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Year : 2018  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 14-17

An exploration of the original meaning and connotation of daoyin from “movement” and “essential Qi”

Science Research Department, Shanghai Qigong Institute, Shanghai, China

Date of Web Publication3-Jul-2018

Correspondence Address:
prof. Xiaodong Shen
Shanghai Qigong Institute, Shanghai
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_8_18

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Now, daoyin has developed into a complete set of conventional movement patterns, such as Baduanjin, Yijinjing, and Wuqinxi. However, the original meaning and the connotation of daoyin is ignored by people gradually, which will hinder the development of daoyin and make the specific application difficult. In this article, we will explore the basic composition of the daoyin – “movement” and its intrinsic basis – “essential qi” to think about the original meaning and connotation of daoyin.

Keywords: Daoyin, essential qi, history, movement, original meaning and connotation

How to cite this article:
Shen X, Ding J, Xu F, Li X. An exploration of the original meaning and connotation of daoyin from “movement” and “essential Qi”. Chin Med Cult 2018;1:14-7

How to cite this URL:
Shen X, Ding J, Xu F, Li X. An exploration of the original meaning and connotation of daoyin from “movement” and “essential Qi”. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2018 [cited 2021 Apr 13];1:14-7. Available from: https://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2018/1/1/14/235853

  Introduction Top

As a traditional method to preserve health and treat diseases, daoyin () relies on the regulation and practice of the human body, heart, and breath to keep bones and tendons healthy and maintain free movement of qi and blood. Daoyin has been applied in health preservation and treatment for a long time with abundant contents. Until now, daoyin is still widely used in clinical sections. Daoyin emphasizes both internal and external training and focuses on the content which includes movement, breath, and mind. Among them, movement is the most common type of daoyin. The currently popular Baduanjin (), Yijinjing ( ), and Wuqinxi ( ) have the conventional movement mode, but they just make people accustomed to the external form rather than focusing on the original meaning and inherent basis of daoyin, which makes it difficult to develop and to be applied. This article intends to explore the basic composition of daoyin – “movement” and its intrinsic basis – “essential qi” to lead people to figure out the original meaning and connotation of daoyin.

  “movement” is the External Manifestation of Life Vitality Top

Su Wen ( Plain Questions) said, “People in ancient times all could live for one hundred years without any signs of senility. But people nowadays begin to become old at the age of fifty. Is it due to the changes of environment or the violation of the way to preserve health?” “Movement” can be used to measure a person's physical health and the degree of aging. “Movement” is the external manifestation of life. “Continuing movement” is an indication of health and longevity.

In classical Chinese, “movement” is a synonym-compound. “Movement” is the result of the physiological activity in the natural life and the embodiment of the natural cycle of life. Natural life moves constantly in the state of peace and tranquility so as to show their own course of life.

  Essential Qi is the Connotation of “movement” Top

Ancient people and people nowadays differ in longevity and the state of action. Yellow Emperor thought the possible reason for this might be the changes of environment or the violation of the way to preserve health. Obviously, the past and the present represent two different times. What are people nowadays going to lose?

Qi Bo said, “The sages in ancient times who knew the Dao (, the tenets for cultivating health) followed the rules of yin and yang and adjusted Shushu (, the ways to cultivate health). They were moderate in eating and drinking and regular in working and resting, avoiding any over strain. That is why they could maintain a desirable harmony between the Shen (mind or spirit) and the body and enjoy good health and a long life.” People in ancient times followed the principle of yin and yang to preserve health and exerted Shushu to regulate body, mind, diet, working, and resting. Therefore, they could keep healthy and increase longevity.

Qi Bo also said, “People nowadays, on the contrary, just behave oppositely. They drink wine as thin rice gruel, regard wrong as right, and seek sexual pleasure after drinking. As a result, their essential qi is exhausted and genuine qi is wasted. They seldom take measures to keep an exuberance of essential qi and do not know how to regulate the Shen (mind or spirit), and even often give themselves to sensual pleasure. Being irregular in daily life, they begin to become old even at the age of fifty.” People nowadays are accustomed to over drinking, long-term work coupled with sexual pleasure after drinking, and lack of regular rest. This results in the exhaustion of genuine qi. Ignorance of guarding internal qi and pursuit of external pleasure violate the principle of health preservation and will result in premature aging.
Figure 1: On Antique Innate Purity

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Figure 2: Daoyin Figure

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Figure 3: Xing Qi Yu Pei Ming

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The biggest difference between “ancient people” and “people nowadays” lies in the fact that the former attaches great importance to preserving essential qi, while the latter continues to exhaust essential qi. Essential qi is the core of health preservation. Accumulating essential qi will result in physical fitness, while consuming essential qi will lead to earlier death. Essential qi consists of innate essence and acquired essence. Innate essence comes from fertilized eggs made up of blood and essence from parents before the birth. Acquired essence refers to the nutrition and energy we get from the food after the birth. Essential qi is stored in five zang organs and six fu organs to play a variety of physiological functions. Innate essence is mainly kept in the kidney to govern people's growth and development. Essential qi nourishes the body through meridians.

People's physiological functions, such as looking, hearing, speaking, and moving, are essentially the result of the movement of essential qi. Sufficient essential qi is the foundation of good sight and hearing as well as flexible tendons and strong bones. On the contrary, lack of essential qi may result in poor sight and hearing as well as weak tendons and bones. It also makes people vulnerable to diseases. Kidney qi is the important source of movement. Su Wen mentioned, “The kidney is the organ similar to an official with great power and is responsible for skills.” Essential qi stored in the kidney is an important guarantee for continuing movement. Su Wen recorded the following dialog. Huangdi asked, “Some very old people still can bear children. What is the reason?” Qi Bo answered, “This is due to the fact that their life-span exceeds that of the others, their qi and blood are always smooth in circulation and their kidney qi is in excess.” Clearly, kidney essence is significant for longevity and reproduction. In addition, smooth movement of blood and essential qi serve an important guarantee for health and longevity.

  Daoyin – a Way of Health Preservation and Treatment Through “movement” Top

Francois Voltaire, a French philosopher, once said that life lies in movement. In terms of traditional Chinese medicine and health preservation, Yun () and Dong () are two Chinese characters with different meanings, though they both mean “movement” in English. Yun refers to the internal flow of qi, while Dong means the external activity of human bodies. As a traditional health-care movement, daoyin aims to promote internal qi movement and transformation through the external action of human bodies. Daoyin is a self-training of the body and mind with diversified forms and convenient methods. Ge Hong () in the Jin Dynasty said in Bao Pu Zi ( The Master of Preserving Simplicity), “Daoyin has no fixed forms. Lying, strolling, singing, breathing all can be the practice of daoyin.”

With a long history, daoyin originates from the ancient times which are mentioned in Su Wen. In ancient times, people always suffered from qi stagnation and bone diseases because of floods and bad weather gathering yin qi. Therefore, they invented a kind of “dance” to guide qi movement to keep sinews and bones strong. This “dance” that has the effect of curing illnesses is the source of daoyin.

Daoyin was first recorded in Zhuang Zi (). It contains respiratory regulation, limb stretching, and other content with the effect of keeping a good body shape and increasing longevity. In Huang Di Nei Jing ( Yellow Emperor's Internal Classic), daoyin is listed as one of the five general therapies. Su Wen recorded, “The east is the place where all the things in nature start to grow. The east is near the sea and is rich in fish and salt. People there prefer fish and salty taste. They live in satisfaction and enjoy rich food. But excessive fish food tends to accumulate heat in the body and excessive salty flavor is likely to impair blood. That is why people there have black skin and loose muscular interstices. They frequently suffer from carbuncle and ulcer that can be cured by stone-needle. In fact, the stone-needle was developed in the east. The west, rich in metal, sand and stones, is the place marked by astringency in nature. People there live by hillsides where wind always blows. The water and soil in the west are hard in nature. People living in the west just wear rough clothes instead of silk and sleep on straw mat. They eat fresh and rich foods, so they are heavy and strong. That is why evil cannot attack their body. Their illness is usually endogenous and can be treated by drugs, so drugs were developed in the west. The north is a place of closure and storage in nature. It is topographically high and very cold. People there live outside and drink milk of goat and cow, so they tend to suffer from abdominal flatulence and fullness due to invasion of cold into the viscera. Such an illness can be treated by moxibustion. So moxibustion was developed in the north. The south, the place suitable for the growth of everything in nature, is exuberant in Yang qi and geographically low. The water and soil there are soft in nature. The south is often foggy and dewy. People living in the south prefer sour flavor and fermented food. That is why their skin is compact and reddish. They tend to suffer from cramp of the sinews and vessels and numbness which can be cured by acupuncture with small needles, so the therapeutic methods of the nine needles were developed in the south. The central region, plain and humid, is the place rich in a variety of products. People living in the central region eat various kinds of food and do not need to do much work, so they tend to suffer from flaccidity, cold limbs and Cold-Heat Syndrome which can be treated by anqiao (). So daoyin and anqiao were developed in the central region.”

Daoyin was a very popular way to keep healthy in the upper middle class in ancient China because of its safety and convenience. Some words inscribed on one precious cultural relic called Xing Qi Yu Pei Ming () have recorded the whole process of daoyin. This cultural relic is a hollow dodecahedron with three inscriptions on each side. According to some speculations, it may be the head of a powerful man's cane. At the very beginning of the stick, this inscription reminds you that daoyin is an important part of your life.

During the Wei, Jin, and Southern and Northern Dynasties, daoyin was also prevalent among literati. According to SanGuo Zhi ( History of the Three Kingdoms), Cao Cao () and his sons all recruited experts at daoyin like Gan Shi (INSIDE:18]) and Huang Fulong () to teach the public how to practice daoyin. Wang Xizhi (), the famous calligrapher in the Jin Dynasty, used Huang Ting Jing () to exchange a group of geese. Wang Xizhi created E Zhang Xi ( ) on the basis of the movement of goose feet in the water. Ge Hong, a doctor and an expert at Daoist theories, believed that daoyin can prevent diseases and smooth qi circulation.

In the Sui and Tang dynasties, daoyin was an integral part of the official medical system. A massage section was set up in the official medical department to use daoyin and anqiao to treat diseases. In the Sui dynasty, a doctor called Chao Yuanfang () recorded 213 methods of daoyin to treat 110 symptoms in Zhu Bing Yuan Hou Lun ( Treatise on the Pathogenesis and Manifestations of All Diseases). Sun Simiao (), the well-known doctor in the Tang Dynasty, also advocated daoyin. He held that daoyin can promote free flow of blood and accumulate essence.

Obviously, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) experts from different dynasties all appreciate daoyin. Tao Hongjing (), a renewed doctor in the Southern and Northern Dynasties, created a classic practice of daoyin called “Six Words.” These words have different functions. Pronouncing Chui () is for removing hotness; Hu () for dispelling wind; Xi ( ) for alleviating worries; He () for smooth downward qi movement; Xu () for dissipating coldness; and Xi () for resolving extremes. Li Shizhen), an outstanding physician in the Ming Dynasty, also actively recommended the practice of daoyin.

  Daoyin Movements and the Generation, Transformation, and Spreading of Essential Qi Top

Essential qi is the basic component of life and the source of life vitality. Five zang organs are responsible for storing essential qi. Essential qi stored in five zang organs should be sufficient and its circulation in meridians should be free and smooth. Human body movement is an external manifestation of internal movement of essential qi. People can also regulate their own physiological activities in response to external body movements and breathing and thinking activities. On the one hand, daoyin helps to promote qi and blood circulation and eliminate stagnation to prevent diseases. On the other hand, it can also facilitate the generation and transformation of essential qi, nourish five zang organs, and increase longevity.

Daoyin contributes to the generation and transformation of essential qi

After birth, the essential qi stored in the kidney includes innate essence and acquired essence from water and food. Innate essence in the kidney comes from parents which is easy to be consumed and hard to nourish. Innate essence plays a decisive role in people's life span. Life will be shortened if innate essence is consumed too much because of staying up, sexual overindulgence, and irregular resting. On the contrary, if we pay much attention to preserving the innate essence, we will keep healthy for a long time.

Daoyin, a kind of ancient Shuhu (), is capable of regulating and transforming the innate essence. In terms of improving physical fitness, daoyin is more effective than any other sports.

It can also help the spleen and stomach generate and transform essential qi. The spleen governs limbs and muscles whose movements in turn facilitate the function of the spleen and stomach. When Hua Tuo (), a famous doctor in the Three Kingdoms' period, created the Wu Qin Xi, he proposed, “Moving is helpful to digest food essence, promote the free flow of blood and then diseases are prevented.” Food and water need to be digested and further transformed into essential qi in human bodies to play a nourishing role. Otherwise, the abnormal accumulation of water and food in the body will lead to obesity and metabolic abnormality. Yang Quan (), a philosopher in the Han Dynasty, said in Wu Li Zhi (), “When food essence is reduced, the possibility of getting ill will decline.”

“Walking after meal” is a typical practice of daoyin for invigorating the spleen and kidney. Sun Simiao from the Tang Dynasty lived for 141 years. He said that walking slowly after a meal is a great way to keep healthy.

Daoyin contributes to the distribution of essential qi

Lv Shi Chun Qiu ( The Spring and Autumn Annals of Lu Buwei) is the first book to put forward that body movements can preserve health. TCM believes that the body is the carrier of essential qi and essential qi is the driving force of life. Daoyin regulates essential qi through bodily movements so as to obtain the harmony between the body and essential qi. By doing so, we can achieve the true longevity.

  Conclusion Top

To sum up, the original meaning and connotation of daoyin are to regulate internal essential qi through bodily movements including breathing and thinking so as to promote the distribution and transformation of essential qi and maintain physical fitness. Since daoyin is one of the five traditional therapies, it is necessary to widely study it and practice it so as to further understand and promote this effective TCM therapy. This is an integral part of the strategy to spread TCM.

Translator: Rui Wang ()

Financial support and sponsorship

This is a budget Project of Shanghai Municipal Education Commission (2016YSN77).

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3]


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