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Home > Self-Healing QiGong/Tuina > Yan Xin QiGong

Yan Xin Qigong

By Yuqiu Guo, Dr. Ac.

Qigong is Chinese medical meditation, and Dr. Yan Xin is the leader of its most popular form. Of the estimated 160,000,000 people worldwide now doing qigong, perhaps a third are following Dr. Yan's basic nine-step method. Yan Xin qigong is one of the least physically active and most mentally active of the some 150 approaches that exist. For a basic primer on qigong, see my article in Tone Magazine (July/August 1995).

As qigong diffuses from China to the West, we are witnessing a now familiar turn of events. In the 1970s the Chinese began to 'export' acupuncture to North America in a big way. At first, Western scientists claimed that acupuncture did not work, that stories of people undergoing surgery with only acupuncture anaesthesia were impossible and false. Before long they began to admit that acupuncture did work, but they labelled it a 'placebo effect.' Gradually, some came to understand that, instead, acupuncture does have scientifically observable effects. For example, it enhances production of naturally occurring morphine-like substances called endorphins and enkephalins that moderate pain. Now qigong is invading the West in a big way, and the cycle is repeating itself.

Looked at from a purely Western perspective, qigong is a form of positive thinking. It combines meditation, breath control and gymnastics (Porkert w/Ullmann 1982: 106). There are breathing exercises, muscular exercises involving both tension and relaxation, and meditation. Qigong induces a whole-body relaxation response (see Benson w/Proctor 1984: 100-01). One clinical research fellow at the Harvard Medical School has written: "A one-hour session of Qi Gong combines aerobic, isometric, and isotonic exercise with the relaxation response, meditation, guided imagery, and probably several unrecognized behavioral techniques. It evokes simultaneously almost every behavioral intervention known to Western medicine" (Eisenberg w/Wright 1985: 227-8).

The Qigong Tradition

The practice dates back beyond the earliest recorded history. We still have pictorial writing on artifacts referring to qigong from seven thousand years ago (Wozniak, Wu & Wang 1991: ii). There is archaeological evidence suggesting that qigong may date back as far as a million years. Qigong predates the martial arts, and all of what we now know as religion as well. It blossomed fully during the period of the Warring states. The very early Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine (1972) treats it at length. Chinese Taoists were early advocates of qigong, but Indian Buddhists have influenced its later practice.

Secular qigong is firmly in the Chinese tradition. Probably all of China's most important ancient scholars, philosophers and religious leaders practiced qigong, including Confucius, Lao Ze and Mencius (Eisenberg w/Wright 1985: 208-11). Despite claims in Tone Magazine (Leung 1995: 6), the qigong approach now sweeping the West, Yan Xin qigong, is not primarily a "Buddhist path." One may of course pursue qigong as a Buddhist path, as the Ottawa [Canada] Qigong Association is doing with excellent results. The International Yan Xin Qigong Association, however, is intentionally secular, as are most of its local chapters. Dr. Yan Xin often tells audiences that practicing qigong should be a regular part of everyday secular life, "just like brushing your teeth."

In addition to being a health-promoting practice, qigong is an ancient philosophical system. According to Dr. Yan, its basic purpose is to promote the harmonious integration of human beings with the universe (Wozniak, Wu & Wang 1991: i). The medical premise is that people's lives and bodies can come to be at odds with the cosmic forces that surround us, and of which we are apart. In doing qigong, we therefore align ourselves with the earth's magnetic field (and we should sleep in beds so aligned as well).

Qigong helps restore the harmony of ourselves, of our beings, in nature and with nature. This cures an enormous range of the illnesses and diseases that plague our species. One student finds his arthritis suddenly disappear, another notices that her visual acuity has improved, a third finds a chronic pain has vanished. A fourth is surprised to find himself driving more curteously (UAQA). all sense what it means to be happier, more alive, more at home on the planet. We all have latent potential abilities that qigong can help us realize. Qigong is a consciousness-raising activity par excellence.

Doing Yan Xin Qigong

A person practicing Yan Xin qigong may appear to be sitting quietly and perhaps thinking of nothing. This is both true and untrue. The person is listening but not really listening, thinking but not thinking in the normal sense, imagining but not imagining, aware of the surroundings but not too aware. Such is the qigong meditative state. Smiling and good wishes are important qigong techniques. Although sitting quietly, a beginner is trying to breathe deeply, slowly and regularly -- and counting each breath. At first it takes a lot of effort to exert harmonious control over the diaphragm, chest walls, throat, tongue and nasal passages. The beginner is also pushing virtually to the breaking point the human capacity to imagine.

At first the imagination is not up to this task. One must simultaneously imagine a flow of energy, information, light, colors, sounds and even fragrances entering the body through the top of the head. This infusion of qi, one imagines, all rushes out and down from the forehead. It passes through the nose down to one's open palms opposite the navel. It then passes in to the seat of qi, a point deep within the pelvis some two inches below the navel. Students gradually learn to focus upon this vital center or 'dan tian' point, and to sense the qi as localized warmth or heat. It takes much longer, months or years in fact, to learn to activate the channels and move qi around the body through will power alone.

In step one, the novice qigong meditator has a lot to imagine. Try to visualize a fire or bright light in the dan tian area, above which is water, on top of which is a blossoming red lotus flower. The flower opens and closes with one's breathing. As one inhales, the pores of the skin also open to take in energy/information from the universe. This all travels to the flower. Gradually the internal light intensifies and lights up the internal organs, especially the heart. The heart contracts as one inhales and relaxes as one exhales. The meditator eventually changes hand positions to hold a large imaginary fruit that glows and spins and changes size as one breathes.

How Qigong Works

A basic purpose of these activities is to impose a disciplined and rhythmic pattern on one's body. We impose willed control over breathing, normally an involuntary function of the parasympathetic nervous system. Doing so helps bring the body into phase with the larger rhythms of daily life, the cycles of the days and the seasons. Most diseases are irregularities and dysfunctions. Put the body into phase and flow with the universe, and the qi will flow more freely. Freely flowing qi can eliminate irregularities and dysfunctions. Qigong permits a person to gain some control over autonomic functions. The exercises produce 'autonomic learning' that modulates and rectifies the flow of the life force (Porkert w/Ullmann 1982: 106- 7). This form of biofeedback does not require machines.

We have lost the ancient way of living in quiescence and tranquillity. Qigong helps to bring this back. Beyond the basic imagination exercises, when we have a fever we think of the sea, bamboo leaves, or the cool forest floor. If we are restless we think of the blue sky, cool and serene moonlight, etc. (Yan 1994b: 6) Being in phase with the cosmic environment greatly strengthens the body, and it strongly helps to produce an optimistic and happy attitude toward life. Central to the philosophy of qigong is the understanding that we must cultivate moral and physical strength together to prolong life, develop human potential and help others. A cardinal rule of Yan Xin qigong is to treat others with compassion. When one family member practices qigong, the others benefit.

The regulation of thoughts, breathing and posture all help to reduce the mind/body's neural activity. Qigong practice strengthens the body's electrical and biochemical signals, and the structure and sensitivity of the receptor cells. This quieting of the body permits physiological and biochemical functions to regain their healthy flows. This cures specific ailments, but it also strengthens one's overall biological field or bioenergy, drastically cuts down the number of free radicals and minimizes their damage at the cellular level. That prolongs life.

Qigong meditation works best by far in the company of a group. While one must regularly practice alone at home, this is not enough. When people come together to practice qigong, they put their biological fields in proximity. These fields begin to resonate with one another, and so to multiply the benefits of practice for each person. For this to happen requires two things. First, ill people must truly want to get rid of their diseases. Second, they must cultivate the positive, open and optimistic attitude necessary for resonating in harmony with the field.

Sceptical Westerners sometimes mistake this openness to change for a 'placebo effect.' In a placebo-effect situation, the subject is fooled into thinking a therapeutic treatment is happening when it is not. The open optimism necessary for success in qigong is much different. In the case of the placebo effect, belief produces a consequence, a self-fulfilling prophecy or at least the mistaken perception of improvement. When people doing qigong agree to resonate in harmony, this is a prerequisite to success. Good, real and lasting effects follow. Dr. Yan Xin calls this necessary precondition for success "synchronous resonance" (Wozniak, Wu & Wang 1991: 81).

It does help to play a trick with one's mind when doing qigong to treat some specific problem. So long as one's mind is focused on a specific problem of ill health it is not possible to enter fully into the deep qigong state in which lasting healing can occur. One must therefore learn to forget about the problem and look only for general benefits. If the cosmic forces of the universe are to do their healing task, we must be fully open to receive them.

Advancing More Deeply into the Process

As one advances more deeply into qigong practice, and into the qigong state, significant physiological changes occur. Consumption of oxygen decreases. The lung's capacity to absorb oxygen greatly increases. So does the lung tissue's oxygen storage capacity. The white blood cell count goes up dramatically. Dr. Yan Xin writes that doing qigong "improves micro-circulation of the cerebrum and this cannot be obtained through any other kind of practice. The brain's deeply layered cerebral cells are enriched with sufficient blood by doing qigong" (Wozniak, Wu & Wang 1991: 43). This oxygen enrichment of the brain is an important key to many qigong effects.

After practicing for several months, one who does qigong faithfully will begin to experience spontaneous physical movements. As the Chinese doctors like to say, "life has to move." Paradoxically, only when the mind becomes calm and serene does one's bioenergy becomes strong enough to produce spontaneous movements. The first appearance of spontaneous movements represents significant progress along the qigong learning curve. One cannot seek them out. They must come along spontaneously, in their own good time.

Advancement in qigong follows a natural course. One should strive to stay relaxed, calm and in good spirits. It is especially important to be and remain on good terms with family members. Some bad feelings, pains or excessive spontaneous movements are likely to occur. These may represent mental discord, pessimism or a lack of family support. Everyone will at times feel uncomfortable, upset, angry or depressed. Everyone will experience sorrow, unfair treatment or a guilty conscience. When these happen, try to overcome them with good works, internal resolve and a positive attitude (Wozniak, Wu & Wang 1991: 86).

Strong spontaneous movements may at first feel frightening, but those who have strong movements without internal discord have a great advantage. They will be able to achieve a stronger state of qi after guidance and instruction. Dr. Yan says: "... after one reaches a certain level in qigong, one depends heavily on virtue and good deeds to get more Qi and energy" (ibid.:79).

After a lot of practice, one will begin to sense the activation of a small qi channel. This channel runs from the top of the head down the front of one's chest, between the legs, up the spine back to the top of the head. Activating one's qi will make a person feel "sore, numb, hurt, cold, cool, warm, hot, floating, sinking, big, small, dizzy, etc. (Wozniak, Wu & Wang 1991: 39). This is another major advance along the qigong learning curve. With sufficient practice, one may eventually become able to move one's qi at will anywhere inside the body. A person's own willpower can then effect miraculous cures. Once the flow of qi can reach the site of disease or illness, the cure can be astonishingly rapid.


Western science leaves off its study of life's energy at the inanimate level of chemicals. But life has another entire level of organization above that of the cells, tissues and organs. What is it that controls cell replacement, tissue regeneration and metabolic energy? The Chinese call it qi. We can train this vital life force itself to keep regenerating our good health for many, many years (Dong & Esser 1990:18). Every great ethical system upholds virtue for highly practical reasons. What goes around comes around.

Wrongdoing against others may result in some immediate gain, but our minds will indelibly record our guilt, while our bodies will record such behavior by becoming twisted. If we harm others, this act will block the free flow of qi within our own bodies. It is very dangerous to continue immoral activities once one has begun to practice qigong. Dr. Yan says that crimes, sins and simple wrongdoing record themselves as signals in the body. These signals interfere with qigong progress (Yan 1994a: 8). Yan Xin writes: "Within the higher realm of qigong there is a rule: do not try to harm others or you will harm yourself. Virtue is very important. Without it, one's qi will decrease or be totally lost" (Wozniak, Wu & Wang 1991: 75).

If one wants to advance one's qigong practice, it will become necessary to admit the wrongs we have done against others and to take action to correct these wrongs. Ultimately, good health requires peace of mind. Let me repeat that Yan Xin qigong does not require any particular religious commitment. Whatever religion you practice or do not practice, qigong can work to improve the length, well being and quality of your life.


  1. Benson, Herbert, w/William Proctor. 1984. Beyond the Relaxation Response. New York: Berkeley.

  2. Guo, Yuqiu. 1995. "Introduction to Qigong." Tone, vol. 10, no. 11 (July/August): 39-43.

  3. Dong, Paul and Aristide H. Esser. 1990. Chi Gong: The Ancient Chinese Way to Health. New York, NY: Paragon House.

  4. Eisenberg, David with Thomas Lee Wright. 1985. Encounters with Qi: Exploring Chinese Medicine. New York: Penguin.

  5. Leung, Victor. 1995. "Mindfulness and Virtue in Qigong Training." Tone. vol. 11, no. 3 (November): 6-7.

  6. Porkert, Manfred with Christian Ullmann. 1982. Chinese Medicine. Mark Howson, trans. New York: Henry Holt.

  7. UAQA. 1996. "Thoughts from Daily Life: Driving Courteously." University of Arizona Qigong Association: UAQA Friday Special Issue. (March 22): 6.

  8. Wozniak, Jo Ann, Stevenson Wu and Hao Wang. 1991. Yan Xin Qigong and the Contemporary Sciences. Champaign IL: International Yan Xin Qigong Association (Station A, Box 2209, Champaign, Illinois USA 61825).

  9. Yan Xin. 1994a & b. Basics of Yan Xin Qigong I & II. Champaign, Il: IYXQA.

  10. Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine. 1972. 2nd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Yuqiu Guo, a Chinese medical doctor and herbal pharmacist, practices acupuncture and medical massage. Her Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Centre is at 883 Somerset St. West, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (613) 233-1098 or 723-2098.

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