Martial arts inspired by the Tao – by Nadia Clementi

A Taoist saying states: In movement, find calm, in calm, find movement: we talk about this with Liliana Atz, president of the San Bao Association

At the end of the article, at the request of Dr Liliana Atz, we also publish the English version of the interview.

In traditional Chinese Taoist philosophy, the Tao’s fundamental function is to represent the universe, eternal but at the same time in motion.
It is precisely with this spirit that the San Bao association spreads the teaching and initiation of martial arts inspired by the Tao in Trentino, in particular the knowledge of Tai Chi Kung, a Chinese art with a millenary tradition aimed at acquiring and preserving harmony between body, mind and spirit.
Specifically, Tai Chi Kung is a motor technique that, among its many certified benefits, aims to improve muscle tone and elasticity through coordination and concentration. These exercises are useful in preventing cervicalgia and other spinal disorders, while breathing activity brings benefits on both a mental and emotional level, an excellent ally against, for example, stress and insomnia.
Furthermore, according to the principles of Chinese medicine, breathing and nutrition are the two sources of acquired energy that enable our bodies to develop and live.
It is well known that most of the typical ailments of our time derive from food-organism interaction, but at the same time, nutrition can open up immense preventive and curative possibilities.
To find out more about the benefits and techniques for rebalancing the body and mind’s energy, we turned to the founder of the San-Bao Association, Liliana Atz, a psychology graduate, Shiatsu practitioner-instructor, Wudang and Yang style Tai Chi teacher, who has been practising these activities and promoting courses for many years, where the ancient Chinese medical-philosophical disciplines are integrated with the discoveries of western science.

Who is Dr Liliana Atz
Psychologist, Tai Chi Kung and Shiatsu instructor, expert in Traditional Chinese Medicine, has been teaching for years.
A firm believer in the common thread that unites Eastern therapeutic-philosophical disciplines and Western scientific culture, she founded the San Bao association, where she promotes personal growth activities through body-mind work.
An Enneagram teacher, she is the author of the books ‘EnneaMediCina’, as well as articles and publications in the field.

Dr Atz, what impresses you most about traditional Chinese medicine?
“Chinese medical-philosophical culture fascinated me because of its comprehensiveness as it leads to an integrated view of man, understood in its components of body, mind and spirit.
“By working on the body, therefore, e.g. with Tai Chi Kung, you also rebalance your mind and emotions, leading to feeling better on all levels.”

Can you briefly explain what the principles of traditional Chinese medicine are?
“Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is one of the oldest and most fascinating medical-philosophical systems in the world, which the WHO (World Health Organisation) included in the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion back in 1986.
“The main principles of this medicine are: Qi (energy), the Tao (the eternal, essential and fundamental force that flows through all matter in the Universe) , the Yin/Yang law, the law of the Five Movements and their phases, the energy Meridians. All these factors interrelate with each other in a multitude of different ways.
“For Traditional Chinese Medicine, the disease state comes from the disturbance of the energy balance (Chi or Qi). This medicine intervenes to rebalance health with various therapies, the best known of which are dietetics, pharmacology, acupuncture, massage and medical gymnastics, in forms known as Tai Chi and Chi Kung.
“What is really interesting is that its ancient principles are now increasingly reflected in quantum physics, as well as in neuroscience discoveries.”

You are qualified to teach the Enneagram, what is it?
“The ENNEAGRAMMA is an ancient method of knowledge that helps one to make truths about oneself and to gain security and confidence by discovering one’s most hidden possibilities.
“In practice, it is a geometric drawing that, like a map, describes the various personality types. Its origins are said to date back over 2000 years.

“It was introduced to the West at the beginning of the last century, by the Causa spiritual master G.I. Gurdjieff, who used it as a study tool for his students.
“It was subsequently developed and disseminated by various scholars, among them the psychologist Oscar Ichazo and the psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo, his student, to whom we owe the greatest propagation and integration of this system with contemporary psychology.”
The Enneagram proves effective in all those activities and contexts where relationships with other people are of importance:
– To increase self-knowledge and self-esteem.
– To better manage one’s emotions .
– To increase one’s interpersonal skills and better manage one’s energy resources.

Would you like to explain what the Tai Chi Kung activity consists of according to ancient Taoist methods?
“Tai Chi Kung is an ancient Chinese psychophysical discipline based on the principles of Taoist philosophy.
“This tradition considers the universe as an energy field, the result of the perfect interaction of the two fundamental cosmic principles: Yin and Yang, which constitute the symbol of the Tao and represent the most important and characteristic concept of Taoism.
“Through the understanding of the cosmos, the universe and nature, one comes, for Taoism, to an understanding of oneself, to one’s individual growth.
“This tradition considers the universe as an energy field; there is a holistic, analogical view of the human being, according to which health and well-being are the consequence of man’s psychological, energetic, physiological and spiritual balance.
“It is a psycho-physical art of gradual development of the body-mind that through the execution of precise sequences helps to improve one’s physical and mental energy and increase one’s well-being.
“Its structure is such that the observer of Tai Chi practice can only grasp its superficial form, failing to grasp the profound aspects of working on the body, breath and mind.
“These stages are not separable because they are reflected in each other: the body relaxes, breathing slows its rhythm and becomes deeper, the mind empties itself of thoughts, anxieties, worries.
“This state becomes a moving meditation and some have called this practice Chinese yoga.”

What are the benefits of medical gymnastics (Tai Chi Kung) in the light of the latest discoveries in Western science?
“Tai Chi interpreted in the light of the latest findings of Western science acts on the brain structure. The brain is divided into three parts: the neocortex, the mammalian brain and the reptilian brain. The neocortex, or human brain, as it was the last part of the brain to develop, is divided into two halves: the left hemisphere, the seat of logic, rational reasoning and language, and the right, the seat of creativity, intuition.
“The harmonisation that the integrative practice of Tai Chi brings to the brain level is documented by psychoneuroendocrinoimmunology.
“PNEI is the new science of how the mind and body communicate and regulate the balance of our organism and our well-being, through a hormonal dialogue based on neuropeptides, cytokines and other active substances, powerfully influencing the activity of the immune system.
“Numerous health benefits can be seen after just a few months of practice: improved muscle tone and elasticity, increased sense of balance, reduced neck pain and other spinal disorders.
“Calm and deep breathing then improves the efficiency of the immune system and the cardio-respiratory system, relaxing the mind and promoting a decrease in anxiety, nervousness and insomnia and so on.
“An interesting array of studies, carried out worldwide, document the all-round benefits of this practice and can be found on our website in the Articles section.”

Which meridians are stimulated in our body and with what beneficial effects?
“In Chinese medicine, meridians are preferential flow lines of energy, Qi, moving within the body. Western science has pointed out and confirmed that meridians consist of invisible currents of electromagnetic energy circulating deep between muscles and bones.
“The precise movements of Tai Chi Kung stimulate energy circulation in all the meridians of the body.
“This is possible because our skin, which has the same embryological origin as the nervous system, is capable of receiving stimuli from the external environment, making them communicate with the interior, sifting and filtering the messages received, transmitting them through the network of meridians and the afferent nervous system, and facilitating the reconstruction of the balance of vital energy, Qi, which stimulates the entire psycho-neuro-endocrine-immune system.

What are the principles of Chinese dietetics?
“Chinese dietetics, together with medical gymnastics (Tai Chi, Chi Kung), herbal medicine, manipulation (massage), meditation and acupuncture, form the therapeutic pillars of ancient Chinese medical culture.
“With medical gymnastics, manipulation and acupuncture, the body’s energy is rebalanced, while dietetics and phytotherapy preserve and nourish its essence. If the diet is correct, energy will be abundant, the organs will be well nourished, and the mind and emotions will be in balance.
“In contrast to Western dietology, which does not consider the constitutional characteristics of the individual, Chinese dietary science adapts the choice of food to the constitution and psycho-physical type of the person.
“This nutritional view approaches food according to the qualitative canons that regulate the activity of the organs and viscera of the human body, using food in pharmacological terms, with the corresponding indications, contraindications and precautions, for the purpose of achieving and/or maintaining health.
“Foods are prepared by harmonising the five flavours (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, neutral) to allow the body to benefit from their balanced interrelationship.”
For this purpose, foods are classified according to different criteria:

1. based on the intrinsic energy of the food, a distinction is made:
– warm and temperate foods: invigorate, warm, ascend, move;
– neutral foods: stabilise, harmonise, centre;
– fresh and cold foods: they refresh, sedate, astringent, hydrate.

2. Based on flavour, as each flavour has a specific energy characteristic:
– acidic foods: astringent, contracting the energy inwards;
– bitter foods: draining, evacuating, firming and drying;
– salty foods: they soften, purge and calm Shen;
– sweet foods: invigorating, harmonising and anti-spastic.

3. According to colour:
– red foods: they revitalise;
– yellow foods: stabilise, balance;
– green foods: detoxify, purify;
– black foods: astringent, tonic Jing (essence);
– white foods: they purify.

4. Based on meridian tropism, as each food has a main meridian of impact.

5. According to the movement of the energy they activate: Yin or Yang, etc.

Water and Fire (Yin/Yang) determine, in fact, the acid-base balance of the blood, the alteration of which leads to pathological situations and degenerative diseases related to cellular ageing.

Which foods are recommended according to Chinese culture and which should be avoided?
“The Chinese population does not disdain any food. As we know, they also eat things that are unthinkable for us.
“In fact, it is not a question of a predefined diet, everything can be eaten, as long as it is adapted to the particular conditions of each person, depending on his or her physical constitution, age, the country he or she lives in, the type of work he or she does, the type of pathology he or she has, and so on.
“Certainly great importance is attached to the authenticity of the food used, in connection with seasonal rhythms and climatic changes.

Would you like to elaborate on the Taoist saying ‘In movement, find calm, in calm, find movement’?
“We are talking about Yin/Yang, one of the basic laws of Traditional Chinese Medicine, of the continuous alternation between manifest (Yin) and immanent (Yang), between matter and energy, both complementary and indispensable to the manifestation of life and its proper unfolding.
“Life originates in the vacuum, in the great void where all possibilities are present, as quantum physics also confirms. We need emptiness in order to create collective and individual reality, which is then manifested by the creative act, by the setting into motion of energy, by the Yang fertilising matter (the Yin).

“Tai Chi is many things, including moving meditation. It is a practice that, by harmonising the function of the nervous system, rebalances the activity of the sympathetic nervous system with that of the parasympathetic nervous system: activity and rest, fullness and emptiness. If one of these two aspects predominates over the other, the individual becomes unbalanced and ill. In our society, the difficulty with sleep of many people, for example, speaks of an over-activity of the sympathetic nervous system.

She is the founder of the San-Bao association
when it was born with what purpose?

“The San Bao association was established in 2007 with the aim of spreading the teaching and initiation into sport in Trentino in the martial arts and all the classical Tao arts. In particular, our association aims to promote knowledge of Tai Chi kung, according to the ancient principles of Taoist philosophy, compared in the light of Western scientific discoveries.
“It becomes clearer for us Westerners to practise ancient exercises if we understand their value.
“All the other activities proposed over time relate to these principles, as the aim of Man of all times and latitudes has always been to find a psycho-physical and spiritual balance.

What are the main activities proposed by the San Bao Association?
“Our main activities are related to offering training courses in Tai Chi Kung, to be understood as a martial technique, a discipline for well-being, meditation in movement, and an evolutionary discipline.
“Following multiple scientific validations, scientists believe that the studies carried out provide a solid base of evidence to support that the practice of Tai Chi and Chi Kung (Qi Gong) offers benefits to bone health, the cardiovascular and respiratory systems; improves physical function and balance; prevents falls; and offers psychological benefits by improving overall quality of life.
“In addition to this we offer complementary courses in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Enneagram, Meditation, etc.”

Future plans?
“Our proposals are constantly growing. Indeed, I firmly believe that modern man can benefit greatly from integrated work, where body, mind and spirit can regain their rightful place.
“To this end, on 25 September there will be a party to present our activities, which we invite all readers to attend.
“We will start by talking about dietetics with the lecture given by our study group, followed by a presentation of Tai Chi Kung courses and a lecture where I will talk about EnneaMediCina, the way to recover health according to the principles of the Enneagram, integrated with the laws of Chinese Medicine, all in the light of the latest discoveries in neuroscience.
“The EnneaMediCina books published a few months ago are available in all online stores.
“Last but not least, we will offer a dinner with a tasting menu of vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan and dairy-free autumn products on request, prepared by a well-known local chef. Suitable for everyone, then!”

For the next season, starting in October 2015, we will be proposing an intensive Tai Chi Kung activity, with the novelty of a children’s course, a Daoyin course: exercises for health (on Fridays during the lunch break), training in Traditional Chinese Medicine, another in Enneagram and Meditation evenings.

Nadia Clementi –
Liliana Atz –


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