“If Yin Yoga is the child, Tao Yoga is the mother.” ~Taoist Master Hyunmoon Kim
It is common today for many people to use yoga as an exercise and as part of their workout program. There is no doubt there are great benefits to be gained from very active “yang” styles of yoga like Vinyasa and Ashtanga. However, a gentler, more flexible and perhaps more complete yogic system is sometimes needed as you feel the effects of chronic stress, incur injuries or simply experience the process of aging. Enter the history of Yin Yoga; it is a soft style of yoga derived from the Taoist Yoga practice with relaxed postures done mostly on the floor.
“Yin Yoga is based on the Taoist concept of yin and yang—Yin can be described as stable, immobile—passive, downward moving,” states the “Slow Down with Yin Yoga” article published in Yoga Journal in October 2008. In comparison to a Yin Yoga class, a Taoist Yoga practice includes development of both yin and yang energies. In the Taoist system, gentle postures are preceded and followed by much more vigorous sequences to super-charge one’s vital energy, or “Qi.” There are sequences to activate and circulate Qi within all the major meridians, or energy pathways, in the body. Eventually, in Taoist practice, these active “yang” sequences, together with relaxed “yin” postures, are believed to balance both types of energies, creating a more unified whole.
Additionally, Taoist yin-style postures are unique because they each represent an elemental energy of water, wood, fire, metal or earth. The postures are performed in sequences that mimic the natural cycle of these five elements in nature; it is a true reflection of the Taoist ideal where the microcosm is contained in the macrocosm. The five elements of Taoist Yoga, rather than serving as diagnostic tools (as they are used in acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine), instead generate posture sequences that constitute a holistic method of caring for one’s health. Along with breathwork, meditation and vigorous yang-style sequences, the postures of Taoist Yoga can be thought of as an original preventative healthcare system, one which entices all five elements into harmony.
Martial arts master Paulie Zink may have been the first in the United States to apply this technique in the 1980s when he taught his student, Paul Grilley, a type of Taoist Yoga with longer-held postures. To Grilley, these postures seemed like the yin answer to the more active yang styles of yoga. According to YinYoga.com author and teacher Bernie Clark, “He [Grilley] started offering this ‘all-yin’ practice to his Hatha Yoga students, and they too began to resonate with the practice.” Moving forward into the 1990s, Grilley’s student, Sarah Powers, coined the name “Yin Yoga” to replace the title Taoist Yoga, the style that was that was originally practiced and taught by Zink.
Before the 1980s, the origins of Taoist yoga are a matter of some debate. Some claim it is a form of Taoist Qigong, while others think it is a modification of Indian yoga practices. Louis Komjathy, Ph.D., professor of religious studies at Boston University, “believes the term Taoist Yoga to be a misnomer, because there is no yoga to be found in Taoist philosophy.” Alternatively, there are many accounts of solitary wandering Taoist sages in ancient times who were adept at martial arts and breath cultivation practices known as internal alchemy. The practice of Taoism itself can be classified into four main categories: folk, religious, philosophical and mountain Taoism. Mountain Taoist sages are sometimes associated with the sacred mountain ranges where they dwelled. Taoist hermits, as well as Buddhist monks and Shamans, can still be found today practicing meditative arts in the temples and remote caves of mountains in both China and Korea.
Some Korean Taoist hermit practices are “yogas” and are actually referred to as dan-tien ho hup practices which involve postures, breathwork and meditation. While some of the postures are exactly the same as many Yin Yoga postures, the breathwork in Taoist Yoga, however, is primary. In Korean Taoist Yoga, the developing stages of practice are identified by the strength and depth of a practitioner’s breathing. Other qualities similar to Yin Yoga include postures with longer hold times
of about 1-3 minutes, very relaxed poses for beginners, and an emphasis on deep breathing.
One style of Taoist Yoga, named SunDo, translates to “refining Qi energy through breathwork.” It is a practice which dates back thousands of years to hermits practicing in the mountains, passing on their lineage from teacher to student. One SunDo master emerged from his secluded life in the Korean mountains in the late 1960s, and began to teach the practice in society. His sanctioned adepts then traveled the globe teaching the practice, one of whom is Taoist Master Hyunmoon Kim. Upon arriving here in the U.S., Master Kim founded one of the first SunDo Taoist Yoga centers here in Connecticut. The year was 1979.
Although the origin of the exact style of Taoist Yoga taught by Paulie Zink remains a mystery, it is
the practice from which modern Yin Yoga was derived. However, just as total yogic health is not always gained through yang styles alone, it would be a mistake to believe it can be gained only through yin practice. Once a part is removed from the whole, the part itself, in many ways, may become inadequate.
This year, One World Wellness & Yoga opened its doors to feature basic through advanced classes in Taoist Yoga. The center is currently accepting students for the Tao Yoga Teacher Training Program certified by SunDo International. Beginning in October, the training focuses on postures, breathwork, anatomy/physiology, meditation, chakras, energy anatomy and Tao Yoga for special needs. The program also offers two days of traditional Chinese medicine studies with a licensed acupuncturist covering topics such as meridian theory, primary acupressure points, and causes/disruptions of Qi imbalance. Tao Yoga teacher training prepares current or future yoga teachers to attain assistant instructor status at One World Wellness & Yoga and/or a certificate as a breathwork integration coach to facilitate healing breath sessions with students or clients.