Taoist Yoga – Man in the Suitcase

When I was in Tokyo I studied yoga with Perr Wynter, a Norwegian man who studied with a yogi from India who, for some reason, lived up the fjord from him in Norway–a very rare situation.

When Perr was in his twenties he went to India and studied at the Shivananda Ashram in Rishikesh where he lived in a very, very tiny room.

He was an exceptional Hatha yogi. He could do any Hatha yoga posture that existed, and when he came to Southeast Asia and he was in Malaysia, his money and passport got stolen. So, what happened was he worked in a circus to earn his stolen money back where his act was folding himself into a suitcase, which will give you some idea about how flexible he was (also see images of Perr on the left and below)!

Now what made Perr so interesting is that if you’re going to talk about Hatha yoga and Hatha yoga postures, then there’s wasn’t much he couldn’t do. 

From what I gathered, he could do as much as Iyengar, author of Light on Yoga, could. But everybody in Tokyo wondered why when he did aikido and when he did tai chi, his energy did not really flow. He was known for being relatively uncoordinated; he was known for just having a kind of semi-spastic quality about him. The question started arising: How is this human-rubber band such that he cannot make energy flow through his body?

He was very healthy and strong–there were no two ways about it–he was all those types of things you would associate with health. As a matter of fact, he was the yoga teacher of a very prominent karate teacher in Japan, Yamaguchi Gogen, the head of Japanese goju karate who wrote about Perr and showed his pictures in the back of his book.

It took me a long time to figure this out. With the training Perr had received, the average person with their average expectations and thoughts would’ve imagined that Perr could learn tai chi and aikido, and that he would’ve learned exceptionally, rapidly and well. But, the fact of the matter was that after years of practicing he was considered to be a rather poor student.

What it came down to was this: Perr had stretched his fibers to the degree that, well, they were as far as they could go. He did not have the ability to genuinely relax his body. In order to move really well doing tai chi and aikido, you’ve got to have the ability to really relax your body; flexibility alone won’t cut it. Well, Perr actually wasn’t very relaxed. He wasn’t relaxed in the sound of his voice; he wasn’t relaxed in the way he moved. What he had was fibers that were stretched all the way.

So I became aware of the fact that you could still be relatively tense and be super-stretched. I should mention, many of the gymnasts who can physically do some of the more difficult Hatha postures are extremely tense and they’re not particularly relaxed. There’s something about energy flowing freely in the body, which is a different thing entirely.

When your body simply becomes really stretched, it enables you to move the inside of your body like a machine. It allowed Perr to control his nerves to a great degree, which he got from Pranayama there’s no two ways about it; but, he didn’t have the flow of energy to a great degree. And if you knew Perr–at least back in the late 60s–he was not what you would call a very relaxed person in any way. Although the stretching gave him great mechanical control over his body he did not have the fluidity and the ease, the relaxation that we normally think a person who truly had energy working in his body would have.

The man in the suitcase is an example of the difference between classic Hatha yoga and chi gung/qigong. Many of the chi gung/qigong people don’t have anywhere near the flexibility that Hatha yogis have. Most can’t put both legs behind their heads, can’t lie on their stomachs and put one hand in the middle of their bellies with their other hand behind them with their legs in a full lotus and their body completely parallel to the ground, suspended off the ground. They can’t do things like that, but they can be as healthy, have as much energy and be very relaxed.

China has a history of circus and acrobats where 12-year olds can do every physical posture Iyengar can do, and yet it’s just a fact that they got them young and when their fibers could stretch. The Chinese do not consider them in any shape, matter or form to be Chi/Qi masters–they’re just considered to be extremely good physical specimens.

Taoist Yoga is a great way to increase your flexibility and your range of motion when doing chi gung/qigong. Many people who do chi gung/qigong start out stiff and rigid. Taoist Yoga is the ideal complement to chi gung/qigong because it stretches you out in a conscious way. It focuses your awareness on allowing chi to flow, saturating your body with chi, or what is called “making your body wet” in the East. Just as with chi gung/qigong, you’re locating energetic holes and kinks and then releasing them.

There is a difference between something happening inside you–a flow of energy occurring inside you–and what the outside of your body can do. They don’t always go together. Taoist Yoga is working to get that internal flow inside your body while you’re doing Hatha yoga postures.

You may not want to practice Taoist Yoga with the goal of putting yourself in a suitcase in order to pay your rent, but you can dramatically shorten the time it takes to learn chi gung/qigong by integrating the principles of Taoist Yoga into your practice.

That’s it!
Bruce

Images courtesy of Kodira Mehra, Ormandy and Willard (1969).

 

Foreign Devil (not verified) wrote 6 weeks 5 hours ago

Man in the Suitcase Blog

My focus exercise-wise was for many years ballet, although I tried first one thing and then another as I was beginning to think it was time to quit doing quite so much jumping around. One of the things I tried was Hatha Yoga. I got along with what I did of it okay--didn't try the real pretzel positions and got a lot of benefit from the breathing exercises; but some of my ballet-related books warned against getting too into the asanas for the very reason that yoga could, if not done carefully and knowledgably, make the body too flexible for ballet, which requires at least maintaining the appearance of relaxation while maintaining poses in motion through space. Finis Jhung, with his part Korean background, has done a lot with injecting Eastern techniques into ballet practice.

Anyway, this was a very interesting blog, Mr. Frantzis.

Kartikey (not verified) wrote 9 weeks 3 days ago

Thanks for all your enlightening words!

I am an Indian who is trying to spread the word about tai Chi for Health here, people naturally ask me why Tai Chi and not Yoga?

My general answer is, Yoga is great if you start learning it as a child, but, if you can start at 40+ and succeed then you should do that, if not, Tai Chi I can guarantee that you can do successfully and also gain as much benefits,

This article has gave me confidence to talk about Yoga without being disrespectful to an equally great form of art.

Arthur Roberts (not verified) wrote 10 weeks 3 hours ago
Paul (not verified) wrote 10 weeks 2 days ago

Yoga

Bruce always has clear,concise observations when describing the various arts!

Alex H. (not verified) wrote 10 weeks 2 days ago

Dear Bruce For me another

Dear Bruce

For me another very valuable article on a subject often mis- or hardly understood in the western world. Instructive and interesting details presented by a highly experienced person.

Thanks !

Visitor (not verified) wrote 10 weeks 2 days ago

This guy wasn't really doing

This guy wasn't really doing yoga, he was doing a western version which is basically sport stretching. It is rare to find real yoga and the real yoga is all about energy flow and gives all sorts of abilities as a side benefit along the Way. However it isn't at all about stretching and involves a combination of postures, movements, varous breath techniques, sound, energy locks and others, as well as working a lot with emotion and prayer, often with all of these applied at the same time. It is very powerful and effective stuff, no less so than Taoist yoga. It is just a different style of system.

C.W. (not verified) wrote 3 weeks 15 hours ago

As someone who practice both

As someone who practice both yoga and tai chi, I've been debating this issue for some time. What I say below pertains to the typical modern yoga class you get in the US. I agree with your point to some extent There is a way to do yoga paying more attention to the flow of energy, but, as you mention, few understand how to do this. But I think this is besides the point, as this can be applied for any movement, such as a golf swing. In fact, as far as I understand, many modern asanas came from western gymnastics, which Krishnamacharya absorbed into his system of yoga.

I think the more relevant issue is whether the practice itself encourages relaxation and the flow of energy. In that respect, there's no doubt in my mind that qigong and tai chi does this, as they were design to. On the other hand, as I mentioned above, most asanas were not designed for this purpose, and in many cases, actually make it more difficult to relax. They seem to me more like stress positions. Some yoga teachers sing about how they achieve some kind of "oneness" of mind and body, when what seems to me is happening is that the mind is completely occupied by the physical and mental stress of maintaining these awkward positions. And, if your mind drifted or didn't understand the teacher's instructions correctly, you are likely to suffer with an injury.

Again, I'm not saying yoga asanas has no benefits. It does help develop strength and flexibility, and sometimes straighten out kinks in the body. But it doesn't seem to me to lead to the internal conditioning and coordination of the mind and body that is the focus of qigong and tai chi.

Philip McKee (not verified) wrote 10 weeks 2 days ago

Taoist Yoga Details

I break this down to four principles: Relaxing/Dissolving, Twisting/Unraveling, Breathing and Moving Fluids. I managed to spill some 2000 words on it here.
http://qigongtaichimassagesfbay.com/2015/07/11/tao-yoga-1/

Theo Paine (not verified) wrote 10 weeks 2 days ago

Taoist Yoga

Hi. Would you please recommend books or other printed or video sources that offers "authentic" info on Taoist Yoga? Thanks.

Ana-Maria (not verified) wrote 10 weeks 2 days ago

Really interesting, thanks

Really interesting, thanks Bruce! Looking forward to the program!

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