Tao Te Ching Teachings: Controlling Your Chi

dark dragon

“Control your chi

Becoming gentleness itself

As a newborn child”

Chi is the basic force that keeps our physical beings alive. In the same way that we would die if we had too little blood, so we begin to perish and decay when our chi stagnates or scatters.

Being that chi is the source of life, it is naturally quite lively, meaning that we need to control it before it controls us. Chi responds to our mind, moods, and emotions. If we get over-excited, our energy screams and races around like a toddler. If we get angry, our energy becomes fiery, dangerous, and difficult to control. When we get depressed, our energies stagnate; when we get obsessed, our energy gets trapped in just one place.

So, in order to keep our Chi gentle, we must keep a gentle mind. Anger, over-excitement, depression and obsession all stir up and exhaust the spirit, damaging all areas of our health. Emotions do not have to be dangerous by themselves, because they are also an energy – it is when they are extreme, excessive and uncontrolled that dangers begins.

Even the strongest among us may feel all of these things from time to time; but, so long as we do not allow these moods to become habitual, and deeply-rooted within our psyches, having the ability to transform these energies into something beneficial, then we can still succeed.

Taoist alchemists often refer to this act of governing chi as ‘The Firing Process’ because it is a lot like boiling water. You want to keep the water at a stable temperature. Too hot, and the water sizzles up and scars your face; too cold, and the water loses its life and potency.

Keeping Chi even isn’t easy – it requires the constant practice of gentleness and balance in every area of our lives. If we can be like a baby – soft and gentle, yet carrying within us a lifetime’s worth of potential energy – then we will be that much closer to preserving The Way.

Meditation Exercise: Cultivating Tree Energy


This is an exercise taken from the Chi Kung Cannon, but it can be practiced by anyone interested in energy work, who wishes to attain a closer relationship with nature.

Firstly, you need a tree, preferably one that is large, strong, vibrant, and in an isolated, naturalistic environment, where you do not have to worry about being interrupted by strangers. For those who are particularly interested in cultivating vitality and longevity, a very old, but still living tree, is ideal. These are generally typified by their enormous height and prodigious girth, often possessing a hollow trunk, and an accumulation of warty, twisted growths known as ‘burrs’. Though, so long as you have access to a healthy, living tree, don’t worry too much about that at this stage.

Tree Gung

Once you have selected a tree, stand in front of it, with your body erect and relaxed, feet shoulder width apart, and your knees slightly bent. Place your hand onto the tree, relax, and just take a few moments to be with the tree, clearing your mind, and becoming one with the present. Then, when you feel you are ready to begin, close your eyes, or keep your gaze firmly fixed in front of you.

Take a long, deep, gentle breath inward, and, as you inhale, visualize vital energy being drawn in through your palms and through the crown of your head, and, retaining the breath briefly once you’ve reached maximum capacity, bring it to centre in the energetic chamber of your heart. Then, as you exhale slowly, smoothly, and gently, push this ball of energy down your abdomen, pelvis, down your legs, and into the ground, visualizing roots sinking deep into the energetic belly of the earth as you do so, nourishing you with its life-engendering soil, drawing nutrients, moisture, and energy back up into you.

Tree spirit

    Repeat this sequence as many times as you wish. I often like to intensify the visualization, by imagining myself as a tree spirit, with my skin made of bark, my limbs made of branches, and my hair whorled out of leaves and vines; though you can tailor it anyway that you feel deepens your sense of connection.

According to the theory of the five elements of Chinese Traditional Medicine and Taoism, as trees are symbolic of the wind/wood element, this is exercise is good for your liver and eye chi, helping to infuse you with a lively, gentle, interpenetrating, and care-free spirit. It can also to unify you with the other four elements, grounding yourself in the soil of Earth; nourishing yourself on the Metal minerals within; drawing up the moisture of Water with your roots; and connecting you with the sun in the sky which imbues you with the Fire energy both plants, animals, and humans need to live and photosynthesize.

Once you have finished, thank the tree for sharing its energy with you, and treat all life with reverence. It is good to reflect on the many virtues of the tree. As Lao Tzu said in the Tao Te Ching:

Well planted – Never Uprooted

Well embraced – Never lost

I hope you enjoy this exercise, and I’d love to hear about whatever results you experience!