Becoming Aware of the Energy Body, by Damo Mitchell

Damo MitchellAnybody engaging with the internal practices of the Daoist tradition will no doubt encounter many difficulties along the way: many of the terms are written in metaphorical language, teachings are often contradictory and on top of that there is the crisis of faith often caused by the question, ‘is this experience real or is it my imagination?’ Even with the help of an experienced teacher there will be times when students will find themselves fumbling in the dark with practice yielding more questions than answers. These are challenges which any seeker of the way faces and it is the role of a concrete system of practice to help guide the practitioner through this darkness towards the state of conscious elevation which is the goal of all Daoist arts.

One aspect which can cause a great deal of confusion is around the meridian system. Is the idea of energetic pathways of Qi running through the body purely a conceptual framework or is it in fact an actual part of the human body-system? Whilst some may accept the concept of meridian pathways purely on faith others will disregard it on the basis that they have been brought up in a science-based society where logic prevails. In my opinion both of these stances have their own limitations. I have always sat somewhere in the middle; I am ready to accept that which has been a part of an unbroken lineage for millennia but I am also prone to retaining an element of doubt until proven through my own experience. It was this position I took when considering the meridian system.

I originally studied the meridian pathways in the conventional manner. As part of the Tui Na massage training I undertook alongside my martial arts training, I read textbooks on Chinese medicine and was guided towards locating the various points of the meridian system by my teachers. In this way I developed a working, theoretical understanding of the meridian pathways which I was utilising daily in my practice of Chinese medicine, Qi Gong and the martial arts. It was not until I was introduced to the Heavenly Streams practice of connecting with the meridian system and sending my awareness along their length that I began to understand with no doubt whatsoever that the meridians existed.  Through learning how to breathe in a certain way and direct my attention to specific ‘entrance’ points on the meridians I learnt to ‘retune’ the frequency of my mind. Like a radio switching between stations I was able to use the points to translate the energetic realm for me bringing the flows of Qi into the realm of direct experience. Now these pathways I had studied for so long could tangibly be felt. I experienced the flow of information along their length and began to feel the comparative differences between the different channels. I encountered blockages of different types along their length and found that I could move them through focused concentration; as a result I learnt how clearing these blockages had a knock on effect to the physical realm of my body and my health improved.

Image from video: Ji Ben Qi GongFurther exploration led me to understand how various body functions could be controlled through these points, for example one point in particular started me sweating as soon as I put my mind onto it. I did not increase in body temperature but rather just felt as though the pores opened allowing fluid to escape them. Other points allowed me to change my body temperature, energy levels and even my mind-set; I had connected with and learnt how to interface with the energetic ‘control panel’ of my body. Over the years I have learnt to refine this until I am able to adjust the various functions of my body to help me rid myself of illness when in the early stages, change my mind if my moods are working against me or even to prepare my body for internal training. Progression has even enabled me to now see the meridian pathways during my practice; the information of the Qi being connected with is translated visually by my mind and through this ‘inner vision’ I am able to observe the various fluctuations of Qi taking place within my energy body.

When teaching, I encourage students to engage in the same practices. Through periods of sitting and connecting through the same entrance points I have taught my students to connect with their own meridian pathways. It is always rewarding to see the face of a student who, for the first time, feels their own energy body; especially if this is a student who has already worked on a purely theoretical level with the meridian pathways up until this point.

There are numerous benefits to experiencing your own meridian pathways. For those interested in improving their own health it is possible to change the very ‘energetic blueprints’ of your own body-system. Great insight into how your body functions and what causes it to move out of balance can be had from exploring the flows of Qi through your own body.

For Qi Gong or Nei Gong practitioners it is very important to feel your own meridian pathways once you wish to move beyond the earliest stages of development. Trying to work with your own Qi without being able to feel where it is flowing is like trying to find your way through the darkness without a light. I believe that many of the problems people have caused themselves through incorrect Qi Gong training could have been avoided if people had taken the time to learn to feel their own Qi flow before going too deep into their training. Any health problems from incorrect training can clearly be felt developing within the energy body long before they manifest as a physical or psychological imbalance. I was taught that students of the Daoist tradition would originally have spent much time studying the energy body before they moved past even the most preliminary of breathing exercises; these studies would have focused largely on experiential feeling of the meridian pathways supported by theoretical teachings and charts.

Perhaps some of the greatest benefits of connecting with your own meridian system can be had by those practicing Chinese medicine modalities such as Shiatsu, Tui Na or acupuncture. Is it possible to accurately treat somebody’s energetic imbalance if you have not experienced this Qi flow for yourself? It is possible to learn every function of every point in the body by memorising lists and developing a theoretical understanding but this should be secondary to actually experiencing what happens when the individual points are stimulated. It is my opinion that experiential understanding of the meridian points and pathways needs to be an integral part of any sincere Chinese medicine practitioners training.

Mitchell-Aspell_Heavenly-Stream_978-1-84819-116-7_colourjpg-webThe meridian system is the energetic connection between the energies of Heaven and Earth; it sits at the point between the physical world and the realm of pure consciousness. It is the pivot of human creation, development and eventual demise. In life we begin to learn about the physical body as soon as we are born. We learn how we can control this vessel we find ourselves within and through this vessel we explore our connection to the physical world. What we are not often encouraged to do is to explore the nature of our inner world, the world of our energy body and for this reason our minds are no longer able to ‘tune into’ the realm of Qi. Thankfully this is an issue easily remedied.

As a general rule of thumb I believe that a fairly high level of energetic connection is attainable within a year of daily practice. Obviously this length of time will vary from person to person but a year’s practice is what I have seen from teaching my own students. Over the first few weeks a student can begin to feel the easier parts of the meridian pathways which are generally the lengths of Qi flow on the forearms, fingers, lower legs and toes. From here it seems to take around a year of daily practice for the whole energy body to open up to your awareness. From here it is possible to use this foundation of feeling the meridians to be able to scan their length for imbalances and change their nature through controlled use of the body’s meridian points. The key is to progress steadily and slowly; do not rush anything. Take your time, persevere and most importantly: have fun with the process.

Damo Mitchell has studied the martial, medical and spiritual arts of Asia since the age of four. His studies have taken him across the planet in search of authentic masters. He is the technical director of the Lotus Nei Gong School of Daoist Arts, and teaches Nei Gong in the UK, Sweden and the USA. He is the author of Daoist Nei Gong: The Philosophical Art of Change, and Heavenly Streams: Meridian Theory in Nei Gong, published by Singing Dragon.

© 2013 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved

A Treatise on Xingyi Quan’s Three Jin 形意拳明暗剛柔三勁論 – By Master C S Tang

Image of Master C S Tang
The terms of Xingyi Quan’s three levels of practice—Ming Jin (明勁), An Jin (喑勁), Hua Jin (化勁)—came from Guo Yun Shen and were systematized by Sun Lu Tang, who proposed three levels of practice:

  1. training the Jing to transform into Qi
  2. training the Qi to transform into Shen
  3. training the Shen to return to emptiness.

Initially this theory was a concept without clear differentiation. In Dai family Xingyi Quan, each time one began to train a fist one had to practice it several times with a soft Jin at first and then a few times with a hard Jin before closing the movement. The intention was to practice slowly to begin with, ensuring that the movements were accurate, and to use the Yin energy completely, co-ordinating the movements between hands and feet. Through repeated practice one would collect the Jin in the body, accumulate a ball of Qi and release it with power and sound, with an integrated and explosive force in a single movement. Hebei Xingyi Quan inherited the above method but took a more direct approach, whereby one had to learn the hard Jin at first so that one would achieve power and could apply it quickly. Once one had mastered the fierce and hard way of practice, they would then begin to train the An Jin and Hua Jin.

The practice method of the three Jin is mainly used in the Five Elements Fists. Each fist is practiced in three ways. First, master the hard movement so that you can face the enemy; then begin to practice sets of the form; finally, go back to the beginning to train An Jin. When you are proficient you can train the Twelve Animal forms, before finally training the Five Elements Hua Jin.

The differences and training methods of the three Jin are described in detail below.[1]

Ming Jin

Hard Jin, long distance, extension, stepping hard into the front foot, fierce attacks, arm strength.

This is the power of metal, and explodes forward without thinking of retreat. As the Sword Classic of Yu Dayou states, “Every step moves forward, unmatched under heaven.” The Boxing Classic states, “Rushing up and rushing down the posture is like a tiger, fighting hard, entering hard without blocking.”

Ming Jin requires one to train the six harmony and four tips at first. The three centers (hearts) need to be solid and the Qi needs to sink into the Dan Tian. The body needs to prepare the five bows, and train so that one is stable and low, hard and fierce; one needs to have great courage. The Hun Yuan power, which is stable and accurate, must infuse the whole body, which has the effect of increasing power and speed. When striking one is able to knock the opponent back several feet, like “hanging a picture on a wall” or breaking the wall with a step. The classics state, let one “build one’s foundation, strengthen one’s body, the bones and body become solid like a rock of iron, and the form and energy field are imposing like the Tai mountain.” This is the foundational practice for changing the bones and transforming Jing into Qi.

An Jin

Soft Jin, short Jin, braking feet, blocking hand, the back foot following, using the Jing to hit, the power of the legs.

This is the wood energy; the steps are small, and thus you are able to advance and retreat. Each step is like an encampment. An Jin is the energy of being round outside but square inside: when training the outside looks soft and round and “moist,” but when issuing power the internal is square and hard and at right angles. When you strike your opponent, he will only retreat half a step but will have an internal injury. The classics state, let one “expand and lift their membranes, lengthen their tendons, the expansion is limitless.” This is the practice for training the tendons and muscles, and for transforming Qi into Shen.

Hua Jin

Elastic strength, twisting strength, the mystique of change, the wonder of dissolving.

At first one needs to develop a dragon’s waist—to twist and turn, to use opposing energy, and to hit slowly. The steps are lively—you will be moving in a zig-zag triangle—and the applications of the steps come from the Twelve Animals forms. The Five Fists contain more than six ways of dissipating the opponent’s energy. This form contains six changes and the fists attack in eight directions. The classics state, “Cleanse and empty the inside, lighten the body, the signs that indicate the interior is clean and empty: the flow of the Shen and Qi can be used, moving in a circle without hindering the moving and turning of the body, and one is as light as a feather.” Hua Jin is not categorized as bright or dark, hard or soft. Ming Jin is Yang and An Jin is Yin; thus, Hua Jin is a mixture of Yin and Yang, with Yin and Yang interpenetrating each other. The Shen and the intention penetrate the whole body, washing the bone marrow; this is training the Shen to return to emptiness.

The three Jin, from a theoretical perspective, are divided as above. Thus, Ming Jin is Jin or power that is easily seen; An Jin is hidden and cannot easily be detected; Ha Jin is negating the enemy’s force and returning it to the enemy.

During the training process, each level of training of the Five Elements has a strict demarcation. As with hand work, foot work, and body methods, each fist has a unique and fixed training method. It is a complete and complicated process.

Ming Jin is in the hands; the An Jin is in the elbows; Hua Jin is in the body. Ming Jin is hard; An Jin is soft; Hua Jin is elastic.

Ming Jin trains the Jing; An Jin trains the Qi; Hua Jin trains the Shen.

Ming Jin goes out and returns in a straight line; An Jin only begins when stillness reaches its zenith; Hua Jin remains inside and is not revealed.

Ming Jin uses power; An Jin uses Jin; Hua Jin uses the intention.

Finally, they all interpenetrate each other, shifting the soft to the hard and shifting the hard to the soft. Hua Jin is in complete control of Ming Jin and An Jin, mixed into one body.

The three Jin are shown within the Xingyi Quan system, with form and intention, as below:

  • The Five Element Fists contain the three Jin:
    Ming Jin: Pi Quan, Zuan Quan
    An Jin: Beng Quan, Pao Quan
    Hua Jin: Heng Quan
  • The Twelve Animal forms are also divided into the three Jin:
    Ming Jin: Tiger, Horse, Chicken, Eagle
    An Jin: Bird, Snake, Bear, Alligator
    Hua Jin: Dragon, Monkey, Swallow, Sparrowhawk

[1] Modern practitioners do not explicitly demarcate three levels of training Jin, usually focusing on training Ming Jin (as it looks good and is fierce) and stopping there. As for An Jin and Hua Jin, many do not understand them and so do not practice them. Most people think that practicing slowly and using less force is An Jin, and do not understand the way to practice Hua Jin at all.

For more on Xingyi Quan, and on Master C S Tang‘s work, visit his website:

© 2013 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved.

Video: Ji Ben Qi Gong 基本氣功 (Fundamental Exercises), with Damo Mitchell

Damo Mitchell demonstrates some very basic Qi Gong exercises which can be used either to maintain health if you are new to Qi Gong or as a foundation upon which to build your Nei Gong practice.

For more information, and full instruction on these exercises, see Daoist Nei Gong: The Philosophical Art of Change.

© 2013 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved

VIDEO: Wu Xing Qi Gong, with Damo Mitchell

In this video, Damo Mitchell Demonstrates the Wu Xing Qi Gong. These are five basic health internal exercises from the Daoist tradition, which follow the principles of Tu Na, Liang I and Yang Sheng Fa.

These are the five exercises also featured in Damo Mitchell’s forthcoming book Heavenly Streams. Find more information on this book on the Singing Dragon website, and for more on Damo’s work, see

Damo Mitchell has studied the martial, medical and spiritual arts of Asia since the age of four. His studies have taken him across the planet in search of authentic masters. He is the technical director of the Lotus Nei Gong School of Daoist Arts, and teaches Nei Gong in the UK, Sweden and the USA. He is the author of Daoist Nei Gong: The Philosophical Art of Change, also published by Singing Dragon.

© 2013 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved


How can a new acupuncture practitioner become a great practitioner?

By John Hamwee, author of Acupuncture for New Practitioners.

Students come out of College full of enthusiasm for acupuncture, inspired by treatments they have witnessed and keen to help patients who have found no solace in other systems of medicine. It is a wave they can ride for quite some time, and one which often helps them to do extraordinary work. But sooner or later they will come up against difficulties and dilemmas which are really challenging and which they will need to resolve if they are going to carry on doing good work. These difficulties may have been mentioned at College, but living through them is quite a different matter. How do you cope, for example, with a patient who insists of coming every week but shows absolutely no signs of improvement? Or who is clearly getting better but denies it? Or with a sudden influx of young adult patients with cancer?

My new book, Acupuncture for New Practitioners, provides some practical tools for dealing with situations like these, but in the end what it is all about is learning to practice in a way that does not deplete or exhaust you – a familiar experience for many practitioners – but instead nourishes and sustains you. It is quite simple, really, but it is profound; and once grasped it will affect not just your work but the whole of your life. For being able to stay steady in the face of suffering, to be compassionate towards those who annoy or frustrate you, to refuse to become downcast by failure or puffed up by success, and to find joy for oneself through helping others – these surely will enhance everything you do outside as well as inside the treatment room.

This book comes from two sources. One is that I found the first few years of practice really difficult. It took me many laborious years to learn the lessons contained in this book and it would have saved me much struggle and heartache if it had been available then. Secondly, I had the opportunity a few years ago to work in a clinic with a group of young qualified, but inexperienced acupuncturists, helping them with their diagnoses and treatments. What I saw, of course, is that they were falling into exactly the same sort of traps that had ensnared me, were puzzled by the kinds of responses to treatment that had troubled me, and were generally trying so hard to do everything right that they were missing what really mattered. I wrote this book for them. And I hope you can still hear the tone of an affectionate talk to a few dear friends – for that is what it is.

John Hamwee has been a practising acupuncturist for 20 years. He also teaches zero balancing workshops in the UK and US. He is the author of Zero Balancing: Touching the Energy of Bone and Energy Medicine. He previously worked as a Senior Lecturer in Systems at The Open University, UK, for whom he wrote numerous textbooks. He resides in Kendal, UK.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2012.