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What is Taoism?

Tai chi is rooted in Taoism. But what is Taoism?

Taoism is not a religion: there is no deity to worship and no belief in a supernatural power. It is more a philosophy, which is based on the observation of oneself in the Universe, and the interactions between the self and the Universe. For instance, if we consider the seasons, we realize they all have an effect on us. The goal is to be aware of the effects, without judging them, and to adapt to them. Taoism is a quest for harmony.

Understanding the general meaning of Taoist aspects, such as the Yin and the Yang, the Chi, the Five Elements (Wu Xing) and the I-Ching, will give you a good idea of what Taoism is all about. This article is not a dissertation on Taoism. It is a highly simplified view of the different components of Taoism, in order to shed some light on concepts that are often obscure.

Yin and Yang

What is Taoism: Yin-Yang
The Yin and the Yang, symbolized by the black and white wheel that is omnipresent in Tai Chi – including on this website – show that the two polarities of the Universe, when equally matched, cancel each other. We need to find a balance between opposites. Let's consider temperature: we are easily too hot or too cold, and only comfortable when we are right in the middle. A river needs to carry the right amount of water, otherwise floods or droughts may follow. The polarity of Yin and Yang is very similar to the positive and negative charges of the atom.

Yin is black, it contracts and it absorbs light. When we pull a hand in, we are using yin energy. Yang is white, it expands and it reflects light. When we push a hand out, we are using yang energy. When our heart is beating, it continuously contracts (yin) and expands (yang).

The Chi

Taoists believe that everything is made of energy, called Chi (or Qi, or Ki, or Prana, etc.) The dense or physical energy, of which humans, metal or plants are made, is more Yang. While the non-physical energy, such as magnetic fields and radio waves, is more Yin.

The Chi has to move constantly. When it is blocked, illness appears. Tai Chi gets the energy to flow, or helps release stagnant energy. There are three sources of chi:
- The chi we are born with: Tai Chi helps regulate it
- The chi we get from food: Tai Chi helps make better use of it
- The chi we get from the air: Tai Chi helps us breathe better

The Five Elements

What is Taoism: Water
Taoists also explain the Universe with the Five Elements theory, called Wu Xing. Those elements are water, wood, fire, earth and metal.

The Water energy is related to rest, meditation and good sleep. Bad posture and fear may reveal a lack of Water energy.

What is Taoism: Wood
The Wood energy stands for growth, and needs vision and control. When you cannot decide what to do next, you may have a Wood deficiency.

What is Taoism: Fire
The Fire energy needs to be expressed. It is very creative. If there is no passion in your life, you need to find a different mode of expression.

What is Taoism: Earth
The Earth energy is grounded. It connects the body with planet earth. When body and mind are disconnected, there is not enough Earth energy.

What is Taoism: Metal
The Metal energy helps letting go of what is no longer necessary. Losing your breath, overanalyzing or worrying are all expressions of deficient Metal energy.

The I-Ching

What is Taoism: Hexagram
Another Taoist method to explain the Universe is the I-Ching, which is a binary representation of Yin and Yang. Yin is represented by a broken line (- -) and Yang is an unbroken line (─). By combining those lines, we can create symbols called trigrams and hexagrams.
What is Taoism: South Korea flag
The flag of South Korea
The South Korean flag offers a perfect example of those symbols. Feng Shui, the art to situate the human built environment on spots with good chi, also makes great use of the I-Ching.

Whether it is expressed through Yin and the Yang, the Chi, the five elements or the I-Ching, Taoism is always looking at harmony. So what is Taoism? As it is written in “The Tao of Pooh”, it's about how to stay happy and calm under all circumstances. Harmony!


Taoist Tai Chi - Tai Chi for beginners: Yin-Yang symbol

Taoist Tai Chi - Tai Chi for beginners: Chinese characters for Tai Chi Chuan