HEALTH CULTIVATION TECHNIQUES
Nourishing SheQn and Qi (练功夫养神气)A translated and paraphrased quote by Wudang founder Zhang San Feng: “The Shen (mind) controls the Qi (life energy) in the body. Gaining a unit of Chi is like gaining a unit of treasure; the benefit of Qi is invaluable. Why does a follower of the Tao quarrel with the common folk? Profit breeds anger, and anger breeds internal Fire, which drains the Qi. Do not be ambitious and vain during practice. Simply cultivate your breath.”
Standing Exercise (Stance):
Wuji stance is one of the ways for taiji internal strength practice. It focused on coordination of both spiritually and physically to create the harmonization between man and nature through putting our body posture into a bow-shape, concentrating our mind and unification of our body and mind. Refers to the <Dao De Jing>: “Bend, thereupon composed. Crooked, thereupon straight.” and “The path of heaven: it’s like a bow.” The <Theory of Boxing> state that “Standing exercise as the fundamental, Qi (energy) as the source; move like a snake, as quiet as a mountain.” Quietness is the basic requirement in practicing standing exercise. When we are totally quiet from inside out, our body can generate the energy internally. This method was passed down by Taoists since few thousands years ago. It reflects to the <Dao De Jing> “Attaining to utmost emptiness, keeping to magnanimous peace, the myriad things performing all together, I by myself behold their return. The many many things, each return to recover its root. Recovering its root means peace.” Zhuangzi also has the same point of view, “Drop your limbs, remove your intelligence, get rid of form and intelligence, integrate with the Dao.”. When we practice standing exercise, the appearance seems to be static, but when we pass through the stage of pain and able to relax our body, the nose and mouth breathing will change to whole body breathing, which means the inhale and exhale of our nose can match with the up and down, open and close, lift and sink of our body. When our mind have no distraction or less distraction, our body reaching the calm and peaceful state, the internal energy will started to generate and circulate. In this stage, our posture seems static but actually the roaring flames is burning internally, as said in <The Book of Changes> “Heaven and earth positioned, mountain and pond ventilated, thunder and wind merged, water and fire evened .” The internal strength practice involve a profound understanding.
Sitting Meditation (Meditation):
When we do meditation, we close our eyes and sit cross-legged, adjust our breathing, and make our mind empty. This is another kind of internal strength practice which is as important as standing exercise. Founder master Zhang Sanfeng and other predecessors summarized a good way of practicing meditation, which is “ As long as you practice meditation, you must make sure that your spirit (Shen) is hugs with your Qi, and your intention (Yi) is tied up with your breath, surrounded at your Dantian, undispersed. The internal Qi and external Qi interact at Dantian. Day by day, the Qi will reaches our limbs, flows to our meridians, strike through clip ridge (夹脊) and rise up to top of our head (泥丸), then sink down to middle dantian (绛宫) and thus dantian (丹田). When the spirit and Qi be together and interdependent, the way of river car is clear. Hereto, the foundation is half done and to be practice hard thereafter. Regarding the inner sight, we can refer to the book <Zhou Yi Can Tong Qi>, written by Wei Boyang, “These are like the abundance spring showers and dripping from dissolved ice. The fluid flows from head to foot, thence, they will rise again. They circulate continuously and without any blockage. You are in an infinite (Wuji) state, like being in a container of gas and liquid. These contraries to man’s habit proved by previous practitioners as the existence of Dao. In these inaction or empty state the morals is concerned.” The keys to meditation are to cultivate Qi and regulate our breath. The famous descendant of Wudang master Xing Xihuai pointed out: “ How to cultivate Qi? Breathing exercise at 3a.m. to 5a.m. (Yin hour), spirit (Shen) guard the Tian Gen (Upper Dantian), intention (Yi) sink to bottom of the sea, be peace of mind, spirit and intention in harmony, swallowing saliva while rise or sink (of Qi), like a wheel turning in the stomach. The harmonization of fire and water is produces by two kidneys. This is the fundamental of human lives and must pay attention to it all the time.” Founder master Zhang Sanfeng had told us clearly on how to regulate our breath, and if we follow his teaching, we will have effective outcome. “ When we regulate our breath, we begin from our normal breath and looking for the immortal breath. The ancients said: ‘normal breath blow the breeze and give rise to immortal breath.’ We must let our normal breath be naturally (let it be as it is) so that the primordial breath can arise. The only thing we can do is be empty and peace of mind.”
Movements (Jibengong and Forms):
Movements help to guide the Qi circulation inside our body. It requires to be practice slowly, softly, lightly and agilely. The energy arises during our practicing of stance and meditation can be transform through the guidance of our movements. According to our founder master Zhang Sanfeng, “If you do not know the secret of movements and ignore it, this just like you refine an alchemy without gather the herbs for it, or you gather the herbs but not refine it. Its not only cannot achieve longevity, your external strength also cannot be accomplish. You must practice both internal strength and movements together.” You can distinguish the skill level of a person through his movements.
太极行功法 Taiji Working Method Song
Fingers crossed over the head
Lift the hands over the head
Hug the knees
Upset, sore throat, ulcer, heat pain
Red eyes, tearful
Damp-heat, diarrhea, vomit
Cough with sputum, irritated stomach diaphragmatic, dry mouth
Frown, tinnitus, dark and thin (appearance)
(The first part is about the working method of six words/ sounds and its connection with our internal organs and also the matching movements to work with.)
When the two Qi are not divided yet, they are in Wuji (infinity) state.
When Yin and Yang positioned, Taiji was born.
Man have to be empty and agile. The working method is stressed on breathing.
There are six words/ sounds, which is HE, XU, HU, SHEN, CHUI, XI.
What does Six words/ sounds mean? It provides the way to heal our organs.
We use XU to heal our liver. We open our eyes when we practice the sound of XU.
We use SHEN to heal our lungs. We lift our hands over our head when we practice the sound of SHEN.
We practice the sound of HE to heal our heart and at the same time crossed our fingers together and lift our hands over our head.
We practice the sound of CHUI to heal our kidneys and at the same time hug our knees.
We use HU to heal our spleen. When we make the sound of HU, we pout our mouth.
We practice the sound of XI to heal our three burners while lying supine and this will helps to relieve inflammation of our body.
Those who practice this method can balance their Yin and Yang and regulate their breathing.
The great way (Dao) is in our mind, pursues with sincerity.
This is the method of long life and an anti-aging medicine.
(The second part is about the relationship between the working method of six words/ sounds and the four seasons.)
We practice the XU in spring to heal our eyes. Spring related to wood (in five elements) and the wood represents the liver and liver connected to our eyes.
We do the HE in summer to put out the fire in our heart. Summer related to fire (in five elements) and the fire represents our heart.
We do the SHEN in Autumn to moist our lungs. Autumn related to metal (in five elements) and the metal represents our lungs.
We do the CHUI in winter to stabilize our middle/center. Winter related to water (in five elements) and the water represents the kidney.
We do the XI to relieve the inflammation of our body and calm our mind.
We can do the HU in all four seasons to improve our digestive system.
Do not make the sound loud with mouth opening wide (only whisper the sound).
This working method is meant to save our life (long life).
(The third part is about the working method of six words/ sounds and the matching movements to work with when the illness/deficiency exist.)
If your liver is weak, you can open your eyes popeyedly.
The lungs will know the “SHEN” and hands lift up help to treat the lungs illness.
Crossed your fingers and lift your hands over your head with the sound of He to care for heart.
Hug your knees and making the sound of CHUI to care for your kidney.
To cure the spleen illness must pout with Hu.
When your three burners is in heat, you can use the word XI.
Practicing the working method everyday helps to improve our health.
(The forth part is about the working method of six words/ sounds and the symptoms related to the illness/deficiency of the particular internal organs.)
The liver is represents by green dragon and it flourishes during the spring season. Its misery when it gets sick. The eyes become reddish and tearful. The word/sound of XU is miraculously effective.
The lung’s symptoms of illnesses are cough with sputum, irritated stomach diaphragmatic and dry mouth or dry throat. The word/ sound of SHEN can used to cure the illnesses. It puts out the upper burner’s fire and the liver will composed.
The word/ sound of HE can be carry out when felling upset. This method is effective than any others. When there are sore throat, ulcer and heat pain, working with this method can relieve the symptoms and body become healthy (balance).
The kidney is the door of life and the reservoir of our body. It stores our essence and as the root of our life. When the symptoms of frown, tinnitus, dark and thin (appearance) exists, works with the word/ sound of CHUI and the vitality (Qi) will return to Kunlun (the way of Qi will be clear thus Qi can flow smoothly).
Spleen attributes to earth (in five elements) and it is the granary of our body. When illness exists, phlegm, damp heat, diarrhea, spleen tinnitus and vomit occurs. The body will be in balance and peace all year round (four seasons) if the spleen is well care.
When the three burner is having inflammation, sitting on (meditation) and works with XI. This is an ancient method for health preservation (keep our body in a balance state).
Wudang Taoist Five Animals Health Cultivation Technique (武当道家秘传五行养生功)
Mt. Wudang is a haven for recuperating lost energy and cultivate health. Over the centuries, Wudang Taoists have established a system of health cultivation methods, the most canonical being the Five Animals technique.
The Five Animals technique capitalizes on natural laws proposed by the ancient Chinese, who divided the world in five elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. These elements correspond to the liver, heart, spleen, lungs, and kidneys of the human body. Traditional doctors also understood the five facial sensory organs — the eyes, tongue, mouth, nose and ears — as corresponding to the tendons, Meridians, muscles, skin, and bones respectively. The Five Animals technique is based on this theory. Through standing, sitting, crouching, and walking, it aims to restore lost Jing (reproductive essence), Qi (life energy), and Shen (mind), raise clear energy (Qing Qi) and lower murky energy (Zhuo Qi) in the body, and rebalance the body’s Yin and Yang.
The techniques are divided into stationary and moving forms. Stationary forms are meditative practices, consisting of sitting and lying meditation. Moving practices include the Tortoise, Snake, Tiger, Dragon, and Crane forms, whose names are derived from their physical resemblance to these animals. The Tortoise, Snake, Tiger, Dragon, and Crane correspond to the Water, Fire, Wood, Metal, and Earth elements respectively, which in turn pair with the kidney, heart, liver, lungs, and spleen organs. Every form consists of 9 steps, totalling to 45 moves.
The Tortoise is a clairvoyant and prophetic spirit, calm and quiet, and blessed with long life and wisdom. The Tortoise is of the Water element. Practising this form is good for the kidneys.
1. Initiation Stance
2. Gather Qi to Centre
3. Circle Qi
4. Tortoise Raising Urn
5. Look for One’s Roots
6. Hug the Moon
7. Golden Tortoise Plays with Water
8. Golden Tortoise Spits Elixir
9. Finishing Stance
The Snake combines with the Tortoise to form the Xuanwu creature. The Snake is of the Fire element. Practising this form is good for the heart.
1. Initiation Stance
2. Gather Qi to Centre
3. Turn the World
4. Golden Snake Slithers
5. White Snake Leaves Hole
6. White Snakes Enters Hole
7. Green Snake on the Ground
8. Python Flips Body
9. Finishing Stance
The Crane is graceful and pure, and is widely admired by the Chinese. The Crane is of the Earth element. Practising this form is food for the spleen and replenishes energy.
1. Initiation Stance
2. Gather Qi to Centre
3. Fly Left and Right
4. Divine Crane Flashes Wings
5. Divine Crane Plays with Water
6. Crane Stands on Cliff
7. Divine Crane Takes Flight
8. Divine Crane Flashes Eyes
9. Finishing Stance
The Dragon is of the Wood element. Practising this form relieves the liver, strengthens the gall bladder, and invigorates Jing and Blood.
1. Initiation Stance
2. Gather Qi to Centre
3. Black Dragon Claws
4. Twin Dragons’ Pearl Dance
5. Divine Dragon Flicks Tail
6. Dragon Coiled Around Pearl
7. Playful Dragon Takes Flight
8. Dragon Enters Sea
9. Finishing Stance
The Tiger symbolizes vitality and nobility. The Tiger is of the Metal element. Practising this form strengthens the bones and tendons, and increases stamina and breathing.
1. Initiation Stance
2. Gather Qi to Centre
3. Tiger Washes Itself
4. Crouching Tiger Listens to Wind
5. Fierce Tiger Pounces on Prey
6. Upright Tiger Watches
7. Fierce Tiger Swallows Prey
8. Fierce Tiger Turns Head
9. Finishing Stance
Class Duration and Content:
Beginner Class (2 days): Focus on posture and structure. By practising the animal forms, students strengthen tendons and bones, learn the basics of channeling Qi, and learn the principle of circular and angular motion. Students return home to practice on their own for 1 year before moving onto the intermediate class.
Intermediate Class (5 days): Focus on training Qi. This class emphasizes on finding inner stillness through action, using Qi to direct action, and using the mind to direct Qi. We focus on Taoist “tortoise breathing” and strengthen the dantian, the energy centre of the body. Students who master this level will experience greater energy and resilience to illness. Practitioners practice on their own for 3 years at this level before moving onto the advanced class.
Advanced Class (10 days): Focus on training Shen (mind power). This class teaches inner alchemy and emphasizes nurturing the body and mind to attain inner harmony. Students will improve their Jing (reproductive essence), Qi (life energy) and Shen.
When do students start seeing benefits? With correct and regular practice, a student may expect to see observable changes to body and mind after 2 weeks.
1. Improves the respiratory system: As we age, our ability to breathe deeply decreases. The breath starts from the nose and reaches the dantian, but in older people this distance shortens to the chest, then to the throat. When finally a person’s breath shortens to nothing, he or she is extinguished. The Taoist Five Animals technique uses Qi channeling and deep breathing (Tu Na) methods to extend the breath. The essence is captured in the idiomatic phrase: The mind directs the Qi, and the Qi directs the body.
2. Improves the circulatory system: The slow and gentle actions of the Five Animals technique encourage blood to flow smoothly, improving Qi and blood circulation.
3. Improves the nervous system: The nervous system is vitally important to health. Not only does it help us respond to our environment, it also regulates our bodily functions. These techniques benefit the central nervous system and promotes greater harmony among our organ systems.
4. Improves digestion: Digestion is intricately connected to the nervous system. The Five Animals technique can prevent and improve digestive conditions related to the movement, secretion and absorption functions of the gut. Moreover, aerobic exercises promote circulation to the gut, thus improving digestion and preventing constipation. This is especially important for older people.
5. Improves Jing, Qi and Shen by quieting the mind: Modern minds are surrounded by stimuli and noise, provoking our senses and draining our Jing, Qi and Shen. We find ourselves stressed and sleepless. When our Shen and Qi are not in harmony, the Fire in our heart and Water in our kidneys do not mix, and our body’s Yin and Yang are imbalanced. Practising the Five Animals technique shuts the mind to external stimuli and gives our bodies a chance to replenish Jing, Qi and Shen.
Six-Word Mantra (六字诀)
The Six-Word Mantra has historically been an essential element of Taoist breathing meditation (Tu Na). The principle is this: the practitioner makes one of six sounds when breathing out, which shapes the throat differently and consequently stimulates different Meridians in the body.
Preparation: Feet apart at approximately shoulder’s width, head straight, relax the chest and straighten the upper back, and slightly bend the knees. Relax and breathe normally.
Breathing method: Breathe in with your abdomen. Start with the out breathe before the in breathe. Make one of the following six sounds while breathing out. At the same time, lift the area between the upper thighs and shift the body’s centre of gravity to the heels. Make each sound six times, taking a break between each.
The first sound: xū. For liver Qi.
Lightly close the lips and tighten them horizontally. The tip of the tongue is forward but shrinks slightly towards the throat. Leave a small gap between the teeth.
Make the sound while breathing out. Lightly tip the ground with the big toes. Raise the hands with palms facing outwards from the lower abdomen to shoulder height. Part the arms upwards and apart like a bird spreading its wings, with palms facing up. Widen the eyes with the in-breathe. Lower the hands in front of the body, past the abdomen, then hang them by the side. Repeat six times before taking a break.
This sound relieves conditions such as eye diseases, enlargement of the liver, tightness of the chest, bad appetite, dry eyes, and dizzy spells.
The second sound: hē. For heart Qi.
Partly open the mouth, pressing the tongue against the lower teeth and towards the bottom of the mouth.
Make the sound while breathing out. Lightly tip the ground with the big toes. Raise the hands with palms facing inwards to the chest before flipping the palms to face out and continue raising them to eye level. During the in-breath, flip the palms to face forward and lower them past the abdomen and then rest them at the sides of the body. Repeat six times before taking a break.
This sound relieves conditions such as heart palpitations, heart pains, insomnia, memory loss, night sweats, and mouth and tongue related problems.
The third sound: hū. For spleen Qi
Pinch the mouth into an elliptical shape, with the tongue slightly curled upwards and extended forwards.
Make the sound while breathing out. Lightly tip the ground with the big toes. Raise the hands upwards with palms facing up until they reach the naval. The left hand now revolves outwards and upwards until it reaches the top of the head; at the same time the right hand revolves inwards, forming the bottom half of a circle with the left hand. During the in-breath, exchange the position of the two palms by revolving them in front of the body, the two hands passing at the chest with the left hand farther away from the body than the right. Revolve both hands down to the lower abdomen, then drop them to the sides. Repeat this with the left and right hand positions reversed. Repeat six times before taking a break.
This sound relieves conditions such as abdominal bloating, diarrhea, fatigue in the limbs, bad appetite, muscular atrophy, and swelling of the skin.
The fourth sound: xī. For lungs Qi
Part the lips while keeping the teeth together, with the tongue lightly pressing against the lower teeth.
Make the sound while breathing out. Raise the hands from the front of the abdomen, slowly rotating the palms upwards until they reach the chest. Rotate the palms outwards until the fingers point towards the throat, then open up the chest like a bird spreading its wings. During the in-breath, drop the arms to the sides. Repeat six times before taking a break.
The fifth sound: chuī. For kidneys Qi.
Make the sound while breathing out. Claw the ground with the toes, creating a gap in the middle of the sole. Raise the arms on the sides. When they reach the waist, revolve them forwards and raise them to the collar bone, where they form a circle as though hugging a ball with fingertips pointing at each other. Squat down and lower the arms. The hands should lower to the knees by the end of the out-breath. During the in-breath, slowly stand up while dropping the hands to the sides. Repeat six times before taking a break.
This sound relieves conditions such as weak lower back and knees, night sweats and seminal emission, decreased Yang, morning diarrhea, and cold genitals.
The sixth sound: xī. For organizing the Triple Burner. (The Triple Burner in Chinese traditional medicine refers to the space between the body cavities.)
Part the lips slightly, the tongue lightly shrinking towards the throat with the tip pointed downwards. The expression resembles smiling.
Make the sound while breathing out. Lightly tip the ground with the fourth and fifth toes. Raise the hands along the sides of the body as though carrying an object until they reach the chest. Rotate the arms such that the palms face outwards. Raise the arms with palms facing upwards and fingertips pointing towards each other until they reach the head. During the in-breath, lower the hands from the head to the sides in an outward circular motion. Repeat six times before taking a break.
This sound relieves conditions such as migraines, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), sore throat, tightness of the chest, and urination difficulties.
Zhonglu Eight-Segment Brocade (Baduanjin) Technique (钟吕八段锦)The Eight-Segment Brocade (Baduanjin) Technique was invented by Zhongli and recorded by Lugong as a method of channeling internal Qi.
Seated Twelve-Segment Brocade:
Sit with crossed legs. Knock your teeth together 36 times. Hold your head behind the neck and take 9 breaths. Your breathing during this technique must not be audible. Shift your hands up to the ears and knock the back of your head with your middle fingers 24 times. Shake your head gently left and right 24 times. Stir your tongue from cheek to cheek 24 times while swallowing saliva. Breathe in gently with your nose. Make shallow your breath while rubbing your hands together to create heat, then rub your palms against your lower back while breathing out. Make shallow your breath again. Imagine the Fire from your heart descending into your dantian. Stop if the dantian feels too hot. Let your head hang and swing your arms side by side 36 times, imagining the Fire channeling from your dantian to your brain. Breathe in fresh air with your nose. Straighten your legs. Cross your hands and raise them into the air 3 to 9 times. Reach for your toes 12 times. Return to the cross-legged position and swallow your saliva in 3 parts. Repeat these steps 3 times. Then imagine the Fire from your dantian circulating the entire body while breathing lightly.
This technique has been disseminated since the Northern Song dynasty. The earliest and most complete recording of Eight-Segment Brocade is in the “Ten Books of Xiuzhen.” There are many derivations of Zhongli’s original technique, with the standing form being the most popular. Compared to other methods to channel Qi, the Eight-Segment Brocade stands out as the most structured and accessible. It also marked a key innovation during Taoism’s shift from external to internal alchemy.
Along with techniques such as Five Animals, the Eight-Segment Brocade is an essential component of Qi channeling methods. Historical records suggest that these techniques were invented as early as the Qin dynasty and began appearing in bamboo writings during the early Han.
Standing Eight-Segment Brocade
The Standing Eight-Segment Brocade has gained considerable popularity in modern times, but its origins may be traced to the Taoist classic “Meditations on Channeling Qi,” written during the Song dynasty under the chapter on Qi Channeling Mantras. The steps are as follows:
The First Part: Stretch arms upwards with fingers interlocked and palms facing up
The Second Part: Open the arms into a bow stance; repeat for each arm
The Third Part: Raise one arm up with hand facing up while keeping the other resting; repeat with the other arm
The Fourth Part: Raise hands to waist-height and turn head left and right
The Fifth Part: Squat on right thigh, then transfer weight to left thigh; repeat in the opposite direction
The Sixth Part: Lock hands behind back and stretch downwards
The Seventh Part: Slowly punch out with each hand while standing in a horse stance
The Eighth Part: Stand on tiptoe, then suddenly drop your body onto the ground
Although various figures have made changes to the execution and ordering of these moves, the basic movements and stances have remained thematically consistent. The Standing Eight-Segment Brocade was itself a derivation of Zhongli’s original Seated Eight-Segment Brocade, but some of the more dramatic movements resemble external martial arts with its focus on stretching the joints and muscles. This distinguishes it from Zhongli’s original technique, which emphasizes internal Qi.
The Zhonglu Eight-Segment Brocade Technique’s Features and Historical Development
1. The original Chinese description of each Part rhymes, making it easy to remember and teach. The rare complete preservation of a Taoist technique makes the Zhonglu Eight-Segment Brocade a unique historical relic.
2. The moves encompass a variety of health cultivating techniques, including massage, meditation, teeth knocking, breathing (Tu Na), and of course its main purpose, Qi channeling. The movements have a top-down focus, starting from quieting the mind, then focusing on the head, down to the neck, upper back, lower back, and feet. The final step involves the dantian, making it the most vital and subtle step.
3. Unlike many other Qi channeling techniques, the Zhonglu Eight-Segment Brocade is highly structured and accessible. The step orderings must not be reversed. Beginners may wish to first remember each of the eight steps, understand the nuances of each, and then practice in order. The key is consistent practice.
1. The Eight-Segment Brocade is an important Taoist innovation resulting from the shift from external to internal alchemy. During the Tang dynasty, Taoist health cultivation was focused on external alchemy, which included practices such as ingesting rocks and herbs. The late-Tang marked a shift in focus from external to internal alchemy. Practices shifted from assimilating external substances to stimulating the body’s internal Jing, Qi and Shen. Zhongli’s Eight-Segment Brocade, developed around this transition period, systematically described a method to cultivate internal Qi and helped usher in the new era of Taoist health cultivation philosophy.
1. The technique heralded a new faction in Chinese health cultivation philosophy. Five Animals, Eight-Segment Brocade, and Yi Jin (roughly translated as Tendon Soothing) constitute the canonical techniques in ancient Chinese health cultivation. Five Animals was developed during the late-Han dynasty by the renowned doctor Hua Tuo and is recorded in the Taoist works “Longevity Log” and “Sage’s Health Cultivation Mantra.” Today, Five-Animals has numerous derivations, including its adaptation in Shaolin self-defence. Yi Jin is a Qi channeling technique whose development is largely attributed to the Taoist monk Zining during the Ming dynasty.
Eight-Segment Brocade appeared sometime after Five Animals and before Yi Jin. There is evidence of considerable cross-contamination amongst these three techniques.