Book Review: The Tao of Health and Longevity by Da Liu

Da Liu: The Dao of Health and LongevityThe Tao of Health and LogevityDa Liu is an important character in the development of Tai Ji in the West. He it was who introduced (Yang style) Tai Ji to the United States, long before Zhèng Màn qīng (Cheng Man-ch’ing) arrived in New York in 1964. (In fact, Cheng Man-Ching stayed with Da Liu until he was able to start his own school).This is the third of seven books he wrote on Daoism and Chinese culture.

This is not a great book, and not Da Liu’s best book, but there are a few things to interest the reader. Apart from a fairly detailed description of the Eight Pieces of Brocade, a set of Qi gong exercises, the preface relates a story about General Yang Sen (who lived to be 96) and his teacher, the Taoist master Li Ch’ing Yuen, who lived to be 250 years old. Li Ch’ing Yuen attributed his longevity to the practice of an exercise similar to T’ai Ch’uan.

Elsewhere (not in this book) we find out what Da Liu meant

Li Ch’ing Yuen… was born in 1678 in China. He married fourteen times, had 180 direct descendants spanning eleven generations, and lived to be 256 years old, according to Da Liu. Three years before his death in 1933, a Chinese General [Yang Sen] met Li Ch’ing Yuen and later described his physical appearance: He has good eyesight and a brisk stride; lie stands seven feet tall, has very long fingernails, and a ruddy complexion. Many of Li’s disciples were over 100 years old. What was the secret to his longevity? When he was 130 years old, he encountered a very old man in the mountains. This man claimed to be 500 years old and attributed his longevity to having practiced a set of exercises similar to Tai Chi Ch’uan. Called Ba-Kua, they included specific sounds, breathing instructions, dietary, and herbal recommendations. The mountain hermit taught these to Li Ch’ing Yuen and he taught them to Da Liu.

My longevity, Master Li Ch’ing Yuen said, is due to the fact that I performed the exercises every day – regularly, correctly, and with sincerity – for 120 years. The best time, he noted, was between 11 p.m. and 11 a.m. when he repeated each exercise two to six times.

Bruce Frantzis has pointed out that Ba Gua masters often live to be much older than Tai Ji masters, and this is something that requires serious attention.

In chapter 3, T’ai chi ch’uan and the systems of the body, Da Liu points out that Repulse Monkey is a good movement for activating the microcosmic orbit, specifically for reversing the flow of energy in the governing vessel (du mai):

Taoists believe that the vitality of the sperm [jing] can be purified into a source of energy. huan ching pu nuo [澴 精 哺 腦 huán jīng bǔ nǎo – return jing feed brain] is the Taoist term for directing this vitality from the lower body to the brain.

An excellent T’ai Chi Ch’uan movement that applies this principle is called Step Back and Repulse Monkey. At the beginning of this movement, the right hand drops to the thigh area as you step back with the right foot and inhale. As the right hand moves back and rises to the head area, the mind and chi carry the vitality from the tan t’ien in the abdomen through the spinal cord to the brain. Now the right hand pushes forward and away from the head area, while you exhale. This causes the mind to bring the energy from the brain through the mouth to the front of the body and return it to the tan t’ien.
– p40: my comments in square brackets []

In Chapter 4, Breathing, Da Liu mentions heel breathing (presumably relating to the Shi Mian point in the centre of the heel?) and also embryo breathing, saying that the latter is discussed in his
T’ai Chi Ch’uan and Meditation. He also mentions that the six healing sounds (Six sounds for the Benefit of the Inner Organs): HA (heart), HU (spleen), SHI (solar plexus – surely he means spleen), SSSSS (lungs), SHU (liver) and FU (kidneys). He refers us to his Taoist Health Exercise Book.

Da Liu mentions that squatting is a beneficial exercise (p139-140) and that he says more in his Taoist Health Exercise Book. This book has gone through three editions. I will review it once I’ve got hold of a copy.

There’s a nice clip of Da Liu demonstrating Tai Ji on artstechnology.com, which belongs to his student Charles Riley.

Editions:The Tao of Health and Longevity 1997 ISBN: 1569247188

  • Original US harcover 1978 Schoken books 0805236767
  • Original paperback 1979 Routledge & Kegan Paul ISBN: 0-7100-0079-0
  • Penguin/Arkana reprint 1988 ISBN: 0-14-019133-X (Penguin also put stickers with the new ISBN on the back of the 1979 edition).
  • Revised edition 1990 ISBN: 1569249008
  • Revised edition, reprinted  1997 ISBN: 1569247188
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~ by scalambra on August 1, 2009.

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