The term dao essentially means “to guide” or “to direct,” and appears originally in a political and cultural context in the sense of “leading” the people in a certain direction. The character consists of two parts, the word Dao for “Way, ” which is often also used in the sense of “to guide,” and the word cun for “inch,” which indicates a small distance. Guiding the qi in a concrete, physical way means thus that one makes a conscious effort to establish harmony with the Dao in the body, realizing the inherent polarity of yin and yang and aligning oneself with the cosmos.
~Livia Kohn, “Chinese Healing Exercises,” p. 11
“Daoyin” is the original term for health enhancing exercises now more usually referred to as “Qi Gong” (“Chi Kung”). In essence it refers to the ancient body-mind exercises which formed the physical element of “Yang Sheng”providing health care and physical and spiritual purification leading to longevity
Their exact historical origins are uncertain, but they are certainly some thousands of years old.
The first historical reference about it appears in Zhuangzi, a Taoist text written between the 4th and 2nd century BC:
“Breathing in and out, exhaling and inhaling, they get rid of the old to absorb the new. They swing like bears and stretch like birds – all this they do in order to have long life. They are Daoyin disciples, people who nourish their form seeking for longevity like Pengzu.”
Many different interpretations were given to the word “daoyin” during the ages. The following two are the most reliable:
daoqi yinti - guide the qi and stretch the body
daoqi yinliao - guide the qi to obtain a healing effect
Both interpretations describe important aspects of the exercise, and do not contradict each other. The first describes the technique while the second refers to one goal of the exercise. Actually with daoyin we guide the qi and move our body in order to obtain a beneficial effect to our health.