Origin and Development of Qi-Promoting Techniques
by Zhao Donghong
Bao Pu Zi Nei Pian: Wei Zhi says: “those who understand the way of Tuna says only Qi promotion can prolong life. Those who understand the way of bending and stretching says only Daoyin can prolong life.“ Therefore the promotion of Qi circulation can be approximately divided into two cases: one is to promote the circulation of Qi in the body through movements of the distal extremities. This is a passive Qi-guiding process in which movements of the limbs are used to reflectively trigger the motion of the respiratory system and thus promote the circulation of Qi in the body. Therefore it is called “Daoyin”. Another way is to use the mind to control the motion of the respiratory system and thus regulate the operation of Qi in the body. This is an active Qi-promoting process which is called “Qi Promotion”. This essay is mainly about the Qi-promoting techniques.
“Promotion is to fasten the steps of man.”(Shuo Wen Jie Zi). Man will move only after being driven by the internal mechanisms. Compared with guidance, promotion is more active. Therefore the Qi-promoting technique is an active process. By actively regulating the motion of the respiratory system, it promotes the circulation of Qi in the body. This method is further divided into two situations: The first is to boost the respiratory amplitude in order to promote Qi circulation, such as “respiratory Tuna”. The other is to reduce the respiratory amplitude and even hold the breath in order to let Qi circulate by itself, such as the “art of controlling and swallowing breath from the mouth”.
From the physiological perspective, Qi-promoting technique is the active control by the mind over the respiratory system and the control by the central nerves on the autonomic nervous system. It controls the respiratory system by exciting or inhibiting the sympathetic nerves and thus establishes the widespread connections between the nerve systems and generates the proprioception of Qi circulating over the body. This is an active process.
Qi-promoting techniques are used to: exercise the mind, regulate the body and spirit, and thus preserve health and prolong life. Bao Pu Zi Nei Pian: Zhi Li written by Ge Hong in the Jin Dynasty says: “those who are good at promoting Qi cultivate their interior and eliminate evils from their exterior.” “although taking drugs (here drugs refer to “elixir of life”) is the foundation of longevity, Qi promotion will further boost the benefit.””
The earliest records about Qi-promoting techniques appeared in Xing Qi Yu Pei Ming, a cultural relic of the Warring States Period which was unearthed after the Liberation. This epigraph reads: “Qi promotion-when it is deep, it will be accumulated; when it is accumulated, it will be expanded; when it is expanded, it will be lowered; when it is lowered, it will be stabilized; when it is stabilized, it will be fastened; when it is fastened, it will germinate; when it germinates, it will grow; when it grows, it will regress; when it regresses, it becomes heavenly. The heaven is above and the earth is below. If we follow the rules, we can live. If we counteract the rules, we will die.” This describes the process of Sidereal Revolution Exercise.
Qi-promoting techniques originated from the practice in life and the comprehension obtained from man’s interactions with the nature.
The origin and development of Qi-promoting techniques can only be inferred from literature. Lv Shi Chun Qiu: Gu Le Pian says: “According to Lv Shi Chun Qiu: Gu Yue, “in the early ages of Taotangshi, Yin often stagnated and accumulated, clogging up the water channels and diverting water from their original channels. The Qi was depressed and blocked and the tendons and bones were contracted. Therefore people danced to unblock the channels.” From this we can see that during their long-term battle with the nature, ancient people gradually realized that: certain movements, respiration, and pronunciations could regulate some functions of the human body. For example, stretching the limbs can dissipate heat, rolling up the limbs can resist coldness, the pronunciation “Ha” can dissipate heat, “Hei” can lower force and generate force, and “Xu” can relieve pains……How to achieve the greatest efficacy? Nature is our best teacher. The ancient “respiratory Tuna” and “Bear and Bird Stretching” exactly originated from the nature.
According to Confucius, the oldest Chinese philosophy book Zhou Yi was written by Fu Xi after he “observed the celestial movements, geological phenomena, and things of the human society”. From a philosophical point of view, it explains the general rules of the generation and conversion of all things in the universe. It not only laid a foundation for traditional Chinese medicine and Qigong, but also serves as an important guide to Qigong with many of its viewpoints. For example, the theory about Yin-Yang reciprocation in Yi Jing directly guides the Qigong practice. “Back up to hide in a secrete place” and “hide the splendor”…. Are all methods for practicing Qigong. These methods are effective for us to enter serenity. The great Qigong book Cao Tong Qi written by Wei Bo Yang in the Han Dynasty was made on the basis of Zhou Yi and the practice of Qigong. For another example, Shang Shu is a collection of historic literature before the Eastern Zhou Dynasty. Its Da Yu Mo chapter also says “the heart of man is dangerous; the heart of Tao is subtle” and “keep our word and behavior in the middle way”. This not only points out the difference between the “heart of man” and the “heart of Tao”, but also offers the practicing method in the “middle way”. Even ancient poets contain descriptions of Qigong. For example “a gentleman behaves well. And his good behavior will lead to a pure mind” (The Book of Songs: Cao Feng: Shi Jiu) explains the mental state and exterior manifestation of well-trained exercisers.
In addition, as ancient people lived a simple life and had a simply mind and were exposed to less emotional interference than the modern people, they tended to focus their attention to the experience and observation of the existence of “Qi”, the existence of channels and viscera, and the relationship between man and nature when they communicated with the nature. Therefore they gradually formed an understanding of their own life activities, promoted the development of Qigong, and thus upgraded the perceptive experience to theories. Just as Su Wen: Shang Gu Tian Zhen Lun says: “wise ancient people abode by the rules of Yin and Yang, followed the correct approaches, properly controlled their diets, led a regular life, and seldom overstrained themselves. Therefore they were able to preserve both the body and the spirit and live to the natural span of their lives.” and “To treat deficiency pathogens, we need to avoid wind with good timing. If we stay indifferent to fame or gain and keep a vacant heart, the genuine Qi will follow us, the essence spirit will be contained, and diseases will be prevented. Therefore we should be leisurely, reduce lust, keep a peaceful mind, get rid of fear, never get overstrained, and sort out our Qi…..l this is the way of Tao. This is why people live more than one hundred years are often persons with high morality.” This means that when the internal environment of the human body is coordinated with the external environment of the universe, man can live to the full length of his life. This is the most fundamental rule of Qigong. It seems that “ancient people” already discovered this rule through their intuitive senses.
Qigong, medication, and acupuncture have already become common therapies in the treatment of diseases. Ling Shu: Bing Chuan Pian points out that: Daoyin, Qi promotion, massage, moxibustion, acupuncture, and medication are common methods for people and “not specific to a certain person”. Su Wen: Sheng Qi Tong Tian Lun says: “sages cultivate their spirit and essence, swallow heavenly Qi, and thus communicate with the nature” “by staying placid and serene, we can close the texture and interspace of muscles to resist all kinds of exogenous pathogens”. It can be seen that in that time, Daoyin and Qi-promotion, the two major exercises of Qigong, played an important role in people’s health care and preservation just like other medical approaches of traditional Chinese medicine such as prescriptions, acupuncture, medicated ironing, fumigation and steaming, and massage. The famous doctor Zhang Zhongjing of the Han Dynasty proposed using Daoyin and Tuna to prevent diseases. He said: “man should be careful not to allow wind pathogens to infiltrate the channels and treat them when they have just hit he channels and have not entered the viscera; once we feel heavy limbs, we should immediately start Daoyin and Tuna and use acupuncture and medicated massage to keep the nine orifices unblocked. ”
In the Spring and Autumn Period and Warring States Period, many academic schools rose and contended. People summed up their predecessors’ experience and achievements and brought their understanding of the nature, the society, and life to a new theoretical height. Under this background, Qigong was also systemized. An independent theoretical system was formed and the concepts of the Three Treasures of the human body-essence, Qi, and spirit were officially proposed. For example, Guan Zi says: “the mind is the monarch of the body”, “essence is the extract of Qi”, and “Qi is what fills the body”. It was clearly pointed out that: “the mind resides in the interior and the form resides in the exterior….man can be upright and serene. The skin is soft, the ears and eyes are sharp, and the tendons and bones are strong.” and “when the mind is at peace and Qi is sorted out, Tao will stay.” These are exactly the keys to Qigong health preservation. Mencius points out “inward keeping of spirit and mind cultivation” and ingeniously explains the relationship between mind and Qi by saying: “Aspiration is the master of Qi and Qi is what fills the body” and “focused aspiration will help control Qi and focused Qi will help control aspiration”. Xun Zi says: “the heart is the master of the body.” and: “how does the mind learn Tao? Just keep vacant and serene.” And it clearly claims that this is an independent discipline.
Taoists study the life of man from the overall viewpoint of natural science. The purpose of Taoism is to “maintain the nature and keep the integrity” (Zhuang Zi); the key is to “adhere to the true serenity and achieve the ultimate vacancy”; the method is to “empty the mind and fill up the abdomen” (Tao Teh King). Lao Tzu Tao The King says: “To experience without intention is to sense the world; To experience with intention is to anticipate the world.” This refers to the method to achieve serenity and peace and has enlightened many other practicing methods in later generations. Chuang Tzu says: “by following the Du Channel, we can protect our body, maintain integrity, and live to the full length of our lives.” (Zhuang Zi: Yang Sheng Zhu) which was also the initiation of the Small Sidereal Revolution Exercise in later generations. In addition, he also provided a complete description of the method for entering serenity-breath-sensing method. Yan Hui said: I venture to ask what that fasting of the mind is. Kung-ni answered: “Maintain a perfect unity in every movement of your will, You will not wait for the hearing of your ears about it, but for the hearing of your mind. Let the hearing (of the ears) rest with the ears. Let the mind rest in the verification (of the rightness of what is in the will). But the spirit is free from all pre-occupation and so waits for (the appearance of) things. Where the (proper) course is, there is freedom from all pre-occupation.” (Zhuang Zi: Ren Jian Shi).
Zhuang Zhou further divided the extents reached in Qigong exercise into two types: One of them is the general achievements of “form cultivation” (body building and health preservation), i.e. “respiration regulation and body stretching”. The purpose is to “achieve longevity”. Those good at this were called by Zhuang Zi as “Daoyin masters and form-cultivating experts”. Another is the advanced achievements, i.e. “the way of purity is obtained through adherence to spirit. Adherence should be maintained until the body is integrated into the spirit” (Zhuang Zi: Ke Yi Pian). In this way we can enter an advanced state where “the essence and spirit reach everywhere between heaven and earth”.
In his book Qi Jing Ba Mai Kao written in the Ming Dynasty, Li Shizhen referred to the data of the internal Dan technique in Taoism and stressed the importance of the Ren Channel, the Du Channel, and the Yinqiao Channel and believed that “the Ren and Du Channels are vital channels of the human body. They allow the ascending and descending of Yin and Yang and the exchange between fire and water. ……by successfully opening these two channels, all channels will be smooth. ……by shaking the coccygeal end, the deer can open the Du Channel. By inhaling through the noise, the turtle can open the Ren Channel. This is way both animals live long. This is the wonderful technique of the Dan experts.” He also pointed out that the relationship between Qigong exercise and channels is that “only those who take inward contemplation can see the internal channels”.
Medical methods also include:
Fetal respiration is weak respiration dominated by the holding of breath and supplemented by the swallowing of body fluid. This method was proposed in Su Wen: Ci Fa Lun: “anyone having persistent kidney disease can face the south at 3~5 AM, remove all distracting thoughts, hold the breath for 7 times, and stretch the neck to swallow Qi as if swallowing some solid stuff. Repeat this process for 7 times and saliva will fill up the mouth.”
Liu Zi Jue was also a respiration method used by ancient people to cure diseases of the viscera. Yang Xing Yan Ming written by Tao Hong Jing in the Liang Dynasty says: “there are six sounds of exhalation, namely Chui, Hu, Xu, Xi, He, and Si. All of them take place during exhalation”. Later generations called it “six respiratory words”. This is a practicing method for silent exhalation. Thousand Golden Prescriptions for Emergency also says: Cold diseases of the heart can be removed by Hu; heat diseases of the heart can be removed by Chui; pulmonary diseases can be removed by Xu; liver diseases can be removed by He; spleen diseases can be removed by Xi; and kidney diseases can be removed by Si. Before breath regulation, left and right Daoyin is performed. Before Tao Hongjing’s age, breath exercises were mostly based on inhalation. But Liu Zi Jue was based on exhalation.
To sum up, the Taoist Qi-swallowing technique, Qi-collecting technique, Qi-spreading technique, fetal respiration, and internal Dan and the so-called Buddhist meditation, inward vision, and concentrated observation all belong to the Qi-promoting techniques of ancient China. All Qi-promoting techniques promote the circulation of Qi in the body by actively regulating the motion of the respiratory system. The heavy exhalation and inhalation are results of active Qi promotion and the gentle exhalation and inhalation are also results of active Qi promotion. Holding breath is also the result of the active control by the brain. Qi-promoting techniques originated from ancient people’s social practice and comprehension of the natural phenomena. The theory was constantly upgraded in practice and was in turn used in medical and health-preserving practice. The Qi-promoting techniques created precious treasures as they were created in practice and used in practice.