Daoyin is an ancient Chinese body-mind exercise originally aimed at health care as well as physical and spiritual purification. The ascetics of past time believed it could be used to obtain the “eternal youth” (changsheng bulao). The first historical reference about it appears in Zhuangzi, a Taoist text written between the 4th and 2nd century BC:
Breathing in and out, exhaling and inhaling, they get rid of the old to absorb the new. They swing like bears and stretch like birds – all this they do in order to have long life. They are Daoyin disciples, people who nourish their form seeking for longevity like Pengzu.
Many different interpretations were given to the word “daoyin” during the ages. The following two are the most reliable:
daoqi yinti – guide the qi and stretch the body
daoqi yinliao – guide the qi to obtain a healing effect
Both interpretations describe important aspects of the exercise and are not contradictory to each other. The first describes briefly the technique while the second refers to one goal of the exercise; actually with daoyin we guide the qi and move our body in order to obtain a beneficial effect to our health.
China has an ancient and deep tradition of body-mind care. According to historical documents already during the feudal age (770-221 BC) the so-called “life-nourishing ways” (yangsheng zhi dao) gained great importance. They were methods aimed at enhancing a long, healthy and good life, by means of dietetic regime, herbal preparations, gymnastic exercises and spiritual cultivation (such as study, poetry, meditation, etc.).
Many famous thinkers of this time argued heatedly on these issues, proposing their own “ways” and discussing those of their colleagues. Among the various “life-nourishing ways”, the physical exercise was almost universally regarded as necessary and very effective. As “physical exercise” we have to think here something much deeper and articulated than what we mean today. It was an exercise involving body and mind in a great potentially unlimited effort of self-purification. The ascetics of that time practiced and taught these techniques in order to reach long life and immortality.
The concept of “qi” (ch’i – according to Wade-Giles transcription) has no equivalent in today’s western culture. In the oldest Chinese sources it is seen as the vital element that generates and unifies all the universe. It is often translated as “energy”, “vital energy ” or “breath”, “vital breath”.
According to ancient Chinese physical concepts, the qi pervades and animates all creatures. The whole universe is alive, starting from Heaven and Earth, the parents of all beings. The human being lives, as do all of the other creatures, between Heaven and Earth, and is their evident fruit. Its head is round like the vault of Heaven, its feet are flat like the Earth’s surface. The head points to the sky, and the feet hold him up resting on the earth. Among all creatures man is regarded as the most perfect because he bears the symbols of Heaven and Earth, he combines the natures of Heaven and Earth.
Man lives thanks to his inner qi (yuanqi – original vital energy) that he gets from his parents and loses with the death. Zhuangzi describes this concept so:
Man comes into the world by a qi condensing. It is this qi that, when it condenses, gives birth to the life and this same qi that, when it dissipates, brings death.
(Liou Kia-hway. Zhuangzi, Adelphi, 1982)
The human qi gets nourishment and circulates thanks to breathing, eating and physical and mental activity. Through the breathing we absorb the pure qi of the air (qingqi) and expel the dirty qi (zhuoqi). From the food we eat we absorb the nourishing qi of several natural elements.
Beside these “nourishments” coming from outside, the man can help himself in keeping his qi healthy by suitable physical activity that can allow him to avoid blocks and stagnations. Actually the qi is not stationary within the body but it circulates steadily, like the blood and the lymph. If there are blocks, stagnations or if it doesn’t circulates in a proper way, we have a pathological situation.
The main meanings of the world qi in Chinese life nourishing and gymnastic techniques are the following:
2. human vital energy
3. universe vital energy
These meanings are often not separated, on the contrary, most of the time they are present together.
The world “gong” means “ability, work”; “qigong” (ch’i-kung according to Wade-Giles phonetic transcription) is the “work on qi“, as well as the ability resulting from this work.
The Chinese also ascribe to qi many uncommon phenomena like Prana therapy, invulnerability to blades, glasses, fire, electric current, or the ability to break bricks, bend iron bars, etc. All of these faculties, and many others, are listed by the Chinese under “qi abilities” rather than qigong.
The oldest traces of the word qigong go back to Tang dynasty (618-905) Taoist books, such as Taiqing tiaoqi jing (Supreme Purity qi regulation Classic), describe breathing, visualization, or meditation techniques, aimed at purifying oneself in an attempt to reach immortality.
In the martial arts qigong – or better said neigong (“inner work”) – is used to strengthen the vital energy and, widely the body and the mind. All Chinese traditional martial art schools (wushu) have specific neigong exercises. Some of them, so-called “inner schools” (neijia), have melted together such exercises with the martial technique, originating an integrated whole. The most famous inner schools are Taijiquan, Baguazhang e Xinyiquan.
With reference to health promoting techniques, the term “qigong” seems to appear not earlier than 1910 and only at the end of the 1950’s it started to be used on large scale. Today it has a much bigger diffusion than the more correct world daoyin, especially outside China.
Daoyin works on three different but always combined levels.
1. body level yundong daoyin (motor guiding)
guiding the body to the required positions and movements
2. breath level huxi daoyin (breath guiding)
controlling and guiding the respiration according to the required ways and rhythms
3. mind level yinian daoyin (mind guiding)
controlling and guiding the body to the required positions and movements and the respiration according to the required ways and rhythms, by mental focusing. At the same time, focusing the mind also on certain specific points and coordinating all these operations in one single integrated and complete action.
The roots of this triple action are to be found in the so-called 3 regulations (santiao), axe-principle of every traditional daoyin exercise. The “3 regulations” are:
– regulate the body (tiaoshen)
– regulate the breath (tiaoxi)
– regulate the mind (tiaoxin)
According to classical Chinese physiology, body and mind are a whole that cannot be divided. The mind lives thanks to the body and vice versa, both depend on each other. Ruling and cultivating properly the body cannot be done without using the mind, neither could it be possible to rule the mind and obtain the best concentration without a correct use of the body and the respiration. The respiration cannot be controlled without using the correct positions and a proper mind focusing. All the deepest oriental body disciplines acknowledge these principles.
Daoyin yangshenggong (Daoyin life nourishing exercises) is the result of a long and deep research on ancient daoyin techniques carried out by professor Zhang Guangde of Beijing Physical Education University.
Its soft, fluent and harmonious movements are aimed at improving energy circulation within the whole body, to loosen the joints, tone up and oxygenate the muscles and to relax the nervous system.
Several clinical tests made in China and examinations done by medical specialists and researchers from all over the world, have proved Daoyin yangshenggong to be effective in improving the health, preventing and healing many acute and chronic diseases without showing any side effect.
Daoyin doesn’t restrict itself to the health aspect. Thanks to its deep and meticulous work on concentration, respiration and movements, daoyin is also a wonderful method for self-cultivation and inner growth. With daoyin we can establish a close connection between body and mind and restore the inner harmony that so often gets damaged in our stressful daily life.
Zhang Guangde was born in 1932 in Tangshan, Hebei province, the town where in 1955 the first Qigong Clinic was established. Coming from a medical family background, in 1955 Zhang Guangde was enrolled in the Wushu Dept. of the Beijing Institute of Physical Education, where he graduated in 1959 becoming first teacher and then Senior Professor.
In the 70’s he devoted himself to daoyin research, ending with the development of the Daoyin yangshenggong system that today is practised by more than 4 million people spread in all the five continents.
Today Zhang Guangde is Professor and Researcher of Beijing University of Physical Education Wushu Dept, Honorary General Director of “Zhang Guangde’s Daoyin Yangshenggong Centre” , Permanent Member and Vice-Secretary of the Chinese Wushu Research Association.
Untiring in his devotion to daoyin cause, he decided to travel the world in order to introduce daoyin benefits to the greatest number of people. He has been invited to hold classes and seminars in Universities in France, at Oldenburg University (Germany), at Tokyo University and at the Japan Sport University.
Daoyin yangshenggong is based on the so-called “Five Natures” (wuxing) and “Three Hearts” (sanxin).
The “Five Natures” are:
1. systematic nature xitongxing
2. scientific nature kexuexing
3. effectiveness shixiaoxing
4. artistic expression yishuxing
5. great spread guangfan shiyingxing
The “Three Hearts ” are:
1. pure heart zhenxin
2. enthusiastic heart rexin
3. patient heart naixin
The “Five Natures” refer to the criteria that lead to the construction of the exercises.
Daoyin yangshenggong is a complete system of training, it isn’t restricted to a single exercise pattern or to a single aim. The construction of every exercise has been carried out in a “systematic” way, considering several aspects. As far as possible nothing has been neglected in building-up the daoyin routines.
It has a “scientific nature” because the creator, by composing the single routines, did not just passively transmit the old tradition but also had a great concern for researching and testing the scientific principles of the exercises.
“Effectiveness” because the exercises formulated by professor Zhang were based upon objective principles that proved to be effective also according to modern scientific knowledge.
“Artistic expression” because the different forms have not only a pragmatic aim but play a significant role as well as an aesthetic and artistic model in spiritual and physical expression.
“Great spread” means that the creator strove to reach a possible compromise between technical, pedagogical and diffusion needs, composing exercises that are not boring, repetitive and complicated but relatively simple, varied, elegant, beautiful, and appropriate in length and intensity.
The “Three Hearts ” refer to the mind attitude of Daoyin devotees.
“Pure Heart” means that the practitioner should have a pure and unpolluted approach towards the discipline and the training; he has to get rid of any conditioning, worry, suspect or doubt. This is the best condition to learn. A pure heart and a sincere mind allow for a better life with ourselves and with others, as well the opportunity to absorb quickly the teaching.
“Enthusiastic Heart” means enthusiasm towards study, practice and learning. Enthusiasm is a wonderful motor for learning, it enriches our life and our person making it more active and dynamic, and it helps us to overcome the difficult moments too.
“Patient Heart” is an essential requirement to learn any discipline and even more to learn a demanding art like Daoyin. “Patience” means to be patient with ourselves and with others. Daoyin characteristics force us to cultivate patience, a very necessary and often mistreated virtue in today society.
Daoyin yangshenggong system provides sitting and standing, static and dynamic symmetric exercises, with various degrees of difficulty, to be performed also with specific musical excerpts in order to help concentration and relaxation.
The exercises are aimed towards special goals and have distinctive features, but every single exercise is at the same time quite complete in itself and enough for personal training.