As mentioned in my earlier book review of Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming’s Small Circulation, this 2022 publication is a companion to the Small Circulation. The 76-year-old author stated that due to a genetic issue he had a medical scare in Jan. 2021. As a result, he sped up the writing process and had the book published early this year. Still, he did not sacrifice the integrity and the richness of the content and maintained the scholarly writing format. He continued to define his role as a translator and scrupulously deciphered the classical Chinese documents on the healing art into plain English and facilitated with the extra explanation of the modern science.
The Qigong Grand Circulation has five parts and eight chapters. If you read the Small Circulation book, Part I may look familiar, which addresses what Qi (bio-electricity) is, Qigong and its categories, the theory of Yin and Yang as well of the methods of Kan and Li, Qigong’s impact on health, longevity and spiritual enlightenment, and ancient Buddhist and Daoist Qigong concepts. The last but not least is the quest on the relationship of Qigong study and advancement of human race. In Dr. Yang’s mind, human beings have accelerated leaps and bounds in the last couple centuries on material development but spiritually we have done little to make progress or even digress from the traditional practices. It is important to focus the spiritual research from a whole new aspect, which is based on ancient wisdom as well as modern science.
Two Qigong Theories
Qigong is a huge topic and even if you have studied Yang’s Small Circulation, it is still worth your time to review Part I of the Grand Circulation because Dr. Yang discusses the same topic from similar but different angles, which may bring extra clarity to you. Muscle/Tendon Changing or Yi Jin Jing and Bone Marrow Washing or Xi Sui Jing are considered the two most important theories in Qigong practice.
It is generally accepted that the Indian Buddhist monk Da Mo or Bodhidarma arrived in China during the Liang Dynasty (502-557 ACE) to teach Buddhism but due to the political conditions and how the Buddhist monetary was operated, he was disappointed and decided to meditate and self-cultivate. After nine years facing a stone wall in a cave, he came out and shared his creation of Yi Jin Jing and Xi Sui Jing with the Shaolin monks to improve their health both physically and spiritually. His disciples based on the principles and created a set of exercises for Yi Jin Jing and Xi Sui Jing, which is popular nowadays both in China and overseas.
Dr. Yang has studied volumes of Chinese classical documents and concluded that one you must understand the true theory and fundamentals of Yi Jin Jing and Xi Sui Jing to make the exercises true Qigong practice; otherwise, those exercises are nothing but stretching regimens. He expounds the theory of Yin and Yang and further elucidates why and how Muscle/Tendon Changing and Marrow/Brain Washing work. Muscle/Tendon Changing is the Yang practice while Marrow/Brain Washing is Yin. Once people comprehend the theory thoroughly, they can create their own movements without deviating from the principles. Grand Circulations are actual various applications of Yi Jin Jing and Xi Sui Jing.
Dr. Yang’s Training
Dr. Yang was trained on Shaolin White Crane in his youth for 13 years. He cherishes that experience deeply because White Crane is a martial art which embraces both soft internal principles as well as hard external techniques. It is a mixture of Yin and Yang with a good balance. In addition to that, he has learned Tai Chi Chuan and other martial arts. He has written books on Shaolin Long Fist, Northern Shaolin Sword, Chin Na (Joint Locks), Eight Simple Qigong Exercises, Xingyi Chuan, Qigong Massage, Baguazhang, Tai Chi Secrets of Wu and Li Styles, etc. After his diverse exposure to various Chinese martial art, Tai Chi, and Qigong, he realizes that many of them actually employ either Small Circulation or Grand Circulation in their practices. Nevertheless, not all practitioners are aware of them or use the Circulation methods to increase or balance Qi.
The Core of the Book
Part II through Part IV is the core of this book and includes 40 different meditations of Small and Grand circulations for Qigong practices. Owing to Dr. Yang’s study of the ancient classics and his own practice, he considers those meditations the most important ones. He recognizes that there can be other medications just as important, but he has not had the opportunity to learn them. Dr. Yang sincerely encourages others to research on the subject and discover or even create more ways to do Grand Circulations. Almost all the meditations in his book can be practiced solo except Sexual Dual Breathing. Some of the practices can be enhanced when practiced with a partner or in a group, for example the Tibetan monks sit in a circle and meditate together to create powerful synergy.
The foundation of both Grand and Small Circulation is Embryonic Breathing in the real lower Dāntián. From that base, there are a Yang path for Muscle/Tendon Training and a Yin path for Marrow/Brain Training.
For the Yang path or Fire path, people can use the Conception/Governing Vessel Small Circulation to build up the “fire”, then advance into other breathing methods, such as Girdle Vessel Breathing, Turtle Shell Breathing (or Iron Shirt training), Meridian Qi Breathing, Laogong Breathing, Yongquan Breathing with enhanced Rooting training, Martial Grand Circulation, Alternative Dual Cultivation, Exchange Qi with Nature, Joint Breathing, Skin Breathing, Marrow Breathing, and Internal Organ Breathing. In general, all these exercises are easier for me to learn in comparison to Marrow/Brain Washing.
For the Yin path or Water path, people can use Two Poles Small Circulation to build up the “water”. Different from the Conception/Governing Vessel Small Circulation using Du Mai and Ren Mai, the Two Poles Small Circulation goes through the Thrusting Vessel or Chong Mai instead. There is danger in doing the Du Mai/Ren Mai Small Circulation, but it is safe to do Chong Mai Small Circulation. For Small Marrow/Brain Washing Circulation, there are Yang Longevity Path to sink Qi to real lower Dantian or gather Qi to its origin and Yin Spiritual Path to refine Qi to sublimate spiritually form Small Circulations.
On the Grand Circulation side, there are Huiyin Breathing, Earth-Human Qi Exchange, Cleaning Body, and Pick Up Earth Qi to engage the Ground energy and Baihui Breathing, Heaven-Human Qi Exchange, Raise Up Spirit Breathing, and Pick Up Heaven Qi to absorb the Heaven energy. Then, there are combined Heaven and Ground Energy practices like Cleaning Body Breathing, Raising Up Spirit Breathing, Nourishing Qi, Nourishing Brain, Bone Marrow Breathing, Sexual Dual Breathing, and Heaven Eye Breathing for Enlightenment.
By now your head probably is spinning after reading the names of the circulations. Have no fear. As long as you read Dr. Yang’s explanation of the Qi Network, conceptually you should be able to understand the circulation paths easily. Aside from detailed instruction for each of the Circulations, the book is full of photos and illustrations that provide great visual guidance.
Once you comprehend the principles of Muscle/Tendon Changing and Marrow/Brain Washing, you can layer it over your regular Tai Chi and Qigong practice to enhance the results. For example, you can adopt Martial Grand Circulation breathing as a strategy while doing Tai Chi chuan and make the practice more effective and profound. You also have options to select what suits you best. For example, at my current stage of life, I have no desire to open up the third eye; therefore, I will not practice Heaven Eye Breathing for Enlightenment. My advice for learning an internal art is always studying with a qualified instructor so you don’t waste time or make mistakes.
What if time and resources are not available to you, Dr. Yang suggests gathering a small group of people and studying the book first, then discussing it or debating over it because not everyone’s interpretation is the same. Afterwards, your group can practice the selected circulations one by one, exchange your experience, and share the feeling during the practice. Through the process, your knowledge on the healing art will grow and your practice can be more accurate, meaningful and deepen.
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 500 articles. VioletLiTaiChi.com 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.