Methods for Ingesting Original Vital Breath During the Sui and Tang Dynasties

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During the Sui and Tang dynasties, Daoist concepts of Ingesting Vital Breath ( 服氣 Fuqi ) placed a strong emphasis on the Ingestion of Original Vital Breath ( 服元氣 Fu Yuanqi ), Internal Vital Breath ( 內氣 Neiqi ) and Internal Original Vital Breath ( 內元氣 Nei Yuanqi ). They stressed that, in order to live a long life, people should not dissipate their body's Original Vital Breath and should retain their Vital Essence. Original Vital Breath was considered to be the root of life; only by guarding this root carefully could Dao be attained. The method for preserving that root was Ingesting Original Vital Breath and Internal Vital Breath. According to Perfect Man Yin's Art of Ingesting Original Vital Breath ( 尹真人服元氣術 Yin Zhenren Fu Yuanqi Shu ), "the body's Original Vital Breath is released through the mouth and nose. If exhalation of Original Vital Breath is stopped, the Elixir Field ( 丹田 Dantian ) will be filled. If the Elixir Field is full, you will not feel hunger or thirst, and you will become a Divine Man ( 神人 Shenren ). This is why people begin their life as embryos, without eating, nor drinking, nor breathing, and have Original Vital Breath in abundance. To have an abundance of Original Vital Breath is the way of longevity". If, just like an embryo, you can prevent your Original Vital Breath from leaking outside the body, you have attained the means of attaining longevity. In short, the basic principle of Ingesting Original Vital Breath is to preserve one's Original Vital Breath and prevent its dissipation outside the body.


Concretely speaking, the methods for Ingesting Original Vital Breath are the following:

The methods for Ingesting Original Vital Breath

The first requirements

The first requirements for Ingesting Original Vital Breath are to purify one's heart, eliminate thoughts and action, and to remain in a state of simple tranquility.


3Exhale naturally. After half the breath, gently continue exhaling with the nose closed. As Vital Breath rises upward, raise your head and swallow forcefully. Raise the head to the left and lower it to the right. Mentally direct the Vital Breath to the abdomen, until it flows into the Elixir Field, and then recommence the cycle by swallowing. The swallowed breath joins the Elixir Field, and from there penetrates the four limbs. This form of mental dirigation of Vital Breath is called "Dissemination of Vital Breath" ( 流布 Liubu ). Take caution not to allow the Vital Breath to leak out of the Obscure Orifice (perineum) ( 玄牝 Xuanpin ), but to make it circulate evenly through the body. You should not gasp or breathe irregularly. If the Vital Breath does not reach the Elixir Field, it is difficult to force it to do so, no matter how much you try. Thus it is difficult for beginners, and they must eat less and make a strenuous effort. With persistent effort, Vital Breath will circulate naturally and ability will accrue. This is called to drink from Spontaneity ( 自然 Ziran ) in order to resist this world, and to approach Divinity in order to enter subtlety. It begins as Three-Five ( 三五 Sanwu ) and ends as Seven-Nine ( 七九 Qijiu ). Lie down on your back, with your head on a low pillow. Contract both knees and shoulders, and stretch both arms. Lie down on your stomach, with a folded quilt under the chest, and stretch out the arms and legs. Inhale with the head raised, making the breath descend on the left, then inhale with the head lowered, making the breath descend on the right. When swallowing Vital Breath make a sound, but do not swallow saliva, and exhale. Beware of allowing wind to enter as you inhale breath. While swallowing Vital Breath, do not rest at will. Wait until the heart is completely tranquil before starting again. When beginning the exercise, you should have a clear mind, without any worries; this will allow the Vital Breath to circulate freely. If the heart is burdened with worry, Vital Breath will not flow. Beginners may feel fullness in their abdomen. If they eat less, they will feel Vital Breath flowing through their organs and into the Elixir Field, and then they will feel it flowing smoothly and freely throughout the body, leading to the spontaneous awakening of the spirit.

The second requirements

Ingesting Original Vital Breath into the Sea of Vital Breath ( 氣海 Qihai )

The Sea of Vital Breath forms when the spermatozoon and the ovum first combine. It lies three inches under the umbilicus. When the baby is born, only the umbilical cord is connected with the mother. Hollow as a pipe, it permits the flowing of the Vital Breath to form the embryo. He who wants longevity must cultivate this root; otherwise, pursuing outer cultivation, he can achieve nothing. The Sea of Vital Breath is connected with the kidneys and thus belongs to the water of Ren and Gui ( 壬癸水 Rengui Shui ). It is named "Sea" for water flows into the sea. Vital Breath has water, which is Yin, as its mother. Yin must combine with Yang for it can't exist alone. The Mind, belonging to the Fire of Bing and Ding ( 丙丁火 Bingding Huo ) in the South, is the lord of Yang. Concentrate the mind in the Sea of Vital Breath, and Yang will come down into Yin and Yin up into Yang. It evaporates into clouds which steam the bones and holes all over the body. He whose Vital Breath doesn't flow well will have diseases in his body. Those whose diseases are incurable by medicine must concentrate, without any other thoughts, on the Sea of Vital Breath. Put one hand under the umbilicus and wait for the Vital Breath. When the Vital Breath comes, it moves under the palm, giving a feeling of breathing, touching, aching, sounding, and pulling. One must wait quietly and concentrate on it with the eyes. Thus, Yang shines on Yin and yin rushes upward and transforms into a vital liquid. After a long time, the breath through the nostrils minimizes under the throat and one only feels one's breath moving in the Sea of Vital Breath. Every time one exercises Vital Breath, one must regulate it slowly to disperse it; otherwise it will become a tumor or a gall.

The third requirements

The Wise Man of Mt. Mao's formula for Ingesting Inner Vital Breath ( 服內氣 Fu Neiqi ).


Lie on your right side, draw both legs slightly, face the east with the head turned south, and hold both fists by the chin. Shut the breath in, swallow it seven times, and then exhale once. The sick first exhales once after inhaling one or two times, and then exhales once after inhaling seven times. Then regulate the breath evenly, inhale 40 times, and sit up to practice. Embrace both erect knees with both hands crossed, hold your breath and bloat your belly fourteen or twenty-one times, and puff when your breath is full. Regulate the breath to keep it from being coarse. Then hold your breath and bloat your belly again until the belly is regulated. When you sweat or feel hot, it means that your breath is full all over your body and all your joints have become comfortable. The old scriptures all prescribe visualization, which is too troublesome for the mind to practice. Ingesting Vital Breath originates from Embryonic Breathing and accords with the function of mysterious creation only if one doesn't have any other thoughts. The law goes as follows: treasure your Essence, hold your breath and swallow your vital water (saliva) : your Vital Breath will transform into blood, your blood into Essence, Eessence into liquid, and your liquid into bones. Practice it often without sluggishness, and you will become extremely vigorous.

The fourth requirements

Gentleman Huanzhen's formula for Ingesting Inner original Vital Breath ( 元氣 Yuanqi ).


The essence of ingesting Vital Breath lies in swallowing breath. Ordinary people swallow their Outer and Inner breath in confusion, while true practitioners distinguish them without fault. Man is born with Original Vital Breath forming his body, and his body with full Original Vital Breath is healthy. Every time one swallows and exhales breath, the Inner Breath corresponds with the Outer Breath. It naturally comes up from the Sea of Vital Breath to the throat. When one exhales completely at the throat, one immediately closes one's mouth and swallows down with a sound. The breath goes down, along the left for man and along the right for woman, just like water through the backbone's 24 joints. The Outer Breath and Inner Breath are thus differentiated clearly while closely related. Send it with the mind and massage it with the hand to make it quickly enter the Sea of Vital Breath.


As for Ingesting Breath and cultivating the body, one enters a quiet room in leisure and undresses, lies facing upward, and stretches one's arms with one's hands open, combs one's hair and spreads it on the bedsheet, and then regulates the breath and ingests it. After ingesting, hold the breath to full capacity and extinguish any thought. Let go of the breath and exhale when one stifles, and regulate it when one pants. Practice again when the breath is even and stop after ten times. A beginner's breath cannot pass through for some time; he can practice holding his breath gradually for one to ten seconds. When it is through, he can gradually add 20 to 50 seconds. Sweating all over is the effect. Pacify the mind and harmonize the Vital Breath, lie and don't rise in wind. This is a good way for the aged to prolong their lives.


The way to let go of Vital Breath ( 委氣 Weiqi ): pacify the body and the breath as well as the mind, then one can practice whenever one walks, stands, sits or lies. Leaning against the door, stretching on the bed, sitting alone, one just makes one's mind thoughtless, quiet and empty as the sky. Then hold and regulate the Vital Breath ( 調息 Tiaoxi ) ten to twenty times, letting go of the Vital Breath without any deliberate struggle with the breath. After a long while, breath will come out from the pores in one's body instead of one's mouth.


While emphasizing Ingesting Vital Breath, Sui and Tang Daoism stressed Embryonic Breathing ( 胎息 Taixi ), which is closely related to Ingesting Breath. Vol. 58 of The Seven Slips of a Cloudy Satchel ( 雲笈七籤 Yunji Qiqian ) contains the texts On the Essential Subtlety of Embryonic Breathing ( 胎息精微論 Taixi Jingwei Lun ), Essential Formulas for Embryonic Breathing ( 胎息根旨要訣 Taixi Genzhi Yaojue ), Sundry Formulas for Embryonic Breathing ( 胎息雜訣 Taixi ZaJue ), and Oral Formulas for Embryonic Breathing ( 胎息口訣 Taixi KouJue ). Vol. 60 contains the Formulas for Embryonic Breathing by Ingesting Vital Breath ( 服氣胎息訣 Fuqi Taixi Jue ) and the Book of Embryonic Breathing ( 胎息經 Taixi Jing ), which are especially about Embryonic Breathing. In addition, the arts of Vital Breath scattered in many books contain skills of Embryonic Breathing. This is an important feature of Daoist Ingesting Vital Breath.

Embryonic Breathing

What is Embryonic Breathing? The Yanling Sovereign's General Treatise on Cultivation and Nourishment ( 延陵君修養大略 Yanling Jun Xiuyang Dalue ) says, " Guarding the One and holding fast to one's own Inner Vital Breath, just as an infant in the mother's embryo, is thus called Embryonic Breathing ". The Oral Formulas on Embryonic Breathing says, "After long practice, the breath, instead of flowing through the mouth and nostrils, flows through the umbilicus just as in an infant. So it is called Embryonic Breathing." Sundry Formulas on Embryonic Breathing says, "Not confusing the Inner Breath with the Outer Breath is called Embryonic Breathing." The Essential Formula on Embryonic Breathing points out, "The ancients' books about Embryonic Breathing seldom reach the Gate of Mystery. Their statements all contain some mistakes or shortcomings. Some say no breath is the embryo; others say holding one's breath is Inner Breath. All, clinging to a single way far from the ultimate truth, confuse later learners." "Embryonic Breathing is the Vital Breath formed when Yin and Yang of Heaven and Earth first combined. This Vital Breath concentrated into form. Then the light of this Essential Breath concentrated as two eyes, which are the essential breath of the father. As pure Yang breath, it is able to reflect all things. The Mysterious Female formed with the mother's Yin breath becoming the mouth and nostrils. Thus we can know that form is the basis for receiving Vital Breath and Vital Breath is the root of form, and two kinds of Vital Breath are the root of forms. Since there is the root of form, it can grow with the mother's breath into an embryo and body in ten months. Thus, practitioners imitate it. Recovering one's root is the essence of Embryonic Breathing." So, we know that Daoism has different explanations of Embryonic Breathing with the same metaphor of infant's breath in the embryo.


There are various concrete methods of Embryonic Breathing. On the Essential Subtlety of Embryonic Breathing says, "Embryonic Breathing and Ingesting Vital Breath should be conducted by swallowing seven times in the later half of the night. After each swallowing, regulate the breath seven times and swallow it again like water with a sound of "kan" indicating the flow of breath. Curdle the Vital Breath in the Sea of Vital Breath and make the belly full as a pregnant woman's. Achieve Embryonic Breathing through having an embryo (the Sea of Vital Breath is filled with breath and then it is the way of Embryonic Breathing). The Vital Breath completed, the pure breath condenses as an embryo and impure breath disperses out (through the limbs and hair). The embryo completed, all diseases are naturally cured and one can communicate with Immortals and spirits. Only when the joints are smooth and the sea of the stomach open, can one inhale the Original Vital Breath through Ingesting Breath. After Ingesting the Breath, one must close the joints and exhale slowly through the nostrils. Ingest this way, and the Inner Breath and Outer Breath will not be separate, and embryonic breath will not escape. Count silently from 10 to 100, 200 or 300. After this little achievement, one's senses will become very acute and all diseases will be cured. It is very unreasonable to learn Embryonic Breathing through restraining one's breath. Holding one's breath harms the organs. The secret of great effect and little effort in Ingesting Vital Breath lies only in pacifying the mind. With worries and thoughts extinguished, the Vital Breath channels become fluent, the joints open, and harmonious breath gathers inside all the day. After swallowing seven times at midnight, keep the Inner Breath from flowing out, inhale and exhale slowly through the nostrils, and do not confuse the Inner Breath with the Outer Breath. Ingest seven times at 4 o'clock and again in the early morning. Stop after ingesting 21 times in total. He who restrains from grains is not limited to this number. Swallow the Inner Vital Breath whenever the stomach is empty, and you will not feel hungry. He who finds it a little difficult at first will get used to it after long practice. The Inner Breath and the Outer Breath will not be confused and gradually the joints and pores will open. The Vital Breath comes and goes by itself, and one needn't exhale and inhale slowly through the nostrils. This is all the subtlety of Embryonic Breathing."


Sundry Formulas for Embryonic Breathing introduces two methods

  1. Inhale and exhale slowly and the Original Vital Breath will not leak out. After closing the Inner Breath, exhale and inhale through the nostrils slightly. Make the Inner Breath return at the throat. The Inner Breath, after filling up, will rush upward. Let go of it slowly without any restraint. After the breath is regulated, close it again and breathe through the nostrils slowly, and keep it from the throat. After some great efforts, breathing will suddenly become easy and the body comfortable all over. Then even thousands of breaths will not make one tired. The essence of Embryonic Breathing is to extinguish thoughts. The mind is like ashes, the body like wood, one will conform to nature with all his Vital Breath channels and joints open. If worries and thoughts succeed themselves, one's efforts to pursue Dao will be in vain. Only those who renounce the world can conduct this subtle method; otherwise all efforts will be wasted.
  2. After inhaling fully, visualize flowing water with successive waves. The opening of joints and pores depends on this visualization. Inhale slightly through the nostrils and let the breath out through all the limbs, channels and pores. When the later breath comes, hold it from exhaling. Do this slowly; hold the breath from exhaling while keeping from swallowing it. It will disperse slightly and slowly, and the Inner Breath will not disperse.


The Oral Formulas of Embryonic Breathing says, "He who wants to learn Embryonic Breathing should first sit alone in a quiet room. Sit upright with the left foot crossing the right. Loosen your clothes and belt and then massage your limbs slowly. Hold your hands on your legs, then inhale and exhale three or five times to regulate the breath evenly. Clarify the mind leisurely and then swing the body slowly to spread the organs. Then, beat the Heavenly Drum ( 鳴天鼓 Ming Taingu ) 36 times and visualize the Bright Hall ( 明堂 Mingtang ) one inch deep between the two eyebrows, the Pervasive Chamber ( 洞房 Dongfang ) two inches deep, and the Upper Elixir Field ( 丹田 Dantian ) (also named the Mud Ball Palace ( 泥丸宮 Niwan Gong )) three inches deep. Then visualize in turn the Middle Elixir Field, the Lower Elixir Field, and the Five Organs starting with the heart. Visualize each of the Five organs giving out the Vital Breath of its direction to combine with the white Vital Breath of the three Elixir Fields into one breath. The unified breath comes out from the back of the head, shining with nine colored rays of about 10 meters' length. While visualizing the body in this Vital Breath, shut the mouth and nostrils and visualize Embryonic Breathing only in the umbilicus. Feeling out of breath, exhale slowly and slightly through the nostrils. When the breath recovers its evenness, visualize it as before. Sweating indicates one has finished and there is no limit to the times of practice. Feeling hot, visualize Vital Breath all over the body like steam in a rice pot. This is called Full Breath. Ingest again and visualize all the organs and bowels in the body. Practice slowly without hearing the sound of your breath. After 30 years' practice, one can breathe in the umbilicus and thus easily bear a rope tight around one's neck. Also, one can sit under water for 15 days.


The Book of Embryonic Breathing says, "The embryo forms through taming the breath; breath is tamed through forming the embryo. Vital Breath coming into the body is life; and the spirit's leaving the body is death. Grasping the spirit and Vital Breath, one can achieve longevity; holding to emptiness, one can nourish the spirit and Vital Breath. The Spirit moving, the Vital Breath moves; the Spirit staying still, the Vital Breath stays still. If one desires longevity, one must concentrate the Spirit and Vital Breath on each other. The mind not arousing any thought, it will stay naturally without coming or going. Practicing this diligently is the true way." This method is different from all those cited above in its emphasis on holding to emptiness and the non-moving of the mind. So, there are different ideas about Embryonic Breathing and consequently different methods of practice. Also, Embryonic Breathing is the same as Ingesting Original Vital Breath in its fundamental method, and so it was natural for Sui and Tang Daoism to stress Embryonic Breathing while emphasizing Ingesting Original Vital Breath.


The Daoist Art of Vital Breath is one of the finest flowers of Chinese Life-Nourishing culture. With a deposit of fine heritage from Chinese traditional culture and in spite of some unscientific contents, its main part may as well be the crystal of primeval life science. This great contribution of Daoism to Chinese ancient science still has great value to contemporary human life science and medicine. It deserves our deep study and development. Sui and Tang Daoism, emphasizing Ingesting Original Vital Breath and summarizing a system of methods, became an important period in the history of Daoist cultivating arts. Absorbing Daoist achievements in Breathing Arts of the Han, Wei and Northern and Southern Dynasties and developing to a higher stage, it prepared a basis for the rise of the Inner Alchemy of the end of the Tang, Five Dynasties and Song dynasties. This was an important transitional period in which External Alchemy became Inner Alchemy. Sui and Tang Daoist ways of Ingesting Original Vital Breath are an invaluable treasure in the treasury of the Chinese culture of Nourishing Life.