Comparing Symbolisms – Tai Chi Chuan and Enneagram: “movement of emotions” by Liliana Atz

Symbolism is the most suitable and usable way for humans to pass on teachings and thoughts, the most natural way. This is easily understood when one considers that language itself, after all, is symbolism. Any human expression is a symbol of thought that is outwardly translated; the only difference is that language is analytical and discursive, whereas symbolism is essentially intuitive. The symbolic body language that manifests itself in the precise movements of Tai Chi Chuan, known as a martial art and for the undoubted benefits it brings to the practitioner’s health, conceals other messages that link oriental culture to the most recent discoveries of western science, psychology and an ancient symbol of uncertain origins: the Enneagram.

Let’s see how. When the yet-to-be manifested energy, or Wuji, begins to move, it gives rise to the first Yin (feminine) – Yang (masculine) polarization from which Chi or energy originates. Chi like everything that exists in the universe is the manifestation of the cyclic movement of the Tao (1), the Way, whose symbol is now well known. These are the principles behind the discipline of Tai Chi Chuan. The whole universe, visible or invisible is given by the interaction of Yin-Yang. Tai Chi Chuan, the ancient Chinese psycho-physical discipline, has its historical roots in the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which prescribed breathing exercises, body massages, and hand and foot exercises as early as 1,000 BCE.

Taoists introduced Chi Kung, a series of psycho-physical and respiratory exercises, for health maintenance, prevention and treatment of diseases.
Energy gymnastics, which were constantly studied, expanded and integrated with ancient Kung-fu styles, gave birth to Tai Chi Chuan. But this definition of Tai Chi is only one aspect of it, as a balanced body is but the logical consequence of harmonious energy circulation. Man, as a child of Heaven and Earth is healthy only when he can keep himself in harmony between the ascending Breaths of Earth (Yin) and the descending ones of Heaven (Yang). The Enneagram, whose origin is lost in the mists of time, is an ancient symbol that only reached Europe in the early 1900s thanks to Georges Ivanovic Gurdijeff. Handed down orally and in great secrecy from master to student in the Middle East, probably within Sufi brotherhoods(2), it consists of a circle divided into nine parts or nine aspects of personality: only self-knowledge can lead to union with the divine.

The Enneagram embodies the principles of two universal laws: the law of Three and the law of Seven. The first law states that every phenomenon results from the meeting of three different forces: active or positive force and passive or negative force. The meeting of these two polarities gives birth to the Three, the son, the Neutralising force. The three forces are observable outside and within us, but it is not at all easy to recognise them, especially the third force. There are undoubted analogies with other traditions: the Christian Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the Salt, Sulphur and Mercury of Alchemy; the Three Triangles of the Quabbalah; etc.

The Law of Seven, on the other hand, provides the methodology of the movement of a force in the unfolding process of any phenomenon. The development of the frequency of vibrations, ascending or descending force, passes through seven degrees, phases or ‘notes’ arranged along a harmonic scale, with two blocking points. Everything in the universe is vibration, but on every scale of transmission of these there are always two points where the vibrations slow down and require an external push to continue in the same direction. Otherwise, the route derails and changes trajectory.

The points on the outer circle of the Enneagram are six in number and correspond to personality types that can be linked to ancient Greek and Latin deities. In the centre of the circle is the seventh point. The inner triangle, corresponding to points three, six and nine, symbolises ‘other’ aspects of consciousness. Since the early 1970s, the Enneagram has also been studied and used as an instrument of psychological investigation, according to the reinterpretation of Oscar Ichazo and his pupil Claudio Naranjio. The interpretation of reality deformed from childhood by the subjective aspect behind which everyone learns to mask their individuality, in fact, leads man to conflict and illness. Man is inwardly out of balance as he does not possess a single ego, but many conflicting aspects that interchange from moment to moment.

According to John Bowlby, father of Attachment Theory, Internal Operating Models (MOI) are formed in the child, i.e. models of the relationship of self and self with other. These are mental representations constructed by the individual, containing schemata, representations of the world, which enable him to make predictions and create expectations in his relations with others. Over time, MOIs become automated, until they operate at the level of the unconscious, that is, until they become tendential characteristics of the individual’s personality. For Bowlby, there are several Internal Operating Models for each of the main motivational systems.

Movement as the basis of life.
But what links Tai Chi to the Enneagram? In M.° Flavio Daniele’s book “Science Tao and Art of Fighting” Prof. Carlo Ventura states: “There is no important biological phenomenon that is not caused by movement. …It turns out that there is no change in gene activity that is not
occur without movements of the DNA, deformations and vibrations of the nucleus and the complex of microfilaments and microtubules that we call the cytoskeleton. Movements precede the same changes in function at the various cellular levels…..Applying a sound vibration to a cell or to signal molecules within a cell can cause these structures to vibrate, generating changes in morphology and function. Sounds and movements can therefore be seen as a ‘molecular dialogue’ within cells and tissues’.

The Enneagram groups man’s ordinary psycho-physical functions into three centres or brains: instinctive-motor, emotional and mental. These centres do not ordinarily interact harmoniously. One of the three tends to prevail and interpret life in its own peculiar way. The three brains are the result of the evolution of the species. The first brain, reptilian, is connected to the motor-instinctive centre and the automatisms, e.g. of the heart and the digestive system, etc. The second, centrally located, is the limbic brain, the emotional brain, which unites us with other mammals. The last, in order of evolution is the neocortex, the mental aspect, which distinguishes the nature of our human possibilities.

Point number One on the Enneagram circle is connected to the motor centre and the Moon. The Lunar tends to deny problems, to repress emotions, not to feel them, so as not to suffer. The freezing of the emotional aspect shines through in physical blockages, in muscular rigidity, and the Lunar tends to suffer from those organic problems that are a logical consequence of the repression of anger, the emotion that he primarily does not allow himself to express. The unlocking of the body-mind through physical movement with the work on the motor centre influences the personality mechanisms that move from the Lunar type and also involve the other characters of the outer circle, up to the last point, represented by the Saturnine, the active, masculine counterpart of the Lunar. The Saturnine is also characterised by his physical rigidity and unspoken fear. This Enneatype (3) represents the end of the circle, the tail of the snake, the point that contains within itself “the poison and its antidote”, the point from which it is possible to access other levels of consciousness, represented by the other three points of the Enneagram, the inner triangle, a change in self-perception.

Law of Three in Motion

From the union of the formless, represented by the inherited energies of the male sperm and the female ovum with the acquired energies, that is, with what the innate energies are capable of producing after fertilization, the energy horizon of a new being, the fruit, the union of the masculine with the feminine, of the passive with the active, the number Three, the neutralizer, comes into being.

In Chinese culture, “Dantian” is the name that Traditional Medicine physiology gives to the three points in the body where Chi is stored and accumulated and from which it then radiates through the meridians into the body. These concepts are related to Taoist Inner Alchemy, meditative techniques and thus Tai Chi, whereby the body is divided into three areas, each presenting a fulcrum, called the Cinnabar Field, where the essence of the primeval One resides (4).

Western psychology is also approaching these concepts. Eric Berne’s transactional analysis, for example, theorizes the individual’s psychic structure or “Ego” as consisting of three structures represented graphically as one personality, namely the three ego states, each with its own functions. Each ego state has positive and negative aspects, depending on whether it promotes or impedes a person’s independence.

The Parent Ego guards experiences and examples.
The Child Ego encompasses spontaneity and emotionality.
The Adult Ego is the part where information is processed.

How to make these aspects communicate? Transactional analysis proposes “healing” through the enhancement of the Adult’s “problem solving” skills, through the use of emotions, no longer understood as an obstacle, but as a tool aimed at satisfying and solving one’s needs.


The way of the Heart, the way of the emotions, the way of Chi, turns out to be, as mystics have always claimed, the frontier between the instinctual center and the mental-spiritual center, the “way of evolution” for mankind of all times. And it is in fact deep in the brain areas of the limbic system and hypothalamus that the electrochemical processes that result in what we call “emotions” take place. From here, through the mediation of specific substances, neurotransmitters, messages are carried throughout the body-mind.

‘It is becoming increasingly clear,’ says Prof. Ventura, ‘that the development of the nervous and cardiovascular systems occurs through a coordinated action of common factors that guide the differentiation and migration of future neuronal and cardiovascular cells. Very recent research shows a strong parallelism in the development of both systems …..’

Movement catalyzing emotions, then, which stimulate a different interaction of the three brains. This is where the power of the Tai Chi movement comes in. Starting from a conscious work on the body and thus from the neocortex or part of the Adulthood where the Moon is found as a negative or feminine aspect and Saturn as a positive or masculine aspect, the patterns related to the functioning of the nervous system, of the three brains, are modified over time. One works alchemically on the three Dantians, according to Eastern language, stimulating a redefinition of the psycho-physical boundaries embedded in time, to restore psycho-physical-spiritual balance, to return to the One.

  1. Tao:All matter in the universe, living or nonliving is traversed by this eternal, essential and fundamental force. The Tao symbol represents the universe. From an initial phase of no differentiation, two polarities of different and complementary signs were formed, representing the fundamental principles of the universe: Yin, the negative, passive principle, represented by the color black, and Yang, the positive, active principle, represented by the color white.
  2. Sufis were ascetics who lived in the deserts. Sufism is the mystic current of Islam.
  3. Enneatype: each individual character in the Enneagram.
  4. Primeval:the first originated.


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