4. Sheng Chi
The development of natural energy is dependent on eating and drinking the Ch'ang Ming way, so that the tissues of the body become more supple and flexible, thereby helping the body to accept really deep breathing. Really deep breathing should take place in the lower abdomen, because this is where there are two energy centres, one of which is where the Chi develops and stores itself. As coal is the fuel of a fire, so breath is the fuel of the natural energy of the body. Respiration exercises are thus a natural part of Chi development. Sheng Chi (Vitality Power) was also called 'Internal Energy' (Nei Pu Chi) or 'Intrinsic Energy' (Tien Jan Neng Li), and it is the energy that everyone who practises our Taoist arts strives to cultivate.
A strong Chi helps everyone to attain permanent good health. In our Taoist arts we learn to use it whilst practising our form of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, and learn also how we use it in every part of our lives, whether at work or at play.
Its force is colossal and far greater than brute strength can ever be, enabling anybody — man or woman — to have the power of five people. The amazing thing about it is that you were born with it, and you possess it all your lives. Its benefit to your health is beyond the understanding of the average person, but it helps to fight germs and bacteria within the human body, and a truly strong Chi will improve your health to such a degree that colds and influenza are never experienced.
The Chi is invisible, it has no aroma, and you cannot hear it, yet it is an integral part of your body and it influences your daily life. It is substantial and insubstantial; it is unyielding yet pliability itself; it is soft and gentle yet it can be as hard as steel; it is weightless yet it cannot be lifted. Our arts teach us to know what it is, and where it is stored and generated, and how we can cultivate, utilize and control it. When your health is really good and you have practised our arts for some time, then you will be able to feel the flow of your own Chi through your body.
Like mental energy, Sheng Chi depends for its strength and regeneration on the personal good health of the person, constant deep breathing, and relaxation. That is why T'ai Chi Ch'uan is good for the health in so many different ways. We must be able to store energy before we can use it, and we must learn to conserve our vitality before we can achieve good health.
Most people in the West, particularly those who live or work in cities, find it very difficult to relax, and require additional aids to help them to do so. The Taoist art of T'ai Chi Ch'uan has the answer. Besides the specialized warming up exercises which all our classes commence with, there are also a number of simple breathing exercises that help to develop this vital energy.
Here is a simple breathing exercise that you might like to try. Begin by sitting on a chair or, preferably, cross-legged (your left leg outside your right) on the floor, freeing your body and mind from outside influences and internal tensions. Place your hands flat on your abdomen, and whilst keeping your body fairly upright without stiffness, allow your shoulders to drop as low as they will go. You may notice that your chest will depress slightly, but don't worry about it, it is quite natural.
Now take a deep inward breath (Chi Hsi) through the nose, but instead of letting the air fill your lungs and chest, allow your breath to sink so that your abdomen swells outward. Then exhale (Hu Chi) through the nose, but as you do so, press your hands firmly against the abdomen, so that you force the stale air out through your nostrils. Repeat this sequence six times daily. Whenever you feel tired and run down, use this breathing exercise. By repeating it regularly, your health will benefit and you will feel better within yourself.
It takes the average person in the West about six months to a year to begin to feel the vitality power within themselves. Once having learnt to feel this energy, the next step is to direct it from the lower abdomen to any other part of the body through mental control.
This is known as 'propelled movement' (T'uichin Kutung), and it is only by obtaining mastery of it that a person can attain true mastery of their own energies.