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Chinese Healing Exercises

Chinese Healing Exercises: The Tradition of Daoyin

Livia Kohn
Copyright Date: 2008
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  • Book Info
    Chinese Healing Exercises
    Book Description:

    Daoyin, the traditional Chinese practice of guiding the qi and stretching the body is the forerunner of Qigong, the modern form of exercise that has swept through China and is making increasing inroads in the West. Like other Asian body practices, Daoyin focuses on the body as the main vehicle of attainment; sees health and spiritual transformation as one continuum leading to perfection or self-realization; and works intensely and consciously with the breath and with the conscious guiding of internal energies. This book explores the different forms of Daoyin in historical sequence, beginning with the early medical manuscripts of the Han dynasty, then moving into its religious adaptation in Highest Clarity Daoism. After examining the medieval Daoyin Scripture and ways of integrating the practice into Tang Daoist immortality, the work outlines late imperial forms and describes the transformation of the practice in the modern world. Presenting a rich crop of specific exercises together with historical context and comparative insights, Chinese Healing Exercises is valuable for both specialists and general readers. It provides historical depth and opens concrete details of an important but as yet little-known health practice.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6185-8
    Subjects: Public Health, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    Human beings are by nature embodied creatures. The very foundation of our life is the concrete, material reality into which we are born and which we shape. As the basis of our existence, the body is a source of great pleasure and overwhelming pain, a giver of deep satisfaction and utter misery, the root of potential perfection and dismal failure.

    The Chinese have realized this fact and, over several millennia, have made the body the foundation of the great human endeavor of perfection: the perfection of health and well-being, the perfection of long life in youthful vigor, and the perfection...

  6. Chapter One Early Medical Manuscripts
    (pp. 29-61)

    The earliest systematic and detailed information on Chinese healing exercises comes from ancient medical manuscripts that were excavated over the last twenty years and date for the most part from the early Han dynasty (late second century B.C.E.). The manuscripts include both technical medical texts and materials on longevity techniques. Medical texts deal mainly with the structure of the channels and the healing of diseases with herbal and magical recipes. Works on longevity techniques discuss ways of preventing disease and attaining long life throughqi-cultivation. They present breathing techniques, dietary recommendations, sexual practices, and healing exercises as well as advice...

  7. Chapter Two Officials, Hermits, and Ecstatics
    (pp. 62-97)

    Moderation and elementary healing are also at the core of the next sources on healing exercises, from the fourth century C.E., written by literati aristocrats of southern China. Engaged in different social contexts and cultural pursuits, they include imperial officials striving to attain a more balanced and longer life, hermits withdrawing to the mountains to find longevity and prepare the concoction of an alchemical elixir, and Highest Clarity Daoists pursuing contact with the gods and ascension to the heavens of the immortals.

    All three had in common that they had the means and the leisure to be concerned with their...

  8. Chapter Three The Exercise Classic
    (pp. 98-127)

    The first such systematization of healing exercises and routines appears in theDaoyin jing,the only text in the Daoist canon that deals exclusively with physical practices. Its full title isTaiqing daoyin yangsheng jing(Great Clarity Scripture on Healing Exercises and Nourishing Life,DZ818; see Despeux 1989). Like theJin’gui luascribed to Master Jingli or Jinghei of the fourth century (see Loon 1984, 130), the text is recouped in two shorter versions in the Daoist canon, one contained in the eleventh-century encyclopediaYunji qiqian雲笈七籤 (Seven Tablets in a Cloudy Satchel,DZ1032; ch. 34) and another...

  9. Chapter Four Pathways to Immortality
    (pp. 128-161)

    Bringing the integrative trend visible in theDaoyin jingto full fruition, Daoists and medical masters of the Tang dynasty (618–907) created a highly complex and intricate system whereby to attain immortality that made use of physical practices on various levels. Their work closely reflects the dominant cultural trends of the time.

    In general, the Tang dynasty marks a high point in the development of Chinese culture. Reunited under a Chinese ruling house after centuries of division and multiple local kingdoms, the country expanded militarily, earned wide respect, and came to exert a great cultural influence on neighboring cultures....

  10. Chapter Five Modern Precursors
    (pp. 162-197)

    A complete new chapter of developments in Chinese healing exercises, and one that would lead directly to their modern adaptation into qigong, commenced with the Song dynasty (960–1260). The religious and social environment of this time was very different from that of the Tang, whose political, religious, and cultural structures had been eroded and destroyed over a two-hundred-year period of military fighting and overall decline. With the empire reunited in the mid-tenth century and old aristocratic structures gone for good, a great new upswing began, economically, socially, and culturally. The imperial government built better roads and created a whole...

  11. Chapter Six Daoyin Today
    (pp. 198-232)

    The most obvious place to look for traditional Chinese healing exercises today is modern Chinese qigong 氣功, a Communist adaptation of ancient practices for public health that developed into a mass movement, supported the quest for supernatural powers, and eventually grew into religious cults—because of which it has been suppressed since 1999. Usually renderedQi-Exercises but literally meaning the “effort” or “merit” ofqi,the system includes both martial and restful practices, ranging from boxing through gentle exercise, breathing, and mental guiding ofqi(as in traditional Daoyin) to visualizations, meditative absorptions, devotional activities, and trance states. Dominantly focused...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 233-236)

    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 ofqi,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...

  13. Original Sources
    (pp. 237-244)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-260)
  15. Index
    (pp. 261-268)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 269-270)