What is Taoist yoga; what is qigong ?
Since the 1950s, both active and passive yoga have generally been categorized under the umbrella term qigong (氣功). However, over the course of millennia, they were known by other names. Other terms for Chinese health-energetic exercise include nei gong (內功), meaning “inner work,” and yang sheng (養生), “nurturing life,” exercise. Relatedly, yang xing (養形) pertains to the cultivation of the body, while exercises directed to the maintenance of mind and spirit are called yang xin (養心) and yang shen (養神).
When employed as a physical discipline, the practice of Taoist exercise and posture holding falls into the category of dao yin (導引), “pulling and stretching.” Other terms that sometimes apply are an mo (按摩) and xing qi (行氣). An mo refers to massage and xingqi
translates as “moving the qi.” [i]
Although the term qigong dates back only to the 1950s, [ii] references to qigong-like practices can be found as far back as the fourth century BCE. Note that there are currently hundreds of traditions/ schools/methods of qigong with various names, many of which trace their lineage to legendary or historical founding masters.
[i] Referring to the practice of circulating qi, Professor Needham writes, “There were two ways of making it circulate. Concentrating the will to direct it to a
particular place, such as the brain, or the site of some local malady, was termed hsing ch’i [xing qi]. Visualizing its flow in thought was ’inner
vision’ (nei shi)…”
[ii] Voigt, John, “The man who invented qigong,” Qi: The journal of traditional eastern health and fitness
(Mostly) Taoist Energetic Yoga*
(From new book, Section III)
This section looks for clues to the meaning of “internal energy” in the Chinese Taoist [i] and Tibetan tantric energetic yogas, with special attention directed to the practitioner's subjective experience during practice. Here we consider how a practitioner interacts with,
and manages, sensations within the body that are often described as electrical, magnetic, or internal heat. The ability to generate, and then intentionally control, experiences like these separate the novice from the adept.
While the beginner’s practice sometimes involves their awareness of what feels like an electromagnetic pulse in at the body's “energy centers,” the advanced practitioner is distinguished by their masterful ability to trigger these sensations at specific targets in the body, such as along the spinal corridor, or the “energy fields,” of the lower abdomen.
All sensations are not equal; many can be quite powerful, and some can be profound. With enough time spent engaged in the practice of energetic meditation, energetic yoga, or qigong, practitioners will begin to notice the appearance of a special class of perceptions within the body. Depending on the particular tradition, at very advanced levels these function as a kind of internal feedback, which can usher in the experience of bliss and joy associated with spiritual awakening.
For many practitioners, the presence of these sensations is evidence that one’s physical experience is inseparable from transcendence, or the stuff of spirit. Over time, the practitioner learns that these sensations exist along a continuum, and that the distinction between the mundane and the spiritual is not all that firm. Eventually, it is discovered that the waters separating the physical from the etheric can be crossed by one who prepares the properly constructed yogic-energetic meditation vessel.
[i] Consistent with comments in the opening pages of the present work, although for the most part Chinese characters are transliterated using the pinyin system of
transliteration, there are a few exceptions where Chinese is Romanized in the Wade-Giles style. Examples of Wade-Giles transliteration in this chapter are Tao, Taoism, the Tao Te Ching, t’ai-chi ch’üan and its abbreviation, t’ai-chi, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Ko Hung, and Hua Tho.