In the history of human civilization, life nurturing may be an eternal topic. Down through the ages, people exhaust themselves with perseverance exploring and seeking the way of life nurturing, desiring to reach the living state of a perfect life. Wu Qin Xi (Five-Animal Exercises) is the crystallization of Hua Tuo’s explorations and practice of life nurturing. It not only made positive contributions to physical and mental health of the people in all ages, but also produced far-reaching influence on the development of body building and life nurturing methods of later ages, especially Health Qigong. It can be seen that Wu Qin Xi is of a very important status in the Chinese history of life nurturing and body building. This Article attempts to reveal the cultural mechanism contained in Hua Tuo Wu Qin Xi by taking historical materials as the clues and with reference to relevant literatures and modern theory of body building.
I. Taking animals as models was due to the influence from the Outlook on Heavenly Way of Nature.
The Outlook on Heavenly Way of Nature was a mainstream ideological trend of the society in the Han and Wei dynasties, and was a scientific outlook on nature produced after breaking of theological imprisonment of the “Outlook on Induction between Universe and Human Being”. So called “Heavenly Way of Nature”, means that everything has its own nature, and such natural inherent quality is their own “nature”, whereas acting in accordance with natural quality means conforming to the “Heavenly Way”, namely “the law in conformity with nature”.
According to the Outlook on Heavenly Way of Nature, the purpose of exercise conduction exercise is to restore the natural inherent quality of human beings, namely health and longevity, because human beings are unceasingly deviating from their own natural inherent quality. If human beings want to restore it, human beings should follow the “(Right) Way”. “Human beings correspond to similar creatures”, namely, the due natural inherent quality of human beings should exist in the creatures similar to human beings. Those who have the characteristics of health and longevity as well as life features similar to human beings are just those animals who can breathe. For this reason, imitating the behavioural characteristics of those animals would help human beings restore their own natural inherent quality. So my presumption based thereon is that, Hua Tuo created and designed Wu Qin Xi by taking animals as models, which was due to that he obtained enlightenment from the activity features of animals.
Of course, such method of body-building conduction exercise imitating animal features did not originate from Hua Tuo. In Huainanzi therebefore, there was the conduction method for imitating activity features of six kinds of animals. As early as in Zhuangzi · Ingrained Ideas, it also mentioned "bear-hanging and bird-stretching”; on a silk painting unearthed from an ancient tomb of the Han dynasty at Mawangdui, there was also a Diagram of Conduction Exercises, containing such movements imitating animals as bird, dragon and bear. Facts prove that the phenomena of biomimetic life nurturing exist universally. Similarly Hua Tuo selected imitation of animal features as the method for conduction, body building and disease treatment, which was related to the then era when people just broke the theological imprisonment of the “Outlook on Induction between Universe and Human Being” and a historic chance was provided for revitalization of the "Outlook on Heavenly Way of Nature”.
II. TCM theories are the thinking source for designing and arranging Wu Qin Xi.
Hua Tuo said “Human body should do labor work, but should not exhaust its energy”, which, in other words, means that human beings should often put forth their strength and do movements, but should not reach their limit or do it excessively, thus can keep body health. This is the thinking of “motion” for nourishing life put forward against “stillness”. Motion-stillness relationship is just the embodiment of yin-yang relationship, while the intermediary embodying yin-yang relationship of human body is “qi-blood”.
In the Han dynasty, the yin-yang concept became the epistemological prerequisite for formation of medical theory system. The then most typical medicine work Huangdi Neijing (Huangdi’s Internal Classic) put forward that, yin-yang balance is the essence of health of human body. The yin-yang balance in human body is manifested through the condition of relaxation of meridians and collaterals as well as smooth circulation of qi and blood. In case qi and blood are unsmooth and the qi of zang-fu organs and meridians were blocked for a long time, various diseases will break out. If a person desires to make his qi and blood smooth and his meridians and collaterals relaxed, he should do exercise. As Lüshi Chunqiu · Jinshu(Lü’s Chronicle · Enjoying Natural Span of Life) pointed out, “Flowing water does not rot, nor a door-hinge rust, which is due to motion. It is the same with body and qi. If body does not move, essence will not flow; if essence does not flow, qi will stagnate.” This emphasizes the effects of “motion”. Here “motion” is a correction to excessive “stillness”, and “motion” is used for balancing “stillness”. Motion-stillness balance is also an ideological embodiment yin-yang balance.
Since there is a balance between motion and stillness, there should be a proper degree of “motion”, or in other words, there should be an external standard. This standard is just sweating. Certainly, there is also a standard for sweating. If sweating is not thorough or human body contracts wind or dampness evil after sweating, disease will arise as well. For this reason, the exercise standard put forward by Hua Tuo is that “skin should become slightly tacky due to sweating”, and “talcum powder should be put on skin” after sweating. Talcum powder not only makes an exerciser feel comfortable, but also has the effects of astringency and disinfection, thus it can prevent the invasion of wind and dampness.
Sweating is the result of “motion”, and is the standard for measuring the effect of “motion”. The effect of sweating is just to dredge meridians and collaterals, enable access between zang-fu organs and skin, and then disperse and eliminate the “vacuity evil and bandit wind” in human body. What should a person do If his body contracts wind evil? A important method is to adopt exercise condution to sweat so as to force “wind evil” out of human body. For this reason, as Hua Tuo said “If a person feels uncomfortable in his body, he should stand up and do a kind of animal exercise, to the extent that his skin becomes slightly tacky due to sweating”, what Hua Tuo mentioned is just the method of sweating. If people who live in the present age with an insufficient healthy qi can often manage to sweat through exercise, they would be able to avoid stubborn diseases caused by overdeep invasion of evil qi. This point was also somewhat confirmed in Zhong Zang Jing (Central Treasury Classic), which mentioned that: “Condution exercise can expel external evils from joints, while massage can expel excesses from muscles“, ”If a person does not do conduction exercise when he should do so, external evil will invade his joints and make it concretionary and diffult in passage; if he does not do massage when he should do so, excesses will stay in muscles and will not disappear for a long time. It can be seen that Hua Tuo had his obvious intention of disease prevention and body building as he created and designed Wu Qin Xi.
It is clear from the foregoing that Hua Tuo was a physician but applied the form of conduction exercise to cure diseases and build body, which is inseparable from the yin-yang and qi-blood theories in medicine science.
(By Wang Jinghao)