One of the more interesting segments of Bill Moyer's recent television series on healing and the mind was his program on Chinese medicine and its emphasis on the balancing of qi, or the vital energy as it is best translated in the West. During this show, he provided the opportunity to watch people practice many forms of physical exercise, including both tai chi and active and passive qi gong.
The focus in this paper is on qi gong as a physical practice which emerges from the Taoist understanding of the world and the flow of energy through the body. In addition, there will be some discussion of qi itself, and its relationship to Western medicine, and contemporary use of Taoist physical practices.
In her introduction, Kohn (1993) indicated why it is so difficult to define Taoism, even in so elemental a way as to distinguish whether it is a philosophical system or an organized religion. The essence of the Tao is that it is ineffable and not fixed or rigid. This is not a doctrinal system, but a flowing, living system that depends more upon intuitive movement with the Tao than memorization of it. This does not mean, however, that it is some kind of amorphous and undisciplined feeling about the world. Instead, the Taoist practitioner may spend long years in deep concentration to even begin to get a sense of the location of his or her qi before being able to move it through the body. Practitioners attempt to find the qi in its position just underneath the navel, but may not actually be able to feel it, or work with it, for many years, even though tradition has identified the place where it is centered.
Although Kohn fixes the history of Taoism as an actual religion to the year 142 C.E. and the revelation to Zhang Daoling, it actually has a much longer history as an influence on Chinese culture and practice. As she noted, the ancient philosophers Laozi and Zhuangzi, who are actually probably much better known in the West than ...