Staying Healthy with Taoism – 3 Essential Practices

Anti-aging is a big buzzword these days.  Everyone wants to know the secret of youth. What can I buy, ingest, or do to stay young and healthy?

As a 39-year practitioner of Taoist health and spiritual practices, I am here to tell you that Taoism is the way to go!

Taoist teachings are the root of Chinese Medicine, Feng Shui, Martial Arts, and Astrology. These disciplines are all concerned with Chi (or Qi) – life force energy – its flow, harmony, and balance.

This ancient tradition also developed the practices known as Qigong or Daoyin that emphasize the cultivation of good health with the intention of living a long, productive life. One accomplishes this by finding internal balance and merging with nature, exchanging energy with the universe in a dynamic process, living in the flow between heaven and earth.

When I committed to my Tai Chi practice 39 years ago, I was a professional photographer with a lot of minor health problems related to my profession that threatened to become serious.

Only 27, I was a bit of a mess. My shoulders had crept up to my ears; I had energy congestion between my eyes that came from peering at the world through a camera; and imbalances and compression in my spine from carrying equipment and heavy camera bags. Not to mention stress and anxiety.

Someone mentioned Tai Chi to me and I decided to give it a shot.  After a few classes, I felt an immediate connection with this amazing movement art that is Taoism in motion.

My growing commitment to practicing the Taoist philosophy through the disciplines of Tai Chi and Qigong improved my life enormously, enhanced my health and happiness, and became the context for many of my subsequent life decisions.

In my experience, these practices have proven to be incredibly valuable and perfect for our busy lifestyles.

Although there are many things I could share with you from this vast and varied tradition, here are 3 simple practices rooted in Taoism that I recommend doing on a daily basis to maintain your health and keep you young and energetic:

1. Meditate – Develop a relationship with yourself through meditation. In Tao practice, we begin with The Inner Smile.  Send love, joy, happiness, and intention for healing to your inner organs.  Know their location and make a connection with them.  See your inner organs as a team or family that needs to work harmoniously together in order to support you. Cultivate their happiness and chi.

2. Self-Massage – Stimulate chi flow in your organs by learning Chi Self-Massage.  Start with your sense organs.  They are the doorways to your inner organs and problems there often indicate internal issues. If nothing else, rub your ears every day and massage around your navel center, easing away congestion and stagnant energy and making space for your chi to flow.

3. Gather Universal Chi Through Your Energy Gates – the 2 palm centers, 2 centers in the soles of the feet, mid-eyebrow, and crown center, bringing energy into your body from heaven and earth for nourishment and healing.  Take time to move consciously and if at all possible, do this outdoors and breathe deeply. It’s very easy to use our energy.  Not as easy to conserve it and cultivate it.  Think of yourself as a battery that needs charging and connect every day to the universal forces for nourishment the same way you charge your cellphone.

Remember that Tao practices do not provide a magic pill that changes things all at once. Rather, they are about refining and cultivating your energy for the long-term. Try it and watch the magic happen! For more information about classes, workshops, and private sessions, visit me at


With 4 out of 10 planets residing in Capricorn during January and the Solar Eclipse on January 4 at 13˚ Capricorn, I thought it was time to finally write about Knees.  Yes, Knees!

If you didn’t already know, Capricorn is the zodiacal sign that rules our knees. As a Tai Chi and Qigong teacher, I’ve heard about plenty of  knee issues as well as had some of my own.

The knee is the largest joint in the human body and very complicated. A hinge joint, it permits flexion and extension as well as slight medial and lateral rotation. Since the knee supports nearly the whole weight of a human being’s body, it is the joint most vulnerable to both acute injury and the development of osteoarthritis.

We all have the tendency to hold lots of toxins in our knees. I heard a well-respected Iyengar Yoga teacher once say that the knees are a “cesspool”.  And in Mantak Chia’s Universal Tao system, hitting the backs of one’s knees with a bamboo, rattan, or stainless steel wire hitter, is a regular practice to stimulate blood flow to this important joint (contact me if you are interested in learning about this).

But I digress.

Many people have accepted the cultural programming that their knees (as well as other joints) will inevitably give out at a certain point.  With Pluto in Capricorn until 2024, I’m sure we will be hearing a lot about modern medicine’s latest developments in knee replacement surgery.   And many of us will probably know people who decide to throw away their old creaking knees for the shiniest, brand new model.

But what can we learn from our knees and their problems?

If you ascribe to a holistic view of health, you know that our knees have to do not just with our physical ability to bend. Whether consciously or unconsciously, there is some meaning that we attribute to their function. In an evolutionary sense, our knees carry the memory and experience of all of the bending and flexing our ancestors did — both our genetic ones as well as the collective.

Even if you don’t do these things now (and especially if  you have no intention to do so), think about how many people through the ages have bent down on their knees – working, asking for someone’s hand in marriage, atoning, and praying or prostrating themselves before a spiritual teacher or statue. Getting down on one’s knees implies submission to something higher.  No wonder we develop issues there! So consider what authority issues you might be having the next time you experience a painful twinge.

Another valid point of view comes from Chinese medicine which is posited on the belief that whatever is happening externally in the body is a reflection of the health of the inner organs.  The knees are related to the kidneys so if our knees are weak or we tend to have pain or motion problems, it can be a sign of weak kidney qi.  And guess what the emotional energy is that is associated with the kidney?  Fear.  Fear makes us weak in the knees.  Seems like I’ve heard that somewhere before.

So what can we do to create the conditions for healthier knees? These are things I’ve found to be helpful for me and others with whom I’ve worked:

  • If you are overweight and have knee problems, there’s no way around it. Your knees (as well as your heart and all your other organs) are suffering from carrying a heavy load.  Make a commitment to love your knees and lose weight with a healthy diet of fresh, natural foods. There is a study that showed that even an 11 pound weight loss can make a difference in your pain level and any tendency you may have toward osteoarthritis.
  • Don’t give up exercising but pay closer attention to your knee alignment when you do.  Whether you practice yoga, Tai Chi, or work out at the gym, be aware of your structural integrity.  Bring awareness to your knees by working with them.  Find a teacher who knows about alignment if this is foreign to you. Visualize them well-lubricated and happy.
  • If your knee condition stems from an injury, see an acupuncturist/herbalist to help boost your kidney function and stimulate the flow of Qi and blood.
  • There are many helpful supplements —  Hyaluronic Acid, Shark Cartilage, Red Seaweed Extract, Fish Oils, and Vitamin D. And don’t forget the standbys – Glucosamine Chondroitin and MSM.  Check out my friend and teaching partner, Letha Hadady’s  “Natural Remedies for Bone/Joint/Ligament Health here.
  • Here’s a homeopathic regimen for stubborn knee problems that helped me.  Try it for one month and see what happens.  Take 5 pellets of Ruta Grav 30cc twice a day. Also take 4 pellets each of these tissue cell salts three times a day – Calc Fluor, Calc Phos, Silicea.  Take them together but not at the same time as the Ruta Grav.
  • Qigong and Tai Chi to circulate your qi in your joints and bones and release negative emotions.

International Tai Chi Symposium – What is the State of the Art????

Master Chen Zhenglei, one of the "4 Tigers"

Master Chen Zhenglei, one of the "4 Tigers"


  • Barack Obama studied with Chen Tai Chi Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei in 1998!
  • According to the latest studies, Tai Chi practitioners were found to be more relaxed than yoga practitioners after one year of practice.  In fact, the yoga practitioners were more stressed than when they started!
  • After just 2 weeks of Tai Chi class, people with osteoarthritis reported major improvements, including weight loss and better pain management.

These are some of the more interesting tidbits of information that I picked up at the International Tai Chi Symposium held in Nashville, Tennessee from July 5-11.  This historic event brought together the grandmasters of the 5 major families of Tai Chi Chuan (Wu, Wu-Hao, Yang, Chen, and Sun for those who might not be aware of the fine distinctions) for the first time in a spirit of education and cultural exchange with 400 Tai Chi practitioners, teachers, students and academic and medical researchers who are committed to bringing Tai Chi into the 21st century.  Given the traditional secrecy associated with the various family styles, sometimes it felt like all of the Mafia dons of New York and New Jersey were having a major pow-wow!

Master Ma Hailong, Master Wu Wenhan, Master Yang Zhenduo, Master Chen Zhenglei, Master Sun Yongtian

Master Ma Hailong, Master Wu Wenhan, Master Yang Zhenduo, Master Chen Zhenglei, Master Sun Yongtian

3 of these guys were elders (75 to mid-80’s) and the other 2 were middle-aged holders of the family lineage.  Having lived and breathed Tai Chi since childhood,  watching them do their forms was witnessing the fruits of years and years of practice. They were inspirational examples of the best that Chinese martial arts offer.

We listened to all the grandmasters hold forth in a keynote speech translated for the audience and then attempted to learn a 16 movement routine in each style; watched beautiful demonstrations by them, their students, and other luminaries of the world of internal arts; heard panel discussions on academic and medical research on Tai Chi; listened to new and creative applications of Tai Chi for special populations, and contemplated the future of the art with new and old Tai Chi friends.

It was a very male, China-centric event with many toasts, speeches, endless clapping and self-congratulation at such a historic moment.  Women took a secondary role throughout the symposium.  Master Helen Wu

Master Helen Wu

Master Helen Wu

and Master Zifang Su Master Zifang Su, the two female masters,  gave pre-conference seminars and most participants did not even know they were there until the last demonstration. Two of the daughters helped their fathers teach and to their credit, did an excellent job, particularly Chen Zhenglie’s daughter, a very fine Chen style practitioner. In a poignant footnote to the value of women in Chinese culture, a local Nashville charity – Annabelle’s Wish – made regular pitches for financial donations to help the orphanages in China that are primarily full of unwanted girls due to China’s family planning policy.

Master Zifang Su

Master Zifang Su demonstrating self-defense applications w/ her son

One Grandmaster stated that one must understand Chinese culture in order to understand Tai Chi.  A Chinese master currently living in Kansas City rebutted this with a statement that I feel is more true at this stage of Tai Chi’s development.  He said the truth was that you couldn’t really understand Tai Chi unless you understand physics.  Ah so!  I can get behind that one.

It’s important to note that Buddhism developed differently in China than it did in Japan or Tibet.  It seems reasonable that Tai Chi will also have its own developmental trajectory and develop a distinctly western (if not American) flavor since it will inevitably be influenced by what’s going on here. This will not be the classicism of the original as represented by these 5 grandmasters, but a meditational movement form that will be influenced by scientific and medical advances, the fitness industry, and all of the so-called New Age movement styles (Feldenkrais, Authentic Movement, etc.).  After all, most people here although they are interested in the self-defense applications, practice Tai Chi for their health.   It seems logical that Tai Chi as well as other practices from the East (yoga included)  will necessarily evolve as the culture does — becoming more nurturing, less hierarchical, and less male-dominated.

©Photographs by Sharon Smith
All rights reserved.

Click here for more pictures of the Grandmasters.

Master Sun Yongtian w/ his student

Master Sun Yongtian (the Fighter) w/ his student

Master Yang Zhenduo, the Dalai Lama of Tai Chi

Master Yang Zhenduo, the "Dalai Lama" of Tai Chi

Master Wu Wenhan, the Intellectual

Master Wu Wenhan, the Intellectual

Master Ma Hailong, the Aesthete

Master Ma Hailong, the Aesthete