Very Best of the Taoist Healing Arts Taught by a Master Teacher:
Servicing the Internal Organs and Cleansing the Blood. Is it Yoga?
Recently a friend from the local Tai Chi community commented that based
on what he had seen on the internet he thought Zhen Hua Yang's approach
looked like a really interesting fusion between Tai Chi and Yoga. I
also had a physiotherapy client have a look at Zhen Hua Yang's upcoming
workshop poster and ask so what is it, some kind of Yoga? So I thought I
would make a few observations and comments that might clear up any
confusion and flesh out a few important ideas.
First of all
regarding any fusion of Yoga and Tai Chi, a primary thrust of Zhen Hua
Yang's approach is to get those who practice Yoga asana to get better
internal organ servicing, better blood cleansing, and better blood
circulation during their poses as well as to get their poses safer from a
musculoskeletal perspective. This is transposing the Taoist health and
vitality techniques he is so familiar with into Yoga poses. The emphasis
here is on the Taoist health and vitality techniques and certainly not
on attaining difficult Yoga poses.
It could be said that there is
also a fusion between ancient Taoist internal alchemical techniques and
modern physiology. This is done primarily with the clearest explanation
I've heard as to how these techniques can positively influence human
health. Some of these techniques have some similarity with those found
in the Indian and Hatha Yoga traditions as well, if you really search
Regarding Zhen Hua Yangs training, he was not trained
by Indian or Western Yoga teachers. While the location of his family
lineage, Mianyang, borders the Tibetan plateau, his teachers have all
been from China. His first formal teacher was the senior teacher from
the Buddhist temple at Shaolin. The Shaolin temple is one of the most
well known martial arts centres in the world. Zhen Hua Yang started
training with this teacher when he was seven years old and the teacher
had to regularly travel over a thousand kilometers to Mianyang to do the
teaching. To me this suggests that Zhen Hua Yang’s family is highly
regarded by the Shaolin Buddhist tradition.
Curiously Zhen Hua
Yang confided to me that the Shaolin training involved a lot of
stretching and that when he was a few years older and ready to learn his
own family's tradition, his grandfather took him aside and suggested he
better not do all the stretching his Shaolin teacher suggested or he
would end up hurting himself and that it was time for him to learn the
“internal way”. Zhen Hua Yang's Grandfather is still alive at 107 years
old at last count!
Zhen Hua Yang also had a Taoist teacher from a
young age he speaks fondly of. Another observation that Zhen Hua Yang
confided to us was that Taoist monks look young for their age and
Buddhist monks don't. When asked why he replied with words to the effect
that Taoist monks look after themselves, while Buddhists monks try to
look after everyone else.
To me is a reflection of Taoist
philosophy valuing harmony with nature and personal health and lies in
contrast with Buddhist institutional philosophies which tend to value
personal sacrifice for the well-being of others, which can include
sacrificing one's own personal health. For a discussion of authoritarian
hierarchy in Buddhist institutions see The Guru Papers: Masks of
Authoritarian Power by Kramer & Alstad (1983).
From what I
have gathered from Zhen Hua Yang, and a handful of authors such as
Mantak Chia, Bruce Frantzis, and Daniel Reid Taoists have been
researching, experimenting, and refining practices for enhancing health
and longevity for millennia unfettered by notions of self sacrifice.
From my perspective most Western Yoga devotees have an enormous amount
to learn from the Taoist vitality and longevity traditions and that such
learning would help them to understand what was truly valuable in the
Indian and Hatha Yoga traditions as well. In particular it would help
Yoga teachers and practitioners understand some of the assumptions that
at first seem to be O.K., but that in time prove to give rise to a
practise that is risky at best and downright insidiously harmful at
worst. In other words learning about the Taoist vitality and longevity
traditions would help sort out the “wheat from the chaff” in Yoga.
To give an example of a Westerner who I think has made some valuable
contributions to the field of Yoga, but has expressed some assumptions
about Yoga that I think fall into the camp of risky at best and
downright harmful at worst, I will consider some of the contributions of
Tom Myers (http://www.anatomytrains.com/at/whos-who/tom-myers/).
He has contributed valuable insights into the field of Anatomy as it
applies to Yoga, Massage, and Physiotherapy. He was instrumental in
elucidating the importance of the actions of the fascia in the body
rather than just the muscles and the bones. This has led to massage
techniques that emphasize decreasing the tension in the fascia, rather
than just the muscles. This approach has proved to be extremely
beneficial in my own practice as a Physiotherapist.
when Tom Myers discussed Yoga in an interview with the online Yoga
education websight in 2011 he made what I believe is the mistake most
modern postural Yoga traditions make, both Indian and Western, and the
mistake Zhen Hua Yang’s Grandfather was referring to regarding the
Shaolin temple teacher, that is, an overemphasis on stretching and
In the Tom Myer interview he suggests that:
“…injury occurs when there is no give”.
“And so the idea of Yoga is … to make it possible for that little bit
of give to happen…so when you go into Yoga poses, when you go to the
extreme of a movement and then extend your extreme by stretching, you
are increasing the amount of resilience in your tissues so that all the
tissues give a little”.
Regarding strengthening and lengthening:
“It's important for yoga teachers to be able to see when their students
are doing … and then take steps to either strengthen or lengthen,
depending on whats needed.”
The trouble with strengthening muscles is that this can create a high
resting tone that in certain muscles can both decrease blood flow and
mechanically irritate nerves leading to pain. This is especially so in
some of the muscles in the lower back, hips, abdomen, upper back, and
neck. Learning the most advantageous muscles with which to hold up the
body to avoid collapsing is the art of Tai Chi and can be of Yoga too
Regarding the idea that extending “… your
extreme by stretching…” is a primary goal or method in Yoga, I believe
this is a primary cause of pain in Yoga practitioners. This pain often
develops so insidiously a person does not know it is occurring or what
is causing it until it is severe, sometimes severe enough to require
To provide some evidence of this from a surgeon
who performs hip surgery on women who practice Yoga consider the
following excerpt from an article published in the New York Times in
November 2013 titled “Is Women's Flexibility a Liability (in Yoga)” by
William J. Broad:
“It's a relatively high incidence of injury,”
Jon Hyman, an orthopedic surgeon in Atlanta, told me. “People don't come
in often saying I was doing Zumba or tai chi” when they experienced
serious hip pain, he said. “But yoga is common.”
For the most in depth and I believe open minded discussion on the issue of injuries in Yoga see Mathew Remski's websight (http://matthewremski.com/).
Not only does the stretching and strengthening approach carry with it a
relatively high risk of pain, injury, and dysfunction, but it also does
not adequately embrace some the “gold” that is in the Indian and Hatha
Krishnamacharya, a seminal figure in the
development of modern postural Yoga, travelled a great distance from his
home in Southern India to seek out a Hatha Yogi living in Tibet from
whom he learned for over seven years. Presumably he went to Tibet
because he could find no one suitable to teach him in Southern India. He
then moved back to Southern India and taught Yoga initially to school
children. Two of his students were B.K.S Iyengar (Iyengar Yoga) and
Pathabhi Jois (Asthanga Vinyassa Yoga). These two brought modern
postural Yoga to the West arguably more than anyone else.
In his first book, Yoga Makaranda (1934) Krishnamacharya states that:
“Asana practice renders correct blood circulation.” (p. 9)
“If the blood is not clean, then the nadi cakras will not function (rotate) properly.” (p. 10)
“Nadi cakras” are what Western Yogis call “Chakras”. Indeed there are
many references to the blood, twenty four in all including sixteen
references to “Blood circulation” or “blood flow” and seven references
to “Clean blood circulation” or “purifies the blood”. This suggest that
clean blood and it's circulation was quite a high priority to
Krishnamacharya. Just how this was accomplished I think can be found in
instructions of what to do with the abdomen during downward facing dog:
“After pulling the abdomen in and pushing it out, exhale the breath out.” (p. 68)
Of course it is difficult to understand exactly what Krishnamacharya
meant as he is no longer around to ask having died in 1989 at the age
101 years old.
This emphasis on cleaning and circulating the
blood seems to have largely not made it through to modern postural Yoga.
Possibly this is because the blood is something internal that cannot be
Zhen Hua Yang also emphasizes the importance of
cleaning and circulating the blood and points out that doing so
successfully can be seen, especially in the eyes. The eyes have a large
number of small capillaries that Zhen Hua Yang says won't get an ideal
blood supply if a high proportion of the blood's cells are clumped
together as occurs with aged blood cells. The clumped cells literally
won't fit through the small capillaries. This tends to clog up the
capillary beds and impede the free flow of blood.
Zhen Hua Yang
points out that this process of poor circulation will worsen with age
and occur in all body’s tissues including the very organs whose job it
is to filter and clean the blood, especially the liver, spleen, and
kidneys. This creates a “vicious cycle” where poor blood flow to these
organs means they cannot filter the blood of aging clumped cells, which
results in poorer blood flow in the capillary beds of these organs and
so on leading to poor health (and dull eyes).
This is why one of
the first points Zhen Hua Yang makes in his workshops is that learning
how to “service” the internal organs is first thing to do in practise.
This begins the process of cleaning the blood. Learning how to improve
the function of the bone marrow by improving it’s circulation comes next
because it is the bone marrow that produces new blood cells. According
to Zhen Hua Yang and in my own experience these techniques lead to
greater health, vitality, longevity, and enhanced physical function.
They are largely responsible for his own and his family's martial arts
ability and longevity.
None of these techniques requires deep or
prolonged stretching, but they tend to be challenging, not because they
are painful or uncomfortable, but because in some ways they oppose the
postural tendencies all human learn from a young age. For example, Zhen
Hua Yang (and for that matter my other Chinese teacher Wee Kee Jin) will
frequently point out that most people hold far too much tension in
their lower back, hip, abdominal, upper back, and neck muscles even
though most people are totally unaware of it. This tension impedes the
free flow of blood and tends to pinch and tether nerves leading to pain.
It should be pointed out that Zhen Hua Yang did not make these concepts
and techniques up. They are held in the cannon of knowledge in the
Taoist tradition (Mantak Chia discusses some similar techniques in his
publications) and at least to some extent in the Hatha Yoga tradition as
alluded to earlier with Krishnamacharya’s Yoga Makaranda (1935).
Nevertheless Zhen Hua Yang’s understanding is very deep and broad. I
think his formal training in Chemical and Mechanical Engineering in
China has contributed to his understanding and allows him to discuss
Taoist body technology in straightforward scientific terms when
I hope I have got across the idea that whether your
interests lie in Tai Chi, Yoga, Western gym based health and fitness, or
just wanting to be a healthy human, Zhen Hua Yang’s workshops are very
It should also be pointed out that many of the
techniques used to cleanse the blood also improve the function of the
digestive organs, which is a key topic Zhen Hua Yang has chosen to
discuss along with musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction in his upcoming
workshop this Fri to Sun 28 - 30 Nov 2014 at the Maroochydore Sailing
Club Chambers Island.
Frid 28 Nov 2 pm to 5:30 pm
Sat 29 Nov 9 am to 12:30 and 1:30 - 5 pm
Sun 29 Nov 9 am to 12:30 and 1:30 - 5 pm
For all sessions: $370
Individual sessions $90
Contact Sarah Johnson for booking and payment:
Ph. 0404 420 205 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit calligraphyhealth.com.au for more information
Hope to see you there.
February 2009 "Stability Exercises For Yoga:
From Low Load to High Load.
What Comes Between Updog and Downdog?
Why its Lolasana, the Forgotten Asana.