With a smorgasbord of practices available these days from teachers, YouTube, social media, and other sources, many curious seekers are shopping around for knowledge of the Dao. While the yoga community is full of female teachers, it is primarily men who are promoting the majority of what's out there in the fields of Daoism, Qigong, and T'ai Chi practice. Obviously, there are complex reasons for this rooted in Chinese Confucian social and cultural history as well as in our own western societies.
But for women, it's important to remember that despite this, Daoism (Taoism) contains an important tradition of female mastery that is inherent in its philosophy as well as its practices. After all, women manifest and represent the cosmic force of Yin as men manifest and represent its Yang counterpart. Together, these two forces create the whole, each essential to keep the other in balance.
The harmonious relationship between Yin and Yang is essential for good health and the stabilization of life force energy, personally as well as in society. The study of Yin/Yang balance is a vast one (see Robin Wang's book, YinYang: The Way of Heaven and Earth in Chinese Thought and Culture for an extensive overview), but this truism is at the root of Chinese medicine as well as in all Daoist internal alchemy practice.
Kidney energy is especially important to this discussion as it is the most Yin of all of the five major Yin organ energies according to Chinese medicine. And sexual energy or "jing" is stored in the kidneys. Associated with Water energy, sexual energy is fundamentally connected with one's life force in the most basic, profound way—living and dying, particularly reproduction and the process of aging.
Daoists recognized that "Jing" is a life-giving, creative, potent, juicy force that can be used for health and spiritual development as well as for pleasure and reproduction. Since sexual energy is also a creative force that "multiplies", it can become a vehicle for transformation. If one has the ability to guide this energy to higher energy centers in the brain, that creative energy can multiply the potential of connection to the "Dao", the "Source", the "Original Mind" or whatever name one chooses to give a transcendent reality.
We are born with a finite amount of Jing, one of the main factors in aging, considered a process of dehydration in Chinese medicine. Among other changes due to aging, the body dries out, tendons and connective tissue become less pliable, bones get brittle, teeth loosen, hair loses its luster, sexual fluids get thinner and more sparse, hearing dims and balance may become precarious as the fluid in the inner ear lessens.
Over a lifetime, jing decreases and evaporates. It is said that women lose their jing through the menstrual cycle and through childbirth; men through ejaculating too much. Conservation and proper use of jing is essential to maintaining a long and healthy life. For women particularly, this means maintaining bone and brain health and gracefully surfing through hormonal changes. Daoist meditation and movement practices are ideal for this.
At their root, Daoist practices are concerned with health and longevity. Although there are many different schools and approaches, most see the body as an energetic network of palaces connected by transportation systems (channels and meridians) that can be strengthened through Qigong, meditation, and alchemical work.
Men and women traditionally practiced differently because their bodies were different—expressing the internal landscape according to their obviously different gravitational fields, purposes, cavities, and of course, reproductive organs.
Daoists also saw the female body as a unique vehicle for spiritual understanding and alchemical transformation. Some even thought that women had more possibility of attaining immortality, the first step to return to the Dao. This belief caused enlightened women to be seen not as ordinary humans, but as supernatural beings, holders of shamanic powers and healing abilities as well as aspects of celestial power who could reveal the secrets of Dao to lucky mortals.
Several publications in recent years go into this in detail – Women in Daoism by Catherine Despeux & Livia Kohn and Divine Traces of the Daoist Sisterhood by Suzanne E. Cahill, both published by Three Pines Press and of course, Thomas Cleary's translation of original poetry, The Immortal Sisters, Secret Teachings of Taoist Women.
So women are associated with Yin, sex, life and death, the process of aging, connection to nature (Dao), witchcraft, and all things associated. Nothing new about that!
What is new is that more and more women are taking to heart the deepest meaning of Yin/Yang balance and looking to Daoism to help them manage their lives as well as care for the earth. Women all over the world are waking up to this beautiful philosophy in action that sees harmony between Yin and Yang as the basis for a good life and gives you tools and practices that work.
As a student and practitioner for almost 40 years, I have had many wonderful male teachers who I honor and respect. But as a woman, I have experienced differences in my understanding of certain practices based on the fact of my biology. My experience of my body is not the same as a man. I have a different hormonal balance, bone density, pelvic width, muscle strength, etc. To state the obvious: I will never directly experience ejaculation and men will never experience menstruating, giving birth, or lactating.
We take our name to honor and identify with the women spiritual adepts in Thomas Cleary's book, The Immortal Sisters—Secret Teachings of Taoist Women that presents the life stories of distinguished female Daoist practitioners who lived from the 3rd-12th c. These women represent a unique female heritage of spiritual mastery as well as humanitarianism. Our conference intends to inspire today's women to see themselves as carriers of this potent spiritual lineage.
There is now a critical mass of women practicing Qigong, T'ai Chi, and Daoist meditation. Support and strengthen this Yin force in our overly Yang world.
Published in Qi Journal, Spring 2017