What's Daoism Got to Do With It? The Yin and Yang of Training
We are all chasing performance and strength gains at nearly any price. Some of us have gone to the extremes to guarantee continued improvement in our bodies. What I am going to present to you is an answer to all of our problems - or more so, a likely reason why you have hit stagnation in your training.
What you are about to read is the sole foundation of my life’s work. With rigorous testing, countless hours of experimenting, and the spearheading of groundbreaking research, my staff and I have been able to isolate a few ideas that are consistent with all strength athletes.
I have seen firsthand how connecting with the spiritual body and take training to a new level.
Ancient Chinese Medicine
First, a quick background. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be traced back over 5,000 years. Tribal shamans, priests, and mystics were developing techniques for healing before the inception of the written language. Using a variety of methods, the core of all things Chinese Medicine goes back to one common theme - a balanced body is a thriving, healthy body. Restore harmony in the body, balance the yin and yang, and keep the qi moving and we have a person who can combat illness and live for a hundred years.
"Spirituality and medicine cannot be separated when we are talking about Chinese medicine."
If you were to walk into any hospital in China, you would see that acupuncture, herbs, massage, and Qigong are down the hall from the operating rooms and pharmacy. The blending of their own philosophy with some of our Western techniques give the citizens of China one of the most complete healthcare systems on Earth.
Daoism and Its Influence on TCM
Daoism (Taoism) is one of the three major religions of China. Confucianism and Buddhism round out the big three. Typically credited to Lao Tzu (Laozi) and his masterpiece the Tao Te Ching from the 4th century BC, this spiritual system can actually be traced back to nearly 3,000 BC to Huang Di or the Yellow Emperor.
The Huangdi Neijing (or Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic) is the holy grail of ancient Chinese medicine text. Any TCM practitioner worth his or her salt has spent countless hours buried in this work, and this text is saturated with Daoist philosophy. Spirituality and medicine cannot be separated when we are talking about Chinese medicine.
The Three Bodies
The idea of the “three bodies” is at the core of Chinese medicine’s approach to treating the sick - and what can help the strength athlete, too. When I see patients, I work on three versions of them:
- The physical body (jing)
- The emotional or energetic body (Qi)
- The spirit body (shen)
An anatomical drawing from the "Huangdi Neijing."
Think of three separate versions of the person walking into my clinic that make the whole person. All three work on differing levels of vibration and are governed by the density of energy.
- The physical body is the one we all see, the material, everything in the third dimension. It is the tissues, fluids, and bones of the body.
- The energetic body is a carbon copy of the physical body, but the energy is vibrating at a higher frequency and above the material world. It is the home of emotions and associated with everything we talk about when we are talking about Qi.
- The spiritual body is in some circles considered to be the most important and influential of the three. The spiritual body is linked to everything we associate with thought and intention. It is also the part of that connects us to our understanding of divinity.
A Day in the Life of a Qigong Doctor
When a sick patient comes to my clinic, I can’t spend my entire time looking at the disease they are presenting me with. Take breast cancer for example. In the Western medical mind, the cancer is the outcome or final step in their illness. Eastern-trained doctors look at the tumor as the symptom of something greater.
"Our bodies are influenced by the philosophy of the three bodies. No one is exempt."
My sifu used to tell us the cancer is the budding flower of the plant. Yes, surgery and some of the aggressive Western approaches to cancer treatment remove the flower, but unfortunately the root system is left intact and we will see the flower bloom again over time. In order to remove the entire plant, we must kill it at its roots. More often than not, those roots are in the energetic (emotional) or the spiritual body, and the physical body simply ends up presenting the disharmony in the form of a tumor.
The reason I bring up cancer is because it scares the crap out of all of us. But what most cancer survivors will tell you is that their diagnosis and experience was a gift of sorts. It is the darkest time of their life, but is also a time where they got their lives in order, their relationship with “the Divine” established, and their thinking on track. Their healing came from a complete change in perspective, a will to live, and a readiness to make personal changes at any cost - not just consuming a mountain of pills and enduring countless painful surgeries.
A woodcut illustration of the practice Xixin tuicang (meaning, "wash the heart and retire to a hidden place")
Why These Ideas Apply to You and Your Training
You are healthy, right? Your eating is dialed, your training is on point, and everything with your body is as it should be - or is it? Our bodies are influenced by the philosophy of the three bodies. No one is exempt. While you might have all of your training ducks in a row, you may be neglecting the energetic and spiritual bodies.
And remember what we just discussed. In the majority of the cancer patients I see the roots of the disease are firmly planted in the person’s emotions and/or spirit. Because they have issues with managing emotions (stress being the biggest storm of all) or are in some sort of spiritual crisis, their physical body is manifesting the symptom of the problem via disease. But just because you, as an athlete, aren’t battling a life-threatening illness doesn’t make you ineligible for experiencing the problems that come with disharmony of the three bodies.
"In the majority of the cancer patients I see the roots of the disease are firmly planted in the person’s emotions and/or spirit."
How many of you are in a training hole right now? You’ve cleaned up your diet, changed trainers, and joined a new gym but for some reason can’t get over the hump. You are likely in a rut because of stagnation in the bodies we can’t see. Recovery, adaptation, and fundamental gains are as influenced by your emotions and connection to the cosmos as much as your diet is.
This isn’t pseudo-science, this isn’t religious dogma, and I’m not some quack pushing a product. What I am doing is helping you open your mind to the notion that if we can heal cancer by getting someone’s emotions in order (which happens all the time) or get some other nasty chronic disease resolved by getting your spiritual house in order, don’t you think we can balance some hormones or get your inflammation levels down in the same manner?
So, What Should I Do?
It’s simple. The emotional/energy body can be sorted through meditation, Qigong, yoga, tai chi, etc. All of these practices have enormous positive influence on getting the energy body back in rhythm. You don’t have to be a master of any kind to reap the benefits of a twenty-minute daily practice of any of the above. If you are willing to drop $200 a month on supplements, then you can find twenty minutes in your day to nurture this aspect of who you are. Find a coach, teacher, or yogi in your area or download a meditation app on your phone.
"I could care less what your religious slants are or how you define yourself spiritually. But a regular practice that focuses on the spirit can create balance in the spiritual body."
When it comes to the spirit body, that’s up to you. Your idea of “Divinity” is your own. I call myself a Daoist/Catholic/Buddhist/Pagan. I could care less what your religious slants are or how you define yourself spiritually. But a regular practice that focuses on the spirit can create balance in the spiritual body. Now, with your training and your emotional/energy practice of choice, you have an unbeatable combination of tools to keep the three versions of you thriving.
You can connect with this aspect of yourself anytime, anywhere.
Practice What You Preach
I am going to let you into my personal life to give you an example of someone who is doing exactly what this article is talking about.
I wake up every morning (besides weekends) at 3:45am. Once my bathroom “responsibilities” are complete, I lie back down and meditate for 22 minutes using an app called Omvana and focus my meditation on something called the six-phase meditation.
"If you are willing to drop $200 a month on supplements, then you can find twenty minutes in your day to nurture this aspect of who you are."
I train every morning, whether it be cardio, weights, or kettlebells. At 11:00am I lead a group of athletes and my staff in a twenty-minute Qigong recharge. My afternoons and evenings typically involve one more training session of some kind. And to be perfectly honest, I pray all day long.
I do all of this while holding down a full-time coaching job at Cal Poly, having a thriving medical Qigong practice in town, being married to my wife of seven years, and proudly being the father of three small children.
Do I have challenges with things like stress? No doubt. But I also have the blood work of a 21-year-old at the young age of forty. My gains are continual and my body is becoming the best it has ever been.
Reach Your Full Potential
Friends, what we are talking about here is real. Your emotions and sense of Divinity are the soil you plant your efforts in when it comes to performance and strength gains. Take the time to train all aspects of yourself. Grow emotionally and spiritually as you train to grow physically.
More Like This:
- Qigong: The New (Ancient) Way of Improving Health and Performance
- How Meditation Can Heal Your Adrenal System
- The True Meaning of Having Heart
- New on Breaking Muscle Today
Photo 1 by Capt. Ryan Powell, via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo 2 by Wellcome Images, via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo 3 by Wellcome Images, via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo 4 courtesy of Shutterstock.