Ripening  Peaches


The Body in Taoism

Daoist Studies and Practices


Research by
Michael P. Garofalo
Red Bluff, California

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Daoist Views of the Body



"Daoism is fundamentally a religion that has to do with the whole of one's body.  To be sure beliefs and attitudes are important, but they are only one aspect of our embodied being.  The operations of the mind and the spirit are understood in Daoism as organic functions of the energy systems of our bodies.  Daoists are thus concerned with what they do with their bodies just as much as what they believe in minds for feel in their hearts.
    Daoism is unusual in that it makes our entire human physiology from brains to livers, a central theme of its spirituality.  The body in fact is the pre-eminent space in which Daoism operates.  The body is the object of many Daoist practices and also the means by which Daoists engage in spiritual life and cultivate their nature.
    The Daoists took the view that human nature is to be understood as the vitality that flows throughout the body and that could be cultivated in a variety of ways from simple physical exercise, to subtle forms of meditation, to elaborate communal rituals.  Thus it is not surprising that Daoism developed in close concert with Chinese medicine: both are based on similar understandings of the body.  In order to understand Daoist practices it is essential, therefore, to have good understanding of the way in which Daoists understand the functioning of the human body."
-  James Miller, Daoism: A Short Introduction, pp. 53-54 



"For optimal health, we need body and spirit, exercise (ming) and meditation, awareness of the inner world and the outer.  In other words, health requires balance and moderation.  The goal of qigong may be summarized as xing ming shuang xiu, "spirit and body equally refined and cultivated."  Cultivate your whole being, as you would cultivate a garden - with attention, care, and even love."
-  Ken Cohen, Essential Qigong, 2005, p. 2



"The focus of most religious Taoism is attaining immortality. This can have various 
meanings: eternal life, longevity of life, or attainment of superhuman physical abilities. 
Taoists have sought longevity by a variety of methods, such as:

* Focusing attention on the body through diet, exercises, and mindfulness
* Regulating the breath (ch'i), circulating its power deliberately to all parts of the body
* Harnessing sexual energy, especially by retaining semen and sending its power 
throughout the body
* Exploring alchemy with the goal of finding the elixir of immortality
* Behaving in a moral way that is in harmony with the Tao
* Searching for the Isles of the Blessed, where the Immortals dwell and may be 
persuaded to share their secrets of immortality."
Taoist Beliefs  



"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).  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; and 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."



"In Spring, breathe xu for clear eyes and so wood can aid you liver.
In summer, reach for he, so that heart and fire can be at peace. 
In fall, breathe si to stabilize and gather metal, keeping the lungs moist.
For the kidneys, next, breathe chui and see you inner water calm.
the Triple Heater needs your xi to expel all heat and troubles. 
In all four seasons take long breaths, so spleen can process food. 
And, of course, avoid exhaling noisily, not letting even your ears hear it.
The practice is most excellent and will help preserve your divine elixir."
-  Master Sun Simiao (581-682 CE) 
   From Xiuzhen shishu (Ten Books on Cultivating Perfection), Song Dynasty
   Translated by Livia Kohn, "Chinese Healing Exercises," p. 135 




Chinese Healing Exercises: The Tradition of Daoyin.  By Livia Kohn.  University of Hawaii Press, 2008.  268 pages.  ISBN: 0824832698.  History of Daoist health practices. 

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Daoism and Chinese Culture.  By Livia Kohn.  Magdalena, NM, Three Pines Press, 2001.  Index, chronology, notes, 228 pages. ISBN: 1931483000.  "Livia Kohn is a world-renowned scholar of Daoism and professor of Religion and East Asian Studies at Boston University."  VSCL.    

Daoism Handbook.  Edited by Livia Kohn.  2 Volumes, 914 pages.  Brill Academic Publishers, 2005.  ISBN: 0391042378.  30 scholars contributed articles to this excellent Daoist anthology. 

Daoist Body Cultivation: Traditional Models and Contemporary Practices.  Edited by Livia Kohn.  University of Hawaii Press, 2006.  243 pages.  ISBN: 1931483051.  VSCL.   

Daoist Body Cultivation: Traditional Models and Contemporary Practices.  Edited by Livia Kohn.  University of Hawaii Press, 2006.  243 pages.  ISBN: 1931483051.  VSCL.   

Daoist Studies and Practices: Ripening Peaches  

Dragon Qigong

Eight Section Brocade Qigong 

Five Animal Frolics Qigong 

Five Elements Qigong

Magic Pearl Qigong

Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body: Chi Gung for Lifelong Health (Tao of Energy Enhancement).  By Bruce Kumar Frantzis. 
Illustrated by Husky Grafx.  North Atlantic Books, 1993.  Second Edition.  174 pages.  ISBN: 1556431643.  VSCL.     

Qigong Empowerment: A Guide to Medical, Taoist, Buddhist, and Wushu Energy Cultivation.   By Liang, Shou-Yu and Wu, Wen-Ching.  Edited by Denise Breiter-Wu.  Rhode Island, Way of the Dragon Publishing, 1997.  Index, glossary, 348 pages.  ISBN: 1889659029.  VSCL. 

Qigong Teachings of a Taoist Immortal: The Eight Essential Exercises of Master Li Ching-Yun.  By Stuart Alve Olson.  Heavenly Arts Press.  192 pages.  ISBN:  0892819456.  Excerpts  VSCL. 

Secrets of the Dragon Gate: Ancient Taoist Practices for Health, Wealth, and the Art of Sexual Yoga.  By Dr. Steven Liu and Jonathan Blank.  New York, Jeremy P. Tarcher, Penguin, 2011.  214 pages.  ISBN: 9781585428434.  VSCL. 

Tao of Abundance: Eight Ancient Principles for Abundant Living.  By Laurence G. Boldt.  New York, Penguin Compass, c 1999.  Exercises, notes, 353 pages.  ISBN: 0140196064.  VSCL. 

The Tao of Health, Sex and Longevity: A Modern Practical Guide to the Ancient Way.  By Daniel P. Reid.   New York, a Fireside Book, Simon and Schuster, 1989.  Index, 405 pages.  ISBN: 067164811X.   VSCL.      

The Taoist Body.  By Kristofer Schipper.  Translated by Karen C. Duval.  Foreword by Norman Girardot.  Berkeley, California, University of California Press, 1993.  Originally published in French in 1982 as Le Corps Taoiste.  Notes, bibliography, index, xx, 273 pages.  ISBN: 0520082249.  VSCL. 

Taoist Classics.  The Collected Translations of Thomas Cleary.  Boston, Shambhala Press.  Four Volumes:  Volume One, 296 pages, 2003.   Volume Two, 640 pages, 1999.   Volume Three, 304 pages, 2001.   Volume Four, 464 pages, 2003.  

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The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing.  By Kenneth S. Cohen.  Foreword by Larry Dossey.  New York Ballantine Books, 1997.  Index, notes, appendices, 427 pages.  ISBN: 0345421094.  One of my favorite books: comprehensive, informative, practical, and scientific.  VSCL. 

The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine.  By Ted J. Kaptchuk, O.M.D..  Chicago, McGraw Hill Contemporary Books, 2nd Edition, 2000.  Index, bibliography, appendices, notes, 500 pages.  Foreword by Margaret Caudill, M.D., and by Andrew Weil, M.D.  ISBN: 0809228408.  An excellent introduction to traditional Chinese medicine and modern research on the topic.  VSCL. 





























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First posted on the Internet on February 1, 2010

Last modified or updated on January 20, 2012 



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