The use of calisthenics, stretching, and breathing exercises to maintain good health, fight disease, and enhance the quality of life is of great antiquity.
This type of physical activity has a long documented history in both India and China.
Seeking ways to enjoy a long, healthy, energetic, ethical and enchanted life are, of course, of widespread and perennial interest.
Interesting theories abound about the origin and development of the Eight Section Brocade Chi Kung.
In 1973, archeologists in China excavated the tomb of King Ma.
In King Ma's tomb at Mawangdui, on the outskirts of the city of Changsha in Hunan Province, they discovered medical manuals, compilations, and a silk scroll on which were drawn 44 humans in various poses or postures.
"Breathing in and out in various manners, spitting out the old and taking in the new, walking like a bear and stretching their neck like a bird to achieve longevity - this is what such practitioners of Daoyin, cultivators of the body and all those searching for long life like Ancestor Peng, enjoy." - Chuang Tzu, Chapter 15, circa 300 BCE (Actually, Chuang Tzu seems to be mocking these exercises as unnecessary.) There was a wealthy King Ma who lived sometime around 160 BCE during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 24 CE).
When King Ma died they placed many documents in his tomb.
In The History of the Later Han, Hua T'o wrote: "Man's body must have exercise, but it should never be done to the point of exhaustion.
A gentle sweat will exude, the complexion will become rosy; the body will feel light and you will want to eat." - From: Drawing Silk: A Training Manual for T'ai Chi, p. One tradition is that the Buddhist teacher, Bodhidharma (448-527 CE), a famous Grand Master of Chan (Zen), introduced a set of 18 exercises to the Buddhist monks at the Shaolin Temple.
These are known as the "Eighteen Hands of the Lohan." This Shaolin Lohan Qigong (i.e., the art of the breath of the enlightened ones) "is an internal set of exercises for cultivating the "three treasures" of qi (vital energy), jing (essence), and shen (spirit)," according to Howard Choy.
Over many centuries in China, traditional medical remedies (e.g., herbs, massage, diet, heat, acupuncture, exercise routines, etc.) were combined with esoteric and magical Daoist (Taoist) and local shamanistic healing practices.
In addition, trade and cultural exchanges between India and China transferred Buddhist theory and practices, Tantra, Yoga, Dao-yin, medicinal herbs, medical techniques, and martial arts training techniques between these civilizations.