I would like to discuss the purposes of Yìjīnjīng Qìgōng, as well as its advantages and disadvantages. If you have a clear understanding of this art, you will be more confident in your training, and better able to predict and expect results.

Purposes of Yìjīnjīng Qìgōng (Yìjīnjīng Qìgōng De Mùdì, 易筋經氣功的 目的)

• To strengthen the physical body and maintain health. This is the most common goal for most practitioners. Many Qìgōng sets were based upon the same principles to achieve this same goal, such as “The Eight Pieces of Brocade” (Bāduànjǐn, 八段錦) or “Dámó’s Strengthening Qìgōng” (Dámó Zhuàngqìgōng, 達磨壯氣 功). Most of these sets are purely Wàidān, and emphasize building up Qì in the limbs, rather than in the body. They provide a way for people to strengthen their bodies and maintain their health through simple, specifically-designed movements. They do not require any in-depth, detailed knowledge of how Qì functions and circulates in the body.

• To increase the Qì storage and circulation in the Governing and Conception Vessels (Small Circulation). This is a higher purpose than the previous one. It is Nèidān Qìgōng, and most practitioners who train it tend to go on to Grand Circulation. The Conception Vessel is responsible for the six Yīn Qì channels, while the Governing Vessel governs the six Yáng channels. Opening and filling these two vessels are the first steps of Nèidān Qìgōng training.

• To eliminate stagnation in the twelve primary channels. Once you have filled the Conception and Governing Vessels with Qì, you learn how to lead the Qì to the twelve primary channels, which are related to the twelve organs. When you have reached this stage (Grand Circulation, Dàzhōutiān, 大周天), practicing will not only strengthen your limbs, it will also improve the condition of your internal organs.

• To strengthen the Guardian Qì. After you are able to circulate the Qì smoothly in the twelve primary channels, you learn how to expand your Qì from these channels to the surface of your skin, eventually reaching the hair, nails, or even beyond your skin. This strengthens and enlarges your Guardian Qì (Wèiqì, 衛氣) shield and protects you from any negative influence from the surrounding Qì.

• To increase martial abilities. Soon after the Yìjīnjīng was taught to the priests, it was applied to the martial arts. Its principles and exercises were used to develop Iron Shirt training, and to train martial artists to use their Qì effectively to energize their muscles to a higher level.

• To build a firm foundation for Xǐsuǐ Qìgōng practice. In Dámó’s Qìgōng training, Yìjīnjīng is considered the Yáng training which emphasizes the physical body and builds up abundant Qì, while Xǐsuǐjīng is considered the Yīn training which uses this Qì to nourish the marrow and brain. These two Qìgōng practices must be balanced. One generates the Qì and the other uses the Qì. One makes the body Yáng, the other makes the body Yīn. Therefore, in order to train the Xǐsuǐjīng and reach the final goal of enlightenment, you must first have plenty of Qì, which is obtained through Yìjīnjīng training.

Now that you have a better idea of the general purposes of Yìjīnjīng, you should have some idea as to what you want from your training. Here’s some of the advantages and disadvantages of Yìjīnjīng training.

Advantages of the Yìjīnjīng (Yìjīnjīng De Yìchù, 易筋經的益處)

• The Yìjīnjīng is easier than the Xǐsuǐjīng to understand and practice. The theory is simpler and the training is easier, and it is therefore more accessible to the average person.
• With the Yìjīnjīng, you are able to see results in a short time. Because of this, more people are willing to accept the training.

• More documents are available and, since the training is more popular, it is relatively easy to find a master. Because the Yìjīnjīng is easier than the Xǐsuǐjīng to understand and learn, more people have practiced it, more documents have been written about it, and therefore, more people are teaching it.

• Compared to Xǐsuǐjīng, Yìjīnjīng training is safer. Because there are more documents available, more people have trained it, and more experiences have been shared with the public. In addition, Yìjīnjīng emphasizes the external physical body and does not directly involve the vital organs, as does the Xǐsuǐjīng.

Disadvantages of the Yìjīnjīng (Yìjīnjīng De Hàichù, 易筋經的害處)

• It is a Yáng training. Though health can be gained, increase of longevity is lim- ited. We mentioned earlier that the Yìjīnjīng teaches you how to strengthen your body and build up the Qì internally. All of this effort will lead your body into a Yáng state. Although this strengthens your physical body and Guardian Qì, it also causes the body to degenerate faster. To increase the length of your life significantly, you must learn how to use the Xǐsuǐjīng training to utilize the Qì.

• It may over-stress the physical body and cause Sàngōng (散功). This is commonplace among martial practitioners of Yìjīnjīng training, because they are trained to lead their Qì to the limbs with heavy breathing. This will energize the muscles effectively, but it also builds up the muscles and over-stresses the lungs. Frequently, the muscles will be over-developed. Unfortunately, when these people get older, their muscles lose their flexibility and elasticity, and degenerate faster than the average person’s muscles. This phenomenon is called “Sàngōng” (energy dispersion, 散功) in martial arts society. In Yìjīnjīng training for health, however, you usually do not place as much emphasis on training your muscles, and this problem is not usually encountered.

You can see that there are more advantages than disadvantages. Furthermore, most of the disadvantages can be controlled easily if you know the theory of the training. It has been proven that Yìjīnjīng training is one of the most effective ways to change the quality of the physical body.

Wàidān and nèidān YìJīnJīng (Wàidān Yǔ nèidān YìJīnJīng, 外 丹與內丹易筋經)

Wàidān (外丹) means “external elixir” and Nèidān (內丹) means “internal elixir.” Wàidān Qìgōng (often called Wàidān Gōng) and Nèidān Qìgōng (often called Nèidān Gōng) are the two major categories in Qìgōng practice. Since these two terms have been discussed in my earlier books: Qìgōng for Health and Martial Arts and The Root of Chinese Qìgōng, we will only review their definitions here.

n Wàidān Qìgōng training, you learn to build up the Qì in the limbs through special exercises, trainings, or treatments, and later you learn to allow the built-up Qì to flow back to your body and organs, thereby nourishing the organs and maintaining smooth Qì circulation. This means that Qì is built up on the surface of the body or in the limbs, and then flows “inward” to the body. Common Wàidān Qìgōng practices are limb exercises, massage, and acupuncture. Because in Wàidān you build up the Qì (or elixir) externally, it is called “external elixir.”

In Nèidān Qìgōng, the Qì (elixir) is built up in the body, and then led outward to the extremities. For this reason, it is called Nèidān (internal elixir). Nèidān practice includes ingesting herbs to generate Qì internally, generating Qì in the Lower and Upper Dāntiáns through various methods, regulating the Fire Qì in the solar plexus, building up and then circulating Qì in the Conception and Governing Vessels (Small Circulation) first and later expanding the Qì to the entire body (Grand Circulation), as well as techniques which lead Qì to the marrow and brain to nourish them (Xǐsuǐjīng).

According to the available documents, Yìjīnjīng training emphasizes both Wàidān and Nèidān equally. When you train Yìjīnjīng, you should not train one and ignore the other. Wàidān training is considered Yáng, while the Nèidān is considered Yīn. While Wàidān Yìjīnjīng focuses on training the physical body, Nèidān Yìjīnjīng aims at building up Qì. Both of them must cooperate with and balance each other. When one side of the training is neglected, the balance will be lost and problems may occur. For example, many external style martial artists have emphasized only the Wàidān Yìjīnjīng and have experienced “Sàngōng” (energy dispersion, 散功) problems. I believe that in order to avoid making this mistake, you should first understand these two subjects and study their relationship.

The above is an excerpt from Qigong The Secret of Youth: Da Mo’s Muscle/Tendon Changing and Marrow/Brain Washing Classics 3rd Edition, by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, Publication date October 2022, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 9781594399077.