Two Qì Poles in a Human Body (Rénshēn Liǎngyí, 人身兩儀).
We have three Dāntiáns. The top (Upper Dāntián) and the bottom (Real Lower Dāntián) ones establish a two-pole system which thus constitutes a human central energy line. These Two Poles, one Yīn and one Yáng, synchronize and harmonize with each other. They are just like the Poles of a magnet which cannot be separated. The Real Lower Dāntián (Human Gut or second brain) is the North pole that stores Qì and supplies it for the functioning of the entire body. The Upper Dāntián (brain) is the South pole that directs and governs the quality of Qì manifestation.
When we compare these Two Poles with the Tàijí Yīn-Yáng symbol, we can easily see that the spirit (Shén, 神) residing in the Upper Dāntián is classified as Yáng, since it manifests the Qì into action. That is why the spirit is called “Yángshén” (陽神) in Chinese Qìgōng society. However, the area located in the Real Lower Dāntián is called “Sea Bottom” (Hǎidǐ, 海底) where it is able to store Qì to an abundant level. The Qì stored in the Real Lower Dāntián is thus called “Yīnshuǐ” (陰水), which means “Yīn Water”. It was believed that this Yīn water originates from the Original Essence (Yuánjīng, 元精) stored in the internal kidneys (Nèishèn, 內腎) and external kidneys (Wàishèn, 外腎). “External kidneys” are testicles or ovaries. In fact, it is now understood that the “Original Essence” is actually the hormones produced by the adrenals of the internal kidneys and by the gonads (the testicles or ovaries). Due to this reason, the water (Qì) produced in these glands is often called “kidney water” (Shènshuǐ, 腎水).
However, from another point of view, we can see that since the Real Lower Dāntián supplies the quantity of Qì, it can be considered Yáng, while the spirit, which governs the quality of Qì manifestation, can thus be considered Yīn. From this, you can see how Yīn and Yáng are defined according to different points of view.
Again, if you observe the Tàijí Yīn-Yáng symbol closely, you can see that there is a hidden Yáng fountain (Yángquán, 陽泉) in the center of the Yīn water, and a concealed Yīn spirit (Yīnshén, 陰神) in the center of the Yáng spirit. In fact, in Qìgōng Embryonic Breathing training, you train these two pole centers of hidden Yáng and concealed Yīn. For example, if you are able to keep your mind at the center of the hidden Yáng within the Yīn water, the Qì at the Real Lower Dāntián will continue to be stored and preserved, like a spring which is able to produce water continuously. Not only that, if you also know how to keep the spirit condensed at its center (concealed Yīn), then the quality of Qì manifestation will reach a higher level of efficiency.
These are two concealed Poles, one at the center of the head (Mud Pill Palace) and the other at the center of the gut. Though they are two, they function as one. If you are able to keep your mind at these two poles, the spirit and the Qì will stay in their residences. This process is called “Embracing Singularity” (Bàoyī, 抱一).
The Spirit is the Master of the Body (Shénwéi Zhǔzǎi, 神為主宰).
The Spirit is related to your mind. This mind is what is called “Tàijí” (太極) (Grand Ultimate) in Small Human Heaven and Earth (Small Universe or Nature). When this mind acts properly, the spirit can be raised up to a high level and when this mind acts strangely, then the spirit will be disordered and the quality of Qì manifestation will be poor. Therefore, in order to have a condensed and focused spirit, you must first regulate your mind. To achieve this, you must not be attracted by human affairs, emotions and desires. You must see through to the reality that the material world is only temporary. In order to reach the goal of immortality or enlightenment, you must train to cultivate your spirit to a strong level so it can survive independently even when the physical body is dead. This is the concept of immortality (spiritual eternity).
In the Embryonic Breathing training, regulating your mind and spirit in the Upper Dāntián is more crucial than regulating your Qì. After all, it is your mind and spirit which govern your life and control the efficiency of Qì manifestation. When mind and spirit are strong and focused, the Qì can be stored to an abundant level. However, when the mind and spirit are scattered and confused, the spirit will become Yáng and naturally the Qì will also be manifested and wastefully consumed. In this case, the level of spiritual cultivation will be shallow.
However, regulating the mind and spirit is a very difficult and long process. Using your mind to deal with your mind is like trying to force yourself to fall asleep. The more you do so, the worse it will be. That is why nearly half of the available documents discuss the regulating of the mind and spirit. The key means of regulating the mind and spirit is through regulating the breathing.
Keep the Yì at the Dāntiáns (Yìshǒu Dāntián, 意守丹田).
The first major key of Embryonic Breathing is to keep your Yì at the concealed Yīn located at the “Mud Pill Palace” (Níwángōng, 泥丸宮) in the Upper Dāntián, and also at the hidden Yáng in the center of the Real Lower Dāntián (Zhēn Xiàdāntián, 真下丹田). This training is called “the Yì is kept at the Dāntiáns” (Yìshǒu Dāntián, 意守丹田). When this happens, the spirit can stay at its residence (Shénshì, 神室) (Spiritual Residence or Upper Dāntián) and the Qì can be collected and stored at its center (Qìshě, 氣舍) (Qì’s Dwelling or Real Lower Dāntián).
In order to have a condensed and focused spirit staying at the “Mud Pill Palace” (Yīnshén, 陰神), you must first regulate your mind. That means you must first calm down your mind and withdraw it from the attractions of surrounding affairs and emotional disturbances. This means regulating your Emotional Monkey Mind, by first regulating your breathing. Breathing is like a banana which is able to lead the monkey Xīn into the cage. When your breathing is calm, the physical body can be relaxed and the mental mind can be peaceful. Therefore, if you are able to breathe softly, gently, slenderly and deeply, the mind can be calmed down. Then the spirit can be focused and condensed at its residence. Once you have reached a profound stage, the spirit and the breathing will mutually depend on and harmonize with each other. This is the initial state of Embracing Singularity (Bàoyī, 抱一).
Mutual Dependence of Shén and Breathing (Shénxí Xiāngyī, 神息相依) (Mǔzǐ Xiāngyī, 母子相依).
Once you have reached this stage, you have established a close connection between your Shén and Qì through breathing. This kind of breathing is also called “Cavity Breathing” (Xuéwèi Hūxī, 穴位呼吸) or “Dāntián Breathing” (Dāntián Hūxī, 丹田呼吸), which means breathing with the Shén and Qì staying at their cavities (residences).
Then, you will bring the Shén down from the Upper Dāntián to the Real Lower Dāntián to unite the Shén and Qì together. This is the state of “Mutual Dependence of Spirit and Breathing” (Shénxí Xiāngyī, 神息相依) or “Mutual Dependence of Son and Mother.” “Son” represents “Shén” while “Mother” represents “Qì.” When this happens, you have traced back to the origin of your life—the Wújí state. Therefore, I have named it “Wújí Breathing” (Wújí Hūxī, 無極呼吸) (breathing with no polarities) or “second brain breathing.” In Wújí Breathing there is no discrimination of Yīn and Yáng either in Shén or Qì.
Hold the Breathing to Conceal the Shén and Qì (Bìxí Cángshén Yùnqì, 閉息藏 神蘊氣).
The key to bringing the Shén down to unite with the Qì is correct breathing. There are two schools of thought on how to do it correctly. One group believes that in order to contain the Shén and Qì at the Real Lower Dāntián, you must inhale deeply and then hold the breath as long as possible while keeping your mind (spirit) there. When you inhale to your maximum and then hold the breath, you are allowing the Shén and Qì to combine to their maximum. It is just like when you push a car. First you inhale deeply to absorb abundant oxygen for the biochemical reaction, then you exhale while pushing. After you exhale to the maximum, you hold the breath so the Qì can manifest in its most extreme and efficient way. Embryonic Breathing is just reversing the process. First, you exhale and relax your body and mind, then you inhale deeply, softly, and slenderly. When the inhalation has reached its maximum, then you hold your breath while keeping your mind at the Real Lower Dāntián. When this happens, the Shén will be condensed and the Qì will be gathered at the Real Lower Dāntián.
Another group of documents argue that “hold the breathing” does not mean the process which actually “stops the breathing.” They explain that since the breathing is so slender, gentle, and soft, the breathing is as if it exists without existing. If you really hold your breath, your mental and physical bodies will be tensed. When this happens, the mind can be disturbed and the spirit and the Qì cannot be contained at the Real Lower Dāntián efficiently.
However, from my personal understanding, both sides have their good reasons and theories. The best way of breathing is inhaling slowly, slenderly, softly, and quietly as if the breathing does not exist. However, when you reach the final stage of inhalation, then you hold the breath. Begin with a few seconds only. Only after you have practiced for a long time and feel comfortable and natural holding it, can you then increase the length of time.
The above is an excerpt from Qigong Meditation Embryonic Breathing: The Foundation of Internal Elixir Cultivation Second Edition by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, Publication Date November 1, 2022, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 9781594399145