Taoist Yoga (a.k.a. Tao Yoga) is a misnomer, a mistaken category with no correlation
to Daoist technical terms. Yoga is an Indian technical term that derives from the
Sanskrit yuj, meaning “to yoke” and, by extension, “to unite.” It is originally a
soteriological term. In an Indian context, it often refers to the Yoga School of
Patanjali (2nd c. CE?). In a popular Western context, it usually refers to stretching
routines aimed at health and fitness, most of which derive from later Indian systems
such as Hatha Yoga. There is no such term as yoga in Chinese culture. “Taoist Yoga”
thus represents a modern appropriation and hybridization of Indian and Chinese cultural
At present, the earliest known occurrence of “Taoist Yoga” appeared in Lu K’uan Yu’s
(Charles Luk; 1898-1978) Taoist Yoga: Alchemy and Immortality (1973), which is a
translation of the Xingming fajue mingzhi 性命法訣明旨 by Zhao Bichen 趙避塵 (1860-1942).
The term eventually became part of popular Western discourse, wherein it was adopted
in the 1980s by early Healing Tao, Mantak Chia’s (Xie Mingde 謝明德; b. 1940) syncretic
and popularized Qigong system that incorporates elements of Daoist internal alchemy.
In its earliest Western usage, “Taoist Yoga” referred to (1) Daoist internal alchemy
(neidan 内丹); (2) Partnered sexual practices, often misidentified as “Daoist”; and
(3) Stretching exercises. In content and practice, there are parallels between Daoist
internal alchemy and Kundalini Yoga, and between Daoyin and Hatha Yoga.
In contemporary popular Western discourse, the term continues to be used in its three
earlier senses. However, it has also been systematized as a specific form of “yoga”
(stretching routines), complete with teacher certification programs. In that context,
it sometimes goes by the names “Flow Yoga” and “Yin Yoga.” The latter is said to
be softer than “Yang Yoga” (read: all other forms of Yoga) and to focus on the connective
tissue, both of which its adherents identify as “yin”. So-called “Yin Yoga,” like
“Taoist Yoga”, is a contemporary form of hybrid spirituality. Yin and yang are indigenous
Chinese terms related to “traditional Chinese cosmology.” Yin Yoga adherents not
only misidentify yin-yang cosmology as “Daoist”, but also misconstrue the defining
characteristics of Daoism.
At the present time, it is unclear if any of the content of so-called “Taoist Yoga”
derives from Daoist Daoyin practices. Preliminary research suggests that some so-called
“Taoist Yoga” is a modification of Indian practices, while other versions derive
from Chinese Wushu 武術 and Gongfu 功夫 (Kung-fu) training exercises. As such, “Taoist
Yoga” is part of what may be referred to as Popular Western Taoism, a form of New
Age hybrid spirituality that appropriates some aspects of the religious tradition
which is Daoism in order to increase cultural capital and marketability.
Further Reading: Ancient Way to Keep Fit/Zong Wu and Li Mao; Chinese Healing Arts/William
Berk (ed.); Chinese Healing Exercises/Livia Kohn; Daoist Body Cultivation/Livia Kohn
(ed.); Taoist Meditation and Longevity Techniques/Livia Kohn (ed.).
See also Daoyin, Daoist Practice, and entries on Daoism.