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Taoist arts

Taoist arts refer to traditional Chinese practices meant to promote health or nourishing life (Yang Sheng), through harmonized breathing, moving and stretching exercises. They often include self-massage, self-defense, meditative and energy projecting techniques.

Early historical recording such as the Daoyin Tu (exercise chart), illustrate exercise postures in China dating back to the 2nd Century BCE. Monastic communities from Shaolin and Wudang temples greatly contributed to their development, integrating spiritual practices of Buddhism and Taoism with more martial applications.

Medical and health purposes have nonetheless remained at the core of these practices and the famous Taoist physician Hua Tuo is well-known for his teaching and promoting of exercises in the 2nd century:

“Movement of the limbs facilitates the absorption of nutrients in food and enable the blood in the arteries to flow freely, preventing sickness from occurring. It’s like a door-pivot that never decays because of the constant opening and closing. 

I have a technique called ‘the exercises of the five animals’. The first is the tiger, the second is the deer, the third is the bear, the fourth is the ape, the fifth is the bird. They may also be used to get rid of illness and are beneficial for the legs and feet. If there is discomfort somewhere in your body, get up and do one of my animal exercises until you’re soaking with sweat. Your body will feel relaxed and you’ll have a good appetite.”

That’s why the Ancients practicing physical exercise strode like a bear and turned their head backward like an owl. They elongated their waist and limbs and moved all of their joints, seeking to stave off old age. 


Daoyintu Physical Exercise Chart painted on Silk (206BC—25AD) from Mawangdui

For more information

  • • Tao yin “Guiding and stretching”
  • • Qi gong “Energy Cultivation”
  • • Taichi chuan: “Supreme ultimate fist”