Animal Daoyin

Copyright 2001 © BUQI institute
All rights reserved. This text may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, by photocopy or print or any other means. The same applies for the name ‘Buqi’, which is protected under number 507149

Daoyin exercises, massage, acupuncture and herbs all are elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The daoyin (meaning one or several) are the oldest of these elements; by means of exercise, people try to improve their body posture and expel negative emotions and pathogenic factors. Since their creation daoyin exercises have always played an important role in Chinese medicine.

Using these exercises we can help to release negative energy from within our body. This release helps both to prevent and cure disease. An adapted lifestyle and the regular use of daoyin exercises can help to prevent health problems and reduce existing symptoms or even take them away entirely.

‘Daoyin – past and present’ gives us an overview of the origins, the goals and the results of the exercises. This book is based on the first chapter of the book ‘Daoyin’ by Dr Shen Hongxun.

The Earliest Daoyin


We need to go back to the times of Chinese tribal culture to find the earliest use of the word Daoyin. Literally the word ‘Daoyin’ means ‘to guide’. In fact, ‘Dao’ and  ‘yin’ both mean ‘to guide’; together they form the poetic description of this type of exercise. In the Yellow Emperor’s Huanti NeiJin,the word Daoyin is often connected with the words ‘an’ and ‘jao’ (massage and bone-setting) resulting in the term Daoyin AnJao, which refers to all three therapies.

The earliest references to Daoyin can be found in books written during the time of emir TangYao, more than 4,000 years ago. At that time many tribes lived along the Yellow River that runs across Central China. The estuary often became silted up, causing frequent flooding, with the result that, due to the high humidity level, many people suffered from rheumatism. To fight this and other illnesses, emir TangYao popularised some exercises called Daoyin or DaWu, which at that time referred to prostration as a kind of gymnastics or dance. Strong social control demanded that the prostrations had to be done daily in front of a person whose social position was higher that one’s own: every day the son had to prostrate in front of the father and the father in front of the grandfather.

After emir TangYao’s death, people did prostrations in front of a wooden relic on which his name was engraved. From then on prostrating to honour the deceased became a habit. Even today, the Chinese population of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore continue to follow this tradition: on special occasions such as New Year or other festivities, the dead are honoured by doing prostrations.

Daoyin Evolution


A Jade Stone

2,000 years later, Daoyin were evidently popular again. The Daoyin techniques had evolved a lot and during the War Kingdom Period of the Zhou Dynasty (475-221 BC)  Daoyin reached a professional level with Daoyin specialists, the so-called Daoyin Shi. In the book Huanzhi is written: “Wrestling, blowing, breathing in and breathing out, walking like a bear, stretching like a bird, all of this is the work of the Daoyin Shi”.

The technical aspects of Daoyin were also part of the teachings of many famous philosophers such as GuanZhong, ZhuangZhou, and LaoTze.

Daoyin became so popular that people liked to show that they were practitioners. They would buy small jade stones, engrave the text of the exercises on them and carry them on their belt. The following picture is an example of a text engraved on such a jade stone.


Figure 1:  A jade stone on which the exercise text was engraved

The Ma Wang Duai Silk Painting

In 1973 a painting on silk depicting Daoyin was found in a burial site dating from 168 BC. It is named after the place where it was found: Ma Wang Duai. Forty-four realistic pictures were excavated from that burial site, representing men and women, old and young. Next to each figure, the name of an illness was written in Chinese characters, 31 of which could be restored.



Figure 2: The oldest representation of Daoyin: the Ma Wang Duai silk painting. The size of the painting is 53 cm high by 110 cm wide. Each figure depicted is 9-12 cm high. They are clothed, or naked from the waist up. The painting technique is characterised by fine brushwork and close attention to details. Black is used to delineate the outlines and the colour of the clothes is a combination of red and grey-blue.

The Five Animals Daoyin

HuaTuo (145-208 AD) was a famous physician during the Han Dynasty (25-220 AD) because he successfully used an herbal tea as an anaesthetic for brain operations. He was also the founder of the well-known Daoyin: the five animals Daoyin or WuqinXi. The five animals are tiger, deer, bear, monkey and bird. The Daoyin movements imitate the movements of these animals.

The history book “The Third Kingdom Wei” tells the story of WuPu  (one of HuaTuo’s students) who practised the five animals Daoyin daily. When he was 90 years old he still had all his teeth and a full head of black hair.



Figure 3: Dr. Shen Hongxun demonstrates the Monkey Daoyin

Technical books were written on the subject of Daoyin. The earliest ones date back to the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD). At that time people were not only writing about the techniques, but also started to discuss the underlying theory. The most prominent ones were the Taoist doctors Ge Hong and Tao Hong Jin and the monk Ziji.

Ge Hong

GeHong (284-364 AD) wrote: “It is not important that a Daoyin has a name, is imitating something or is engraved in jade. What is important is the technique and the essence of what is really practised. Stretching and contracting, bending and lifting of the head, stepping, lying down, resting or standing, walking or stepping slowly, screaming or breathing - everything can be a Daoyin.”


Tao Hong Jin

Tao Hong Jin (502-557 AD) describes in  “Stay Healthy and Live Long” (Yang Xing Yen Ming Lu) the Daoyin of his time and earlier times, from a medical stance. The book discriminates between Daoyin (self-massage included) and breathing exercises. It has also an introduction on the six breathing techniques, later known as the six sound exercises.

The Monk Ziji

The monk Ziji, founder of the Tiantai faction (538-597 AD, Chen Sui Dynasty) gave an overview of the different Daoyin systems of his time and earlier times, from a Buddhist point of view. One of his important theories was about ‘the five regulations’: sleeping, eating, body position, breathing and mind.  During the Qigong movement (starting in the 1980’s), articles often mentioned three of his five regulations – body position, breathing and mind – in an attempt to prove that there was a link between modern Qigong and the ancient exercise systems.

During the same period, doctor Chao Yuan Fang, in his book  “The Cause and Symptoms of all Diseases” (Zhu Bing YuanHe Run) also wrote a lot about the use of Daoyin in treatment.

Publications After The Mongolian Invasion

800-900 years ago, China was occupied by Manchuria during the Jin Dynasty and Mongolia during the Yuan Dynasty. Because of the war, there was no stability, and also the climate was not right for the Daoyin to develop further. Even afterwards books about techniques from this period are in fact just telling stories.

Once printing was mechanised (Ming Dynasty 1368-1614 AD), many books were published on a large scale. One of the emperors of that time, Zhen De, backed the publication of a kind of encyclopaedia of Taoist texts, the TaoZhuong (Taoist sutras). Suddenly various exercises became part of Taoism. Many writings about Daoyin were added to the Taozhuong.

During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, many books were published with different editions of the YiJinJin (literally
“moving the muscles sutra”) and the BaDuanJin (literally “the eight miraculous brocades”). Nowadays they are still very popular; these are very good stretching exercises but the many stories of their origin are derived purely from imagination.

Evolution of the Golden Dan Technique


Alchemy: the 'dan' and the dantian

During the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), research was already being done on the abdominal region and the Qi movement between the navel and the sexual organs. Later, during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) the practice of alchemy was developed. It was believed that some kind of red ball (‘dan’) was situated in the abdominal region.

The alchemists occupied themselves with two things: how to produce gold so that they could reach people who were looking for wealth, and how to produce mercury for those who longed to be immortal. Mercury is a poison that brings about a sensation of lightness: people who took the powder felt as if they could fly. Mercury causes a haemorrhage in the red blood cells, which leads to anaemia, a light state of coma and hallucinations, so people imagined that they could fly and were immortal. Effectively, it led to ‘immortality’ because mercury is a poison that kills slowly; many emperors died in that way.

Jin Dan

During the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD) – or maybe even before - Daoyin practitioners adopted the theory of the ‘red ball’. People believed that the body itself contained mercury and lead (therefore it was not necessary to ingest it) and that these elements could be sent to the ‘dan’ by means of breathing techniques. This method was called Jin Dan (golden dan) and was practised and researched for several centuries.

It is true that breathing force, mental force and the force of gravity can stimulate the abdominal region and that in this way one can develop an internal force that regulates the body and restores balance. However, it is in no way connected with mercury and lead, as people were led to believe.

Sexual Techniques

FongZhong Shu is the Chinese term for certain sexual techniques. These exercises were based on the rather unscientific theory that semen, when directed towards the brain, could enhance one’s health and lead to a long life. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) some Taoists thought that the same result could be reached by omitting sex and by focussing on the stretching of the back. This technique was called XiaoZhouTian or small circulation and the result would be the same as with the FongZhong exercises.



Afterwards many books were written about these ideas. It was said that by practising the Jin Dan techniques one could become immortal. Because only parts of the Jin Dan technique were discussed, and also due to the fact that they were written in a poetic way, they were often misunderstood.

In spite of these misunderstandings, it is clear that the dantian is an important physiological active area. An activated dantian has particular functions and it can be the key for developing special bodily forces. Moreover, the stretching of the back and deep breathing can treat a lot of diseases. So, it was not without reason that the ancient Chinese said what they said.


Daoyin Exercises


The E-Mai System

The film “Crouching tiger, hidden dragon” has recently attained great cinematic success. In this context ‘tiger’ stands for ‘general’ and ‘dragon’ for ‘emperor, king or prince’.
Historically, when a Dynasty was collapsing, the people who had lost their power, the so-called tigers and dragons, needed to escape and would hide in the mountains waiting for the tide to turn. From the Ming Dynasty until the beginning of the Qing Dynasty especially, the E-mai Mountain in central China’s Sizhuan province became an important refuge, being very difficult to reach. Most of these people had a very extensive knowledge of WuSu (fighting techniques).

The 12 Daoyin of the E-mai Mountain, the E-mai ShiReZhang, are the basic exercises of a specific WuSu form, developed not only for fighting but also for massage. The ‘tigers’ taught movements for generating internal forces, how to move these forces along different meridians, how to ignite the small and large circulations and how to reach a very high level of meditation by doing exercises while lying down.

In the past, these 12 Daoyin were written down in verses and in recent publications they are attributed to the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). This is a beautiful story, but it is likely that in reality these 12 Daoyin are much younger. After a change of power the ‘tigers and dragons’ were able to leave E-mai Mountain, and they took their verses and techniques with them. During the 1950’s these verses were translated and analysed by the TCM doctor Zhon QianChuan. He taught the system in Shanghai, Bejing and other cities but because the exercises were, although very powerful, also rather difficult, many people gave up practising them. Therefore its practise did not develop in the parks, where it was mostly elderly people who exercised daily. However, of all the ancient Daoyin systems, the E-mai system is a true Daoyin system.


Wuxi Daoyin: a new system













Figure 4: The Abdomen Daoyin from the Taijiwuxigong System


In England, Belgium and Holland, more than 10,000 people have followed courses in Taijiwuxigong, the self-healing system taught for more than 14 years by Dr Shen Hongxun, his daughter Shen Jin and his son Shen Zhengyu. Taijiwuxigong, also called the Wuxi Daoyin system, was discovered by happy coincidence in the middle of last century.

In 1957 Dr Shen Hongxun was teaching Taijiquan to a small group of elderly friends. The traditional Yang style consists of 108 movements. It seemed very difficult for these people to remember the movements and after a few months of daily teaching, it felt as if there was no progress and that they were still at the beginning. Dr Shen Hongxun decided to focus on only five different movements. Even then it was difficult for them to remember. While they were trying to have a correct posture, some of them started to vibrate spontaneously. Being elderly, most people of the group suffered from hypertension, asthma, bronchitis, rigidity in moving the body, etc. After practising in this way, the symptoms disappeared or improved considerably. This interested Dr Shen Hongxun immensely and was the reason for his extensive research into this phenomenon and his search to understand its use. The result was the development of the Wuxi Daoyin system, a very effective combination of Daoyin and spontaneous movement.

The most important principle of Wuxi Daoyin lies in the combination of mind (concentration), movement and breathing  in order to expel ‘binqi’ (pathogenic factors) from the body.
The development of people who practise regularly passes through 8 stages: from the activation of the dantian (the energy centre in the abdomen), to the elimination of binqi (pathogenic factors), the opening of the five energy channels, the activation of the three circulations (the small, large and left-right circulations) and the awakening of latent mental functions.


Dragon Daoyin

Over the past 10 years the Chinese New Year has become an event celebrated in many big cities such as Amsterdam, London, Milan, San Francisco, etc. During these festivities, attended by thousands of people, the famous dragon dances are performed. This dragon dance has now become a pure external physical movement lacking its inner force.

If one wants to reach an even higher level after opening the 5 channels and activating the three circulations, then one still needs to open the spiralling channels along the spine. These channels open when the internal force moves along the spine like two dragons, starting from the coccyx and moving through to the crown.

Dr Shen Hongxun used the movement of the dragon dance as a basis for the creation of the ‘Dragon Daoyin’ - nine exercises to activate these spiralling channels. The spiralling movements have an immediate effect on the spine: they improve the bodily posture and can cure many diseases.




The function of Daoyin exercise is to correct the body posture and to expel binqi.

In 1992 an international meeting took place in which the members discussed diseases connected with the spine. During this meeting the members reported a link between 40 different diseases and the narrowing of the spaces between the inter-vertebral discs of the spine. The result of years of research into the Buqi System suggest in fact there are many more than 40.

Using Dr Shen Hongxun’s double vicious circle theory it can be shown that the origin of spinal column problems is a longstanding poor body posture and the accumulation of binqi. Thus it is clear that postural problems need to be addressed, and Daoyin exercises are an excellent method for achieving this.

It is possible that the ancient techniques of Daoyin exercise will become very popular in the coming years. They could well become a primary choice for treating many diseases, and may come to take up an important position in the field of medicine.


Copyright 2001 © BUQI institute

All rights reserved. This text may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, by photocopy or print or any other means. The same applies for the name ‘Buqi’, which is protected under number 507149