A few months ago, I got a copy of Qigong Grand Circulation for Spiritual Enlightenment by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming. Since I have been learning, practicing, and teaching Tai Chi, Qigong and meditation for 20 years, immediately I was drawn to the subject and eager to read this book. I was totally amazed by the richness of the content and decided to dive in page by page. As a journalist with 700 articles on the subject, I have read hundreds of scientific studies, articles, books, classical Chinese documents, and interviewed countless masters and experts. I have accumulated some knowledge in the field; nevertheless, I have questions and confusions on various topics.

Reading Dr. Yang’s book allows me to understand the underlining principles and theories with a 360-degree view. In the book, he offers a few modalities to practice Grand Circulation. I know way too well the danger of practicing the internal art simply by reading the instructions. I was hoping that Dr. Yang would host a seminar on the subject. In early April an announcement came out that a seminar would be hosted by Dr. Yang in July at the Yang Family Heights in northern California. I registered myself immediately and I should study Small Circulation as well for the more complete understanding of the healing art. I purchased his book Qigong Meditation: Small Circulation and enrolled in that seminar as well. I read both books, jolted down notes and questions before heading out for the mountain.

I just came back from the seminars and felt fulfilled. To share my knowledge and experience, I am writing three articles to review the two books and the training experience at the Heights. The first article is the book review on Small Circulation.

Review on Qigong Meditation: Small Circulation

In the global community of Chinese martial art (both internal and external), Tai Chi, and Qigong, Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming (1946- ) needs no introduction. For someone who is new to the art, Dr. Yang was poor, sick and weak growing up in Taiwan and learned Shaolin White Crane (a Chinese martial art combining soft and hard techniques) at age 15 for 13 years from Master Gin Gsao Cheng and later studied Tai Chi Chuan under the tutelage of Masters Tao Kao and Mao-Ching Li. He earned a master’s degree in physics from National Taiwan University (Taipei, Taiwan) and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Purdue University (West Lafayette, Indiana).

After working for large American companies, he gave up the more lucrative profession and devoted himself to promote martial art, Tai Chi, and Qigong. He has been a teacher for 58 years and established YMAA International branches and schools worldwide and won awards and recognitions. He is not just a Grandmaster of the art with great knowledge and skills but also a renowned author and published 50 books and 90 instructional videotapes and DVDs.

With his scientific training background and an extremely logical mind, many of his books are written with a scholarly rigor. He provides background, theory, references, and bibliographies of the content and painstakingly includes Chinese characters and Ping-yin in books. They read like textbooks but not boring. He explains complicated and complex subjects with plain English.

Small Circulation or Small Heavenly Circulation is the foundation of martial art and Qigong; countless experts and articles mention this topic, and few can make it comprehensible nor accessible to the general public. People urged Dr. Yang to write on it. He had two concerns though. First, if people just read his book without full understanding and don’t train with a qualified instructor, Qi (bioelectricity or energy) lead to wrong places and results in serious injuries including death. Secondly, he did not consider himself knowledgeable enough to articulate such a serious subject. At the constant urge of his friend Wolfgang Pastore of Italy, he started to search for the answers. Fortunately, China has been opening-up the classical documents since 1980s. Much of the theory and practices were kept in secret by Buddhist and Daoist monasteries in the past gradually becomes available to the outsiders. He went to China and acquired many precious documents and manuals and even obtained important Chinese classical volumes in Europe. It is a daunting task to digest the classical Chinese or Wen Yan Wen. 

The meaning of Chinese characters has been evolving throughout thousands of years of history and some old meaning is lost or totally different. Classical Chinese was written like poems without punctuation and is challenging to translate to contemporary Chinese. There are different and even conflicting viewpoints buried in the old scriptures. He had to plough through the ancient books and documents, compared with various sources, and filtered out what is not relevant to his project. Often times, he had to figure out the exact meaning by experimenting it himself. Sixteen years later, he published Qigong Meditation - Embryonic Breathing in 2003 as the base of Small Circulation and in 2006 Qigong Meditation: Small Circulation.

Keynotes of Qigong Meditation: Small Circulation

The book is divided into four parts and 10 chapters. Part I lays out the foundations, which is beneficial for people who are not familiar with Qi nor Qigong and even seasoned practitioners can get an in-depth understanding of it. He explains what is Qi, Qi channels and vessels, Qigong and its classifications, Qigong for health, longevity and spiritual enlightenment, Qigong and meditation, and Small Circulation versus Grand Circulation. Dr. Yang exhibits his brilliance by using science to explain what Qi, Qi vessels and channels are, which really helps to bring the clarity to the topic.

Qigong is like a tree; Tai Chi Chuan and other internal healing arts are branches of it. The philosophical background of Qigong originated in the Book of Changes or I Ching, which was deep-rooted in the Yin/Yang philosophy from at least seven thousand years ago. The beginning of the universe is one or Wuji; it evolved and became Yin and Yang, from there it further developed and multiplied into millions or billions of things and phenomenon; Yin and Yang co-exist in every element and even in our body cells. In a nutshell, Qigong exercises help people to balance Yin and Yang energies within the physical body as well as the spiritual body. He successfully uses words, diagrams, and photos to elucidate it.

In practice, Small Circulation is a form of meditation. People practice this art can improve physical health, cure sickness, obtain longevity, maintain or enhance mental wellness, and even reach spiritual enlightenment. In Part II, Dr. Yang introduces Four Refinements to help readers to gain knowledge on how to convert body essence into Qi, to purify Qi and convert it into spirit, to refine spirit and return it to emptiness, and to crush the nothingness and totally liberate the spirit to reach the various goals of practicing Small Circulation. He also lists practical methods for Five Regulations so the body, breathing, mind, Qi, and spirit can be adjusted or regulated.

Part III is the core of the book, which spells out what Small Circulation is and its theory, its relationship to the meridian system or Qi network, three dangerous gates to be mindful about or to avoid, how to lead Qi safely via Governing Vessel (Du Mai) and Conception Vessel (Ren Mai), different paths to train, Embryonic Breathing and its method, where, when and how to meditate, and recovery exercises from a meditative state. Basically, Dr. Yang delivers a safe and effective roadmap for practitioners to navigate through the system. I specially enjoy his design of “Small, Small Circulation”, which allows me to “test drive” and lead Qi just in my abdominal area until I am good at it and can embark on the entire journey of Small Circulation.

Dr. Yang spent 20 years studying Laozi’s Dao (or Tao) De Jing and published The Dao De Jing: A Qigong Interpretation in 2018. It is fascinating and profound how he extrapolates a Qigong perspective from Sage Laozi’s philosophy. To him, Dao De Jing Chapter 16 said, “Approach the nothingness (emptiness) to its extremity, and maintain calmness with sincerity” and “returns to its origin”, means that with tranquility and sincerity people can return to their origin, which is the umbilical cord and that’s why the embryonic breathing is essential.

Neijing Tu or a diagram of “Internal Alchemy” is like a Chinese landscaping drawing. Its origin is controversial but according to Dr. Yang, it was first painted during Tang Dynasty (618-907 AEC) and some of the poems might have been added later, and the illustration was carved into a large rock in the 19th century. He thinks that five functions were deliberately misplaced; still, it shows the general concept of Small Circulation. How the energy is created and lead up to the upper Dantian or the brain and where a spiritual baby is born. See the lead picture for details.

The content in Part IV is unique and sets him apart from most writers and thinkers. Even though he spent years researching and writing the book, he humbly calls himself a translator. He believes there could be multiple ways to interpret the ancient art and he definitely is not the authority on the subject. People should not be afraid to challenge his theory; not to mention that there is myriad of classical tomes waiting to be uncovered and deciphered. He sincerely hopes that his work can inspire others and contribute to not just interpreting the classics but also conducting scientific studies to verify, improve, or disapprove the old theories. He summaries 111 major questions in the book begging for answers and they are in the areas of Human Essence, Qi, Shen or Spirit, Qi Channels, Qi Vessels, Qi Cavities, Mutual Qi Nourishment, Qi and Modern Living, Human Magnetic Field, and others. He is confident that with a full understanding of the Qi network and how to manipulate Qi in the network to treat illness, and with the assistance of modern technology, a Qi machine can be designed to treat all kinds of diseases without invasive surgeries.

He is optimistic and encourages everyone to dream with him.

About Violet Li:

Violet Li is an award-winning journalist, a 12th generation Chen Style Tai Chi (Taiji) Inheritor, certified Tai Chi instructor, an In-door disciple of Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei, and certified Heart Zone Trainer. She has studied Tai Chi (Taiji), Qigong (Chi Gong), and heart fitness with grandmasters and experts including Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming. She has taught Tai Chi, Qigong, and other fitness programs to diverse demographic groups. Her passion for Tai Chi, Qigong, other Internal Chinese Martial Arts, and fitness motivates her to write articles on the related events, people, theories, techniques, practices, and health benefits for you. As of July 2016, she has written more than 700 articles. is a venue that promotes the awareness of the healing art of Tai Chi and Qigong. She resides in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The above is an original article. Violet Li has given permission to YMAA Publication Center to reprint this article.