Tao Yin — Taoist Respiration Therapy
Respiration therapy has long been a well-known art in ancient China, and it was adopted by the Taoists, not only for its therapeutic qualities, but also because it was realized that everything within nature has to breathe to survive, so truly 'breath is life'.
So the Taoists, whose beliefs were based on very sound and rational understanding of nature and the human body, not only included respiratory exercises in their daily lives, but also experimented on a vast scale to find the true benefits and essence that air could give to the physical and spiritual sides of their lives. So it is little wonder that this dynamic medium, that helps to give and sustain life in so many things, eventually became a therapeutic system within itself, and being so closely allied to natural life, it automatically became an integral part of the Taoist way of life.
Many people believe that the respiratory art came into China in about the first century AD, when Buddhism was first introduced to the Chinese nation, but this assumption is wrong as the basic foundation of this dynamic art came with the 'Sons of Reflected Light'. However, because written records did not exist in those early days, it was not until about the sixth century BC that a mention of it was inscribed on the jade tablets, and we now know that the Taoist art of K'ai Men (Open Door), which is the Taoist yoga system of ancient China, incorporated the Yin and Yang breathing exercises within it in order to promote longevity. There were basically twenty of these specialized respiratory exercises: eight Yin and eight Yang, and a further four which were a mixture of Yin and Yang. However, since those original exercises were devised, a further twenty exercises have been added to them, making a total of forty. All of these have a specific job to do, and that is why they are an integral part of all our Taoist arts, including Ch'ili Nung (The Way of Occlusion).
Because Tao Yin's basic principles of correct breathing are based on the foundations of Yin and Yang, and also abide by the rules of the Five Elements (Wu Hsing), this therapy has enormous potential for creating harmony between the various organs of the human body. All this is accomplished through the medium of the many different respiratory exercises, which are closely interwoven with a variety of physical movements, so that the effects and the benefits of the breathing are increased and speeded up.
Some of the exercises act as a means of sedating, some as a stimulant and a tonic, whilst others help in the activation, harnessing and cultivation of internal Ch'i energy and the external Li life force. Through the excellent health that is gained thereby, they all assist in the opening up of the whole body, enhance the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, increase the mental capacity of the brain, give greater mind control, increase perception and intuition, uplift moral standards, and give tranquillity to the mind, which in turn confers inner harmony and greater happiness. As time goes by, these exercises slowly open up the functional and control channels that feed and activate the energy, nervous and psychic centres, enabling the individual to have a deeper understanding, consciousness and awareness of the spiritual world. Tao Yin means 'The Secret Island', and has also been known as T'u Na, which means 'Sudden Arrest', which was another way of explaining the devastating effect that the combination of breath and physical exercises has upon any illness within the human body. However, the Taoist dynamic system of breathing exercises is not a haphazard affair, for not only has it been proved over many thousands of years, but it is deep-rooted in the Taoist understanding of the principles of the universe.
The Nei Ching explains how methodical the ancient Taoists were in conforming to the laws of natural life. It says 'that in warm and sunny weather, when there is a full moon or it is waxing, then the flow of the breath is at its best, then a person is at the peak of their efficiency, but in colder temperatures, during the period of the new moon fno moon in the sky] or it is on the wane, then this period is Yin with very deep contractions, which will naturally affect the lungs, thereby the breathing becomes more shallow, and the person is strained and weakened'. I am writing this at the beginning of June 1983, there is no moon in the sky, and I am receiving hundreds of letters and personal callers, all suffering from hay fever or asthma; no better example of Taoist observations could be given. Because of these people, I give, in this chapter, a breathing exercise that will help those who suffer from these lung complaints.
This is very shallow breathing indeed, and it is the way that most people breathe in the Western world. It is very unhealthy and is the cause of many chest, throat and head ailments. It raises the upper chest, shoulders and collar-bone when an in-breath is taken, and it is generally known as clavicular breathing. Because it causes pressure against the diaphragm, the lungs get very little air, and this means that the blood and the body get very little benefit.
Yang breathing is very deep breathing because it concentrates on the utilization of the diaphragm. In the West it is generally referred to as diaphragmatic breathing. This way of breathing gives greater freedom to the lungs so that their absorption becomes more, creates greater elasticity in the muscles, and because of the downward pressure on the abdominal organs, which are pushed outward, it gives them an internal massage. All this is very stimulating to the lungs, which have to accept greater pressure and force, and to the lower abdomen, which is able to increase the amount of Li energy from the universe.
This type of breathing can be executed in two ways:
The in-breath should be as strong and take just as long as the out-breath.
Breathe into the chest as high as you can, then drive the air down as in diaphragmatic breathing. In the next breath, reverse this process: breathe in as low as you can, then raise the air into the lungs and chest, before breathing out.
So Tao Yin is one of the most comprehensive and dynamic exploitations of the human body, opening the way to the functions and vibrations of the psychic centres, and the control centres to and from the mind and the subconscious. All these eventually open the door to your own spirit.
It is very unfortunate that so many people in the West breathe so badly and so shallowly, using only about two-thirds of their lung capacity. Because of this there is a steady increase in the number of people with bad postures, which in turn leads to poor respiratory and circulation systems, which eventually causes many serious illnesses. All of these problems are easily curable by the simple expedient of changing the diet, and eating according to the principles of the Taoist long life therapy (Chang Ming), and practising one or two specialized breathing exercises from the Tao Yin, at the right time of the day or evening. The Taoists have proved to the world that the foundations of physical good health depend upon eating the Chang Ming way, and adequate and correct breathing habits. That is one of the many reasons why so many sages and philosophers of ancient China lived to 150 or 200 years of age, because they learned to harmonize the Yin and Yang within their own bodies, through natural food and correct breathing habits at all times. They kept their flesh and bones young and supple, even in their old age, so they enjoyed the benefit of a long, healthy life.
So all those who eat, drink and breathe badly harness their bodies to sickness; those who close their minds to wisdom tie themselves to disease; whilst those who restrict or oppose the wishes of the Tao will kill their soul and so fade away.
The importance of breathing brings about a harmony of Yin and Yang through the vibrations and pulsations that take place each time you breathe, so get into the habit of breathing deeply all the time, day in and day out, so the body can obtain the maximum benefit, as the Taoists found out many thousands of years ago.
Remember that the essence of the breath is greatest at the beginning and at the end of your life. All you have to do is fill the gap in between these two natural climaxes, so:
- Learn to breathe and you will live.
- Learn to breathe well — and you will retain good health.
- Learn to breathe deep — and you will attain longevity.
- Learn to breathe inwardly, without breathing — and you will gain spiritual immortality.
So follow this very ancient Taoist saying, and the advice that it gives — now and always.