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.
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The author gives a historical overview of Daoyin texts, starting from the original manuscripts written during the early Han dynasty in which several routine exercises are illustrated in great detail.
After this, Daoyin expand beyond healing practices into a more spiritual and magical dimension. This meant that they became standardised and thus are considered the precursors of modern day Qigong. In later dynasties, particularly the Yuan and Ming, healing exercises spread widely among common people, and even women.
During the late Ming and early Qing, Daoyin exercises became part of martial arts, such as Shaolin gongfu, practised by the famous Shaolin monks, and the emerging Taiji quan. In her historical overview, Kohn shows how Daoyin developed from healing exercises thought mainly to prevent disease, nourish and extend life, into formal religious Daoist practices intended to achieve higher goals, such as attaining magical or supernatural powers and even immortality.
In other words, Daoyin gradually integrated medical and magical powers, and combined healing techniques with Daoist spiritual achievement. Kohn also com- pares Daoyin to yoga and points out the similarity of several routines, suggesting that they might originate from similar roots.
This modern version includes movement sequences that are not traceable in the tradi- tional texts. The author concludes that Qigong, in its full form, no longer survives in its original country, but only in the West because of the restrictions in the religious dimension of healing exercises imposed by a controlling and authoritarian Communist regime.
From a historical perspective, I would like to have found out more about the reasons why the Daoyin texts did not emerge until the Tang dynasty and whether or not they were re-written to suit the political and social imperial ideology of the time.
Overall, however, I found this book very informative and engaging and, without hesitation, I would recommend it to students, teachers and to a wider audience interested in healing practices and the history of traditional Chinese medicine.
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Chinese Healing Exercises: The Tradition of Daoyin