Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • December 2011
Written by  Andrew Mertens

Tai chi principle #3: separate yin and yang

The past few months I have been describing a few of the core principles of Tai chi, the first and most important being "relax," followed by our second principle of "standing with an upright body." This month I will introduce our third principle, "separate yin and yang" and relate some ideas of incorporating this, with relaxing with an upright body.

The yin yang symbol is a circle divided into two parts; one black representing yin, and one white representing yang. In the white area there is a small circle of black, and the black has a small circle of white. This is known to Tai chi players as the symbol of the supreme ultimate. The circle represents nothingness, emptiness or stillness — the world before creation. The yin and yang represents the movement, exchange and interchange of everything in the world. It shows the division between everything: male, female, high, low, left and right. Whatever we can conceive has an opposite. There is nothing under the sun that can be separated from duality; we cannot have male without the female, high without low. They depend on each other and give rise to each other. The great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, "When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. When people see some things as good, other things become bad. Being and non-being create each other. Difficult and easy support each other. Long and short define each other. High and low depend on each other. Before and after follow each other." The symbol shows this separation through the rising white and sinking black but in the center of each is a small circle of the opposite, describing that at the core of yin is a small part of yang, and at the core of yang is a small part of yin. One of my favorite ways of describing this phenomenon is the idea of water being one of the softest things in the world it is also so powerful it can carve out the Grand Canyon.

As Tai chi players, we are asked to separate yin and yang. One way we do this is through the weight distribution between the two legs. If 100 percent of the weight is in the left leg we call that leg yang and the right leg yin. Part of the slow movements of Tai chi is to bring to our awareness the filling and emptying of the legs. We have postures that we call 70/30 stances, meaning there is 70 percent in the front leg and 30 percent in the back leg. The form is constantly moving from these stances to 100/0 stances. We may stop the form at any time and practice what we call standing meditation; this could be in either a 100/0 or 70/30 stance. While in standing meditation, we separate yin and yang by allowing our feet to sink down with gravity while the head softly rises as if it were suspended from above by a string. We allow the dense, substantial part of us to drop while a more etheric, energetic part floats up. This can be compared to the plant world where the plant has a powerful draw upward while its branches sag down with gravity.

Two exercises to try: Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet on the ground and your back away from the back of the chair. Let yourself sink deeply into the chair, relaxing down while at the same time feel your head floating up. Be sure not to lean into the back of the chair.

Stand with your heels together and each foot turned out 15 degrees. Feel the weight of your body sinking down into your feet. While continuing to sink, float the head top upward. Sink down into your right leg until the left leg is able to float up. Step the left foot forward empty. Shift weight into the left foot until you can float up the right foot. Continue to float the head top and repeat several times. You are practicing separating yin and yang.

Andrew Mertens is the director of the Oshkosh Tai Chi Center and a certified Quantum Energetics practitioner. He holds a bachelor's degree in music from Lawrence University and a Bachelor of Science degree from the New Physiology Institute. He is also a professional bassist and founding member of The Jazz Orgy. For questions about Tai chi, e-mail him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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