If one sees one person practicing qigong and another doing Daoyin, the likelihood is that one practitioner will work more from a standing position than the other, but there really is very little obvious difference in practice and execution. The lines are likely to blur even further. As qigong, after its excursions into extraordinary powers and religious cults, comes back to being mainly a healing modality and as it is increasingly integrated into modern institutions that have warm and carpeted facilities, more traditional forms are recovered while new patterns evolve that work specifically with the ailments of intense, high-tech societies—lower-back pain, tension headaches, mental stress, and the like. This is already the case in China, where TCM doctors and longevity followers are going back to ancient Daoyin texts and creating forms connected to manuscript charts. It is increasingly the case in the West, where Daoist and other masters present their unique version of exercises, often combining qi-awareness with yoga, and where all kinds of specialized practices are emerging: for liver ailments, for eye trouble, for weight loss, and many more. All these forms, then, are gradually making their way into the medical establishment, offering the public new healing modalities and contributing to the active continuation of the age-old tradition of Chinese healing exercises.
derness. It has remained an active part of Chinese culture ever since.1 Similarly, Han accounts of immortals record their moving into the mountains and learning to survive, acquiring lighter bodies and various magical powers in the process. Along the same lines, the spiritual use of exercises is apparent in the Zhou-dynasty Chuci, whose shamanic songs speak about movements to entice the gods to descend or to induce a trance in the seeker. Just as these early forms of Daoyin are not fully documented until the fourth century c.e., so there are only small hints of a possible Indian influence on the tradition from around this period, when there was for the first time a greater presence of Buddhists from Central Asia who may well have brought physical practices along with meditation techniques, precepts, and new doctrines. In the late middle ages and the Tang dynasty, the Daoyin tradition underwent further expansion and increased systematization. Not only did the first fully dedicated “Daoyin scripture” appear in the late Six Dynasties, but the two leading Daoist and medical masters of the Tang, Sun Simiao and Sima Chengzhen, created integrated paths of the different longevity and immortality methods, placing healing exercises both at the foundation of physical health and at the higher levels of activating the energy body. The continuum of healing, long life, and immortality, always key in all longevity and Daoist practices, for the first time is fully formulated, theoretically underscored, and outlined in distinct and streamlined practices. In the later dynasties, Song through Qing, practitioners continued the different dimensions of the tradition, creating new forms of practices for healing, integrating Daoyin into the practice of inner alchemy and connecting it with self-defense in the newly arising martial art of taiji quan. Many of the forms then developed are still practiced today and play an important role in modern health and longevity teachings. The modern age, finally, has seen the spread of Chinese healing exercises into the politically stimulated mass movement of qigong and from there into new forms of energy healing in the West. Numerous new practices, sequences, and forms appeared, and—interestingly enough—the tradition in China once more went through all its major dimensions: healing in the first few decades, then magical powers, and finally religious spirituality and sectarianism. In the West Daoyin has remained mainly in the realm of healing, with some Daoist masters advocating it as a foundation for subtler alchemical transmutations. Increasingly understood in scientific terms and linked with the emerging fields of energy medicine and energy psychology, Chinese healing exercises are here to stay. Transmitting the legacy of an ancient culture, representing
Over six chapters and many pages we have now pursued the history and unfolding of Chinese healing exercises or Daoyin. The tradition is long and varied, ranging from the earliest traces in the late Zhou dynasty to the modern West. Its first documentation shows the centrality of slow, gentle movements in conjunction with deep, intentional breathing and the conscious guiding of qi, thus activating the body’s energetic substructure while moving its limbs and joints. Next, the various detailed outlines found in Han-dynasty manuscripts make it clear that healing exercises formed part of the medical tradition, serving rehabilitation, prevention, and the overall enhancement of health, and were mainly practiced by the aristocratic elite, who had the necessary leisure and resources. Our next cluster of written documents dates from the fourth century when, because of political pressure, many northerners emigrated to the south, displacing southern officials and local leaders. The exercise tradition then evolved into three distinct forms: medical, magical, and spiritual. While medical Daoyin continued, serving to maintain and enhance health, magical Daoyin focused on overcoming physical needs such as hunger, attaining supernatural powers, performing exorcism, and protecting the practitioner from demonic forces. It was predominantly used by seekers in the alchemical tradition who had to venture deep into the wilderness, where dangerous beasts and specters abounded, where edible food was scarce, and where getting lost was a constant threat. Spiritual Daoyin, finally, was the domain of the newly emerging Daoist school of Highest Clarity, whose adepts combined healing exercises with ritual procedures, devotional obeisances, the chanting of incantations, and the activation of potent talismans. The goal, although always connected to health and long life, shifted accordingly to the attainment of high mystical states and the eventual transfer into the otherworldly administration. It should be made clear at this point that although we have clear documentation of these three dimensions of the Daoyin tradition only from the fourth century, it is more than likely that exercises were used for both the attainment of supernatural powers and spiritual transcendence before then. In fact, the recorded Chinese hermit tradition goes back to the end of the Shang dynasty, when Boyi and Shuqi refused to submit to the new Zhou rulers and took off for the wil 233
As practitioners of Yin Yoga hold one or the other of the prescribed poses, their main task is to remain calm and in a state of simple being, relaxing into the present and letting go of all urgency and tension. This aspect of the practice closely reflects a key characteristic of the internal martial arts: fangsong 放送, the letting go of all extraneous zeal as one applies only the amount of effort necessary. Practitioners in this state feel relaxed but are alert and active (Cohen 1997, 98), thus allowing the qi to move through areas that were otherwise blocked by tension (Bidlack 2006, 183). Yin Yoga thus has many connections with and overlaps the worldview and practice of traditional Chinese healing exercises. Overall, Daoyin today is present in a variety of forms and venues and continues to evolve as a healing modality and foundational practice for spiritual attainment, in both China and the West. In terms of healing, after the decline of the qigong movement in mainland China, doctors and longevity practitioners are turning to the exploration of historical forms other than the four basic patterns still officially allowed. Sometimes engaging quite a bit of creativity, they are developing new patterns that serve overall wellness or the healing of specific ailments and engaging in systematic presentations and clinical studies. Along the same lines, Western qigong masters bring the practice into heath organizations and cooperate with medical institutions on scientific research. At the same time, the Japanese diet master Michio Kushi uses the techniques to enhance the overall effect of macrobiotic eating, mixing it freely with Indian chakra meditation and yoga poses. Practitioners of yoga, finally, are picking up the body geography of traditional China and, in some cases learning from masters trained in Chinese practices, developing new forms of a more meditative and energy-oriented practice. In terms of spirituality, Daoyin is present in Chinese Daoist temples and mediums continue to receive new methods—inheriting a tradition of divine connection as old as the Highest Clarity revelations. Masters of inner alchemy (such as Ni Huaching and Mantak Chia) of Chinese origin but active also in the West, moreover, work with Daoyin to prepare students for the subtler energetic transformations required in their systems. Daoist associations offer workshops in healing exercises, following the traditional pattern and placing healing at the basis of long life and the ultimate effort of transcendence.
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A Personalized Practice for Health & Longevity
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