Tao yin Exercises
By Dondrub Wangchuk
Picture this you are sitting beside a mountain stream, it's a beautiful fall day, there is a slight chill in the air. A heavy sweater or a light coat would suffice. As you sit beside the stream you start to notice some things about the stream. The first thing you notice is that the stream is moving, it is not still, the water is flowing down a gentle incline. It is fresh and alive with movement. You also notice the fresh sent of the water. There is no smell like fresh, oxygenated water and the taste if you so choose to partake is cold, fresh, energizing and full of life.
Full of life, full of energy, full of Ki, full of Prana, full of Chi. These are a few different words to say the same thing. Life is full of energy; Ki, Prana and Chi are all different ways of referring to energy. For this paper I will use the Japanese translation of energy: Ki.
Ki is life. It nourishes us, it surrounds us, and it's inside of us and outside of us. It cannot be seen but its results or presence can be seen. Like the wind passing through the trees, we cannot see the wind but we can see the results of the wind; the branches moving, the dust raises, ripples form on the stream. The same is true within our bodies we cannot "see" ki but we can feel the result of ki flowing inside of us such as a relaxation of body and mind. When the ki is not flowing freely there is tightness of limbs, pain in both body and mind. Another example could be if the stream hasn't been flowing well for the last few months the plants at the side of the stream will be dry, brown, their growth will be stunted. But as more water starts to flow through the plants will begin to get more nourishment they will turn from dry and brown to green and supple and their growth will slowly start to improve with more life giving water.
As it is in nature, so it is in our bodies. Inside our bodies are channels, or lines where it is possible for energy to flow through. These lines are called meridians. If we go back to the stream when the water is flowing, and moving everything is good the water is fresh and clean, whoever drinks from the stream will be refreshed. But what would happen if the stream became blocked over months? A film will slowly build on the surface of the water, it will begin to smell, and it will become 'dead water' that will make you very sick if you choose to drink from it. This happens in your bodies too. The nature of Ki is flow and when the Ki is flowing freely through the meridians our bodies and mind stay soft, and supple like young plant. On the other hand when the Ki is not flowing freely, when there are blockages or stagnation then pain or tightness occurs in your body and the mind becomes stuck and inflexible. There may also be that feeling that a lot of people now a - days feel they are not sick but they are not well either they are in an in between state.
Well if the problem in the stream is stagnation then we can reroute the blockage to encourage the free flow. But how do we encourage free flow within the body? By practicing Tao Yin.
Tao Yin dates back to the beginnings of the Chinese civilization, as early as the 17th century B.C. The legends of the Shang Dynasty period describe how members of the ancient Tao tang tribes would imitate the wild animals in order to dispel rheumatism caused by the cold, damp climate.
Some of the earliest records of Tao yin as a healing technique were found in the Yellow emperor's Classics of Internal Medicine written sometime during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - A.D.220). In this passage it describes the fundamental natural practice that leads to good health.
In the past people practiced the Tao the Way of Life. They understood the principle of balance, of yin / yang, as representing the transformation of energies of the universe. Thus they formulated practices such as Tao yin (qigong), an exercise combining stretching, massage, and breathing to promote energy flow and meditation to help promote and harmonize them with the universe.
They ate a balanced diet at regular times, arose and retired at regular hours, avoided overstressing their bodies and minds and refrained from indulgences of all kinds. They maintained well - being of body and mind: thus, it is not surprising that they lived over 100 years.
Tao yin literally means "using the mind to guide the Ki to the extremities of the body". The exercises work by gentle stretching the body in both standing and sitting postures and by joining the breath with the movements to encourage a free flow of Ki.
I have taught classes where students have come in with a variety of ailments: head aches, body pains, "low feelings", etc and come out of the class felling much better. I have a class that I teach on Saturday mornings at 8.00am and for a lot of my students it's a great way to begin the day "the body is stretched, the Ki is flowing, the mind is open and everything is possible"