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Oriental Medicine and The Tao

Written by Michelle Locke for Wellbeing Magazine 2003

All practices of Oriental Medicine, including Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shiatsu, Tai Qi, Qi Gung and Acupuncture, are based on principles that relate to the understanding of Qi and all have aims of harmonising and balancing the flow of Qi, in order to have the highest quality of life, which includes good health, longevity, happiness and peace.

In Oriental Medicine, there is no separation between any aspects of Life. There is only the ‘One’ with all parts of the ‘One’ being intricately connected to each other part, in a glorious tapestry of perfection. The original practices of Oriental Medicine began with Taoism. Tao means ‘the way’ or ‘the path’ and is considered to be ‘The source of all things’. From the Tao comes everything in the universe.

Lao Tzu (the founder of Taoist thought), says this in the Tao Te Ching,

“It has no voice or shape, it is eternal and indestructible. It does not exist in anything, and it is independent of everything. Therefore it may be called the mother of the world”

Within the Tao are contained all differences and opposites, what is known as Yin and Yang. Yin is the deepest substance at the core of all living function. Yang is the outer action on the surface of life. Yin and Yang are the two dynamic forces that support and balance each other in a dynamic dance of opposition and difference. They exist in everything, all aspects of life, and the energy that contains Yin and Yang is called Qi.

The Five Elements.

One of the main principles of Oriental Medicine is the Theory of the Five Elements. Put simply, this is an understanding that the elements that make up our physical universe, air (metal), water, wood, fire and earth, are all inter-connected and part of the ‘whole’. In Oriental Medicine, each element has specific correspondences, such as a colour, emotion, organ/s, direction, taste, smell and function We, as human beings, having a physical body and living on this planet, are also made up of these five elements.

Within the context of Wu Tao, the aim is to give the participant an experience and awareness of these elements within their own body and psyche, and hence to integrate and balance the Qi flow through the body, harmonising spirit, body, mind and emotions.

Wu Tao Dance

The dance aspect of Wu Tao, is what distinguishes it from other forms of Oriental Medicine therapeutic practices such as Qi gung and Tai chi. Dance can be a powerful healer. It is a unique form of expression, which can reveal subtle nuances of feeling and emotion. When you dance, the body becomes the vehicle for the soul to speak and as such, it is felt very deeply in the dance itself. The spirit does indeed soar through the body.

The beauty of dance lies partly in its ability to combine so well with music. If you can allow it, your body and its movement will connect with the music and a synergistic merging will take place. The music will carry you, indeed, take you, into an altered state of consciousness and into a different mode of awareness Any music, if you can merge with it, will give you this experience, but it is the experience of merging with music that uplifts the soul, that Wu Tao embraces.

When you join music (that you resonate with,) and movement, you will have a dance that affirms your life-force energy, lifts your spirit and helps you to connect with the innate healing power that resides within and around you.

In the practice of Wu Tao, the dance that balances the Air element, works specifically on the Lung and Large Intestine channels (meridians) in the body. The dance itself is a slow, flowing movement that embodies lightness, freedom and release. It focuses on the qualities of release and letting go, and corresponds to the season of autumn, the colour white, sound of weeping and the emotion of grief. The image to use when doing this dance, is that of a big bird flying in the sky, carried along by the wind. The music also reflects the qualities of the Air element.

To open up the Lung and Large Intestine channels, try these movements:

Stand with feet apart, feet underneath hips.

Swing one arm around in an arc, (a back stroke motion), watching the hand.

Repeat this movement with the other arm.

Now swing both arms back, together.

As the arms come down, link your thumbs together and drop your body forward, arms pulling up, knees slightly bent and head and neck relaxing as you hang forward.

Stay in this position for a moment or two.

To come up, drop arms, bend knees and gently roll up through the back.

The Water element governs the Kidney and Bladder channels. It relates to the function of building and storing Qi, the colour blue/black, the season of winter, sound of groaning and the emotion of fear. An image to use when doing the dance that balances the Water element is that of a seed, buried deep in the ground, full of potential. It is dormant and cold, awaiting the warmth of the spring sun to call it into life. In Oriental Medicine, the Water element governs the deepest structures of the body, including the bones, marrow, sexual organs, central nervous system and brain. The Wu Tao dance works specifically on the areas of the body that relate to the Water element, including the back, kidney and bladder areas and the backs of the legs.

The Wood element governs the Liver and Gall-Bladder channels. It is the season of spring, the colour green, sound of shouting and the emotion of anger. The Wood energy is strong and vital, focused and directed, it helps to shape your visions and dreams, through creative self-expression. The Liver in Oriental Medicine, assists in maintaining the smooth flow of Qi and blood through the body. Imbalances can cause stagnation of these substances, manifesting in symptoms such as headache, premenstrual tension, and irritability. The Wu Tao dance that balances the Wood energy, helps to release blockages in the Liver and Gall-Bladder Meridians by opening and stretching them. The dance itself is energetic and vibrant, allowing for free self-expression. It gives strength to the sides of the body (Gall-Bladder channel pathway) and the insides of the legs (Liver). It frees up blocked energy around the shoulder-blades, releasing tension and long held, stuck emotions.

To free up the Wood energy in your body, try these movements:

Bend your knees, sliding your right leg out.

Bring your arms out to the sides.

Stretch your legs and stretch both arms up to the sky.

Swing your body to the right side, stretching out and straightening the right leg.

Repeat this movement to the left side.

The Fire element governs four channels. These are the Heart, Small Intestine, Triple Heater and Pericardium. The season is summer, the colour, red, the sound of laughing and the emotion of joy. The energy of Fire is warm and inspirational. Radiating out from the centre, it is the ability to know ones True Self or Spirit, while living purposefully in the world. It also helps to separate out the impure substance from the pure, both physically and energetically.

The last element, and in some ways, the most important, is the Earth. The Earth governs the Stomach and Spleen channels. It is the season of late-summer, the colour, yellow, the sound of singing(?) and the emotion of pensiveness or worry. Here, in the element of Earth, everything comes together, which is why the Earth is often depicted as standing at the centre of all the other elements. It has the energy of stillness, meditation and gratefulness. In the Earth element, a time of harvest, you receive what is yours and acknowledge what you have. The abundance of Life and its gifts of nourishment and support can be palpably felt in this final dance of the Earth. The dance is centering, meditative and blissfully peaceful.

As a therapy, Wu Tao has healing as its purpose. It is also deeply satisfying to experience the oneness of Life in one’s own body, not just as the mind’s desire for it to be, but as an all encompassing wisdom of knowing, that is felt in every cell of your being.

By Michelle Locke.

Michelle Locke has a background in professional dance and Oriental Medicine. She teaches Wu Tao classes in WA and holds regular workshops throughout Australia