ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TAOISM (A RED DRAGON AND WHITE TIGER NOTE): Zhăn chìlóng 斬赤龍 beheading the Red Dragon

zhan chilong tripods
Sometimes curious students ask about a difference between Chinese gymnastics for men and women. Well, in some complexes of physical exercises it is difficult to see such kind of variations until you will do private customization. From another point of view such differences definitely existed in strict neidan practice. Lets take a quote to illustrate this statement from the encyclopedia article written by Catherine Despeux.

“Menstrual blood is called Red Dragon (chìlóng 赤龍) in neidan, by analogy with male semen, which is called White Tiger (báihŭ 白虎)… ‘Beheading the Red Dragon’ takes place during the first of the three stages in the Ming and Qing system of neidan practice. In men, this stage consists of refining essence to transmute it into pneuma. In women, it consists of “refining of the form Great Yin,” which is achieved by developing inner concentration and by a controlled stimulation of sexual energy, especially through the massage of breasts.”—Catherine Despeux

If you don’t have a special goal in your mind any complex of exercises will be good enough. If you stick to something strict and classic, and special, this difference can be important to consider and use authoritative sources to achieve success in your practice. Very often not only regular people but specialist yet do want simple instructions and simple results in short time; speaking friendly it is not always the right way to solve the health problems. The easy idea to regulate your food habits can take years to fulfill, and it is not speaking about other ideas you definitely want to die with in the end of your life.


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Once again, it is so good to read this encyclopedia to learn some facts and details from past time which are reliable lighthouses to lead to present day. Two quotes from the article written by an outstanding sinologist Catherine Despeux look better with Traditional Chinese and tones in Pinyin and dates. (I have to say that recently I have found yet another interesting book, A History of the Japanese Language by Bjarke Frellesvig and every time he speaks on Chinese intersection he uses tones but that’s totally another story).

“Methods for circulating breath are attested during the period of the Warring States (403-221), became well known during the Six Dynasties (220-589), and developed during the Tan (618-907) and Song (960-1279) periods. Their most ancient source is an inscription dating from ca. 300 BCE that describes the circulation of breath throughout the body (see Harper 1998, 125-26). In the Han (202 BCE-220 CE) period, circulating breath is mentioned in several texts, including the Huángdì nèijìng (Língshū 靈樞, sec. 11.73).”—Catherine Despeux.

“Circulating breath is often associated with gymnastics (dăoyĭn 導引) and breath retention (bìqì 閉氣). It is generally performed in a reclining position for 300 breaths, before one expires the breath slowly and inaudibly. One begins with retaining breath for twelve breaths (the so-called “small cycle,” xiăotōng 小通), and then progresses up to 120 breaths (the “great cycle,” dàtōng 大通). Tang documents add to this classical model a circulation of inner breath in which Intention (yì 意) plays a major role.”—Catherine Despeux.

I hope very much that this note like all others can make your further searching online more easily performed.


tŭgù nàxīn 吐故納新

tŭgù nàxīn 吐故納新

I am just glad another time when an academic point of view totally coincides with my own previous breath exercises. We have cold wind outside and  the best way to breath in the streets is like this, described with the help of Catherine Despeux, one of the authors of Encyclopedia of Taoism:

“Tŭnà is an abbreviation of the phrase tŭgù nàxīn 吐故納新, “exhaling the old and inhaling the new (breath).” This term is first found in chapter 15 of the Zhuangzi, which states: “Breathing in and out [while emitting] the sounds chuī 吹 or xū 噓, exhaling the old and inhaling the new [breath], hanging like the bear and stretching like the bird, these are only methods for longevity” (see trans. Watson 1968, 167-68).”

“Tŭnà and tŭgù nàxīn are generic terms for breathing practices meant to expel the impure and pathogenic qi from the body. Liu Gen, a third-century fangshi, is attributed with this description:“Feeding the body with the living breath (shēngqì 生氣) and exhaling the dead breath (sĭqì 死氣) allows you to subsist for a long time. When you inhale through the nose , you actually inhale the life breath. When you exhale through the mouth, you exhale the death breath.””

That is a special art to be happy with earth and air, and it is a small but not the smallest lesson I could extract using my humble achievement studying Chinese.

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TAOISM (PRIVATE NOTES): Tiáoqì 調氣 regulating breath

There are two interesting quotations in the entry written by Catherine Despeux and I would like to put them as closer as possible:

(1) — “Tiaoqi usually refers to methods for regulating the outer breathing. These exercises are often performed before breath control and retention, and allow one to concentrate the mind and reach a state of quiet. Inspiration always occurs through the nose, called Gate of Heaven, and expiration through the mouth, called Door of Earth (tiānmén 天門 and dìhù 地戶). Breathing should be subtle and inaudible.”

(2) — “Strictly speaking, the tiaoqi method consists of inhaling and exhaling until breathing becomes regular, and of ingesting  the regulated breath. However, tiaoqi sometimes refers to regulating and harmonizing inner breath. Examples of this practice are found in the Qianjin fang and in Taiqing tiaoqi jing.”

What I am trying to underline here is the similarity between outer and inner breathing techniques and the lack of tension in their interpretation: doing one of them we are doing another, and that is a relief, I guess.


 Tāixī 胎息 embryonic breathing, closed eyes

Tāixī 胎息 embryonic breathing, closed eyes

Tāixī 胎息 embryonic breathing

On the beginning of use of taixi term Catherine Despeux, a sinologist, says: “One of the first mentions of taixi occurs in the fifth-century biography of Wáng Zhēn 王真 (Later Han), which states that he and others “were able to practice embryonic breathing and feed themselves like an embryo (tāishí 胎食).”

Soon after that we can find a couple of citations which should probably had the intention to explain basics or give some important details to readers (actually, they don’t), and they look like these: (1) “In one of its two meanings, taixi designates a way of breathing similar to that of embryo. Breathing through the nose appears to stop and is replaced by breathing through the navel and the pores of the skin. In the second meaning, taixi is performed by neidan adepts in the abdomen.” I have a strong feeling of uncertainty that you, me, or somebody else can ‘stop breathing through the nose’ and ‘appears to stop’ doesn’t help either. “Replaced by breathing through the navel and the pores of the skin”(K. Despeux)? — Is there anybody who did such things yesterday, or the day before yesterday? Just don’t.

Another approach sounds like this: (2) “In the Tang period (618-907), the Yanling xiansheng ji xinjiu fuqi jing (Scripture on the New and Old Methods for the Ingestion of Breath Collected by the Elder of Yanling) defines the technique as follows: “One must carefully pull the breath while inspiring and expiring so that the Original Breath (yuanqi) does not exit the body. Thus the outer and inner breaths do not mix and one achieves embryonic breathing.”” Well, we have sources, authors, traditions, quotes, scientists’ opinions, thousand of followers, history of taoism, Encyclopedia of Taoism, Routledge, Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2008… What we haven’t is called plain English now.

I don’t belong to inner circle of practitioners of neidan or taixi techniques in China specifically and I don’t belong to established circle of Asian Study specialists but I am a passionate reader of both and somehow I feel I should deal with this term tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. For that I suggest reread Ge Hung’s (283-343) Baopu zi, Chapter 8, today. The Tāixī 胎息 resembles now a very slow meditative breathing through the nose (welcome, nose!) and pulling the breath (yes, stop inhaling)  until 120 beats of heart (Baopu zi) and then very slowly exhale through the mouth (yeah, mouth!). Next step is 1000 beats stop (Baopu zi again) and a couple of paragraphs after that  should be definitely added to those wonderful abilities we have been spoken a bit earlier (Shèngrén 聖人 saint, sage, saintly man). In plain English (I promised earlier) for yoga practitioners it is the Lotus Pose with 4-3-2 (for beginners) or just 1 inhale-exhale cycle in minute or more than a minute. So, if I have a pulse 80 beats per minute, 100 bpm will mean a pause after inhalation more then a minute which is difficult but possible to achieve, I guess, for patient followers. Are you in or what?