As I mentioned in the first article of the trilogy, I decided to take Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming’s seminar to supplement the reading of his books on Grand Circulation and Small Circulation. 

I spent two weeks in the Yang Heights to learn directly from Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming and felt fulfilled. Does that mean I learned everything in both circulations? Well, I am far from that goal. Among thirteen attendees, I was the only one who was new to Dr. Yang’s qigong training and the rest were returning students. Like me, many students are instructors. Sifu Paul McIntosh, a certified Qigong instructor by Dr. Yang and Tai Chi instructor at Irvine California, continues to come year after year. “Why?’, I asked. “Because there is just so much to learn” both in width and depth.

Yang’s Heights

The Yang’s Heights sits on a property of 18 acres and is the residence of Dr. Yang and his wife Mei-ling. It sits on a little hill that overlooks the ocean waves on sunny days. McKinleyville is in northern California near the border with Oregon state. It is by the Pacific Ocean and the average temperature was between 50 to 70 degrees in July and with high humidity. It feels cool and cold during the night. The large house is surrounded by beautiful hardwood trees, averaging 100 feet tall. Dr. Yang cultivated part of the flat ground and turned it into vegetable gardens. He also grows tomatoes and peppers around the house and a few dozen pots of herbs in the patio. He fertilizes the plants with home-made compost. After the morning Qigong/Tai Chi exercise, he would go around the gardens and pick fresh produce for our meals. Of course, the bulk of our daily consumption of meats and vegetables were purchased from the stores and many of them are organic. In the backyard, clothes were dancing in the wind while being dried by the sun.

Training Days at Yang’s Heights

Our training days started with breakfast at 7:00 am. Dr. Yang always got up before us and prepared fruits and boiled eggs in addition to oatmeal. Lessons started at 8:00 am and on some of the days we would have a Qigong and Tai Chi workout to kick off the day instead of a sit-down lecture. During the exercise, the 76-year-old Grandmaster Yang squatted down completely while some of the students who are 30 years younger could not. He made a shockingly loud “Ha” sound as he kicked. The morning session ended at 11 am and lunch was served at noon. Dr. Yang hired his student Matt, who wants to be a professional chef to cook for us. I really loved Matt’s hand tossed wood fired pizza and the steamed buns made by Dr. Yang prior to our arrival for the seminar. It is said that brain cells consume 12 times of energy as regular cells.  Our brains were in overdrive during the seminar. Maybe that explains why we all munched on healthy snacks of bananas, nuts, goji berries and the like during breaks.

Students voluntarily took turns to do dishes. The afternoon session was 2 to 5 pm. Dinner was at 6 pm. Some of us would walk up and down the hills either before or after dinner. Actually, we tried to walk backwards on the pebble driveway. I only did uphill backwards not downhill. We leisurely chatted with each other, looked at blue sky and white clouds, enjoyed white, yellow, and purple wildflowers along the path, greeted two beautiful horses which belonged to Dr. Yang’s neighbors, and smelled the fragrance of the earth, trees, and flowers. 

Saturday is a jacuzzi night. Men and women went in the tub at separate times. We retired to our bedrooms around 8:30 pm. There were a couple of nights, students talked until late. Dr. Yang has been teaching himself to play piano and could play a few songs, which were popular in Taiwan 50 years ago, which were reminiscent to me. Johnny, who was a professional musician before moving back to McKinleyville and now a resident student of Dr. Yang, and Matt also play piano. So, the open space of the living room, family room, dining room (or our classroom) and kitchen were constantly filled with music during breaks. A big wind chime on the deck struck a few deep notes with tranquility. Life appeared to be relaxing and easy. And we had no idea what was happening outside the Heights and around the world.

The Daily Lessons

Nevertheless, the daily six-hour lessons could be hard to digest even though we all did our prep work and studied Dr. Yang’s books beforehand. The subject is complex, and the content is hard to comprehend. During the seminar, Dr. Yang sometimes used different material or perspective than in the book to explain the theory or phenomenon, which provided more clarity but there were times that I got even more confused.

Like his books, Dr. Yang’s lecture had many references to ancient Chinese literature as well as modern science. He is well-versed in the subjects. He generously shared his knowledge as well as how he acquired his knowledge. He showed us a few important reference books. Among them, Dao Zang Qi Gong Yao Ji, collects 210 ancient Qigong documents dated back more than 650 years ago. He only used a small portion of them for his books. He encouraged students to study directly from the book and bring other documents to life. He humbly stated his books are just the reflection of his own understanding and he might interpret the ancient documents with his own bias. He cautioned against anyone treating his book as the bible on Qigong. He kept saying that people should have an open mind and do research on their own.

During the seminar, I appreciate a lot not only Dr. Yang’s lecture, but also the discussions I had with fellow classmates. After he concluded a section of teaching, Dr. Yang would step out of the room and assign Paul to lead the discussion. In addition, Alex, a college professor, would examine things in a methodical and meticulous way. Slowly he would ask exactly what the theory is and wanted to know step-by-step instructions about the meditation. He also wantedto know whether his feelings during the meditation were correct. Often, I thought that I knew everything but only realized that there were holes in my comprehension after patiently hearing Alex’s questions. When Alex was quiet, Paul would inquire or quiz us - in a nice way - and he did not accept any half-baked answers.  When we got stuck or had different viewpoints, Paul would take the questions back to Dr. Yang for comments.

Meditation is not Just Theory

Small Circulation and Grand Circulation are various types of meditation. Meditation is not just theory. The most important part is practicing it so people can realize the health and spiritual benefits and validate the theory. It is an internal art without visible physical movements; therefore, it is important to analyze the subtle body sensations people experience during meditation. With friendly open exchange, we understood whether we were doing it correctly. Yes, we had people bravely admit that they were off the track including me.

Overall, I valued the seminar highly. The only recommendation I have is that we needed more time to practice all the meditations listed in Dr. Yang’s books especially in the Grand Circulation book and discuss them afterwards. I agreed that I could be more diligent and use the break time to practice on my own. But I was also in need of total relaxation and let my brain rest. Maybe Dr. Yang can make the seminar longer in the future.

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.