Traditional Health-giving Breathing and Conduction Training

(医家吐纳导引术)

What is “health”? Let us look at the composition of the Chinese characters for “health” (健康). The first character “jian” () means perfection in morality, intelligence and physique; the second character “kang “() means fullness that induces contentedness. Then, what about “recovery” (痊愈), what does it really mean? The first character “quan” () is composed of two portions – the top portion of the character means “to rely on,” while the lower portion means “completeness.” The second character “yu” () means with the help of other forces or tools, the body and the mind are able to reach a higher level. In the same way, when we look at the meaning of “illness” (疾病), we see that the first character “ji” () refers to the disruption brought about by too much haste; it implies that the initial change creates acute discomfort. The second character “bing” () refers to the discomfort caused by long delay, which leads us to understand it to mean the more serious problems of the body and the spirit.

Modern day western medicine focuses mostly on treating the symptoms, but there is inadequate understanding of the root cause of illnesses. Oftentimes, before the first illness is cured, the patient is plagued by a second illness. The medical professional, by playing the role of the suppressor of symptoms, ends up disrupting the body’s self-healing functions. In some cases, it may even give rise to the mutation of illnesses.

Health and its preservation is an important issue for modern man. Many traditional Chinese health-giving practices, such as conduction exercises, qigong, martial arts, etc., are gaining popularity. Of these, the practice of using breathing training for the cultivation of vital energy (qi – ) is typical of traditional Chinese health-giving arts. It is a set of exercises for the limbs which is complemented by breathing exercises. It focuses on strengthening the body and the mind. It is mainly used for the direction of vital energy and blood and the treatment of illnesses.

Conduction training is a form of traditional Chinese health-giving exercise. It is unlike some modern forms of competitive physical exercise that are intended to show the limits of human physical ability. Physical competition requires one give one’s best and, in the course, may easily lead to injury. For this reason, physical competition is different from health-giving exercises. The principles of traditional Chinese health-giving training pay great attention to “an unburdened mind” (i.e. a leisurely mood), and “putting the body to work” (i.e. exercising the body). Conduction training were developed precisely for “the unburdened mind” and “putting the body to work.” As far as “putting the body to work,” the guideline is “to exercise adequately, and not to cause fatigue.” This points to an appropriate amount of exercise without causing undue tiredness. This is the intention of conduction training – that relaxation of the mind is achieved through a moderate amount of exercises so that the body and the mind are in harmony. On this particular point, Chinese conduction training and Indian yoga exercises – the traditional training of the two oldest civilizations in the world – coincide.

In addition, theory-wise, conduction training are based on the principles of treatment and healthy-living in traditional Chinese medicine; at the same time, the theories of healthy-living are entwined with the various schools of traditional Chinese thought (e.g. Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism). This shows that theories of conduction have much deeper roots than just physical exercise. In terms of substance, conduction focuses on disciplining the internal whereas physical exercise focuses on the training of the muscles and tendons. In practice, conduction training have multiple formats, e.g. sitting exercise, lying exercise, standing exercise, internal exercise, external exercise, tranquility training and movement training. Physical exercises comprise only the training of the limbs. As illustrated below,

Conduction Training

Traditional Chinese Health-giving Training

Physical Exercises

Modern Competitive Sports

  • based on the principle of “nature and man are one,”
  • does not advocate over-exercising,
  • has deep roots in traditional Chinese medical theories and philosophy,
  • training of the internal and external,
  • focuses on the training of the internal,
  • a variety of formats.
  • challenge the human body to reach its limits,
  • training of the body and the bones,
  • based on modern theories of physical exercise,
  • focuses on the external physical abilities,
  • are mostly exercises of the limbs.

Chinese traditional conduction training started as the simple “Xuan Dao Wu” (宣导舞), which eventually became Xiong Jing Niao Shen (Stretch Like a Bear and Extend Like a Bird – 熊经鸟伸), the conductive training that stresses breathing out the stale air and inhaling the fresh air. It also developed from a variety of stand-alone breathing exercises into a coherent set of moves called Wuqinxi (五禽戏 — Frolic of the Five Animals). It also went from a series of complicated and varied moves to Baduanjin (八段锦) which reduces the earlier complexity into a simple, easy-to-follow set of moves. From these developments, we also get the rigorous Yijinjing (易筋经) , which combines the principles and practice, as well as Longevity Breathing Conductive Training (长寿吐纳导引行气法), which is regarded as the distillation of the historical developments of conductive training.

There are many different kinds of conductive training. Broadly speaking, there is conductive training for strengthening the body and conductive training for treatment of illnesses. The latter, after over a thousand year’s development, has become its own system of treatment methods.

Traditional Health-giving Breathing and Conductive Training originated from the same source as traditional Chinese medicine. It has developed alongside traditional Chinese medicine and is one of the main treatment methods in traditional Chinese medicine. It is based on the theories of traditional Chinese medicine, including “nature and man are one” (天人合一理论), “holistic view of the human body” (人体整体观),as well as yin and yang (阴阳), the five elements (五行)the study of the internal organs (脏腑), the system of main and collateral channels (经络) and the circulation of blood and vital energy (血气)It aims to maintain the balance between yin and yang, to secure the essence and fortify the original vital energy, and to facilitate the flow of blood and energy through the meridians. In all, treatment of illnesses through conductive training was developed on these principles.

Traditional Health-giving Breathing and Conductive Training is distinct from other forms of conductive training in that it gives a lot of importance to targeting. As different illnesses have different causes, the conductive training recommended will be different. The practitioners of curative conductive training need to use their knowledge and skills flexibly. Conductive training includes practical skills, such as movement of the limbs, breathing, massage, knocking teeth and gargling, which may be done singly or in combination in a set order and for a set number of times. Patients should not switch between the skills frequently, but should maintain stability. Conductive training works on improving or strengthening the bodily system or organ that has caused the illness. To achieve the desired effect, there has to be a set period of time and intensity.

What is also important to stress is that even though health-giving conductive training has been proved to be effective against certain types of chronic illnesses, but it should not be the only treatment given. It should be used in combination with other treatment methods.