I recently took a class in Tai Chi, which focused a lot on an unseen force flowing in the universe and through the body they call "Chi," which can be focused for health and self-defense. Is this concept consistent with Judaism? Is there any analogous concept in Judaism?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
This concept is not inconsistent with mainstream Jewish ideology, as long as one believes that this force, like all forces in the universe, is created and controlled by God. I personally have been practicing Tai Chi for a couple years, and have experienced the sensation of the energy you describe.
My personal theory is that the word "Chi" is derived from the Hebrew word "Chai" which means life, or life force. This is not surprising, as there is a thesis that all languages are derived from Hebrew, which is the language God used to create the universe. Furthermore, the Torah says that Abraham, at the end of his life, had many children who to whom he gave gifts, then sent them away from his home, as only Isaac would be the father of the Jewish people. The Torah says he sent them eastward, to the land of the East (Genesis 25:6). The "gifts" Abraham endowed them, were certain spiritual secrets of the universe (see Rashi, ad loc).
This is the early source of many of the concepts which later formed the Eastern philosophies and religions. It is therefore not surprising to me that much of Eastern meditation, medicine and thought, revolves around the concept of Chi, based upon Chai.
The Kabbalists explain how the main parts of the body coincide with the different spheres, or "sefiros," each one representing a different expression of spiritual energy emanating from God. This is based upon the concept that every person is a microcosm of the universe, created in the image of God, Who endowed us with the power to affect the entire universe with our actions. The "Chi" referred to in self-defense and healing is not meant to be a spiritual energy, rather a physical energy flowing through the body. It is probably the external manifestation of this spiritual energy flowing through us, giving us great spiritual power.
The concepts of Yin and Yang, sinking back and receiving/ pushing outward and returning, I believe are rooted in one of the deepest Kabbalistic concepts. There is a core concept of our relationship with God called "ratzoh veshov," which translates loosely as desire to get close to God, and at the same time retreat from that closeness. In marriage, which mirrors our relationship with God, each spouse is to give and simultaneously receive. This also connects to the two opposites of loving-kindness (chesed), and strictness (din), which also work hand in hand, despite their apparent dichotomy.
I don't mean to say that one fulfills practicing Judaism by practicing Tai Chi, but I see no contradiction. This is, provided, that no bowing or worshipping to, or worshipping any forces, images, or the room, etc. takes place, which would come under the prohibition of idol worship, completely prohibited by Judaism.