Song of the Real Meaning

真義歌

No shape, no shadow. Entire body transparent and empty. Forget your surroundings and be natural. Like a stone chime suspended from West Mountain. Tigers roaring, monkeys screeching. Clear fountain, peaceful water. Turbulent river, stormy ocean. With your whole being, develop your life.

 無形無象。全身透空。
 忘物自然。西山懸磬。
 虎吼猿鳴。泉清水靜。
 翻江鬧海。盡性立命。

When practicing taijiquan you must let go of everything. Your mind must be clear and centered. No concepts (preconceptions) should cloud your vision, and no thoughts should hinder your action. The body must be relaxed and stable so that you can be light and agile. Forget your surroundings and just do what needs to be done. West Mountain is a famous mountain. “Like a stone chime suspended from West Mountain” means your mind must be clear, your head held as if suspended from above, and your body as stable and rooted as a great mountain. Sound is important in taijiquan because it is linked to your qi and the emission of power. Your sound must be as powerful as a tiger’s roar and as penetrating as a monkey’s screech. If you lift your spirit (shen) and guide your qi throughout your body, your mind will be as clear and pure as a fountain full of spring water. If you practice taijiquan for a long time, cultivating your qi, your qi will fill your body and circulate peacefully. But, like water, it can move powerfully and quickly so that nothing can stand before it.

“No shape, no shadow.” This means that when you have approached the higher levels of taiji meditation, you find your physical body seems not to exist—you feel that you are a ball of energy, part of the natural world and inseparable from it. Your actions and self are part of the natural order of things, fitting in smoothly and unobtrusively, seeming to have no independent shape of their own, cast- ing no shadow;

“Entire body transparent and empty.” When you feel you are only a ball of energy, there is nothing in your mind, no desire or intention. Since your mind and ego are not there to interfere, you can see clearly and respond correctly.

“Forget your surroundings and be natural.” Once you are transparent, you will easily forget your surroundings and your energy flow will be smooth and natural.

“Like a stone chime suspended from West Mountain.” This implies that your mind is wide open, free, and unrestricted. Like a stone chime suspended from the mountain, all things are clear under you, while your mind is still controlled by you just as the thread suspends the stone chime.

“Tigers roaring, monkeys screeching.” When you move the energy you have cultivated, it can be as strong as a tiger’s roar and reach as far as a monkey’s screech.

“Clear fountain, peaceful water.” Even when your energy is strong, your mind is clear, still, and peaceful.

“Turbulent river, stormy ocean.” In taiji, if you have to use your energy, it can be strong and continuous like a turbulent river or the stormy ocean.

“With your whole being, develop your life.” During all your practice and meditation, you must concentrate your whole attention in order to develop the highest level of the art.

Reference: Tai Chi Chuan Martial Power: Advanced Yang Style by Yang Jwing Ming 2015

We need to practice meditation gently

The most stable posture for meditation is sitting cross-legged on a cushion. Choose a cushion that is the right thickness to support you. The half-lotus and full-lotus positions are excellent for establishing stability of body and mind. To sit in the lotus position, gently cross your legs by placing one foot (for the half-lotus) or both feet (for the full-lotus) on the opposite thighs. If the lotus position is difficult, it is fine just to sit cross-legged or in any comfortable position. Allow your back to be straight, keep your eyes half closed, and fold your hands comfortably on your lap. If you prefer, you can sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands resting on your lap. Or you can lie on the floor, on your back, with your legs straight out, a few inches apart, and your arms at your sides, preferably palms up.
If your legs or feet fall asleep or begin to hurt during sitting meditation so that your concentration becomes disturbed, feel free to adjust your position. If you do this slowly and attentively, following your breathing and each movement of your body, you will not lose a single moment of concentration. If the pain is severe, stand up, walk slowly and mindfully, and when you are ready, sit down again.
In some meditation centers, practitioners are not permitted to move during periods of sitting meditation. They often have to endure great discomfort. To me, this seems unnatural. When a part of our body is numb or in pain, it is telling us something, and we should listen to it. We sit in meditation to help us cultivate peace, joy, and nonviolence, not to endure physical strain or to injure our bodies. To change the position of our feet or do a little walking meditation will not disturb others very much, and it can help us a lot.
Sometimes, we can use meditation as a way of hiding from ourselves and from life, like a rabbit going back to his hole. Doing this, we may be able to avoid some problems for a while, but when we leave our “hole,” we will have to confront them again. For example, if we practice our meditation very intensely, we may feel a kind of relief as we exhaust ourselves and divert our energy from confronting our difficulties. But when our energy returns, our problems will return with them.
We need to practice meditation gently, but steadily, throughout daily life, not wasting a single opportunity or event to see deeply into the true nature of life, including our everyday problems. Practicing in this way, we dwell in profound communion with life.
Thich Nhat Hanh on Sitting Meditation “Peace is every step”

On Constant Purity and Tranquility

The Wonderful Scripture on the Constant Purity and Tranquility, Spoken by the Ultra Supreme Elder Lord

The Elder Lord said:

The Great Tao, being formless, creates heavens and earths;
The Great Tao, being emotionless, runs the sun and the moon;
The Great Tao, being nameless, eternally nurtures all beings.
I do not know its name, and artificially call it “Tao”.

For things belong to Tao, some are pure, some are turbid; some are dynamic, and some are static. Heavens are pure, and earths are turbid; heavens are dynamic, and earths are static; the male are pure, and the female are turbid; the male are dynamic, and the female are static. It falls from the source and flows to the branches, therefore all things are produced.

The pure is the origin of the turbid; the dynamic is the base of the static. If one can always be pure and tranquil, the whole universe will return (to its origin).

A person’s divinity likes to be pure, but his heart disturbs it; a person’s heart likes to be tranquil, but his desires draw it away. If one can constantly dispel his desires, his heart will of itself become tranquil; if he also can make his heart limpid, his divinity will of itself become pure, then naturally, the six desires will not be produced and the three poisons will be cleansed. If one cannot achieve that, it is because his heart is not yet limpid, and his desires are not yet dispelled.

For a person who can achieve that, when he observes inward onto his heart, there is no heart; when he observes outward onto his body, there is no body; and when he observes remote things, there is no thing.

Since these three kinds of things have been understood by his heart of true self, he sees only the emptiness. Observe the emptiness by using the emptiness, the emptiness is not emptied. Since that which can be emptied does not exist, the inexistence of inexistence does not exist either; since the inexistence of inexistence does not exist, there comes the pellucid, bright, and everlasting tranquility. When it is tranquil but there is nothing that is made tranquil, how can desires be produced? Since no desire can be produced, that is the true tranquility — the Reality.

The Reality always corresponds to, and reflects all things; the Reality always stays in its nature. Always reflect in such a way, yet remain tranquil constantly, then it is the Constant Purity and Tranquility.

By keeping such purity and tranquility, one will gradually enter into the true Tao. When the true Tao is entered, that is called the Achievement of Tao. Though it is called the Achievement of Tao, there is actually nothing to achieve, just in order to enlighten living beings, it is called the Achievement of Tao. To those who can understand this with the heart of their true self, the sacrosanct Tao can be imparted.

The Elder Lord said:

A superior person does not compete, an inferior person loves to compete; the superior virtue is free from virtue, and the inferior virtue clings to virtue. Those who cling to anything do not understand Tao and Virtue.

The reason why living beings do not achieve the true Tao is because their hearts are deluded; their hearts being deluded, their divinities are perturbed; their divinities being perturbed, they are attached to myriads of things; being attached to myriads of things, greed and desires are produced; greed and desires being produced, worrying and afflictions also come. Worrying, afflictions, and illusionary consciousnesses torture their bodies and their hearts, and make them profaned by defilements and turbidities, wander among births and deaths, immersed in the ocean of afflictions constantly, and forever lose the true Tao.

The true and eternal Tao can be achieved naturally by those who understand it with the heart of their true self; and those who understand Tao with the heart of their true self, can constantly be pure and tranquil.

The Immortal Elder Gok said:

I had achieved the true Tao. Formerly I had recited this scripture ten thousand times. This scripture was studied and practiced by heavenly gods, and was not taught to inferior persons. I received it from Eastern Glory Heavenly Emperor, Eastern Glory Heavenly Emperor received it from Golden Gate Heavenly Emperor, Golden Gate Heavenly Emperor received it from Western Royal Mother. As for the direct line of Western Royal Mother’s disciples, they imparted it only by word of mouth, and never wrote down the words. Now for the world, I have recorded it by writing it down. A superior person, who understands it with his heart of true self, will ascend high and become a heavenly Immortal; a middling person, who practices it, will get his position in Southern Heavenly Palace; an inferior person, who gets it, will live in the world for a long time, and then roam through the three realms, and ascend into the Golden Gate.

Tzaw-Profoundness Real Person said:

For a person who studies Tao, if he recites and holds this scripture, he will be guarded by virtuous gods of the ten heavens, and then his divinity will be protected by the Jade Seal, his body will be refined by the Golden Liquid, then both his body and his divinity (sublimed souls) will become miraculously beautiful, and he will dissolve in Tao as the Reality.

Midmost One Real Person said:

If a family has this scripture and they truly understand it, no misfortune or obstruction will interfere with them, hosts of sages will guard their door, and their divinities will ascend to the high realm to worship lofty Real Persons in the present of them. When their merits are sufficient and their virtues are completed, the Heavenly Emperor will respond them, and by reciting and holding this scripture without retrogression, they will fly upward riding the clouds of purple light.

Translated into English by Silfong Tsun

Secret records of understanding the Way

TRUE AND FALSE

The Old Man of Clear Serenity said:
There is nothing in the world that does not have both

true and false versions. Practice of the Way may also be true or false, so students should first distinguish the difference clearly.

True practice is total sincerity. It is not a matter of avoiding the world or leaving society. And neither does it depend entirely on deliberate sitting and reciting scriptures. The essential thing is to refine away the false within the true to filter out the true from the false. Only then do you attain the true reality of perfect sincerity.

If you only concern yourself with reciting scriptures in front of other people and do not concern yourself with inner cultivation and self-government, or if you sit quietly all day, immobile as a statue, looking good out wardly but inwardly agitated by roaming thoughts and miscellaneous ideas‐all of this is false.

The false is antagonistic to the true, so if it is not eliminated it will harm the true. But to get rid of it you have to find the appropriate way. If you do not find the way, it is like shutting the door to catch a robber; the false can not be eliminated and the true issure to get hurt.

People who are not of the highest wisdom are influenced and conditioned by false images every day, so they lose sight of natural realities. They are so used to untruth that it becomes truth for them.

Even if there are some who have a little higher consciousness and clearly know that worldly affairs are all artificial, when taught to cultivate the real they still find the artificial hard to relinquish. If they are to be resolute, they first have to refine themselves within the artificial until they feel they have no more interest in artificial things; if they set them aside to seek the real after that, then they will be able to find the real.

If you happen to have been born in a rural area and are basically uncomplicated and unaffected, and never having experienced the bedazzlement of prosperity you do n o t know there is such a thing asartificiality, then you do not know there is reality either. That is because the real is hidden within the artificial and the artificial is not outside the real. What is quintessential is to be able to find out the real in the midst of the artificial and discern the artificial in the midst of the real.

Therefore cultivation of the Way does not require leaving home. You must mix with society, harmonizing illumination, living in the material world without being infected by materialism.

The Old Man of Clear Serenity said:
In quiet sitting, whether or not there is a specific process, you should not cling to form. If you consciously and deliberately try to apply mental images, you are prone to develop all sorts of illnesses. That is called drawing a snake with legs on it; you will bring trouble on yourself.

When we look into the source of this problem, we find it can be attributed to one’s own fixation, inflexibility, and habituation to biased views. It also comes from conceit and rigidity and failure to clarify instructions from a teacher so as to understand them thoroughly.

The upshot of this failure to abide by the principles of the practice, taking in the elixir too rapidly, without the process’s being completed, sitting hastily and carelessly before yin and yang energies have found their respective places.

Some consciously focus their attention on the lower elixir field when they sit. Some roll their eyes up into their heads to gaze upward. They are doing mental gymnastics.

Some concentrate attention on the breathing, like pumping a bellows. Some focus their minds on counting breaths, trying to take energy in without letting it out.

There are a number of such patterns. They can cause dizziness, deafness, reddening of the eyes, distention of the abdomen, pain in the tendons and bones, mental fogginess, nocturnal emissions, and other symptoms.

People who lack the basic capacity tend to develop illnesses by what they do in their pretenses of practicing Taoism. What they do not realize is that practicing the Way is cultivating and nurturing the Way of nature, the natural course.

First it is essential to clear the mind and minimize desires. After that, you preserve and nurture the vital spirit. You may succeed in prolonging life, or even in permanent realization of wizardry or buddhahood; but the effective result is due to inconspicuous practice according to principle, clearing the mind and not making up anything‐it does not come from artificial contrivance.

Generally speaking, quiet sitting has three types of principles. First there are the principles on which higher alchemy is based. In the middle there are the principles of refining the alchemical elixir. Finally there are the principles of lower alchemy.

So every step has its process. The order must be understood, the principles must be observed. Even those who are sincere and genuine may be able to keep the principles of preparation and procedure, but most act carelessly when it comes to completion.

I am going to reverse the order and talk about lower alchemy. You cannot rush; you will be finished only when you have attained thorough resolution, so that your vital spirit is clear and fresh. Otherwise you will merely have one or two experiences, or the process will break down after starting.

If you are careless with lower alchemy, it is very easy to cause harm. I see so many people trying to practice without doing it correctly from the start. Before their minds are settled, and before they have perceived the right conditions, they immediately cross their legs, fold their hands, and deliberately sit. Their heads are not right to start with; their bodies are not upright,their gaze is not even. They try to operate the process before the fire is even burning in the furnace. Even though there remain a number of conditions that have to be present, they cannot wait‐ they thus shut eyes tight, so that purity and pollution are not distinguished and positive energy cannot rise. This way of practice is hardly effective.

In practice, the eyes and ears are the most difficult point. If you simply take the distention of the primary opening to be the process of the work, you may experience itching and ringing in the ears, blurriness in the eyes, and drooling from the mouth that must be consciously drawn in. These are all examples of inability to await the right opportunity, like eyesight and light unable to combine.

If the opening of the ears has not been shut to the outside, the breath in the nose has not become subtle, the true liquid has not been produced, or the fire in the furnace has not been ignited, no state is genuine.

It is altogether essential to reach the point where the eyes, ears, nose, and tongue merge, and vitality, energy, and spirit fuse; that is when the light of insight shines forth. If you do not wait for the medicine to be produced and the fire to ignite, how can the great elixir be refined? If the firing is insufficient, the negative polluted energy in the body cannot be cleared away. Then pure positive energy cannot rise.

I always tell people that the first essential of practice is to even the temper well. You should not practice sitting hastily; wait until positive energy rises and the medicine is produced – only then is the time right.

When it comes to contemplating emptiness, it is essential to attain reversal of attention inward, the state of turning the light around. Rolling the eyes up into the head is not reversal of attention, nor is it turning the light around when the eyes see darkness. You must reach the point where the eyes do not see, the ears do not hear, and the breathing in the nose is extremely subtle. Then you have no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind; you are aware only of the existence of the primary opening, nothing else.

When you arrive here, the light of your true nature emerges. This is called the celestial monarch of the four elements offering a bowl.

Afterward, work on not letting go of this little mystic pass; that will surely be a good way to produce an alchemical pill. But work individually, because the state of turning the light around may take more or less time, depending on the individual.

Above all, don’t be in a hurry. If you do n o t wait for a genuine state to occur but forcibly withdraw your vision and consider that to be turning the light around, sitting with your eyes closed, then positive energy cannot get in and negative energy cannot get out. You will only toil uselessly, without benefit.

There are some people who roll their eyes up into their heads and gaze upward with excessive force. If they do this for a long time, they will suffer either brain damage or possibly blindness, both irreversible. This is very harmful, so I have taken up the admonitions left by the masters over the ages to systematically encompass the practical requirements for realizing the Way.

I have revealed the mechanisms of mysticism without fear of celestial regulations, in hopes that each individual may find out what it is to be human, and return home, to permanent realization of the state of fulfillment of higher development.

If you have worked for a long time but have not perceived any truth, it is because your mind is still unstable. Sages taught people to know how to stop, after which there is stability, calm, and peaceful meditation. The function of stabilization is great indeed! If you practice correctly, your mind will be stable and your temper will be even‐how could you then be unable to perceive truth?

Sitting work is called quiet sitting because it is a matter of cleaning all the pollution from your mind. Once the pollution is gone and your mind is clear, truth naturally becomes evident. The reason people cannot see truth is simply because their minds are too noisy and they cannot see through things and events as they really are.

Whether or not they practice quiet sitting, practitioners of the Way must clean old impurities out of the mind, making it clear and pure. Renew this work daily, without haste or hurry, and eventually you will spontaneously see the benefit.

So when you begin, it is essential to make a real effort. Accumulating vitality is setting up the foundation. Stopping thoughts is principal. Unifying spirit and energy is obtaining the medicine. Keeping the spirit still and not letting it scatter is incubation. Refining the spirit back into cosmic space is obtaining the alchemical pill. After the pill is complete, is it not the highest universal truth?

There is a folk saying that if you want effort to deepen, wear an iron pestle down to an embroidery needle. The point is that practitioners of the Way must not be in a hurry to see results.

Whether or not there is any progress cannot be determined on the surface. You should know there is a time to rise up and a time to lie low, a time to go forward and a time to withdraw. It is like walking a mountain path, which has high and low places, even and uneven places‐how can it be viewed as all the same?

You just have to follow the right pathway and you won’t go wrong. As long asyou don’t stop walking, eventually you will reach the peak, so why hurry? If you hurry, your legs and feet will get numb, your head will get dizzy, your eyesight will get blurry, and you will gasp for breath. Then, instead of speeding on your way, you have created obstacles. Unable to go on, you will give up along the way. Isn’t that a waste of all your previous effort?

Strive to break through material form, empty your body and mind, and become lively and fluid. Don’t “draw a snake with legs on it” and you will naturally not be guilty of “drawing a tiger like a dog.” Develop your character in relation to the outside world as much as you can. When your practice is accomplished and its results are fulfilled, then real truth can be seen without looking, inherently containing endless subtleties.

Reference: Taoist Meditation: Methods for Cultivating a Healthy Mind and Body translated by Thomas Cleary p. 123 – 130

Breathing Methods and Practice Tips of Health Qigong

by Gong Lihui 2012

Breathing practice is one of the important exercises in practicing Health Qigong. Only when the exerciser is aware of the importance of breathing, using the correct breathing posture with right methods to make the most of breathing, can he learn Health Qigong well and reach the goal of dispelling diseases and strengthening his body.

Breathing is an Important Part of Health Qigong

Health Qigong is a traditional Chinese physical exercise, the movements of which mainly combine exerciser’s body movement, breathing and psychological regulation together. Health Qigong is characterized by its breathing exercise, which makes it fundamentally different from other physical exercises. In a sense, Health Qigong is the practice of inhaling and exhaling. Therefore, before practicing Health Qigong, one should be clear about the importance of breathing, and take it as a key exercise in Health Qigong.

The Breathing of Health Qigong is an Active One

Different from our normal breathing, which is inborn, instinctive, automatic and unconscious, the breathing of Health Qigong is active, conscious and can be regulated by the exerciser. The instinctive breathing of human beings is controlled by nervous centralis in lower brain stem such as medulla, mesocephalon, and spinal marrow. The breathing regulated by Health Qigong is controlled by the upper brain respiratory center like cerebral cortex. These two control centers are totally independent. And this is the difference between the kind of breathing system and some biological systems controlled by automatic nerves, such as cardiovascular system, digestive system and endocrine system. Health Qigong is just based on the regulatory subjective awareness of the breathing system. By making full use of this regulatory subjective awareness of the breathing system and through conscious practice, Health Qigong helps one regulate and strengthen his breathing activity in a scientific way, facilitate the flow of one’s qi and blood so as to achieve the aim of dispelling illness and keeping fit.

Breathing Regulation is the Central Link of the “Three Regulations”

The regulations of body movement, breathing and psychology are the three elements of Health Qigong, which are also known as “three regulations”. The regulation of body movement means adjusting the figure and posture of body to make it suitable and relaxed to do the practice. Breathing regulating means adjusting the rhythm of breath, making it flow naturally to promote blood circulation and massage internal organs, meridian and collateral. Psychological regulation means adjusting one’s mental activities through eliminating distractions to improve the practice effect. The regulation of body movement is the premise; the breathing regulation is the core, dominating the other two; and psychological regulation is the guarantee and is subordinate to breathing practice. The three regulations are interrelated, interdependent and mutually reinforcing. They combine with each other organically and none of them is dispensable. As ancient people put it, “without correct body movement, your qi will not flow well. Without a well flow of qi, your mind will get no peace. Without peace in mind, you will have your qi decentralized.” Only when your spirit and body harmoniously combine together, can qi flow smoothly inside your body, thus achieving the effect of keeping in good health.

Breathing Makes Health Qigong Safe and Effective

Breathing is the Key to Keep Vitality

According to the theory of traditional Chinese medicine, “the qi between heaven and the earth keeps a man alive.” “Men live by the qi between heaven and the earth according to the law of four seasons” (Su Wen• Bao Ming Quan Xing); “qi is the foundation of human beings” (Nan Jing • Ba Nan); “Everything in the universe relies on qi.”(Lei Jing • She Sheng Lei); “Human beings live with qi, and qi is inside one’s body. None can live without QI.”(Pao Pu Zi by Ge Hong in the Jin Dynasty). All these sayings show that “qi” is the living root of human beings and every other thing in the universe. Qi is the way how life exists. With good qi, one can keep fit; otherwise, one will get disease. Without qi, one would die. The end of breath means the end of life.

The theory of traditional Chinese medicine also believes that genuine qi, the qi inside one’s body, is consisted of source qi, ancestral qi, nutrient qi and defense qi. Source qi is the intrinsic qi, which is the qi of kidney. Nutrient qi is made of the qi generated from digesting food and water; it is the nutrient qi that moves through blood and across five internal organs. defense qi is generated from the qi of water and food, running outside the veins and across the skin; it is defense qi that protect one from disease. ancestral qi is the qi one takes from nature; it is breathed into one’s lung and heart, promoting the movement of nutrient qi and defense qi. This is to say that ancestral qi, which comes from the breath, is the fundamental drive to maintain one’s life. This is where the medical science of keeping fit lies by using breathing to guide qi and blood flow.

Breathing Helps One Keep Healthy

Talking about learning Health Qigong, some people will ask, “Is it safe? Can you feel the qi?” People raise such questions because some exercisers of Qigong suffered instead of gaining health because of their misbehaviors during practice. Therefore, they do not dare to practice Qigong any more.

The feel about qi is the feeling exercisers sensed about the movement and concentration of qi and blood inside their bodies. Only when exercisers have practiced Health Qigong to a certain level and only when there are abundant qi and blood inside their bodies with smooth meridian and collateral and high concentration, can they have this feeling of qi. Ignoring assiduous and hard practice, trying to find a short-cut way to keep fit and just pursuing the feeling of qi will do no good to one’s health. In the past, some people got hurt during the practice of Health Qigong, mainly because they ignored the dominant position of breathing and only pursued the feeling of qi.

Since 2003, the GASC Health Qigong Administration Center has successively introduced four sets of methods to practice Health Qigong, that is, Yi Jin Jing,Wu Qin Xi,Liu Zi Jue,Ba Duan Jin, and five new sets of methods, that is Health Qigong • Da Wu, Mawangdui Daoyin Shu, Shi Er Duan Jin, Dao yin Yang Sheng Gong Shi Er Fa and Tai Chi Yang Sheng Zhang. These methods have absorbed the essence of traditional Chinese Qigong methods, basing on Chinese and Western medicine, physical exercise and related modern scientific theories, and have established the core position of breathing regulation among three regulations. These methods are not only scientific, effective, with diversified types, but also easy to learn and can effectively prevent improper practice and safety risks.

The Breathing Methods of Health Qigong

The Categories of Breathing

Health Qigong is a physical exercise focusing on breathing practice. Therefore, one must thoroughly understand and master different methods of breathing and practicing tips. The breathing of Health Qigong has two basic methods. One is thoracic breathing,that is natural breathing. The other is abdominal breathing, which can be further divided into smooth abdominal breathing and reverse abdominal breathing. And reverse abdominal breathing can be divided into loose anal reverse abdominal breathing and levator anti reverse abdominal breathing.

The natural breathing used in Health Qigong is almost the same as people’s instinctively natural breathing. The two breathing styles are all relaxed, natural, with exerciser’s chest rising up and down at a relatively higher rate, and his defense has the slightest movement. The difference between these two breathing styles is that the breathing rate of Health Qigong is relatively slower, and it has to change according to the body movements, and between inhaling and exhaling there are transitional movements such as breath-hold and pause, which is completely absent under the instinctive state of natural breathing.

When the exerciser uses abdominal breathing, his abdomen will rise up and down with the breathing rhythm, and at the same time, his chest will also expand and contract. Smooth abdominal breathing means exerciser’s abdomen is adducted when he inhales, and bulged when he exhales. On the contrary, if exerciser’s abdomen is adducted when he exhales, and bulged when he inhales, he is doing reverse abdominal breathing. What’s more, if his muscles of the anus and perineum get loose when he inhales, he is using loose anal reverse abdominal breathing; if his anus and perineum muscles tighten up when he inhales, he is using the levator anti reverse abdominal breathing.

Basic Exercise and Requirements of Breathing

The breathing of Health Qigong, regardless of its styles, is made up by four movements: inhale, exhale, breath holding and breath pause. When you inhale, holding the air you breathe in for a very short time is called breath holding; when you exhale, stopping your breathe temporarily is called breathing pause. An inhalation and an exhalation make up a breath. A breath must include one inhale and one exhale, but not every breath must include breath holding and breath pause. Breath holding and breath pause should be practiced in a flexible way according to needs of body movements such as when you stretch your limbs with tension, lift or twist your body, and when you want to have a rest or relax yourself. According to ancient people, “improper exhale of breath and breath pause would do harm to one’s health.” Therefore, your inhale and exhale should go slowly and smoothly, without straining yourself by inhaling too much air and exhale all you have. Breath holding and breath pause should also be practiced in a gentle way. Doing this for too long or with too much force is not good for your health.

Breathing is usually done by inhaling and exhaling through nose. For those with needs to make sound, such as the Health Qigong • Liu Zi Jue and Three Plates Falling on the Floor in Yi Jin Jing, the exerciser should inhale through nose and exhale through mouth. As an energy-saving and low-oxygen physical exercise, Health Qigong will help exercisers gradually develop a deep and fine breathing style, with their breathing rate dropping from 16 to 18 times per minute (the normal rate for natural breathing) to 5 to 6 times per minute. However, this must be a gradual process of practicing, and the exerciser should not hurry and rush to next stages. Otherwise there will be three uncomfortable responses, that is “wind response”(with sound in your breath), “puff response”(breathing without sound but feel stagnating and dry in your nose) and “gasp response”(with your nose flapping). These will do no good to your health, but also will upset you and reduce the effect of exercise.

The basic requirements of Health Qigong for breathing is that when practicing the thoracic breathing, the exerciser should breathe according to his body movement, naturally and gently in a coordinated way without gasp or stagnation; when practicing the abdominal breathing, the exerciser should keep his movement and breath in line with each other, with gentle movement and deep breath, guiding every breath to his navel. No matter which method the exerciser adopts, he should let his body movement guide his breath, and let the breath flow all over his body, reaching the goal of harmonizing both the outside body and inside breath in the end. The basic law to keep body movement and breath in line with each other is to inhale when one starts, to exhale when one finishes, inhale first and exhale latter, inhale to store qi, and exhale to deliver air. Exercisers should follow this law instead of practicing against it. Otherwise, the exerciser will feel uncomfortable such as suppressed in his chest, be short of breath, oppressed in heart and palpitate.

The Similarities and Differences between 9 Breathing Methods

Health Qigong has four breathing methods and five new methods. All breathing styles are determined by the characteristics of each method, which generally can be divided into the following three types.

Using One Kind of Breathing from the Very Beginning to the End

This type can be further divided into another two styles; one is using natural breathing from the very beginning to the end, for example, Health Qigong • Yi Jin Jing and Da Wu. Since this method involves very big body movement with complicated changes, excessive pursuit of deep and fine breath will result in “wind” “puff” and “gasp” responses. Therefore, natural breathing is required through the very beginning to the end. Only in this way can body movement and breath always become gentle and coordinated.

Another style is using abdominal breathing from the very beginning to the end, such as the Health Qigong • Liu Zi Jue and Dao yin Yang Sheng Gong Shi Er Fa. Dao yin Yang Sheng Gong Shi Er Fa uses smooth abdominal breathing from the very beginning to the end, keeping body movement and breath in line with each other, with gentle movement and deep breath, guiding every breath to the navel like divine turtle breathing. The Health Qigong • Liu Zi Jue uses reverse abdominal breathing throughout the whole process, which is the only one out of the nine methods that specifically focuses on inhale and exhale exercises. From the very beginning to the end, the exerciser inhales through nose and exhales through his mouth, and at the same time making a sound (one can also only exhale without making any sound after he is very skilled in this practice), paying attention to the deep and fine breathing.

Gradually Transition from One Method to Anther

This type of method means the exerciser starts from the natural breathing, and latter gradually transits to abdominal breathing, mainly including Health Qigong •·Ba Duan Jin, Mawangdui Daoyin Shu, Tai Chi Yang Sheng Zhang these three methods. Ba Duan Jin and Tai Chi Yang Sheng Zhang require using natural breathing at the beginning stage and gradually transiting to abdominal breathing as his body movement is more skillful and get into a higher practicing level. Mawangdui Daoyin Shu requires exercisers use natural breathing as a base, letting the body movement guide the breath, using his mind to guide the flow of breath inside his body, and finally harmonizing both the body movement and breath. In this way, his body will become gentle. As the body movements such as pitching, reversing, lifting, landing and folding intensify, his breath will become more deep and fine. Then his breathing will transit to abdominal breathing. The difference between the two is that Ba Duan Jin and Tai Chi Yang Sheng Zhang begin from natural breathing; and transit to abdominal breathing when the movement gets more skillful, while the Mawangdui Daoyin Shu is based on natural breathing, and transits to abdominal breathing with the intensification of body movement.

Frequent Transition between Different Breathing Methods

This type of breathing includes natural breathing, smooth abdominal breathing, reverse abdominal breathing, levator anti breathing and so on, with Health Qigong·• Wu Qin Xi, and Shi Er Duan Jin as two main methods. The transition between different breathing styles doesn’t need to follow any fixed order, and it changes according to the needs and changes of body movements in different practicing methods. In Wu Qin Xi, the body movements of “colliding with the antlers” and “picking fruit” use natural breathing; “seizing the prey ” and “stretch upward” use smooth abdominal breathing, and other six movements use reverse abdominal breathing, among which only “lifting the monkey’s paws” uses reverse abdominal breathing plus levator ani breathing. In Shi Er Duan Jin, “Ming Xin Wo Gu”,“Kou Chi Ming Gu”, “Yao Shen Huang Hai” and “Bei Mo Jing Men” use natural breathing; “Wen Xu Ji Lun” uses smooth abdominal breathing, and the other seven movements use reverse abdominal breathing plus levator anti breathing. No matter what kind of breathing the exerciser adopts, he should relax himself without suppressing his breath. And it is better to inhale and exhale neither too fast nor too slow. By using different breathing methods, the exerciser can regulate the qi and blood in five internal organs, dredge the meridian of his body and reach the effect of physical fitness.

Three Stages of Breathing Exercise

The Initial Stage of Unregulated Natural Breathing

Beginners of Health Qigong can use people’s instinctive natural breathing without subjective control to focus on learning body movement instead of breathing exercise. In this way, exercisers can not only grasp the tips of each movement quickly, but also can keep a smooth and stable breathing. The natural breathing of most people is thoracic breathing, and a small number of people who have received special training can also use natural abdominal breathing. Mankind used abdominal breathing in their early evolution period as natural breathing. After mankind evolved to homo erectus, their lungs rose up and expanded, thus changing from natural abdominal breathing to natural thoracic breathing. New-born babies usually use abdominal breathing at first and slowly change into thoracic breathing. This phenomenon confirms this evolution pattern of human breathing.

The natural breathing of Health Qigong and the completely instinctive natural breathing are not the same. The initial stage of natural breathing naturally follow the principle of letting body movement guide breath, and letting the breath flow all over his body, inhaling when one starts, exhaling when one finishes. This kind of breathing can also be reached naturally by following the body movements. And inhale, exhale, breath holding and pause can also be automatically applied. The basic characteristic of the initial stage of breathing is breathing naturally without any control.

The Intermediate Stage Focusing on Self-regulated Abdominal Breathing

At the intermediate stage, all the nine methods of Health Qigong, except Yi Jin Jing and Da Wu, require exercisers to transit from using natural thoracic breathing to automatic abdominal breathing. At this stage, breathing has changed from the laissez-faire state of unconsciousness back to the central role of subjective concern, with the breathing method shifting from thoracic breathing to abdominal breathing. The depth of breath has been greatly increased, and the amount of oxygen exchange doubled. Breathing slowly becomes deep and stable, with the breathing rate falling, getting closer and closer to 5-6 times per minute.

Health Qigong • Yi Jin Jing and Da Wu, using natural breathing from the beginning to the end, also intensify the breathing in the intermediate stage, with internal mind and external body harmonize with each other, the breath flow throughout the whole body and the dominant role of breathing increasingly strengthened. At this stage, the focus of the mental activities shift from body movement to breathing, with every the slightest attention concentrated on breathing. It gradually shows that the body movement serves to breathing. As breathing is intensified, and oxygen is fully exchanged, the regulation and protection effects of breathing towards qi inside one’s body and the five internal organs will become more apparent. As the ancient practice formulas put it, “exhale slowly, and inhale deeply, the inborn qi will be spurred by the cultivated qi.” At this stage, the health effects brought about by Health Qigong will become increasingly apparent. The basic characteristic of breath in the intermediate stage is the “self-regulation”.

The Advanced Stage Focusing on Breathing with Automatic Frequency

At the advanced stage, breathing with automatic frequency is used. It mainly uses abdominal breathing, but can freely switch between a myriad of breathing methods and automatically adjust the breathing rhythm. The human body is a most sophisticated, harmonious, efficient, and automated organism, owning the most perfect self-regulating mechanism that can help the body adapt to various complex environments and maintain a variety of states function well. In the intermediate stage, the self-regulation of breathing is a supplementation and reinforcement to body’s auto-regulation mechanism. This kind of supplementation and reinforcement is very necessary and very useful when one gets sick or is in the state of sub-health, or when the automatic regulation system inside one’s body is imbalanced or lack momentum. But when the automatic regulation system inside one’s body functions well enough, this kind of supplementation and reinforcement is redundant and unnecessary, which may even become unharmonious regulation. Therefore, at the advanced stage, exercisers should breathe naturally, shifting self-regulated breathing back to natural breathing without any regulation.

However, this kind of shifting back is not retrogressive, but a return leaping to a more advanced stage. It is a return looking like the previous one but with totally different nature. It is the negation of negation, a wave-forward progress and upward spiral. The breathing at this stage without regulation does not mean breathing as you like, but breathing naturally, following the whole condition and shifting between various breathing methods. Its rhythm rate may change at random, with body, breath and mind perfectly combined together. The exerciser’s subjective intention is completely in line with the automatic regulation rhythm of the body. Therefore, practicing Health Qigong has become a process of automatically keeping fit and intensification of the body mechanism under the guidance of subjective intention. The basic characteristic of the advanced stage of breathing is “breathing with automatic frequency”.

All in all, those who know the importance of breathing, the key aspect in practicing Health Qigong, have mastered the core skill of the breathing, and give full play to the role of breath regulation, will enjoy greater benefit with less effort.

Reference: Breathing Methods and Practice Tips of Health Qigong jsqg.sport.org.cn

Annotated Mysterious Pearly Mirror

The Dao is nonaction, yet nothing is left undone.
Purity of mind does not come from knowledge and wisdom.
What is knowledge? What is purity?
Knowlegde is to give up all wisdom. Purity is to be empty in going along.

Going along, not following: this is pervasion of mind.
Pervade the One and all affairs are done!
The One is the root, affairs are the gate.
When affairs return to the One, the One is always there.

From Annotated Mysterious Pearly Mirror of the Mind by Jiao Shaoxuan
Reference: Sitting in Oblivion by Liva Kohn 2010 p.66