The Delightful Daoyin 12-Movement Qigong

The Daoyin 12-Movement Health Qigong is an absolutely delightful form to practise. I’ve re-recorded it and in doing so really delved into the theory of the form much more than I did when I first taught and recorded the form. Like so many tai chi and qigong forms, there are layers and layers of detail and it’s not possible to take them all in straight away. These things need to settle and percolate and simmer and bubble up when ready.

I would encourage anyone to try this form whether you take on board all the detail or not. It’s elaborate and flowing, interesting and challenging, beautiful and immensely satisfying.

This version of the Daoyin was created by Professor Zhang Guangde based on his extensive medical research and the pictures of daoyin exercises painted on a piece of silk which was discovered in the Mawangdui Tombs in 1973. Those tombs date back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 25) and as such these exercises are considered to be over 2000 years old.

As an aside, when I spent two weeks at the Beijing Sport University, we were given a tour on our first day and shown the office for the professors. There was a big portrait of Professor Zhang Guangde on the wall and it was very clear that he is held in exceedingly high esteem. He is the elderly man in the grey silks in the teaching video talking through the details of the form. Also in the video is the professor we learnt from at the university – Professor Yang Yu Bing. He is in white silks leading the group of three for the demonstrations. The professors at BSU are highly respected and revered. If only we respected and revered our physical educators as much here.

When recording I did quite a spiel at the start about points to note and modifications that could be made. It didn’t make it to the published work… I made such a mess of talking and had to edit out so many mistakes and ‘um’s and ‘aaah’s that I might as well have been rapping it out. So I’ll write down a few of the points here instead.

The form has many complex moves that require complete and total focus. This is deliberate to keep us present and engaged while exercising. How many times have you drifted off while doing Shibashi Set 1? You won’t drift off while doing this form. It is excellent for our brains and ability to stay focussed on one task.

The movements are beautiful and interesting and all have stories attached to them. I particularly like this comment about Old Horse Stabled: “These movements evoke people of endeavour who still have ambitions although they are old.” This statement may have lost a little nuance in translation but it makes me smile. In Bending the Body to Brush the Shoes, not only are we brushing the dust away, but we are also “dispelling all distracting thoughts, evil thoughts in particular from the mind to purify the brain…” I also love the Lotus Flower Appears Above the Water where we are literally making our bodies look like the twisted roots in the mud and then our hands become the lotus flower rising up.

Speaking of twisted roots, some of these moves are physically very challenging. So we ideally need to modify them for comfort rather than avoid them. In the Chinese Health Qigong Association teaching video of the form, the beautiful Masters and Professors demonstrating look like they have been doing those sorts of movements since they were five. And perhaps they have been too. Most of us come to these movements a bit later in life and our bodies are not conditioned to move in this way. So please don’t try to do a horse stance like the professors – you might not get up again. Likewise the cross-legged crouch: don’t force the issue or you might not walk comfortably for the next week. The key here is upright posture: when sinking into horse stance, as soon as you feel yourself start to tilt you’ve gone too far and need to ease up a bit. The same goes for the cross-legged crouch. Only sink to a point where you still have upright posture and can also rise up again comfortably. Our legs and arms might look like twisted roots, but we don’t want them to feel like that as well!

Making the moves comfortable. I prefer to focus on the arms and hooks rather than try for a deep horse stance.

Some other movements to look out for and think about are the frequent straight arms. Really straighten them and work your triceps. Don’t lock the elbows, but they can be quite straight. It’s very easy to fall back into tai chi habits of having soft, rounded arms, but we want to stretch out here and work our muscles. We do quite a few hooks and again, really work your hook, don’t do a soft gentle one. Flexing the wrist in such a manner connects and stimulates the source acupoints around the wrist (and I’d recommend doing a bit of research about the acupoints worked in this form as it’s quite fascinating). Look out for the subtle movement of the wrists in many of the movements – it’s very easy to miss. There is gentle flexion and extension of the wrists (‘flashing’ the palms) along with a lot of forearm and shoulder rotation. If any of these movements cause pain, they should be adapted. An example for me is that internal rotation at the shoulder can cause me pain, so I won’t roll my hands in very far, or sometimes not at all. It’s a very simple fix (one I wish I’d taken on board years ago).

When I first started working on this form I would have to stand still and literally huff and puff for about ten seconds after doing Wild Geese Land on the Beach. It took me a while to work out that the exertion for me wasn’t from the crouch but was from the arm movements. Since then I’ve been working on strengthening my shoulders and arms and now I can do the move only with mild strain. So it might not be immediately obvious what part of a move is hard. Take your time to work it out and decide whether you need to permanently modify, or whether you’re going to work at it and gradually build up your conditioning to be able to do the move comfortably. For me, the Wild Geese arms brought on intense fatigue, not nasty pain, so I decided to work on it rather than avoid.

Senior Master Chin Min Lian at a workshop making Wild Geese Land on the Beach look very easy.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the Traditional Chinese Medicine elements of the form. I don’t feel qualified to talk about this with any authority, but every move activates different meridians and acupoints, which in turn aid the health of the organs, muscles and bones. The whole body in fact. We end up with a total body workout, both inside and out.

So while I’ve said in the video that this form is very hard to learn, it is so much worth the effort. Get the book, read about it, write notes, practise with the video every day, work out associations to help you remember the order of the moves, visualise the forms, practise with a list and then take it away when you feel ready, but keep it nearby for a peek if you need. And of course the best way to learn is at class with a passionate instructor – I’ll post when I’m next teaching it!

Reference: Daoyin Yangsheng Gong Shi Er Fa. 12-Movement Health Qigong for all Ages