Home Articles Daoist Yoga the gentle art of opening the body
Daoist Yoga the gentle art of opening the body
Written by Rose   
Monday, 26 April 2010 14:06

?? The Practice of the Internal Arts is the study of the science of Yin & Yang. Students are often told to achieve a distinction between those Yang attributes of focus and concentration and the Yin characteristics of relaxation and openness. Opening however is not always an easily achieved quality and with the stresses of Western Society our bodies tend to recoil, tense and close up from the constant bombardment of stimulation we receive.


? It is important to our practice of the Chinese Internal Arts, like Taiji, Qigong and other martial arts, to have a tool with which we may loosen the joints, sinews, and muscles of the body, to allow for the free flow of energy and the quick and free extension necessary for application.


?? Daoist Yoga emerged from early times in China and is allied with the “Daoyin”, or “energy induction exercises”. They were first specifically mentioned in the Chang Tzu in the 4th century BC, when it was said in part “stretching like a bird is only for longevity”. However it is obvious that the practice predates even this mention and was part of the cultural heritage of the ancients. Verse 76 of the Lao Tzu illustrates this legacy when it was written:

???? “A man is born gentle and weak, at his death he is hard and stiff. Green plants are tender and filled with sap, at their death they are withered and dry. The stiff and unbending is the disciple of death,?gentleness and yielding is the way of life.”


? During its long and complex evolution, the system developed many off-shoots and branches, and some of these may still be witnessed in our traditional Internal practice, for example the Kai Men training, which means opening the energy gates or joints of the body. However the root of Daoist Yoga remains, in its most basic form, as simple sets of single seated or standing stretches. One might recognise these stretches in modern western exercise programs, like the Pilates system, the Alexander Technique, or even performed by runners before the London Marathon.?


? In fact the Chinese have no direct translation for the word Yoga, which arises from the Hindu Sanskrit word for union. And it is easy to see how divergent systems of body opening exercises might become confused in western minds with similar terms. The focus then of all Daoist Yoga, or stretching exercise, is to open and relax the body, specifically the joints of the spine, the hips, and shoulders, as well as the sinews of the arms and legs; feet and hands.???????


? Daoists, whose philosophy is based in part on the observations of animals, believed that in order to be in harmony with the environment, the body must be balanced and free from tension. The tigers paw will fall loosely and with sensitivity when stalking prey, yet suddenly explode with power when closing for the kill.?This could not occur if the tiger’s paw was as stiff and unyielding as many of our hands have become. Sensitivity and tension are diametrically opposed and are a hindrance to our art.


? Moreover, as an Internal martial artist or Taiji or practitioner, it is fundamental to our research to develop this sensitivity inwardly, to develop the ability to look deep inside ourselves in order to direct our energy correctly for our structure. Without subtracting anything from the valuable body of subcontinental, or Buddhist yoga, it is important at this point to reveal some of the fundamental differences between the two.


? Indian & Tibetan styles of Yoga have been codified since the 2nd century BC when the Yoga Sutra first appeared. This style of stretching exercise seeks the liberation of limitations of the flesh, delusions of the senses, and pitfalls of thought, as some of its ultimate goals.?This style sees physical & mental training not for its practical application but rather as a means to spiritual ends.


? The Asanas (postures) and methods of Panayama (breath control) guide the practitioner towards Pratyahara (a higher consciousness in a Buddhist sense). Yogis assume postures that afford the most stability and least effort so that they may focus intensely on a single thought, and breath is used to enhance this meditation so that they might transcend or withdraw from the body. (Samadhi)


? Daoist Yoga on the other hand is concerned with using the intention or Yi more proactively, to guide the spirit and energy to specific areas of the body to affect change for different purposes. These purposes may be as diverse as relaxation, healing, structural manipulation, or cleansing. Rather than use the postures as a method of meditation, to rise to a higher plane of consciousness, Daoist Yoga is concerned with developing the body itself, to become more open and balanced, so that the individual may be in greater harmony regardless of circumstance.


? As a tool within the practice of the Internal Arts some form of Daoist Yoga is necessary, at some point in a practitioner’s career, to reach the higher levels. Rigidity and tension must be dispelled from the body, so that joints and sinews work together in a flowing and even manner.


? We often hear the Chinese Taiji masters saying "power adheres to the Spine” but in order for that power to come, proper alignment is a prerequisite. An aid to correct alignment of our posture is the spinal opening stretches of Daoist yoga.


? We often hear our teachers imploring us to "sit on the chair" or drop the weight evenly and in a relaxed way through the hips, but unless we can actually feel the hips open and sit into them the allusion often escapes us.

? The Daoist yoga stretches for the hips, inguinal folds and sacro-iliac joints, sensitise this area and help guide us to our destination. Further by opening these areas through specific stretching exercise our internal range of motion is greater, our root can sink deeper, and our energy circulates quicker.
Flexibility and suppleness help us to become more responsive, sensitive, and aware not just of our bodies but those of our training partners or adversaries. Moreover it can increase our speed of reaction whether following, sticking, or adhering. This flexibility gives us the opportunity to hide deeper inside, to disappear or suddenly appear, as is mentioned in the Taiji classics of how the master should move when confronted with an adversary.

? The health benefits of the system are many.

? Stretching open an area allows free circulation of the humours and energy. Osteo-arthritis is often characterised by the lack of blood supply to the bone. This sometimes comes about because of a lifetime of tension beginning in the muscle, which then affects the sinew and finally the bone itself. These tensions choke off the supply of life-giving circulation and cause the body to tighten and wither.

? The exercises also use the breath to exhale deep tension from the body that often times we don't even know we are carrying. We all know that we seem to sink or fall when we sigh and this is a natural way to release tension. Daoist Yoga uses this natural mechanism during the set to exhale not just toxins but the poison of tension from our being.

? Toxins are often accumulated in the body and are stored in fat cells and the inter-fascial layers. Daoist Yoga, by stretching these tissues often flushes these toxins out into the blood, urine, or breath and it is important to take in fresh air and healthy water to accommodate this while stretching.

? Some of the more important principals of the art are:

??The sacrum remains plumb erect at all times.
??The spine stretches open to the crown point on the top of the head, where the fontanelles are at all times.
??Practitioners seek to develop awareness of distinction between the skin, muscle, fascia, tendon, ligament, and bone.
??Breath is used to guide the practitioner to the site of tension and then as a vehicle to expel the tension from the body.
??Joints are worked to relax the sinews and tissues so that energy may move more quickly and evenly through, without blockage, to enhance speed of discharge or release of power, rather than for mere flexibility sake.
??The practitioner seeks to identify, through sensation, the movement of energy prior to and following a stretch in order to enhance its effect.
??The practitioner works towards fundamental changes in the structure of the body to affect change in the spirit or Shen.

? While the practice of Daoist Yoga may not immediately alter us into great and powerful fighters, super martial artists or fantastically flexible and healthy beings, it will relax and open the body and allow for the development of better rooting skills and increase our ease, range and speed of movement.
Moreover, for those practising Taiji and other martial arts, it will also open and sensitise the joints and act as a guidepost to direct us into proper martial stances or static postures.

? Daoist Yoga, as with many of the Daoist arts, has a long, convoluted, and esoteric tradition and must be practised with proper purpose and guidance. However with perseverance, the system will balance and harmonise the body, allow free circulation of energy, and perhaps repair conditions, which interfere with the not only our practice of the Chinese health arts, but with our daily lives in general.


For more information about these exercises, Taiji, Chinese philosophy and Chinese culture in general, please contact Rose Oliver, Double Dragon Alliance.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 28 April 2010 19:21 )

Rose Oliver M.B.E.



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