Origins of Qigong

Qigong has had many names over the course of history (tu ga na xin, meaning ‘expelling the old energy, drawing in the new’ and dao-yin, meaning ‘leading and guiding the energy’ are two of the earliest names) but they all reflect the importance of a flowing, unobstructed internal life force to optimal health.

The Spring and Autumn Annals (c.200BC) reports that during the reign of a Mythical Emperor Yao who lived c.2,000 BC, flooding had caused congestion and stagnation in the land and its inhabitants. Catherine Despeux translates[1]:

“The ways of water were broken and obstructed, so that the flow was bad from the very sources. For the same reason, when the breath or energy of the individual is congested and stagnant, the muscles and bones are contracted and don’t flex well. One therefore prescribes certain dances which guide the breath and ensure that it moves throughout the body in a harmonious fashion.”

Archeological and textual evidence links earlier forms of qigong exercises (dao-yin), with ancient shamanic animal dances recorded in rock art[2], and there are some core aspects that early forms of qigong share with shamanism: acute observation of nature and animals, and the filtering from these observations of certain core principles from which all living, breathing organisms can learn in order to live well and be more free of pain than they might otherwise be.

[1] Despeux, Catherine, Gymnastics: The Ancient Tradition in Taoist Meditation & Longevity Techniques (1989), Ed. Livia Kohn, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, p238.

[2] Such dances were popular during the Zhou Dynasty (1028-221 BC) according to Kenneth Cohen in The Way of Qigong, The Art & Science of Chinese Energy Healing, 1997, New York, Ballantine Books, pg 13