What is most straight seems crooked;
The greatest skill seems like clumsiness;
The greatest eloquence like stuttering.
The wise old Taoists developed a sophisticated gymnastics for the elderly. This sophistication reconciled two necessities:
1. An exercise must be easy as possible to execute.
2. An exercise must be as effective as possible.
The yogi tries to open up every joint and mode of respiration directly. He can do it through skillful instructions, with gentleness, but the intention is still to use a direct approach. The population of those days had a healthier postural repertoire than the Westerners of today. In their daily lives, they used the lotus position, the tailor’s position, squatted feet flat on the floor and bottom on top of the heels, sat on their heels, sat T-square (legs extended, back straight up). Using these postures was therefore not considered acrobatic. Most exercises can be performed squatting, sitting in a chair, or standing. Taoist gymnasts prefer to concentrate on the gestures that will have an impact on the respiration without the involvement of consciousness. For example, a number of writings speak of windmill motions. The gymnast rapidly turns his arms clockwise then counterclockwise. The faster the arms turn, the faster the ribs and the diaphragm move and consequently, the more activated the respiration. The choice of the gesture decides what will be stimulated, but the attention does not direct itself necessarily at that moment on the thoracic breathing or on the coordination of abdominal and thoracic respiration. If the exercise is done standing, which is easiest, the attention focuses mostly on keeping the feet well anchored, without violently turning the arms, and counting the number of windmill motions.25
At first glance, this exercise seems too easy; nonetheless, it is very effective. More than that, the
Chinese compensate for the lack of mechanical difficulty with length of the practice. If you turn your arms as fast as you can 100 times, you will see that the exercise tones up the postural and respiratory muscles quite well. The idea here is that it is better to exercise regularly in an easy, well-targeted way than to become discouraged by a difficult exercise. We are far from the daily two-minute stretching exercises to solve all of our problems; but we must not forget that these exercises are designed for the retired.