What is the Tao?

Tao is a Chinese word signifying ‘way’, or ‘path’, and sometimes more loosely ‘doctrine’ or ‘principle. It is depicted by a circle divided evenly into two identical shaped halves, Yin and Yang. These halves are interlocked in perfect balance representing the central concept of the ‘Tao” philosophy. It is the absolute principle underlying the universe, combining within itself the principles of yin and yang and signifying the way, or code of behaviour, that is in harmony with the natural order. The ‘Tao” symbol’ represents the sphere of the universe, the sphere of infinity, where there is constant movement whilst maintaining the balance and harmony of opposites. Yang represents all the active forces of nature, and Yin all the passive ones.

Together they express the dualism of the universe: male and female; positive and negative; light and dark; sun and moon; strength and weakness; hard and soft; construction and destruction; heat and cold etc.

The ideal state of balance or tranquility comes from experiencing body and mind being synchronized. Balance in body and mind leads to health and happiness.

The mind can influence the body—and our overall state of well-being—in very profound ways.

And the body can influence the mind also. Breath work provides a link between the mind-body connection that allows for us to directly influence our state of mind.

“The Tao” can be roughly thought of as the flow of the Universe, or as some essence or pattern behind the natural world that keeps the Universe balanced and ordered. It is related to the idea of Qi (or Chi), the essential energy of action and existence. The Tao is more commonly expressed in the relationship between Wu (void or emptiness) and yin-yang (the natural dynamic balance between opposites), leading to its central principle of Wu-wei (non-action, or action without force).

The Tao is usually described in terms of elements of nature, and in particular as similar to water. Like water it is undifferentiated, endlessly self-replenishing, soft and quiet but immensely powerful, and impassively generous. Much of Taoist philosophy centres on the cyclical continuity of the natural world, and its contrast to the linear, goal-oriented actions of human beings.