Nourishing Life - The Daoist Path to Health
Yang Shen Dao is a phrase used to capture a range of activities that are used individually or in combination to achieve good health and longevity. These two aspects of being are seen as essential to those who follow Daoism as a way of life. As you may not know anything of Daoism, also spelled Taoism, I want to provide a little context of the areas of training and study that you’ll find here.
Daoism is a truly ancient path, its roots can be traced back to the Late Neolithic period, prior to 2200 BCE, this period in history marks the establishment of agricultural settlements and the start of structured society as we know it. Daoist viewed the previous period;The Palaeolithic as being an ideal time in human history, when people lived in harmony with the seasons and nature. This was the period of the hunter gatherer.
The Zhou Dynasty: 1170 - 221 BCE, is of particular importance because it was the era of the Kings Wen and Wu and the Duke of Zhou. These people are credited with the creation of the early Yijing (I Ching), developing it from earlier works in the Shang period, to the book as we know it now and the yarrow stalk method of consultation.
The latter part of the Zhou Era was marked by the Warring States period. The few centuries of this period saw the 'flowering of one hundred schools' (100 in this context is not literal but rather implies very many). These school included: Kongfutzi (Confucius), Laozi (Lao Tsu) and Zhuanzi (Chuang Tsu). The last two being the preeminent philosophers of Daoism.
inevitably over the passing centuries Daoism adjusted and morphed to reflect the realities and challenges of the world in which it existed. Many schools / sects (Pai) came and went and were in due course replaced with others. In more recent times once of the most influential schools; The Quanzhen Pai (Complete Reality Sect) was established. This school of Daoism believed that Daoist practice had become corrupted through misunderstanding of classic texts and lack of true transmission from teachers to students. This movement set about trying to remove some of what it believed was erroneous practice.
This school itself split into two differing approaches, they are identified by their geographical areas of influence, Northern and Southern. The Northern school was and still is, heavily influenced by Chan (Zen) Buddhism and is, in China, a largely Monastic movement. This monastic approach has gained it the approval of the Chinese Government as its activities are easier to observe and control.
The Southern School has more in common, though via different sources, with Tantric Buddhism. The Southern School was not monastic and featured a more eclectic approach to study with a traditional Master / Student relationship. Because of this approach (harder to control) the current Chinese state does not approve of or support it in the way it does the Northern Sect. As a result practitioners of the Southern methodology tend to be dispersed amongst the Chinese diaspora across Asia and now the rest of the world. This is the path that I follow.
The Southern School seeks to balance the mental discipline of meditation with the physical aspects of Dao Yin and dietary control including what is referred to as Bigu which literally translates to avoiding grains. Like much of the Chinese language this is a metaphor. Grains in this context simply means food, in other words Bigu means fasting. There is now a great deal of modern research that shows the many benefits of a well managed fasting regime.
DaoYin actually translates as "guiding and leading", but this term is just a short hand for "Medical Gymnastics". You may think Daoist Yoga is new. While it is quite new to the west its history goes back over two thousand years.
The aim of DaoYin is to cultivate the three aspects of our existence; Vitality, Energy and Spirit (the three treasures - San Bao).
The simple aim is to develop a relaxed, strong and flexible body and a calm, clear and focused mind. The postures although stretching should never be forced or painful, pain creates tension which is self defeating. It has been shown to be of great benefit in achieving and maintaining general health.
A Daoist Landscape Image
Meditation is often practised as an aspect of DaoYin, if your mind is anxious or hyper active, no amount of stretching will bring true relaxation. The technique has recently become popular in the media, it is currently being referred to as "Mindfulness". This is not a new type of meditation, but rather a focus on one particular aspect of meditation that has been used for centuries.
Most practitioners find that meditation is more effective and comfortable if it is done after a short DaoYin session. After a prolonged session of sitting a follow up DaoYin session is a great way to reinvigorate the body.
Bigu (fasting) has a number of benefits. Firstly I should stress that the Southern Quanzhen Sect is not vegetarian, while it’s true to say that many practitioners are vegetarian it’s not a requirement. Bigu is used to help promote general health by resting and cleansing the intestinal tract and to help prepare the body for extended meditation.