Knowledge Transfer of Bodily Practices Between China and India in the Mediaeval World
The “family resemblance” between the Chinese therapeutic exercises known as daoyin (lit. “guiding and pulling”), and the Indian breathing and physical movement practices later known as haṭhayoga is marked, and would appear to be the result of the transfer of knowledge and culture, in parallel with merchandise, along the Silk Roads and sea routes. China possessed a rich tradition of yangsheng self-cultivation teachings on breathing, sexual techniques and therapeutic exercises from the 3rd century BCE onwards. The complexities of haṭhayoga were not, however, laid bare until the 11th century CE when it was described in the Amṛtasiddhi, the earliest extant haṭhayoga text. Daoyin reached its zenith during the Sui dynasty (581–618 CE), while later on various esoteric doctrines known as neidan (“inner alchemy”) became prominent. These became the major source for those hoping to achieve longevity and immortality and they preceded haṭhayoga by about two centuries. Neidan may well have formed the link between the Chinese and Indian approaches, since they have much in common including advocating bodily inversion, specific non-sexual practices and breath control, as well as the use of the alchemical language.