Knowledge Transfer of Bodily Practices Between China and India in the Mediaeval World

  • Dolly Yang Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica

Abstract

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.

Author Biography

Dolly Yang, Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica

Dolly Yang received her PhD in 2018 from University College London for her investigation into the institutionalisation of therapeutic exercise in Sui China (581–618 CE). She was a post-doctoral Research Associate at the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan between 2020 and 2021. Currently, she is working as a freelance researcher and translator. Her research focuses on the social and cultural aspects of bodily practices in pre-modern China.

Published
2023-04-08
How to Cite
YANG, Dolly. Knowledge Transfer of Bodily Practices Between China and India in the Mediaeval World. Journal of Yoga Studies, [S.l.], v. 4, p. 413 – 440, apr. 2023. ISSN 2664-1739. Available at: <https://journalofyogastudies.org/index.php/JoYS/article/view/JoYS.2024.V4.12>. Date accessed: 29 feb. 2024.