Tai Chi and Healing

 I recently got this question as an email:
Greetings- I really like your blog...innovative, challenging and quirk! It's a great read and always thought provoking..
I came across an interesting entry recently: /blog1/2012/6/15/yin-yang.html .  It struck me that for some reason, no one seems to deal much with how exactly tai chi - say Yang form- actually helps your health...What I mean by this is, do we have an actual 'index' or list of how each movement affects the meridians in a health enhancing way...eg if Single Whip works on Stomach/Spleen (not saying it does!) then why is this?
Also, you mention in that post a hefty tome on Acu-Channels and Lectures which you praise highly- is it worth your average interested tai chi/ ba gua teaher investing in or is it very much for the specialist?
Many thanks- J. K.


Hi J. K.,

The first thing that ought to be said is no one really knows what Tai Chi was before the Yang and Chen families started teaching it in Beijing.  Looking at the Chen style with an ear to history, dance, and anthropology, it is pretty hard to discern what it was.  There are elements of ritual/exorcism, there are concepts from Daoist cosmology and Daoyin, there are elements of mime and theater, there are many different types of fighting skills suggesting the integration of complex contexts over a long period of time.  
Daoyin is perhaps the largest category of yangsheng (nourishing life) practices.  But it doesn't fit well into any modern notion of "health" or "medicine."  
Whatever tai chi was, seems lost to us now, too many generations have passed without asking the necessary questions.  
But we do know that between 1900 (the Boxer Rebellion) and the 1936 Olympics a great deal of effort went into humiliating and degrading martial artists as superstitious and anti-reason.  In order to defend themselves against this ideological (quasi-fascist) assault martial artists claimed to have completely rid their arts of any semblance of theater or religion.  Sometimes they claimed that hand-to-hand combat had some military basic training value, but mostly they argued that building a strong body with "Chinese Characteristics" was good for the unity and vitality of the nation.  They would even say the "health" of the nation, because China had "earned" the title, 'the sick man of Asia.'  
So when they claimed martial arts were good for health, they were initially just echoing claims that gymnastics, tennis, and basketball were good for health.  While all this is going on Methodist medical colleges were popping up to teach a new generation of doctors, herbs and acupuncture were also ridiculed.  Tai Chi found a unique road to survival as a nationalist art which was more for health than for fighting or show, and which allied itself with people trying to argue for the rational value of native medical traditions. It's fighting reputation didn't evaporate, it floated into the realm of subtle and amazing skills.  
All of this however cut it off from the possibility of explaining 'tai chi healing' in terms of daily ritual, or a talisman for upright conduct, or daoist alchemy (jindan)--healing via returning to simplicity or our original nature--or as a theater skill set that would allow one to perform for hours on end day after day without becoming worn out, or even as a set of skills for emotional healing from traumatic events, starvation, or war.  All of those theories have come out of the west.  Not that they are 'western' just that it was westerners who have made the public claims associating tai chi with these other ways of thinking about healing.
Thus there have been attempts to explain the healing power of tai chi using meridian theory such as this book by Erle Montaigue.  I don't know if Montaigue made this stuff up or he learned it from a particular teacher but it is very detailed about how such and such a posture/movement is good for the gallbladder and thus for healing such and such diseases--- but it is too contrived to be plausible.  I was taught the same sorts of things for Bagua but I've never been able to make any sense of it as treatment.   
The post you reference above is about a simplified notion of meridians.  The 12 meridians are too specific to illness to be of use for movement, instead we have only two meridians-- yin and yang.  These two must always work together.  In most fine motor control actions the yin and yang work against each other, as they do in most athletics--not totally, but enough to reduce power and focus energy on the task at hand.
Anyway, healing can be viewed from a lot of different perspectives.  I have a very clear idea about how healing happens but it is idiosyncratic, highly specific and experimental.  I don't present myself as a healer because my methods require people to participate in their own healing, to change their conduct and environment--and that requires a change in the way they see and value human nature.  
I do not recommend you get a bunch of Chinese medicine books and try to milk them for info on marital arts.  At the same time, I would hardly want to discourage you from going really deep in your own way.  The Expressiveness of the Body is a good place to start!  
Best Regards,