The YiJinJing is a very old and very famous hard qigong practice that is generally kept secret, what follows is an excerpt from my upcoming book “Secrets of Drunken Boxing :Volume 3 :Internal Alchemy & Qigong.
This is information about the muscle tendon changing classic that was written in my online course (drunkenboxing.redjademartialarts.com). Master / Professor Kevin Wallbridge is my gong fu brother and was the person who taught me the yijinjing. The set is fairly rare to have any real understanding of it and how to train it for the most results. I thought I would share it more openly for people who are interested in the supplemental qigong training associated with Chinese Martial Arts. Many thanks to Kevin for taking the time to share this info and answer the questions of students so openly.
I decided to start a new thread on this topic since it is a specific aspect of internal conditioning. Perhaps we could also use this as a lead-in to discussion of seasonal training.
Yi Jin Jing 易筋经 or Muscle-Tendon Change. 易 Yì is an old character that shows rays of the sun. We know from experience that the suns rays cause great transformations, drying, tanning, ripening, etc.. 筋Jin̄ has bamboo above, flesh on the left and strength on the right. So “the flesh that has the strength of bamboo.” So we often call this contractile tissue. This is much more than muscle, which is really just meat. This is tendons, ligaments and the fascial network. 经Jinḡ refers to things that are long like rivers. Here it means the meridian system. So Muscle-tendon Change may also be rendered “the method to transform the fascia network.”
Perhaps the best place to begin is with the caveats. This is a 硬功 Ying̀gonḡ or hard qigong and so comes with the obvious physical risks. The process involves very strong muscular contractions, both isotonic (moving under tension) and isometric (static under tension). This can lead to dramatic increases in abdominal pressure which can cause hernias or arterial aneurysms. If the alignments of the joints is incorrect it can lead to structural problems of the joints especially the neck or shoulders. It is possible to rupture a vertebral disc in the neck or a bursa in the shoulder. From a Chinese medicine perspective, if the breathing is incorrect you can gibble the Qi mechanism and cause kidney exhaustion and thermal problems like night sweats or tidal fevers.
The method begins with breathing. It uses reverse breathing. Reverse breathing involves drawing 丹田daǹtian̄ towards 命门Minǵmeń on the inhalation. This closes the lower abdomen while the diaphragm opens in the middle. So lower belly in and upper belly out on inhaling. As well, the perineal floor (between the anus and genitals) picks up as you inhale. This is a method that is worth practicing until it is natural. Just doing reverse breathing is a hugely important meditation in Daoist internal work. The lower body rolls in a circle as you breath; in and up on inhalation and out and down on exhalation.
When practicing the shapes you are doing reverse breathing. So while you are contracting most of the body the lower belly and especially the floor of the pelvis are releasing. This is very important for keeping the internal abdominal pressure from spiking. As well, as you do the moves there is double-pause breathing (at the top and at the bottom of the breath). At the top of the inhalation you pause the breath (don’t hold it or seal it) and begin the contraction. At the bottom of the breath you pause and (this is very important) release the ribcage before you release the limbs. So core releases before the periphery.
So , if you have version of the form already you could slowly try to apply this breathing pattern to it. It really ups the ante when it comes to the transformative quality of the form. My personal opinion is that reverse breathing is worth practicing for three years all on its own.
Q: I was wondering though if you could say more about what it means to pause the breath (as opposed to holding or sealing it)?
Also, shifu (and others), would it be disadvantageous to do reverse breathing during the single-pointedness meditation we did/is there a meditation better suited to reverse breathing?
Regarding pausing as opposed to sealing the breath. Since the Yijinjing requires lots of effort we are breathing quite deeply (there is no resting, each breath is a contraction).
When we breath deeply the rib cage lifts and the neck muscles become engaged. As well, at the top of a very deep breath the deep erectors of the low back also engage to tilt the ribs upward in front. When someone stops inhaling a deep breath the instinct is to release the low back and allow the ribs to tilt forward to a neutral position. However, at this point the if you try to exhale its like forcing your way through a mostly closed door (hence… sealing the breath). What typically happens is that a person will re-engage the back and lift the breast-bone then gasp the exhalation out.
In the Yijinjing we want to keep the ribs tilted at the top when we pause the inhaling so that we can just start exhaling without having to lift the breast-bone again.
Q: So shifu Kevin, may I inquire as to the physiological differences between reverse breathing and what some call Taoist breathing (filling from the bottom up basically the opposite of reverse)? Is there a difference in how it effects the body in qigong? Should both methods be practiced? Also what are the beneficial differences between the two? I was taught the reverse breathing is more for dynamic and martial qigongs and the regular breathing for health qigongs and taiji. Is this correct? What are your thoughts and experiences? Also shifu Ripski, I’d like your input as well.
Thank you so much for your time shifu’s. The quality of information is astounding! You guys are awesome!
Ah yes, belly-breathing as opposed to reverse-breathing. In fact, in Daoist practice we call belly breathing Buddhist breathing, and consider reverse-breathing to be the norm for Neigong. The references to 胎息Taīxī or embryonic-breathing go back to the period before the introduction of Buddhism into China (its mentioned in Ge Hong’s (283-343 ce) the Baopuzi). So it may be that belly-breathing was introduced from India with Buddhism.
Reverse-breathing makes strong the continuity of the flow through the Ren and Du meridians (任督经脉). What some call 小周天 Xiaǒzhoūtian̄ or small heavenly orbit (more correctly: small orbit of heaven). As well, the connection between the dantian and mingmen allows the acquired constitution to sustain the innate constitution and the innate constitution to inspire the acquired constitution. Good for long life.
No-one is asking, but this may be due to the fact that they don’t know what questions to ask. So I will just add a bit more.
Consider the role of the breath in the expression of power. When we hit the most common co-ordination is to exhale as we express the 发劲 Fa Jin. When we do reverse breathing we are able to do a combination of soft and hard together in the hit. Because the perineal floor is releasing while the body is engaging the nature of the force is changed.
Whole body hitting with the pelvic floor engaged can give crisp quality to the hit. This is useful where the opponent is tentative or cautious (what I like to call a “muffin”). However, if the opponent is braced and hard these kinds of hits often just “impact against the surface” (Star Wars reference anyone?). It can take many many hits to wear your way through. You may as well be doing MMA or Boxing at that point.
If the pelvic floor can release while the body and major joints engage for the hits, then there is another quality to the power. There is still a bang that can disrupt the weaker structures, but there is something else as well. There is a deadening follow-through that can penetrate very deeply into the opponent’s tissues. This can disrupt joints or bruise down to the bone when hitting limbs. On the torso or head the force just washes through the interior like a tidal wave, gibbling anything in its path.
These are not the only ways of generating these Jin, but it can be a place to start.
Kevin… thank you. Words are not enough. Your willingness to share this stuff is a priceless gift.
Thank you so much.
(Shifu Neil Ripski): Perhaps since we are going the way of breathing we should discuss the use of the breath during inhalation and exhalation in relationship to throwing and lifting techniques vs. striking. This is done a great deal in Taiji and of course can be used in any martial art once it is understood. The secret sounds of Chen Taiji are ‘heng’ (The sound of a quick inhalation) and ‘ha’ (the sound of a quick exhalation.)
But before we go into what these are doing as far as power goes etc the idea of inhalation and exhalation is not always what we think it is. In this case what we are doing is not so much “inhaling” or “exhaling” but instead contracting the intercostal muscles in order to either breathe in or out. So in this way it is not so much ‘breath control’ as it is torso control. Does this make sense? Use the musculature of the breathing apparatus to force air either in or out of the lungs rather than by breathing as you normally do. This engages more muscularity and does so on purpose allowing us to recruit this contraction to create power.
I am going to leave it here for now but feel free to add to this train anyone, Kevin…
I have a couple questions please. After seeing a couple of Shifus videos of him doing some of the postures I noticed how smooth his contraction And breathing were. I was doing it more staccato like tense the limbs then tense the rib cage and the release was the same like 1and 2 beat as a pose to a 1,2 beat. So I tried to smooth it about so that its more like the contraction of the limbs instantly triggers the rib cage which then instantly triggers the breathing out and the end of the breath will intently trigger the release of rib cage which intently trigger the release of limbs which leads to the second breath. I tried this out and each rep seemed to go a bit faster and smoother and it also helped me to really release and relax the ribcage at the end of every rep it also seemed to make my breathing smoother, more opened and less forced. But I wanted to make sure if all this is correct? Should it flow a bit smoother like this? Or is their a staccato like gap in the order of every set of contraction and the release?
Also it feel like the contraction of the torso and the sinking of the breath happen at the same time and that triggers the breathing out. Is this correct?
I feel like the quality and understanding of my practice has been improving with each day but want to make sure.
When Neil is doing his changes in that video on FB he is doing all of the pauses and set-ups, but he is so experienced that they are extremely quick and not really evident. At first I would keep it more staccato in tempo and keep each piece clear. Since most of the time when I am doing the set I am leading beginners or people who are still learning the set I always tend to make each part clear and distinct. So perhaps look for something in between. It can be too smooth, depending on your level.
The torso must release first before the breath releases otherwise you can set up downbearing in the body. You will feel it is a bit easier but in the long run it can lead to problems (diarrhoea, haemorrhoids, accumulation of intestinal fluids, etc.). In towards the centre of the chest first before you let the perineal/pelvic floor go. This is one reason that I advocate a more broken approach, these pieces can’t be too blurred or you set up issues for later on. As I said hard qigong is dangerous, and not always in the obvious ways.
One thing to work on in terms of the breathing is to look at where the breath impulse comes from. Practice a few (10 to 12) nice slow reverse breaths while you are lying on your back in a comfortable supported position (something under your neck and something under your knees). Once you are really relaxed and the reverse breathing is smooth exhale deeply and pause at the bottom… wait… pay attention to the place in your chest where the impulse to inhale comes from. That place is where the body needs to be relaxing towards in the release at the end of the contractions in the Yijinjing. That spot is where you want the downhill grade of the relaxation out of the limbs to be heading when the breath lets go. It needs to be going there first before the breath releases.
I just posted on my facebook about the harvest the training wine I am drinking alongside yijinjing as well
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