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
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
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
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
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
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
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
I explore this subject in more detail and with step-by-step instruction
in several publications available from YMAA.com. 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.
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 FightingArts.com
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
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
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 http://www.ymaa.com 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.