Chen Tuan’s Four Season Qigong & 24 Dao Yin Seated Exercises
Copyright © 2016 by Stuart Alve Olson
This work is a translation from an old Taoist text titled The Book of Immortal Longevity of Ten Thousand Years (萬 壽 仙 書, Wan Shou Xian Shu), produced sometime around 1600 CE. The illustrations and Chinese calligraphy from that edition are very poor, however, so I used another work for the presentation of the artwork and calligraphy. They come from a work attributed to Chen Tuan that dates back to the same era. It was reproduced in Hong Kong in 1974 under the title Seated Kung Illustrated and Explained (坐 功 圖 說, Zuo Gong Tu Shuo). Altogether, I possess six different reproductions of the text, all of which are identical textually. The only noticeable differences between them is in the quality of the graphics and calligraphy.
I reorganized the presentation of the text into clear sections, as the original just runs everything together. I have also added notes to explain some of the more cryptic and technical terms. The two sections attached to each exercise always start with the words “Mobilize to master …” and “At this time…” indicating the meridians, element, organ, and so forth. These correlations are not fully commented on here as each would take a lengthy explanation. I have translated these in more or less a very literal manner so those learned in Medical Qigong should have little problem in interpreting them more fully.
Chen Tuan’s exercises are a very old form of what is now called “qigong,” and traditionally termed as Dao Yin (道 引)—“to lead and guide the qi/breath.” They are specific internal alchemy (內 丹, nei dan) and external alchemy (外 丹, wai dan) regimes designed for particular seasons of the year. (In present times, wai dan teachings are classified as Medical Qigong.)
Two regimes per month make twenty-four total. They are to be performed on and during certain starting and ending dates (New Moon to Full Moon, and then Full Moon to New Moon) in accordance with the lunar calendar, and are likewise advised to be practiced during the first four Chinese hours of the day: Zi (子)—11:00 pm to 1:00 am; Chou (丑)—1:00 to 3:00 am; Yin (寅)—3:00 to 5:00 am; and Wu (午)—5:00 to 7:00 am) for attaining the optimum benefit. In Chinese astrology, these times represent the hours of the Rat, Ox, Tiger, and Rabbit.
Although the simple explanations of these regimes will suffice for now, there is much more that can be added. Correlations run from advice on using specific herbs during the year; the pulses and blood channels of the body; qi meridians and cavities; to the theories and associations of the Book of Changes (易 經, Yi Jing), the Five Elements along with the Ten Heavenly Stems and Twelve Earthly Branches, cosmological associations; and so on.
Despite the simplicity of the exercises themselves, the theories, purposes, and medicinal benefits attached to them can be very complex and deep. At some point, we will present this additional information, but for now it’s best for students to learn the Four Season Kungs and 24 Dao Yin practices. The more intricate and specialized studies can come later.
Chen Tuan’s exercises are traditionally practiced in two parts:
Part One consists of the Four Season Seated Kung (四 季 坐 功, Si Ji Zuo Gong). These exercises are correlated with the Four Celestial Animals of Taoist cosmology—Green Dragon, Red Phoenix, White Tiger, and Black Tortoise (see illustration). The springtime Green Dragon exercises are designed to maintain the optimum health and function of the liver; the summer Red Phoenix exercises correlate to the heart; the autumn White Tiger exercises, the lungs; and the winter Black Tortoise exercises, the kidneys.
Part Two, the 24 Qi Seated Kung Dao Yin Methods (二 十 四 氣 坐 功 導 引 法, Er Shi Si Qi Zuo Gong Zhi Bing Fa) are twenty-four exercises matched to the twenty-four periods of the year. This means there are two exercises assigned to each month (one to run from the New Moon to Full Moon and the second from Full Moon to New Moon), totaling twenty-four for an entire year. The information provided with each exercise shows the Western dates for this year—2016.
The conclusion of each of the twenty-four exercises includes the three following activities:
Kou Chi (叩 齒)—Knocking the Teeth. In Eight Brocades Seated Qigong, Li Qingyun says knocking the teeth “collects the spirit.” The main function is to stimulate the shen (神, spirit). When knocking the teeth, pay attention to the sensations heard and felt in both “ear gates” (耳 門, er men). Position the back of the hands by each knee in a fist-like deportment, with the middle fingers of each hand slightly pressing into the centers of the palms—the Dragon Cavity (龍 穴, Long Xue) is in the left palm and the Tiger Cavity (虎 穴, Hu Xue) is in the right palm. Li Qingyun called this “grasping the hands firmly” in Eight Brocades practice.
Tu Na (吐 納)—Blowing out and Drawing in. This literally means to exhale and spit out the unclean air (Tu) and inhaling to take in clean air (Na). The main function is to gather the “vital-energy” (氣, qi). In practice this means to inhale through the nose (Na) into the lower Elixir Field (丹 田, Dan Tian, lower abdomen) and then with pursed lips exhale by blowing out (Tu). The palms of the hands are positioned over each ear, in a cupping-like fashion, so to block off external noises and allow the breath to be heard purely internally. In Eight Brocades, Li Qingyun calls this “listening to the twenty-four breaths.”
Yan Ye (嚥 液)—Swallow the Saliva. This practice is the same exercise as Rousing, Rinsing, and Swallowing in Eight Brocades. The main function and purpose is to refine the “essence” (精, jing). In Rousing, the tongue is made to circle the inside of the mouth in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions thirty-six times each way. For Rinsing, the accumulated saliva is sucked back and forth across the tongue thirty-six times. Lastly, to perform Swallowing, the hands are raised up to ear level, held in the fashion of “grasping the hands firmly.” With the palms facing forward, suspend the head slightly upward and feel as though the nose is contracted inwards. Then divide the saliva by a third and with a slight force, swallow. When doing so, feel as though swallowing from the Mysterious Well (玄 井, Xuan Jing) cavity (the center of the clavicle bone beneath the throat). Sense the saliva passing through the solar plexus and then into the lower Elixir Field. Perform two more actions of swallowing the saliva.
The Two Opening Verses for Each of the 24 Exercises
This first verse, as in all 24 exercises, is referencing a great deal of information. Meaning, the term Old Yin is also a correlation to the Yi Jing trigram of Xun (巺), Wind/Wood, which in turn is correlated with numerous systems of calculation, such as, the Ten Heavenly Stems, Twelve Earthly Branches, Five Elements, Six Unions, Nine Palaces, and various other correlations. These correlations are far too lengthy in explanation to provide here and I suggest the reader see my Book of Sun and Moon two-volume series for detailed information on these matters.
In each of the twenty-four exercises, this first verse is referencing an “energy” and “theory,” both in a philosophical and physiological sense, but is not indicating a qi meridian as such, even though the names of these energies and theories are identical with the qi meridians. It is the second verse, always beginning with the phrase “At this time,” that mentions the name for the qi meridian being stimulated in the exercise. There are fourteen major qi meridians of the body, and twelve of them are indicated in this work. Each of the meridians, hand and foot types, are used twice, except the Ultimate Yang Hand meridian is used three times and the Young Yang Hand meridian is used just once. All the hand meridians are assigned to the first six months and the foot meridians are used in the last six months. The remaining two qi meridians, Dumai (毒 脈) and Renmai (任 脈), are not shown as these come into play within the External Elixir (外 單, Wai Dan) practices of stimulating the Lesser Heavenly Circuit, or, sometimes called, the Microcosmic Orbit. Note that this is referenced as the External Elixir, not Internal Elixir (內 丹, Nei Dan). Again, in both systems the names and locations for the qi meridians are identical, but in function they are completely different. See my book Refining the Elixir for more information.
Dumai (毒 脈) and Renmai (任 脈) Meridians
There is really nothing too physically difficult with any of the exercises, but they do take focus and diligence. As you will notice, the remedies for each of the exercises are given along with the qi channels and body organ they support. The regimes do not take much time to perform, but sometimes the hours indicated for doing them can be inconvenient. With that said, doing them is what is most important. The time period is beneficial, but not wholly critical, so whatever time you can practice them is fine.
Chen Tuan (陳 摶)
The creation of these exercises are attributed to the famous Taoist adept and immortal Chen Tuan. Little is known about him, but he is respectfully considered a legendary Taoist sage and is usually referred to as “Aged Ancestor Chen Tuan.” He is thought to have been born in 871 CE and died in 989 CE, living around the end of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907–960 CE) and during the start of the Song dynasty (960–1279 CE). He was possibly born in Luyi County (鹿 邑 县, Luyixian), Henan Province (河 南 省, Henansheng). It is said he lived at Nine Chamber Cave (九 室 洞, Jiu Shi Dong) on Matchless Warrior Mountain (武 當 山, Wu Dang Shan), and later at Flower Mountain (華 山, Hua Shan), two famous sacred Taoist mountains.
In many ways, Chen Tuan is considered the father of what is now known as “qigong.” He is credited with the Dao Yin exercises of Six Harmonies and Eight Methods (六 合 八 法, Liu He Ba Fa), the Taiji Ruler (太 極 尺, Tai Ji Shi), and the exercises of this work, Four Season Qigong and 24 Dao Yin Seated Exercises. He is also known as the Sleeping Immortal (睡 仙, Shui Xian) because of his creation of supine qigong methods for internal alchemy.