An Analysis of the Mechanism of Health Qigong • Yi Jin Jing

Huang Jian

Health Qigong ● Yi Jin Jing (“Yi Jin Jing” for short hereinafter) has commendably inherited the basic characteristics of the traditional exercises of ancient China. Its movements are vigorous, powerful, and well-balanced between rigidity and flexibility. This paper is a preliminary analysis of the characteristics and mechanism of this exercise.

Exercising and Cultivating the Body, Building a Vessel for the Spirit

The fundamental purpose of compiling and popularizing Health Qigong is to “promote health”, i.e. to maintain or recover the healthy state of the body and thus retard aging and improve the quality of life. It is believed in traditional Chinese medicine that the health of the human body is determined by the body and the spirit. True health cannot be obtained unless both the body and the spirit are strong. Therefore the cultivation of the body and the cultivation of the spirit are two major aspects of health preservation. However, in the practical application of body and spirit cultivation, some schools lay more emphasis on body cultivation while others lay more emphasis on spirit cultivation. And corresponding theories and approaches have also been created.

Those who lay more emphasis on body cultivation usually consider sports as the elementary approach. This is why they are called the “body motion school”, which may have been originated from the aphorism “Running water never becomes putrid.” in Lv Shi Chun Qiu. As a matter of fact, “body motion” has been the cynosure of health preserving experts of all generations in history. As Huang Di Nei Jing: Ling Jiu: Tian Nian says: “As long as the body and spirit remain coherent, longevity can be expected.” Zhang Jiebin, a scholar of the Ming Dynasty, pointed out in Jing Yue Quan Shu: Zhi Xing Lun that: “The body is the foundation for all my existence. Without my body, I will cease to exist.” “Those who want to preserve health must first cultivate this body as the vessel for the soul. Those who want to recover from their diseases must first cure this body as the foundation for rehabilitation.” “When the soul is reconciled with the body, longevity can be expected.” This statement in Lv Shi Chun Qiu: Jin Shu and Zhang’s health-preserving theory have directly expounded the relationship between the “body” and the “spirit" and its effects on “longevity”. In other words, the body is a vessel for the spirit. When the body is strong, the spirit will be naturally at ease. “When body and spirit exist in harmony, one will live to the maximum span of his life.” (Su Wen: Shang Gu Tian Zhen Lun). We are still unsure as to whether the creation and compilation of traditional Yi Jin Jing were influenced by the abovementioned ideas. But both the name and characteristics of the exercise have reflected the feature of exercise-based health preservation.

Let’s first take a look at the name of the exercise. The literal meaning of the word “Yi” of Yi Jin Jing means “change” and the word also implies “strengthening”, meaning strengthening the “tendons”. According to Shuo Wen Jie Zi, “Jin” means “the power of the flesh”. They are generally believed to be the parts that connect bones. According to the fundamental theory, they “should include muscles having the retracting function and streak tissues having the transmission and controlling functions (such as nerves)”. In other words, tendons are related to the bones, muscles, and joints of the exterior of the human body and the viscera and channels of the interior of the human body. Tendons are an important part of the “form” of the human body. Therefore it is fair to say that the “Jin” of Yi Jin Jing refers to the entire body in general. Chi Feng Sui, a treatise of Qigong written in the Ming Dynasty, contains many similar terms like “Yi Qi”, “Yi Xue”, “Yi Mai”, “Yi Rou”, “Yi Sui”, “Yi Gu”, and “Yi Fa”. Here “Yi” always means strengthening. And “Qi”…… “Fa” mean all aspects of the “form”. The book mentioned them in order to expatriate the different extents to which the Qigong exercise strengthens the body.

With regard to the manipulation of the exercise, “motion” is a common characteristic of most Heath Qigong exercises. But compared with other exercises, Yi Jin Jing has at least 3 features of “motion” as follows: For example: With regard to the positions of motion, it includes operations based on motion of the limbs (e.g. “Wei Tuo Presenting the Pestle”), operations based on spinal motion (e.g. “Bowing Down in Salutation” and “Swinging the Tail”), and operations based on both limb and spinal motions (e.g. “Tiger Springing on Its Prey”), which ensure the full-body motion. With regard to the mode of motion, it includes operations based on static-force motion (also known as isometric exercise), operations based on dynamic-force motion (also known as isotonic exercise), and operations based on both of them, embodying the diversity of motion. With regard to the intensity of motion, this exercise generally involves high intensity of motion especially in “Pulling Nine Cows by Their Tails”, “Bowing Down in Salutation”, and “Swinging the Tail”. These characteristics have established Yi Jin Jing as a “body-strengthening” exercise in the real sense. Perseverance in the exercise will “harmonize the viscera, facilitate the muscles and bones, tighten the skin, smoothen the circulation of nutrient and defensive Qi, and maintain the normal and healthy state of the human body…” (Ling Shu: Tian Nian). Certainly, old and middle-aged practicers can make proper adjustments to the intensity according to their respectively health status in order to achieve the best results.

Balancing Yi and Yang, Harmonizing Viscera

Yin and Yang were initially two concepts in the traditional Chinese philosophy. In traditional Chinese medicine, they are mainly used to generalize the structures and functions of the human body as well as the properties and therapies of diseases. The balance between Yin and Yang is the foundation for the health of the human body, just as ancient people said “when Yin harmonious with Yang, the essence and the spirit will be stable and peaceful”. (Su Wen: Sheng Qi Tong Tian Lun). Yi Jin Jing regulates Yin and Yang mainly through motion of the spinal column. This exercise lays emphasis on the motion of the spinal column. The body-turning movements of “Plucking a Star and Exchanging a Star Cluster”, “Pulling Nine Cows by Their Tails”, the waist-bending movements of “Black Dragon Displaying Its Claws”, “Bowing Down in Salutation”, and “Swinging the Tail”, and the “springing” movement of “Tiger Springing on Its Prey” are all used to mobilize and regulate the spinal column. Besides enhancing the motion-based body cultivation, this distinguished exercise can properly balance Yin and Yang. The spinal column is the “beam” of the human body which is mainly composed of vertebras, intervertebral discs, and ligaments. It is an important part of the “form” of the human body which supports the trunk and protects the internal organs. Starting from the spinal cord, the spinal nerves are distributed in the head, neck, upper limbs, chest, waist, napes, and lower limbs and serve as important nerve hubs of the human body. It is believed in traditional Chinese medicine that many channels of the human body are related to the spinal column. Let’s take the Kidney Channel of Foot Shaoyin of the 12 Channels for example. Ling Shu: Jing Mai says it “runs through the spine”. The Urinary Bladder Channel of Foot Taiyang “runs on both sides of the spine…… along the backbone”; and the Du Channel of the Eight Extra Channels “run up the spine” (Nan Jing: Er Shi Ba Nan). The Chong Channel “moves together with the Kidney Channel of Shaoyin” (Su Wen: Gu Kong Lun) and its branches also run inside the spinal column. Therefore the special spinal movements of Yi Jin Jing directly stimulate the abovementioned Yin and Yang channels and thus harmonize Yin and Yang. In addition, the spinal movements are actually movements of the entire trunk. And the movements of the trunk can not only stimulate the channels that pass by the spinal column, but also influence the channels of the spleen, stomach, liver, and gall bladder and extra channels like the Ren Channel. In other words, they are effective on all three Yin channels of foot, three Yang channels of foot, and eight extra channels. And the special movements of the upper limbs in “Wei Tuo Presenting the Pestle”, “Plucking a Star and Exchanging a Star Cluster”, “Nine Ghosts Drawing Saber”, and “Tiger Springing on Its Prey” act on the three Yin channels of hand and three Yang channels of hand and thus regulate the entire channel system. This is one of the major mechanisms of the health-preserving effect of this exercise.

Hou Han Shu: Hua Tuo Zhuan says: “These movements can promote the digestion of food…” This refers to the regulating effects of Wu Qin Xi on the functions of internal organs like the spleen and stomach, but it is also the case with Yi Jin Jing. Its coordinating effect on the viscera is realized mainly through the following three approaches: The first is the direct effect of motion on the viscera. It is believed in traditional Chinese medicine that all the five Zang viscera are associated with the exterior tissues and organs of the human body. The liver governs tendons; the lung governs skin and hair; the spleen governs muscles; the heart governs blood vessels; the kidney governs bones. And Yi Jin Jing is an exercise that “changes” “Jing” (including bones, skin, muscles, and channels). Therefore it can not only exercise the “Jin” on the body surfaces but also promote the functions of the internal organs. Just as Yan Xing Zhai Yan Xing Lu says: “Motion will strengthen the body.” The second is the indirect effect through the channels. The channel system of the human body is made up of twelve regular channels and eight extra channels. The twelve regular channels are the “trunk roads” which have fixed “affiliation” relationships with the five Zang and six Fu viscera. The Qi of channels is also distributed and accumulated in the channels on the body surfaces. While explaining the functions of the twelve channels, Ling Shu: Hai Lun says: “the twelve channels belong to the viscera inside the body and connect the limbs and joints.” This is exactly why the exercising effect of Yi Jin Jing on the “Jin” can be “transmitted” to the viscera by way of the channels and thus exercises and harmonizes the viscera. The third is the special effect of pronunciation and respiration on the viscera. In “Three Plates Falling on the Floor” of Yi Jin Jing, the practicer is required to articulate “Hai” while stooping the body and pressing down the palms. This is a major innovation by the creators of the exercise. In traditional Qigong, the pronunciation-assisted respiration is called pronunciation respiration. Liu Zi Jue is a typical exercise based on pronunciation respiration, which can also be seen in some martial Qigong exercises. But it is quite rare in traditional Yi Jin Jing. However, this reference is reasonable. It is believed in traditional Qigong theories that besides “exhaling the old and inhaling the new”, respiration can also exercise the viscera. This is why Han Shu: Wang Ji Zhuan says “exhaling the old and inhaling the new to exercise the viscera”. And pronunciation of words will enhance this exercising effect of respiration.

Dredging Channels, Regulating Qi Activity

Besides providing the “connecting” functions, channels can also facilitate the circulation of Qi and blood, just Huang Di Nei Jing: Ling Shu: Ben Zang says: “Channels are used to circulate blood and Qi and invigorate Yin and Yang”. Yi Jin Jing dredges channels mainly through body and breath regulation.

As mentioned above, the body regulation of Yi Jin Jing is a quite distinguished one. By combining the static-force motion with the dynamic-force motion and the limb motion with the spinal motion, it fully, reasonably, and intensely exercises all parts of the human body. The movements not only exercise the muscles, bones, and joints, but also indirectly “massage” the channels and blood vessels which also belong to “Jin”. This “massage” is realized by the diastolic and systolic movements of muscles, the abduction and adduction of joints, the rotation and bending of the spinal column, the ascending, descending, opening, and closing movements of both hands, the various stances of both legs, and many other elements of body regulation. It renders the channels and blood vessels in an irregular “compression-relaxation” state which is favorable for maintaining the smoothness of channels and blood channels and promotes the “blood and Qi circulation” of the human body (Hou Han Shu: Hua Tuo Zhuan). It ensures the unblocked flowing of essence and Qi because “the essence will not circulate if the body remains stationary and Qi will be stagnant if essence fails to circulate” (Lv Shi Chun Qiu: Da Yu).

In traditional Chinese medicine, Qi activity refers to the movements of Qi, which mainly include ascending, descending, incoming, and outgoing movements. It is also believed in traditional Chinese medicine that the lung governs Qi, the kidney accommodates Qi, and the liver dredges Qi. The spleen and the stomach are sources of the generation and conversion of Qi and blood. And since Qi mainly runs along the channels, the normal functioning of Qi activity is related to the conditions of all the five Zang viscera and the channels. Yi Jin Jing not only strengthens the “form” which covers all the five viscera but also dredges the channels. These two aspects are the main mechanisms by which Yi Jin Jing coordinates Qi activity. In addition, the effect of two features in the breath regulation of this exercise on Qi activity is also two important to ignore. One of them is the short halt of respiration during static-force motion, which is especially conspicuous in the first three postures of “Wei Tuo Presenting the Pestle”. It is specifically embodied in the “short halt of movement” mentioned by the author in Posture 1. This “suspension” also exists in the second and third postures. Seasoned practicers can even feel similar “halt” in other routines. As the “three regulations” are coordinated with each other until they are finally united during exercise, “short halt of movement” implies “short halt of respiration”. The meaning of “halt” differs with the stages of respiration. If the halt takes place at the end of an exhalation, it will be equivalent to an extension of the exhalation which enhances the “outgoing” movement of Qi activity and facilities the exhalation of the old and the reduction of excessiveness. If the halt takes place at the end of an inhalation, it will be equivalent to an extension of the inhalation which enhances the “incoming” movement of Qi activity and facilities the inhalation of the new and the makeup for the insufficiency. The practicers may use these halts flexibly according to their respective physical conditions. The other is the “Hai” pronunciation respiration in “Three Plates Falling on the Floor”. The effect of this pronunciation respiration on the viscera has been explained earlier. Moreover, it can also regulate the ascending and descending movements of Qi activity. However, if we take a general look at the keys to the body regulation and breath regulation of the entire exercise, we will find that the effect is largely a “descending” one. This is because the “Hai” which is articulated at the moment of the “falling-on-the-floor” movement is definitely mean for balancing the ascending and descending movements. Since the ancient times, Yi Jin Jing has been focused on the “incoming” and “ascending” movements of Qi probably in order to achieve better “Jin-changing” effect. And insufficient attention has been drawn to the “outgoing” and especially the “descending” movements. Failure of the practicers (especially beginners) to master the proper movements will cause the problem of excessive ascending movement and insufficient descending movement of Qi. Along with the descending movements of the body, the exhaling pronunciation will facilitate the descent of Qi and play an active role in balancing the ascent and descent of Qi and coordinating the Qi activity.

To sum up, through reasonably-arranged movements and assisted by corresponding respiration, Health Qigong ● Yi Jin Jing can strengthen the body, balance Yin and Yang, promote Qi and blood circulation, and thus help the practicer to “preserve health”. Supplemented by certain spirit regulation approaches, it may provide even better health-preserving effect.

2010-12-10 11:55:00 Chinese Health Qigong Association