Fieldwork is a series of conversations and interviews with various Inner Fields community members and collaborators, exploring their contemplative practices, their personal experiences, and their insights on how to live well. Each month will feature someone new.
Next month: Sensory Minimalism with architectural designer, Sarah Hedden.
The Eternal Way. Philosophies of Trickery, Simplicity and Equilibrium.
Taganyahu Swao is the father of two boys who has been working with inner city youth in the New York City public school system since 2005. As a martial artist he practices Qi Gong, Tai Qi and Capoeira, and after graduating with a Masters of Acupuncture in 2015, is now a practicing bodyworker. Tagan currently teaches Qi Gong every Monday at 9am at Minka Wellness Center, and every Tuesday at 9am at the Brooklyn Zen Center. He is a regular collaborator at Inner Fields, offering Taoist Meditation and the very popular Qi Gong & Breakfast sessions.
Qi (pronounced ‘chi’) is often described as a vital 'life-force' or 'energy'. How would you describe Qi? And how do we experience it?
Qi is our energy and our energy is felt before we say a word, before we are seen. So Qi is our presence. It is a subtle yet active form of ourselves. Yet it is elusive because it is constantly shifting. We immediately become more aware of it once we direct our attention towards it.
There are different types of Qi within us. Some Qi flows right on the surface - this is called our Wei Qi. Then there's Qi that we've inherited from our parents which runs very deep - this is our Yuan Qi. And [there are types of] Qi which are associated with the different organs in the body.
Everyone feels Qi differently and its manifestation is unique to our own experiences of life. We can feel one another's Qi and our Qi can be affected by another person's. We experience it as a feeling, sometimes an aversion and sometimes as a sensation. These sensations can manifest in ways that can even bring us back to pre-natal memories.
How does Qi Gong affect our Qi?
Qi Gong heightens our awareness of our Qi and empowers us with the ability to direct and manipulate it. It enables us to affect how we receive the world and what we put out to the world. [Particularly] our Wei Qi, because the Wei Qi runs on the surface of our skin and is our first barrier between our external and internal world. Qi Gong highly benefits the immune system [and] how we interact with others. There are specific postures that can ward off energetic and psychic attacks. It benefits our daily interactions and influences how people receive us and how we receive others.
Qi Gong is an internal martial art and one of its main purposes is for us to create internal awareness, benefit the organs and provide a vehicle to reach epic proportions within ourselves. It is truly limitless because Qi or energy has no limits. We always have access to it. Especially when it’s done on the daily.
How has studying and practicing Qi Gong, Tai Qi, Taoism and acupuncture affected your life and what do you hope to share through them?
Being able to empower people with the ability to heal themselves is something I've always wanted to do. Always a rebel and against the corporations, I see acupuncture and Qi Gong as having the ability to empower people with their own healing.
Studying Tai Qi made me more aware of my movement. Qi Gong made me more aware of my energy. Studying Qi Gong is what brought me to acupuncture. Acupuncture gives people a tactile sensation of their Qi. To make ourselves feel better and manage our [own] pain is what I believe we all need. I also think spaces for healing are great opportunities to build community. Acupuncture & Qi Gong are my path and have given me a new direction in my life. I feel very blessed to be a vehicle for these arts to reach my community.
You practice both Capoeira and Qi Gong which from the outside seem pretty different. Can you describe what each of these practices bring to your life?
Capoeira and Qi Gong have different roots however they both develop my awareness. Capoeira has developed my awareness of myself with others. It manifests in how I carry myself; talk, walk and how and what I choose to express to the world. Trickery, the art of maliciousness and flexibility have all [been] cultivated in me [through] Capoeira. It is believed that these traits need to be developed in order to navigate ourselves in this world. I feel that I've always been a very open person and that I needed a certain amount of balance in this regard.
Qi Gong teaches you how to be soft. To let go, to receive, and to develop insight of the world within. This impacts how I relate to others profoundly. Both arts are very necessary tools for me in this world and I have definitely [noticed] Qi Gong's influence on my Capoeira.
Cultivating trickery and maliciousness seem in direct opposition to the internal work of Qi Gong. What you mean by these terms? Can these martial arts work together?
Capoeira is a positive and uplifting form of an art. However it isn't only a martial art. It is a dance, theatre and many other things. From its development in Brasil, Capoeira's application has always been about trickery. Some say it was "disguised" to be just a dance [when] really it was a powerful martial art. Just like when it was in the slave quarters it has to show its elusiveness and mask itself. Without "malicia" or maliciousness, Capoeira would only look like ballet with two people doing cartwheels and handstands.
I don't see cultivating ‘trickery’ and ‘maliciousness’ as counteractive to a Qi gong practice. We constantly have to show ourselves to the world as being capable of surviving and playing the game of life. I think the ability to both maintain a spiritual practice and uphold one's self in the capitalist society we live in is [what that] ‘trickery’ is in regards to. Showing yourself as an upstanding citizen while what's really holding you up is your internal practices. So I believe that Qi Gong has influenced my Capoeira practice because it helps give me an equilibrium to walk in the world. Whether I'm doing Capoeira or going to work, the pause before I respond is always being cultivated and is always present.
Taoism is the underlying philosophy of Qi Gong. Taoist meditation can connect us to our internal physical and energetic body through visualization and mindfulness. What are the benefits of this subtle awareness?
Directing our gaze inward isn't an easy thing and Taoist meditation opens this up as a possibility. Connecting to our organs and how they function on an emotional level is a great tool to be able to transform and shift our emotions when we find ourselves feeling stuck. This meditation is a Qi Gong practice. Qi Gong isn’t only about movement and static postures, it involves seated meditation as well. Inner awareness is the focus of all Qi Gong. The limitation of our eyes only being able to see the outside of ourselves makes our search for happiness an external one.
What are some of the things which inspire you about Taoist philosophy?
What greatly inspires me about Taoism is how it explains life. The simplicity of it makes a lot of sense to me [and] there’s an attitude in Taoism [which] I identify with. According to the Tao, everything just is. And everything is how it should be. Living with ‘The Way’, with the source of all things, is how I want to live.