Traditionally and historically speaking, Daoyin practices are stretching exercises, and static postures, usually combined with breath-work. Many Daoyin practices involve very specific breathing (huxi 呼吸) patterns. The earliest forms of Daoyin were developed during the Early Han dynasty (206 BCE-8 CE), in the context of health and longevity as well as therapeutic movements. Daoyin practice was also referred to as Yangsheng 養生 in ancient times, which literally means “nourishing life.”
Some of the earliest sources on Daoyin include the Daoyin tu 導引圖 (Exercise Chart) and Yinshu 引書 (Stretching Book).
Dating to around 168 BCE, the Daoyin tu was discovered in the burial materials of Mawangdui 馬王堆 (near Changsha; Hunan). It consists of forty-four color illustrations of human figures performing therapeutic Yogic Postures, with accompanying captions. The exercises involve standing in specific postures that aim to cure corresponding illnesses.
Modern Taoist Yoga comes from the tradition of Tao Yin (Dao Yin), of Han Dynasty China, whose earliest transcripts date back to about 180 BC. The Tao or way, as it is often translated, is the underlying component of reality. It is the infinite rhythm of our cosmos that every aspect of our life adheres to. It is the vibration of the electrons in atoms, the rotation of the earth and its revolution around the sun, the changing of the seasons and the rhythmic breath and heartbeat that keeps us alive and animated. The Tao comprises two opposite but interdependent aspects called Yin and yang. Yang is the sun, the fervent, aggressive, powerful aspect of the universe. Yin is the shade, the nurturing, maternal and gentle aspect of the universe. The underlying governing agent of Tao is Qi or the Underlying Vital Energy of all Life and the Universe. The idea of Qi, which is inherently Chinese, is similar to the Yogic term Prana which is from India. It is nice to see how two very different cultures can share an idea that is so pivotal to each of their traditional spiritual practices and ways of understanding reality.
Tao Yin is the cultivation and understanding of Tao through soft, gentle, healing and nourishing exercises. The early Taoists developed many practices geared toward keeping themselves healthy and prolonging their life so they could spend more time practicing, studying and meditating to understand the deepest aspects of Tao.
The postures and exercises of Taoist Yoga are unique and generally have no relation to Hatha Yoga. In regards to the similarity of Hatha Yoga and Taoist Yoga we may look to the fundamental teaching of the 'Three Regulations' in traditional Taoist Yoga Doctrine. These are the 'Regulation of Posture', 'Regulation of Breath', and 'Regulation of Heart/Mind'. It can be viewed that Hatha Yoga also shares the practice of these Three Regulations, and herein lie their similarity.
Taoist Yoga has at its core a unique and special process of Breath Training:
The Taoist Yoga Breath Training will generally go through Three Stages of Development that are termed:
1. Natural Breathing - After Heaven Quality - 2. Reversed Breathing - Before Heaven Quality - 3. Fetal Breathing - Before, Before Heaven Quality -
Each Taoist Yoga stage of breathing can have generally 9 methods that are put into application and training such as: inhale from nose/exhale from nose, inhale from nose, exhale from mouth, inhale from mouth/exhale from mouth, breathing through energetic points, breathing through energetic channels, subtle refined breathing, and so on...
Both Hatha Yoga and Taoist Yoga have different exercises, philosophies and breathing techniques, but the underlying foundation practice is very similar in regards to the shared practice of 'The Three Regulations.
One unique quality of Taoist Yoga is the stress we find on developing and nurturing the Vital Energy. The benefit of this training and nurturing of the Vital Energy results in a long history of practitioners gaining amazing self healing, self rejuvenation of the body, and longevity.
The way for a person to realize his or her own personal truth must be taught in an individual way. Focus must be placed on teaching how a person can come to understand truth and beauty through pure and simple means. There is no harm in leading all people to the secrets that have been unfairly protected through dogma over the past centuries. The nature of the Tao is to change, move and be spontaneous. Therefore no one teaching can hold the secrets to the Tao. It will be different for each person at different times in his or her life.
Guiding principles and methods of practice
What does it mean to understand the Tao? An understanding of the Tao is not a cognitive concept that one can hope to write down or give a dissertation on. It is pure and simply a state of being or awareness. Most of us have experienced those times when everything in our immediate life seems to flow effortlessly. In that time our mind is not clouded or preoccupied, our body moves smoothly and without pain, our emotions are true and we feel at home in our body. The point of our practice is to nourish this aspect of our being so we can access it at any point.
We know we are in touch with the Tao when we are comfortable with everything that is happening presently in our life. This often occurs even in the midst of chaos and turmoil. It is an ultimate acceptance of the truth of life where it doesn’t matter whether we live or die in the next moment, so long as the present moment is sweet and authentic. We become both aware of and accepting of any injuries, diseases or perceived imperfections that exist within us. We are able to exhale any negative emotion surrounding our pain whether physical or mental so we can focus on what it is we truly want to do, say or be in this moment. It is possible through a regular practice to create this within our being. A few principles and exercises can help us along. It is important to note that although instruction through reading is a great way to learn about things, there is no substitute for a competent and compassionate teacher to help us along. It is important to explore what options are available to you either in your community or a place you would like to visit and study at.
Taoist Yoga is a general term used by some practitioners of Taoism to categorize a multitude of traditional postured based exercises that are practised to maintain health and well being. The name Yoga is used to make an analogy so, that people can paint an image of what the practice of Taoist Yoga might be like.
||This article includes a list of references, related reading or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations. (August 2013)|
- The Heart of Yoga by Desikachar
- Daoist Body Cultivation by Livia Kohn
- Exercises Illustrated: Ancient Way to Keep Fit by Zong Wu ISBN 0-679-41789-3
- The Do-in Way: Gentle Exercises to Liberate the Body,mind, And Spirit by Michio Kushi ISBN 0-7570-0268-4
- Chinese Healing Arts: Internal Kung-Fu by William R. Berk ISBN 0-86568-083-3
- The Complete System of Self-Healing: Internal Exercises by Dr. Stephen T. Chang ISBN 0-942196-06-6
- Taoist Yoga: Alchemy & Immortality by Charles Luk (Lu K'uan Yu) ISBN 0-87728-067-3
- The secrets of Chinese Meditation - Charles Luk (Lu K'uan Yu) ISBN 0-87728-066-5
- The Taoist Art of K'ai Men (formerly Taoist Yoga) by Chee Soo ISBN 0-9545244-1-1