NEI GONG & ALCHEMY
INITIATING THE TRANSFORMATION OF JING, QI, AND SHEN
~ Walking the Path ~
Many are familiar with the practice of Qigong, less are familiar with the art of Nei Gong. Whereas Qigong are exercises aimed at mobilising the bodys Qi; Nei Gong is a transformative process that seeks to build the Dan Tian, open the deepest channels of the energetic matrix and master the forces of Yin Yang within the body.
Nei Gong epitomosies the alchemical teachings of the Daoist tradition though it also incorporates Buddhist and Confucian principles as well. Long kept secret from the general public, Nei Gong is a powerful inner method based in conversion of the key energetic ‘treasures’ of the body.
Whether it for health or spiritual development, Nei Gong begins with the same process – development of the body. From here, a practitioner learns to awaken the develop the bodys energetic system and this is the gateway to the deeper aspects of the internal arts of China.
Level 1 Practice ...
The first thing to understand within Nei Gong training is the we need to prepare the body and lay the foundations for further practice. There are various principles that we need to understand and certain skill/qualities we need to develop (known as Gong). These help to clean and circulate the Qi as well as opening key channels and establishing an efficient circulation system within us.
Laying the Foundations
The foundations of Nei Gong training involve getting the body ready for further work. This helps to develop our health, relax the mind and also ensure that we have an efficient-enough functioning body to move deeper into the practice without the risk of problems arising. We first condition the body, then condition the breath and finally we start to regulate the energetic system. These are classically known as the ‘three areas of regulation’ within the internal arts.
Regulating the Body
Every facet of the way in which we use our body will help us in the early stages of our training. We study the body and its usage through a posture known simply as ‘Wuji’. Every system of Qi Gong and Nei Gong will have their own ‘Wuji’ posture and it is important to understand just how the ‘Wuji’ of your own method works. This is because all other exercises and practices branch out of Wuji making this exercise the root of everything you do.
To regulate the body, we relax, stretch, lengthen and open it up to ensure that we take away any ‘irregularities’ and then from here we reshape the body to ensure it is as aligned and prepared as efficiently as possible for our arts. There is a fair amount of work to be done here. It is much like any other practice, we must get the body ready for it. If you were to decide to become a dancer or weight-lifter tomorrow you would have to do a certain amount of ‘body conditioning’ to get your physical form in the right shape. It is no different for an art such as Nei Gong; the only difference is that we build the body in a very specific manner for the internal arts.
Regulating the Breath
The breath serves as a ‘bridge’ between the physical and the energetic bodies. It is also the prime way that we regulate the state of our mind in the earliest levels of mental training. It is often said that there should be no work to train the breath in some internal methods, instead we should simply ‘breathe naturally’; this would be okay if our natural breathing was correct but the fact is that many of us breathe is a useless and unhealthy manner! For this reason we must retrain our breathing in several ways so that it can be used effectively for our practice. Through our breath we learn how to govern our level of relaxation, the amount of pressure we use in our practice and also the basis of the process of ‘letting go’.
Regulating the Energetic System
The quality and movement of Qi is obviously of paramount importance for Nei Gong training. We want it to be healthy, functioning well and circulating in the correct manner. In the earliest stages of practice this is all driven according to the lower Dan Tian; an aspect of practice sometimes known as the ‘small water wheel’ of training within some Nei Gong schools. Students are likely to come with irregularities to the way in which their Qi behaves (none of us are perfect!) and so some training must be carried out to sort these issues.
Within the school we use a series of exercises and practice aimed at developing the lower Dan Tian and directing the Qi around the body in the correct and most desired way. We do not use visualisation nor imagination in any way; these are tools likely to lead you astray. Instead we use specific exercises aimed at developing clear and tangible results. Pathogenic Qi is cleared and circulation throughout the channels of the body is aimed for. The Dan Tian is the ‘centre’ for all of this activity in the foundation stages of training and one of our first missions is to locate and develop the Dan Tian in the right way. Many practitioners do not fully understand the Dan Tian and its functioning and so a lot of time is spent in the early stages of Nei Gong training working with this important energy centre.
Level 2 Practice ...
Once the foundations have been laid, students then move on to more complex aspects of training which essentially involve developing the body’s ability to store Qi. Exercises are aimed at developing the ‘gourd body’ which is an internal quality we require to make sure that we can work with the body to develop and sustain a higher degree of Qi.
Division of Yin and Yang
At the second level of practice students learn about the separation of Yin and Yang. This begins physically and then moves onto an energetic level. Within Daoism, everything that exists physically is reflected energetically and behind both of these sits a spiritual set of ‘blueprints’ on the level of consciousness. The sequential movement from physical to energetic to direct work with the consciousness enables us to understand this trinity and not get lost along the way.
The Yin and Yang of the Body
The initial stages of ‘dividing the body up’ involve separating the soft tissues from the muscles and the bones. There is generally a great deal of ‘adhesion’ present within most of our bodies and so we must work towards sorting this out. Adhesions must be cleared and each section of the body must be divided up according to the principles of Yin and Yang. We do this as Qi ‘conducts’ through certain layers of the body and not others. In order to open the channels fully we wish to increase this conduction and then strengthen it through stressing the body under our own weight. This is the stage of learning systematic ‘release’ or ‘Song’. Students beginning level 2 of our system work on these principles through a combination of static and moving exercises.
Building the Gourd
The gourd (pictured right) is a symbol appearing in many Chinese paintings. It is an object carried by immortals and alchemists alike. It represents (among other things) the condition of the physical body that we are aiming for in our practice. The shape of the gourd is the key to circulating the building Qi in a very specific manner. Don’t worry though, it is the inside of the body that should be shaped like a gourd, not the outside; there is no need for us to build a body that is snowman shaped! It is to do with a circular development of the soft tissues so that Qi is led in the correct manner. It is an intricate stage involving specific exercises known as the ‘San Yuan’ set and a few accompanying methods. Students begin to work on these once they have develop a high level of skill in dividing the Yin and Yang of the physical body. The gourd works with the movement of the channel system to pool and divide up the Qi of the body into two parts; once again labelled Yin and Yang.
Yin and Yang Qi
Every school of both Qi Gong and Nei Gong works with Yin and Yang Qi at some stage in the practice. It is a fairly advanced stage that we begin once the body is ready but don’t expect to finish with for a very long time! Yin and Yang Qi are two very specific types of energy that we must learn to work with and develop within the body. One serves to hold shape and form together through a system of ‘fields’ whilst the other moves and delivers ‘life’ to the entire of both our body and mind. We require adequate preparation for the body as well as specific mental exercises to locate and develop these two forms of Qi. We then use Yin to lead and govern Yang within the body so that we can start to build up our ability to work with and process these two very special forms of Qi. To do this we have various mental exercises as well as the Ba Xian Nei Gong or ‘Eight Immortal Practices’.
Level 3 Practice ...
The third stage of training aims to ‘govern’ the Qi. This is an advanced stage of practice that serves to develop medicinal and spiritually-based skills. The training here is demanding and only really for those who wish to go deep into the Daoist arts. It is also important that adequate foundations have been built in the previous stages.
Governing the Qi
It is interesting that the basis for effective medicinal skills, strong martial arts abilities and even spiritual development all lay in a person’s ability to develop and cultivate Qi. The Daoist arts are very specific about this. Along with Qi development we must also learn to work with Jing and Shen; these three form the three sacred ‘treasures’ of the Daoist arts. It is for this reason that Nei Gong is at the heart of all the Daoist arts. In the third stage of training students learn to develop the three ‘treasures’ to a very high level as well as developing ‘Gong’ with the manner in which they use their Qi.
The Deep Channels
As well as the ‘standard’ channels that most people are aware of, there are deeper channels that also require opening. These cannot be opened in the usual way but instead require a great deal of Qi development. Yin and Yang Qi are used together to awaken and activate these channels; on top of this we require a little help with transmissions that aid in their opening. We can use a combination of meditative exercises, moving practices and breath-work to help at this stage. More specifically, we have continued development of the exercises based upon the myths of the Ba Xian or ‘eight immortals’ to help locate and lead Qi to these deep channels of the body. This stage of practice is very demanding and only the most diligent of practitioners may carry out this work.
The ancient practice of ‘marrow washing’ can now start to be developed. To do this, students should have built a strong foundation in cultivation of Jing, Yin Qi and Yang Qi. These substances are then governed in order to clean the marrow and nourish the brain with extra energy. There is no set of exercises known as the ‘marrow washing exercises’; or at least no classical ones. Instead, it is a series of teachings and principles for dedicated practitioners of Nei Gong and Daoist internal arts.
Governance of Qi
There is not much need to discuss level 3 training in detail on this site as it is a stage that needs very specific face-to-face instruction. We only include a short write-up here to help you understand exactly where the training goes. Though students in the school may wish to take their practice in different directions; medical practice, spiritual development or martial arts, the basis of all of this is that their Qi needs to be built to a very high level.
In order to help in the development of expertise (Gong), we teach a number of practices aimed at governing Qi. Qi is controlled by the mind, taken in, built up and then finally emitted in very controlled and specific ways to help develop sensitivity and familiarity with Qi. The more we can gain control of the Qi the easier it is to govern. These all contribute to developing ‘Nei Gong’ – ‘mastery of the internal environment of our body’.
~ Step by Step ~
Many Qi Gong systems do not really have a step-by-step nature to the way that they are taught. This is fine for those who wish to relax and move their bodies gently, but it is not really an efficient way to study for those who really want to go deep into their internal practice. Every classical system of practice from an authentic root is taught in a step-by-step manner with each stage in the practice building upon what came before. The student first works towards developing the body in the right way, then the energetic system and finally the mind. Though there is, of course, some cross-over between these stages of development, we generally work in this manner. For each stage of development there are defined exercises to practice and expected results. The teacher must help the student develop along the ‘path’ as effectively as they can.
Alchemy & Meditation
Nei Gong training begains with standing and moving exercises. These are practiced to help open the channels and prepare the body for further alchemicla work. This is where Nei Dan training comes in; the Daoist practice of refining Jing, Qi and Shen back to their original forms. Understanding this process will enable a practitioner to seek out the enigmatic ‘alchemical pill’, the source of spiritual development within the Quan Zhen tradition.
Alongside Nei Dan training, there is also meditation-proper – ‘Chan’ to the Chinese Buddhists or ‘Jing Zuo’ to the Daoists. This is the journey into understanding the mind, its nature and the root of its delusions. Through a combination of Nei Dan and Jing Zuo, both the mind and body, on its deepest levels, are refined and developed.
Within the Lotus Nei Gong school, both Alchemy and Meditation are taught at various levels of complexity according to the requirements of students.
Best Selling Author of the Internal Arts
Damo is an award-winning and widely published author on the subject of the internal arts. His books are recognised as some of the clearest in the field. We invite newcomers to the school or the arts to explore Damo’s books and other writings.