling against the Greek Orthodoxy of his religious upbringing in New York, Frantzis turned to martial arts, eventually at age 18 traveling to Japan to immerse himself in Zen and martial arts forms.

Inevitably, Frantzis learned the Way of waiting, moving to Taiwan, then to China for 11 years during the Cultural Revolution, Mao’s purge of foreign influences, and to India for studies in meditation and yoga. This led him to legendary Taoist priest Liu Hung Chieh, who adopted him and extended his lineage to Frantzis, a foreigner. He became a celebrated master of Taoist meditation and healing through energy work.

Recently, in a suburban Washington D.C. conference center, Frantzis brought his seven-movement Chi Gung form called Dragon and Tiger to a group of about 170 students, me included. These exercises use breathing techniques to stimulate energy channels in the body, channel good energy through the major organs and dissolve bad energy. Five of the movements are condensed here:

Frantzis is a master teacher who recalls bitterly how Mao Tze Tung’s minions tortured people and discouraged martial arts, or any non-Party ideals, during the Cultural Revolution. He was required to heal the sick monsters of this political purge. Frantzis reveres the culture and history that begets the Chi Gung arts, but he is appalled by the political system that threatens people who practice.

Frantzis’s two-day Dragon and Tiger training was preceded by three hours of “Taoist Longevity Breathing,” which involves “breathing with your entire body” and from particular body parts. I am still trying to “breathe from my kidneys,” something I cannot feel but must visualize. I have a lot to learn. Fortunately, Frantzis has written nine books and is available for training sessions all over the world – although I am holding out for the lessons in his home base of Hawaii.

My quest is to understand, and realize, internal strength through energy work, particularly Tai Chi, a martial art that is also a healthful exercise and, essentially, moving meditation, my daily Taoist connection to the Earth and cosmic energy, performed outdoors when I can.

A few years ago, I explored the phenomenon of internal power with Sifu Mark Rasmus, an Australian martial artist now based in Thailand. His workshops focused on the “science of elastic force,” a unique Western-style look at the physiological and psychological power that derive from Tai Chi.

While the lessons of Mark Rasmus were hands on, with pressure, Bruce Frantzis asked you to feel, with only a little pressure, taps along the energy channels. With Dragon and Tiger Chi Gung, available through Frantzis’s Energy Arts associates, and they offer courses around the world, you learn to channel energy through your body, building inner strength.

As Frantzis explains it, all the paths to the Tao involve Chi Gung, energy work that touches and fortifies the inner body, from organs to blood circulation. You get in touch with your body, dissolve energy barriers and channel the energy of the universe. Yes, they connect.

There is obviously more here to explore. So much to learn, and feel.