The 16 elements of Neigong
Anyone who has read any of Bruce’s books will have come across his list of the 16-Part Neigong System, these are the basic components of Daoist neigong. They are:
- Breathing methods, in increasing complexity.
- Feeling, moving, transforming and transmuting internal energies along the descending, ascending and connecting energy channels of the body.
- Precise body alignments.
- Dissolving physical, emotional and spiritual blockages.
- Moving energy through the body’s meridian channels and energy gates.
- Bending and stretching the body, from the inside out and the outside in, along the yang and yin meridians.
- Opening and closing all parts of the body’s tissues, including the joints, muscles, soft tissues, internal organs, glands, blood vessels, cerebrospinal system and brain, as well as all of the body’s subtle energy anatomy.
- Manipulating the energy of the external aura.
- Making circles and spirals of energy inside the body, controlling the body’s spiraling energy currents, and moving qi in the body at will.
- Absorbing and projecting energy to and from any part of the body.
- Controlling energies of the spine.
- Controlling the body’s left and right energy channels.
- Controlling the body’s central energy channel.
- Learning the capabilities and uses of the body’s lower dandien.
- Learning the capabilities and uses of the body’s upper and middle dandien.
- Connecting every part of the physical body into one unified energy.
Each of these can be viewed as a major heading for a category of internal gongfu (practice and accomplishment – the ‘gong’ in neigong is short for ‘gongfu’). Each category has a great many layers.
Of the literally hundreds of neigong and qigong sets that Bruce learned in Japan and China he chose six (five neigong sets and one qigong set), which together can lead to the mastery of all sixteen components or categories.
The hall mark of these sets is that they are all very old (Dragon & Tiger is the youngest at 1500 years). They have been tested over millennia and have been found to work. They are also highly efficient, they give you extraordinary out-put for relatively little input. And finally they are all very safe when practiced sensibly.
The five neigong sets are: Energy Gates (which I call ‘Tai Chi Fundamentals’), Heaven & Earth, Spiralling Energy Body, Bend the Bow and Gods Playing in the Clouds (which I call ‘Immortal Cloud Play’). The qigong set is Dragon & Tiger.
Each of the sets has many of the 16 components in it. For example, Tai Chi Fundamentals can contain virtually everything – eventually, but each has its particular focus. For instance, alignments (#3) and outer dissolving (#4) are best learned, initially, through Tai Chi Fundamentals. It is easiest to learn opening and closing (#7) from Heaven and Earth. Feeling and moving energy along your acupuncture meridians and manipulating the energy of the external aura (#8) are most easily learned through Dragon & Tiger.
Several of these components span the different neigong sets and you learn progressively more subtle aspects through them. For instance controlling energies of the spine (#11) begins with the spinal stretch that is learned in Tai Chi Fundamentals, it continues with Heaven & Earth and is highly developed in Bend the Bow (which is its primary focus) and is completed in Immortal Cloud Play. Without the spinal stretch you cannot do the spinal work in Heaven & Earth, without Heaven & Earth you cannot do Bend the Bow etc.
Bruce used to teach the breathing (#1) in Heaven & Earth, where it is most effectively integrated into movement. But he found that most people just weren’t getting it. So he now teaches it separately as Longevity Breathing and this is later put into Heaven & Earth and the other sets. More complex types of breathing such as reverse breathing are also taught separately (at level 2 of Longevity Breathing) and then are put into Bend the Bow and Immortal Cloud Play. It is worth noting that Bruce considers any natural breath (at seventy percent) that is shorter than two minutes insufficient for reverse breathing.
Tai Chi Fundamentals and Heaven and Earth are the two core practices. Without them the more difficult and subtle components (9-16), which are developed by Spiralling Energy Body, Bend the Bow and Immortal Cloud Play cannot be attained. But Tai Chi Fundamentals and Heaven and Earth (and Dragon & Tiger) will give the vast majority of people all they ever need or want. There is no requirement to learn all six sets. In fact Bruce often advises people to do one or two practices well rather than many badly. From my observations most people who try to do it all too quickly end up with much less than they would have had, had they spent their time focusing on the basics.
In terms of the internal martial arts and neigong Bruce has this to say:
“The alphabet of Ba Gua is neigong. The alphabet of Tai Chi is neigong. The alphabet of Xing Yi is neigong. The alphabet of qigong is neigong. The alphabet of Daoist Meditation is neigong. You can look at Tai Chi and Bagua as types of writing based on these fundamental letters of the neigong alphabet.” (O’Brian, J., Nei Jia Chuan: Internal Martial Arts Teachers of Tai Ji Quan, Xing Yi Quan and Ba Gua Zhang, p.116)