In 1980 Winn was one of Mantak Chia’s first western students in Chinatown, New York. He played a key role in founding The Healing Tao in 1982 and directly wrote or heavily edited many of Mantak Chia’s books on nei gong and qigong as General Editor of Healing Tao Books. His titles included Awaken Healing Energy Through the Tao, the first book in English on the microcosmic orbit; Taoist Secrets of Love: Cultivating Male Sexual Energy; Healing Love: Cultivating Female Sexual Energy; Iron Shirt Chi Kung; Bone Marrow Nei Kung; Fusion of the Five Elements: Meditations for Transforming Negative Emotion; and Awaken Healing Light of the Tao., an advanced study of the microcosmic orbit. Winn also edited a newsletter for Healing Tao instructors entitled From the Mouth of the Immortal Child.
The noted qigong master T.K. Shih lived in Winn’s New York city apartment for two years in the early 80’s: “I taught him English, and T.K. taught me how to move like a cat” is how Winn described their relationship. Winn studied with many other Taoist teachers, and edited B.K. Frantzis’ Opening the Energy Gates of the Body. He studied qigong and ba gua with Frantzis, and the northern wu style tai chi as taught by David Dolbear, a Wu style gold medalist and lineage holder. “I waited ten years before choosing a long form. David got a transmission in Beijing that teaches tai chi as a form of alchemy, emphasizing the changes between jing, qi, and shen.” He went on to study in Beijing with David teacher, Master Liu Jiang Chang.
Winn sees his life “as an alchemical journey flowing between outer adventures and inner adventures, a process of cultivating “my worldly life” and “my inner essence”.
Winn’s father was a heart surgeon who helped Dr. Debakey pioneer open heart surgery. Michael was the 3rd of seven children. He travelled to 30 countries before the age of 17 and ran 40 whitewater rafting expeditions as a guide down the Grand Canyon. In high school he competed against 100,000 teams and won the California State Debate championship. He graduated with top honors from Dartmouth College as a Senior Fellow with a degree in Russian/comparative literature. After a successful meteoric three year career in New York book publishing, he got fired “for being too creative”.
He became a free lance war correspondent and adventure travel photographer that took him on 30 trips to another 50 countries in Africa, the mideast , and Asia. His writings and photos appeared in the New York Times, Time, Smithsonian, Outside, Village Voice, Harpers, Connoiseur, People, Adventure Travel, National Jewish Monthly, and many others. National Geographic financed his rafting expedition in North Yemen.
Included in his wanderlust period was a four month journey across China tracing Marco Polo’s footsteps. Winn, who is not Jewish, ran an underground railroad smuggling white American Jews into Ethiopia and black Jews out of Ethiopia into Israel. In New York’s Soho district, Winn opened Abyssinia, the first Ethiopian restaurant in America, and operated it successfully as a side business for 20 years.
While in Africa, Winn accidentally self-induced his first kundalini awakening, which led him to begin studying and teaching kundalini (hindu tantric) yoga. In Ethiopia, a visitation in broad daylight by a Taoist immortal inspired him to pursue Taoist alchemy. “In college I studied comparative literature”, Winn says, “and in real life I found myself training in and comparing the esoteric alchemical methods from different cultures.”
He studied kriya yoga with Swami Hariharananda, successor in India to Paramhamsa Yogananda, and kept a close friendship with this yogi renowned for mastering the breathless state of nirvikalpa samadhi. He died recently at age 97. Winn edited his The Bhagavad Gita in the Light of Kriya Yoga. Winn notes that kriya yoga, the essence of all yogas, has many parallels to Taoist alchemy but “it’s finally a pure fire path. The Taoist preference is to mix the fire and water, which is more accepting of the body.”
Winn also studied Dzogchen and tantric Buddhist teachings from the Dalai Lama and other rinpoches. “Tibetan and Hindu Tantra is philosophically very similar to yin-yang theory, but in practice uses more mantra, mudra, and deity worship. Dzogchen is the closest brother to the Tao with its emphasis on cutting through quickly to the clear or original light. But I like the refining process in Taoist alchemy, the many practical connections they developed with Original Chi (yuan qi). Taoist alchemy is a shortcut, it focuses on direct relationship with the life force. When you combine alchemy with qigong, the effect is a super-charged Energy Body.”
Winn also studied the Celtic approach to earth based spirituality with R.J. Stewart. “All the mystery schools are great”, Winn commented. “The ancient Celts used a mirror approach to Taoist alchemy, they first connect to the outer five elements/directions and then work their way inside the body. This is the opposite of the Eastern way. I love all the ancient meditation systems, but finally you’ve got to focus your practice on one approach. Ultimately, I find Taoist alchemy to be the simplest, the most practical (body-centered) and the most complete.”
He reached this conclusion after 25 years of studying and testing many different systems of qigong (chi kung), with dozens of teachers in the USA and China, both famous and unknown. He uses the Tao Formulas for Immortality offered by the Taoist Hermit One Cloud (Mantak Chia’s teacher) as the superstructure for holding the immense knowledge and skill he has acquired. (More Info).
His quest for deeper knowledge of the Tao has taken him to visit the sacred mountains of China fifteen times, where he has cultivated many friendships with Taoist adepts. He was the first to offer trips to China for western Taoists that included staying in caves on Huashan (Flower Mountain) used by Tao adepts for millennia. His China Dream Trips have become famous and will be the subject of a forthcoming book by two Taoist scholars who studied his attempts to bridge ancient Chinese and modern Western Taoist cultures. (More info)
“The Chinese have a genius for boiling down everything to its core essence”, Winn notes. ” I have done the same with everything I’ve learned from all my teachers – I just keep cooking it down, refining it to its essence, and clarifying its practical application. It’s just my small part in the great collective process of the Tao. Somebody will take my refinements and improve on them. That is the experimental, evolving nature of Tao spiritual science. In fact, I hope they do it soon – I’d like to enjoy those improvements myself!”
Winn, who lives in a log home in the mountains outside of Asheville, North Carolina, maintains a private practice in qigong therapy and Taoist sexology. Winn is currently finishing a book on the energy science of how people can shape the life force to manifest what they truly need. The book is inspired by contact with a spiritual being who claims to have ascended with his body – at the age of 2,300 years old – into the “Stellar Mind”, i.e. a full celestial heaven immortal.
He is also working on a book on Taoist internal alchemy, but claims he is “in no rush to finish it. I don’t want to put out books based on half-baked insights to make a quick buck. I’m happy to write just one high level, fully-baked book. A book based on genuine experience and that can actually be useful to others. It takes a few decades to really road-test inner alchemy and its potential interactions with qigong.” His next book scheduled for publication is titled: Tai Chi – A Path of Self-Love: Sacred Movement as Inner Alchemy.
In 2008 Joyce Gayheart, Michael’s wife, passed into Flower Heaven. It was an amazing alchemical experience of the Taoist process of shijie, or “liberation from the corpse”. Instead of re-incarnating, she infused her heart-essence drop into Michael’s heart, creating an androgynous (male-female balanced) soul and totally changing Michael’s destiny. The story of this process can be found at HealingTaoUSA.com/JoyceGayheart
Every summer Winn organizes what has become the largest Tao energy healing, qigong and neigong (meditation) program in America, at Heavenly Mountain, in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. It offers about 30 low cost, week long retreats on all aspects of Taoist meditation, qigong, oriental body work, Taoist dream practice, feng shui, sexology, Taoist astrology, qi healing, tai chi, tao yin (Taoist yoga), ba gua zhang, weight loss and medical qigong and more. He teaches a number of courses in the core Taoist internal alchemy & qigong curriculum.
More info on Summer Retreats and Michael Winn’s Teaching Schedule in Asheville & Internationally.