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Embryonic Breathing For Martial Artists

By Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming

Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming meditating

Embryonic Breathing is a technique that allows you to store the Qi (Chi) at the Real Dan Tian (elixir field), in the center of your abdomen and accumulate your body's energy to a higher capacity.

The Lower Dan Tian is regarded today as the second brain, your body's "battery" which can store a bioelectric charge. Qi is the energy or lifeforce within every cell of our body. It cannot yet be clearly defined, but it consists largely of the bioelectricity produced by the body's metabolism. When the bioelectricity storage has reached a high level, the vital energy manifested by the physical body will be strong. Naturally, you will be healthy and have a long life.

This training should be understood by anyone interested in martial arts, qigong, or meditation. There are more than 150 Daoist documents about Embryonic Breathing that have been revealed in recent years. This has provided a reliable guide of how to practice Embryonic Breathing correctly and safely.

In Qigong practice, generally there are two main purposes. One is to build up the Qi to an abundant level, and the other is to improve the quality of the Qi manifestation. The purpose of practicing Muscle/Tendon Changing Qigong is to build up the Qi and then manifest it to the physical body for strength and longevity. This serves the purpose of increasing the quantity of Qi.

The practicing of Marrow/Brain Washing Qigong is to purify the mind to a higher concentrated state so the usage of the Qi can reach its maximum efficiency. That means to improve the quality of the Qi manifestation by raising up the Spirit of Vitality. However, in order to raise up the spirit to a higher level, you must know how to store the Qi at the Real Dan Tian to an abundant level with Embryonic Breathing, and how to then lead it up the spinal cord (Chong Mai) to the brain. This activates the brain cells to a more energized state. From this, you can see that Embryonic Breathing is the key to raising your spirit and reaching enlightenment.

The fundamental key of practicing Embryonic Breathing is keeping the Yi (wisdom mind) at the Real Dan Tian. When the Yi is held there in the center of your abdomen, the Qi will be stored and the usage of Qi will be regulated and used efficiently. If the Yi is away from the Real Dan Tian, then Qi will be led out from its residence and be consumed. When Qi is overused, then it will be exhausted, consequently the body will degenerate and the spirit will weaken and wither. Those who are learning the Dao must know this theory.

The Dao is the 'natural way' or 'natural path'; the true nature of reality. In addition, practitioners must also know the Dao of producing the Qi and growing the elixir in the abdomen. If they do not know this, then the Qi will also be exhausted. From modern science, it is known that this part of the abdomen is constructed from six layers of muscles and fasciae, mutually sandwiched. The fasciae is also the storage place for fat when too much food is absorbed into the body. Fat is considered "post-heaven essence". From the abdominal exercises, the stored fat will be converted into energy, or Qi.

All the revealed documents agree that in order to store the Qi at the Real Dan Tian to an abundant level, you must know two main keys. One is learning how to keep your mind at the Real Dan Tian so the Qi will not be led away from its residence. The other one is learning how to produce more Qi in the body.

Whenever your mind generates an idea, EMF (electromotive force) is created. This will lead the Qi either to the brain or to the physical body for manifestation. That means you are consuming the Qi stored in the Real Dan Tian. Once you have learned how to keep your mind at the Real Dan Tian, the Qi will stay at its residence and not be led outward. Consequently, the Qi can be conserved and accumulated.

In addition, you can produce Qi in the body at higher levels. Traditionally, you could use special herbs to increase the quantity of Qi. However, nearly all Daoist Qigong masters believed that the best way to produce the most pure Qi is to convert the essence stored in the body into Qi.

As long as you use the abdominal area to control your breathing, the up and down abdominal exercises will convert the stored food essence (fat) into Qi . Fat is the food essence which has been filtered and purified through your body’s system. It has a high calorie content that can be efficiently converted into Qi through biochemical reaction.

Breathing with up and down abdominal exercises is also called “back to the childhood breathing” (Fan Tong Hu Xi) since babies move their abdominal areas when they breathe. The abdominal area is called “Elixir Field or Furnace” (Dan Tian) by Daoists and “Qi Ocean” (Qihai) by Chinese medicine.

Abdominal breathing is the key to producing Qi. You may use Normal Abdominal Breathing (Zheng Hu Xi) or Reverse Abdominal Breathing (Fan Hu Xi or Ni Hu Xi).

Daoists call the front of the abdomen the “False Dan Tian.” It was named this because, although this place can generate Qi, once the Qi is produced, it immediately enters into the Conception and Governing Vessels’ Small Circulation. Consequently, it will be distributed to the twelve primary Qi channels and be used by the physical body. Thus, it is known that, though the Lower Dan Tian is an elixir furnace, it cannot store the elixir (Qi) efficiently. If the elixir cannot be stored to a higher abundant level, then the Daoist Gongfu (training) such as “refine the Qi and sublimate it upward,” or “returning the essence to nourish the brain” cannot be accomplished effectively.

In order to store elixir, (you) must know how to use the method of Embryonic Breathing to lead the elixir produced from the elixir furnace to the Real Dan Tian and store it there. The location of the Real Dan Tian is where, on the top, it is not against the internal kidneys, and, on the bottom, it does not touch the external kidneys. It rests behind the navel and in front of the Mingmen cavity (i.e., behind the Life Door and in front of the Closed Door). This place is also called the “second brain” by science. In fact, this is the place where the large and small intestines are located. When an embryo is forming and growing into a baby, it must rely on abundant Qi and therefore, the embryo is formed in this Qi residence.

If you know how to produce Qi at the abdominal area, but do not know how to lead it inward and store it at the Real Dan Tian, your practice will stay on the Muscle/Tendon Changing level. Though you can increase the quantity of Qi and manifest it into physical health, it will continue to be consumed and you will not be able to reach the goal of spiritual enlightenment. In order to do so, you must lead the Qi inward and store it in the Real Dan Tian.

According to Chinese medicine and Qigong practice, the kidneys on the back are considered “internal kidneys” (Nei Shen) while the testicles or ovaries are considered “external kidneys” (Wai Shen). In Daoist society, the navel is considered the “Life Door” (Sheng Men) since it provides life before your birth, and the Mingmen (Gv-4) is considered the “closed door” (Mi Hu). It is an important acupuncture cavity that is normally closed in most people. Mingmen is a Chinese medical term meaning “Life Door” since it connects the governing vessel up the back to the life center, or Real Lower Dan Tian.

Using Embryonic Breathing, you can lead the Qi to the Real Lower Dan Tian. The key to training is to keep the Yi at the Dan Tian and the secret of practice is to regulate the breathing.

The method of regulating the breathing in Embryonic Breathing is: when you have reached the stage of regulating without regulating in your Reverse Abdominal Breathing training, then you add the Mingmen breathing. That means that when the abdomen is withdrawing and the Huiyin is holding upward, at the same time, the Mingmen is also withdrawing. When the abdomen is expanding and the Huiyin is gently pushing downward, the Mingmen is also expanding. In this case, due to the pressing and releasing massaging at the Mingmen area, the original essence can be smoothly produced from the adrenal glands.

Original essence is what we call hormones today. Hormones are actually the catalysts which are needed for the body’s biochemical reactions. When the content of the body’s hormones is normal, then the body’s biochemical reaction can be completed smoothly. That means the metabolic process can be carried out efficiently within all of the 100 trillion cells our bodies are comprised of. The body’s Qi will be abundant, the vital lifeforce will be strong, and the body’s degeneration will be slowed down. This is the crucial key to reducing unnecessary aging and stimulating the optimal healthy function of the body.

In order to store the Qi at the Real Dan Tian, you must keep your mind there so the Qi will not be led outward and be wasted. However, when you meditate it is not easy to keep your mind there for a long period of time. To reach this goal, you must first have regulated your body to an extremely relaxed state. Wherever your body is tensed, the Qi will be led there and consumed. Therefore, you must learn how to use your mind to control the muscles in the abdominal area efficiently through abdominal breathing. You must be able to regulate the abdominal breathing until conscious regulating is unnecessary. Then you can begin your Embryonic Breathing.

From my personal experience, the trick to keeping your mind at your center of gravity (Dan Tian) is to begin the breathing training with the abdominal up and down movement in the front, while also keeping the Mingmen area’s up and down movement on the back. When this happens, the movement of the front and back will balance each other and this will provide you with a centered feeling. That means the mind can be kept at the center. At the beginning of training, your mind is on the front and the back, however, after you have practiced for a long time and reached a level of regulating without regulating, your mind will move to the center easily. In my experience, using the Reverse Abdominal Breathing techniques with the Mingmen and Huiyin’s movements is easier than using them with the Normal Abdominal Breathing.

Furthermore, due to the diaphragm’s up and down movements in the deep abdominal breathing, the adrenals (internal kidneys) will be pressed and massaged. Consequently, the original essence (hormones) will be produced. In addition, due to the Huiyin’s holding up and pushing down, the Qi will reach the testicles or ovaries (external kidneys) and consequently, the original essence (hormones) will also naturally be secreted. This is the process which the Daoists called “to refine the essence and convert it into Qi.”

One of the primary benefits of this training is produced by the movements of the Mingmen and Huiyin areas. As these areas move, the adrenal glands and testicles are stimulated. Consequently, hormones (original essence -- Yuan Jing) can be produced. Through the movement of deep breathing exercises, the diaphragm will also massage the kidneys and stimulate the production of DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. When the hormone content in our blood stream is high, the body’s biochemical reaction will be smooth and metabolization will be carried out efficiently. Naturally, we will be healthier and live longer. Anyone who would like to obtain health and longevity should learn Embryonic Breathing.

In order to reach the goal of keeping the Yi at the Real Dan Tian in Embryonic Breathing, at the beginning, the Yi is on the Life Door (navel), Closed Door (Mingmen), and the Huiyin’s up and down exercises. However, when you have reached a stage of regulating with no regulating, then the Yi will not be on the movement and will gradually shift inward to the Real Dan Tian and remain there. After long practice, the Xin is peaceful and the Yi is calm, the spirit is condensed inward, and is not bothered by outside disturbances. This is why Lao Zi said: “Keep physical body and spiritual body in unity, can they not be separated? Specialize in training the Qi to reach its softest, can it be like a baby?” This practice is also “to reach the extreme emptiness and to keep the ultimate calmness sincerely,” the great Dao of Embryonic Breathing.

In Chapter 10 of Dao De Jing , Lao Zi emphasizes the unification of the physical body and the spiritual body. When the physical body and the spiritual body are united and in harmony with each other, we will be able to attain the human Dao and live long. In order to reach this goal, we must learn how to breathe naturally and softly like a baby.

In addition, in Chapter 16, Lao Zi states that the way of returning to the origin of our lives involves keeping our minds in the state of extreme emptiness and calmness. That means to keep the mind in the Real Dan Tian. When you focus your attention on your center, your mind will be centered and your awareness will be raised.

Embryonic Breathing can again be divided into Yin and Yang. Yang Embryonic Breathing means that the exhalation is longer than the inhalation, the internal Qi is expanding through the Girdle Vessel, and (consequently) the Guardian Qi is strengthened. This is what is called Skin Breathing (Fu Xi) or Body Breathing (Ti Xi) in the Daoist’s definition. This kind of breathing is suitable for practice in the fall and winter. The reason is when fall and winter are near, our Guardian Qi is getting weaker and our defense against illness is weakened, so it is easy for us to catch a cold. In the seasons of spring and summer, the Guardian Qi is already strong, so if you practice too much Body Breathing, the body will turn too Yang. Furthermore, the Qi stored in the body will be wasted. Yin Embryonic Breathing means that the inhalation is longer than the exhalation. The Yi is aiming for extreme calmness and is kept at the center. Consequently, the Qi can be condensed inward and stored in the Real Dan Tian and can also reach the bone marrow. This is what is called “Marrow Breathing” or “Wuji Breathing.” The practice of this kind of breathing is suitable for the spring and summer. This is because during spring and summer, the external Qi is getting strong, and the need for Guardian Qi is not as high as it is in the fall and winter. This is the time to lead the Qi inward and store it. This can also supply the Qi to the bone marrow, which is required for the production of blood cells.

Once you have practiced Embryonic Breathing to a profound stage and can keep your mind at the Real Dan Tian easily, then you can use it to control the body’s Yin and Yang status easily. For example, in Embryonic Breathing practice, if your exhalation is longer than your inhalation, the Qi in the Girdle Vessel (Dai Mai) around the waist will be expanded. Consequently, the Guardian Qi can be expanded and enhanced. This kind of Embryonic Breathing is called “Girdle Vessel Breathing” (Dai Mai Xi), “Body Breathing” (Ti Xi ), or “Skin Breathing” (Fu Xi). When the Guardian Qi is strong, the immune system is strong. This kind of breathing, exhaling longer than inhaling, is more suitably practiced in the winter time.

However, if your inhalation is longer than your exhalation, then you are leading Qi from the surface of the skin to the Real Dan Tian and also to the bone marrow. The Guardian Qi will be weakened and the storage of Qi at the Real Dan Tian can be enhanced and can reach a higher level. This kind of Embryonic Breathing is called “Cavity Breathing” (Xue Wei Hu Xi ), or also “Marrow Breathing” (Sui Xi ). It can also be called “Wuji Breathing” (Wuji Hu Xi ) since your mind is on the center of gravity, which is the Wuji state. This breathing is most suitably practiced in the summer time when the body has extra energy.

I explore this subject in more detail and with step-by-step instruction in several publications available from From the above, you can see that Embryonic Breathing is the required practice for those who wish to cultivate the Dao and train their Qi. It can and should be utilized by martial artists of all styles.

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About The Author:

Dr. Yang is a celebrated author, teacher, and the founder of Yang's Martial Arts Association. He is a regular contributor to and an advisor to the site.

Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming started his Gongfu (Kung Fu) training at the age of fifteen under the Shaolin White Crane (Bai He) Master Cheng, Gin Gsao. In thirteen years of study (1961-1974) under Master Cheng, Dr. Yang became an expert in the White Crane style of Chinese martial arts, which includes both the use of bare hands and of various weapons such as saber, staff, spear, trident, two short rods, and many others. With the same master he also studied White Crane Chin Na, Tui Na and Dian Xue massages, and herbal treatment.

At the age of sixteen, Dr. Yang began the study of Taijiquan (Yang Style) under Master Gao, Tao. After learning from Master Gao, Dr. Yang continued his study and research of Taijiquan with several masters and senior practitioners such as Master Li, Mao-Ching and Mr. Wilson Chen in Taipei. Master Li learned his Taijiquan from the well-known Master Han, Ching-Tang, and Mr. Chen learned his Taijiquan from Master Chang, Xiang-San. Dr. Yang has mastered the Taiji barehand sequence, pushing hands, the two-man fighting sequence, Taiji sword, Taiji saber, and Taiji Qigong.

At 18, he entered Tamkang College in Taipei Xian to study Physics and also began the study of traditional Shaolin Long Fist (Changquan) with Master Li, Mao-Ching at the Tamkang College Guoshu Club (1964-1968). He eventually became an assistant instructor under Master Li. In 1971 he completed his M.S. degree in Physics at the National Taiwan University and then served in the Chinese Air Force from 1971 to 1972. In the service, Dr. Yang taught Physics at the Junior Academy of the Chinese Air Force while also teaching Wushu. After being honorably discharged in 1972, he returned to Tamkang College to teach Physics and resumed study under Master Li, Mao-Ching. From Master Li, Dr. Yang learned Northern style Gongfu, which includes both barehand techniques, especially kicking, and numerous weapons.

In 1974, Dr. Yang came to the United States to study Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University. At the request of a few students, Dr. Yang began to teach, which resulted in the foundation of the Purdue University Chinese Kung Fu Research Club in the spring of 1975. While at Purdue, Dr. Yang also taught college-credited courses in Taijiquan. In May, 1978 he was awarded a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering by Purdue.

Yang's Martial Arts Association was established in Boston, MA in 1982. Currently, YMAA is an international organization, including 56 schools in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Chile, France, Holland, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In 1984, Dr. Yang retired from his engineering career, to focus his energy on teaching and researching the Chinese arts, and introducing them to the West through many books, videos and DVDs. Visit for current information.
Dr. Yang has nearly 40 years of instructional experience: seven years in Taiwan, five years at Purdue University, two years in Houston, TX, and 25 years in Boston, MA. On November 29, 2005, Dr. Yang conferred the title of Taiji Master to one of his senior students, which by definition bestows the honorable title of Grandmaster upon Dr. Yang.

Dr. Yang is also the founder of the YMAA Retreat Center in Humbolt County, CA, where he will spend ten years training a select group of students, starting in August 2008.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

keywords" content="Chi Kung, Qigong, energy arts, Real Dan Tian,elixir field,Spirit of Vitality,Chong Mai,Yi ,wisdom mind,post-heaven essence,back to the childhood breathing,Fan Tong Hu Xi,Elixir Field or Furnace,Qi Ocean,Normal Abdominal Breathing,Zheng Hu Xi,Reverse Abdominal Breathing,Fan Hu Xi or Ni Hu Xi,False Dan Tian,Mingmen,Life Door,internal kidneys,Nei Shen,external kidneys,Wai Shen,Huiyin

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