Yang Tai Chi and Taoist Neigong

Yang Taijiquan and Taoist Neigong*: Internal work

*Always consult a doctor before starting a new workout regimen. We are not responsible for any injury that may occur on your journey to health.

Please be very clear that practicing neigong and neidan methods does not automatically give you martial power for arts like Yang Taijiquan. Likewise, those who ignore and even deny the benefits of cultivating Tao in their martial art are equally mistaken.


“In reality the essence of Tai Chi is not found in the external postures, but rather the internal principles, energy, and Qi. Yang is the trigram Chien (heaven), yin is the trigram Kun (earth). Inhaling and retreating represents the principle of the reversal of yin and yang. If we allow the fire (Li) to rise, and the water (kan) to descend, the two will separate. If, however we put the fire under the water, then their positions have reversed. This is called the principle of water and fire complementing each other, or principle of reversal”- Yang Cheng Fu from Self Defense Applications of Tai Chi Chuan [Tai Chi chuan shih-yung fa]

Neigong ‘internal skill’ is the more classic term for internal driven concentration methods inside the body. Qigong is a more modern term that takes from Neigong, but is more external driven in terms of movement and breathing. In Taoism, the ultimate is the generation of Neidan, or the Elixir of life and essence into true nature of self and universe, return to Wuji and eternal Tao.

China has a long 4000+ year history.  There was continual evolution in the areas in  medicine, physical culture, religion, and philosophy, art, politics, and martial arts throughout this historical timeline. The ancients already had terms like Dao yin (breath and movement), Du na (exhale-inhale breathing methods),  Xingqi (Promoting and conducting qi),  Fuqi (Taking qi),  Shushu (breath-counting),  Zuochan (sitting meditation), Shi Qi (living on qi),  Jingzuo (sitting still), Nei qi (internal qi), and Wei qi (external qi). The Taoists, had Five Sacred Mountains where they studied the Tao. Mao Shan, the Jade capital sect was where astrology and sorcery were studied, Lungmen and Huashan, the heavenly pillar sect were the center of asceticism, Wudangshan, the Pole star sect was concentrated on military arts and exorcism, Lunghushan, the Jade prefecture, was the priestly sect, and lastly the Lushan, the Spirit Cloud sect were the Buddhist influenced Taoists. At these places Taoists’ studied to unify and harmonize with Taoist trinity of heaven, self (within humanity), and earth.

The Ancient’s described 4 times of day that were best to absorb Qi. Zi, wu, mao, yu are what were mentioned. Many cultures practice during these times. What are they: Midnight (Zi: 11pm to 1am), midday (Wu: 11am to 1pm), sunrise (Mao: 5am to 7am), and sunset (Yu: 5pm to 7pm). Some masters talk about facing the sun while practice or face North or other directions. Full moon and New moon meditations are mentioned and also during the 24 nodes of the year on the farmer’s almanac.

Neigong requires training in qigong (energy cultivation), yi gong (focus training), shen gong (spiritual mind training) to create the Neidan (elixir). It is important to understand the importance of weigong (physical health) as well to support neigong.

The nexus of it all is understanding the “3 treasures” which are Shen, Qi, and Jing. Shen is the “mind, consciousness, or spirit”. Qi is the “vital force” that maintains the health of the internal organs. Jing or “Essence” is the hormones that supports the body, muscles, bones, blood, and more.

When it comes to learning neigong, qigong, and meditation, it is important to proceed with caution, have an expert teacher who has obtain all levels clearly, and conducts retreats regularly. 

Yang Jianhuo and Tian Zhaolin

Yang family member, Tian Zhaolin was reported to get some neigong from Yang Jianhou, however it is disputed that the movement exercise of the Yang Baduanjin is not actually a super secret neigong, but rather and entry level training called “Taiji Quan’s Beginning Method for Invigorating the Body & Moving the Energy” to help students corrdinate breathing and movement. Yang Banhou was known for his Heng-ha reverese breathing method. The Yang Baduanjin uses this method.

Damon’s version of the Yang Baduanjin nicknamed Lotus Qigong

Another master Cai Songfeng wrote in Tai Chi magazine that “wuji standing” was the real secret of the Yang family. Story goes, on the death bed, Yang Jianhou commanded Yang Chengfu to do increase wuji standing and so after, Yang Chengfu’s Taijiquan improved when including that method along with his partner training.

Standing in Wuji (36 breaths before starting form. -Xu Yusheng)

Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan method of Zhang Qilin, a Yang family disciple is a big influence. Zhang learned from the Taoist Jin shan Pai “Gold mountain sect”.  Wang-Yien-nien, student of Zhang emphasised neigong to his students. More info here: Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan.

Yang Chengfu and Zhang Qilin
24 stems/nodes aka Jieqi times, special training times for neigong
Full and new moon times for neigong

Jin shan pai is an offshoot of Longmen pai (Dragon Gate sect) through Xie Shujia who left the Longmen pai “Complete Perfection” school (Quanzhen). Zhao Bichen (Chao Pi Ch’en) was a practitioner of Jin shan pai and head of the ‘Thousand peaks’ sect. Zhao Bichen influenced Sun Xikun the great Baguazhang teacher who wrote some of the methods in his Baguazhang book Bagua Quan Zhen Chuan (Genuine Transmission of Baguazhang 1934). However Zhao’s book Xing Ming Fajue Mingzhi (The Secrets of Cultivation of Essential Nature and Eternal life 1933) was translated by Charles Luk and thus the term “Taoist Yoga” was made popular in the 1970’s. A pdf copy of the Taoist Yoga book can be found here.

To deep dive into Longmen pai I recommend teacher Nathan Brine he is a student of Wang Liping. He has a online program and some free sample videos here: https://nathanbrine.com/blog/

With neigong, you have to be gentle with yourself and your mind’s intention called “Yi” as qi cannot be forced by intention.  Forcing the body to try to make qi will cause some burnout and make the liver and kidney stressed. Blockages, stagnation, and even reversal of the natural normal pathway of qi can occur. This is the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish. Do not get nervous about not being able to stop thoughts. Go with the flow. If thoughts cannot be stopped, just simply do not proceed until you feel ready to try again. Do not seek visions or use visualization. Use feeling; listen within in a casual way. Have pure intention and be morally pure rather than chasing after power, money, and acting in competition with others as these will only lead to more stress. We want to stop chasing the myriad 10,000 things and get back to Wu ji, the eternal, nameless Tao.

Turn mind towards Wuji and not the 10,000 things

Some pointers: The only way to find your Qi, is to be in the present moment and using your feeling. You cannot have a mind stuck in the past or thinking about the future.  Find a quiet place free of distractions. Simply sit in stillness, this helps calm the mind. Be aware of your body. Relax your shoulders, arms, wrist and hands. Hands on your lap or knees, chest relaxed, upper back slightly rounded, and tongue on roof of mouth. The nose naturally breathes and the belly expands on inhale and contracts on exhale, this lower diaphragm “dan tien” area is below belly button.  Most importantly, stillness is the key and relaxing in the sense of letting go physically, mentally, and emotionally will be critical. Release tension. 

Taijiquan and Neigong Share:

4 Body positionings to open the 3 gates:

Xu ling Ding jin: internal energy lifts head, and neck straight.

Chen Jian Zhui Zhou: Shoulders downs, elbows drop, naturally.

Han Xiong Ba Bei: sink chest, raise back.

Song Yao Zuo Kua: straighten the lower back, relax the tailbone, sacrum, and 3 lowest vertebrae to open ming men and allow Qi to move up through the passes. “Shen guan ding“.

Neigong areas used in alchemy

Cheng Man Ching and Zhang Qinlin- Danny Emerick research

Zhang Qilin (front center) and Cheng man Ching (behind)

At age 38 (1926) Zhang became a disciple of Yang Cheng-fu, but had studied with Yang Chien-huo as well. Yang Ch’eng-fu did teach him “secrets” (Yang Family Nei Kung) for Zhang besting Wan Lai-sheng in 1927 in a park in Peking.  Yang taught him these “secrets” for 33 days. In 1928 Zhang went to Taiyuan, Shanxi Province and met Zuo Laipeng of Jianshan pai (Gold mountain Daoist sect). Zhang studied with Zuo for 2 years, then also moved south to the Shanghai area in 1930. He went back north in 1935 to continue studying with Zuo. In late 1935, at the request of Yang Cheng-fu, Zhang Qinlin came to Shanghai to teach “T’ai-chi Nei Kung” to several of Yang’s students. (There is a list of a few names of those who studied with Zhang, and Prof. Cheng was one of them). Zhang had learned Nei Kung directly from Yang Ch’eng-fu in 1926 in Beijing, and later he studied Taoist Nei Kung from Zuo Laipeng from 1928-1930 at a temple near Taiyuan, Shanxi Province. What Zhang learned from Zuo Laipeng, he taught to those students of Yang Cheng- fu (Sadly, Yang was quite ill at this time, otherwise he would have taught these students himself, and in fact, he would pass away in early 1936).

Cheng Man-ch’ing studied with Zhang in 1935. Wang Yen-nien (also well known in Taiwan) studied with Zhang from 1945 to 1949 in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, and Zhang Baozhong…is Zhang Qinlin’s grandson.

Prof. Cheng also practiced t’ui shou with Zhang then, but mentioned him as a senior classmate and not as his “T’ai-chi teacher”, but he always acknowledged Zhang as his Nei Kung teacher.


“Yang Taiji is One Family : Across the Straits” by Prof. Qu Shijing (“楊氏太極 兩岸一家” 瞿世鏡),

and material from “The Biography of Zhang Yaoxi” by Ye Dami (“張耀西傳“ 葉大密).

Cheng Man-Ching in his own words from his various writings:

In his 13 chapters on Tai Chi Chuan book, Cheng discusses the Ren and Du mai vessels with the Du being connected to the spine and kidneys while the Ren mai is connected with the heart and shen/mind. Heart is fire element and Kidney is water element.

He makes emphasis to secure the chi in the dan tien and this will take time and not force it. Once Chi is accumulated it will reach the wei lu point at tailbone – ascend to the “Chia Chi/jieqi” back bones transverse the yu-chen (nape of neck) and eventually up to Bai hui at crown of head from which it will descend back down to the dan tien. this is the Du and Ren connection and harmonizing of heart and kidney.

He mentions 2 cannot:

1. Neigong cannot be done in a short amount of time. (daily with no missed days for years, 2x a day 30 minutes minimum, zi, wu, mao , yu (midnight, mid-day, sunrise, sunset) times best- matt)

2. It cannot be done with force.

He does also talk about uprightness of spine “like a string of pearls” as this is important for opening the 3 gates using the 4 postures and ultimately prolonging life.

Image from 13 chapters on Tai Chi chuan by Cheng Man-ching

Cheng Man Ching on Meditation (Advanced instructions book)

Here professor Cheng makes it clear:

1. It can take up to a month of diligent practice to  get the warm chi sensation in dan tien.

2. May take 2 months for the chi to move up the spine to waist in the kidney/mingmen region.

3. Eventually it will reach the shoulders and crown of head.

Prof. Cheng talks on the importance of deep breathing for blood circulation and tranquility of mind.

He gives advice for sitting in a chair, cross legged, the hand positions, and lying down. He continued to  mention Du Na as exhale first to expel stale air before inhale 3 to 5 times.  As well as the position of mouth, tongue (on roof of mouth), and eyelids like curtains. Breath, he says, should be from abdomen with no sound and deep, long, fine, even, and slow.

His prescription to students: Should be done at rising and before sleep at least 20-30 minutes. Eliminate random thoughts, find stillness with breath counting. 1 Breath = inhale and exhale.

Mind stays secure in low dan tien, (this cannot be emphasized enough.)

Close practice with some breaths out the mouth to dissipate excess heat generated.

Swallowing Saliva is also mentioned.

Cheng Man Ching and translator Ed Young

The Master Tapes: Ed translates Cheng Man-Ching: Depends on this connection (touching back of head and top of head) it is only after it passes this pass, then  it goes to the top. This is one of the last passes. Once it passes there, once  it reaches the top it passes down. Coming down is very easy. This qi when going up is very difficult. Coming down is easy. First the qi comes through , then everything else will go (moves hand in circles showing circulation of orbit). This is when we talk about Tai chi chuan today, is the deepest, highest from of Tai Chi, when it reaches the ultimate, it reaches here (touches top of head) then from that point on, a person can use any part of body, when mind is at a certain place the  qi just follows. Because throughout the whole body the qi just travels (making circular hand gestures) so when one finger starts moving, the whole body qi just follows.”

Video here: https://youtu.be/r0tLYajHBm8

Chinese Boxing Masters and Methods: some context on the 3 levels: Man, Earth, Heaven before we start…

1. Man: Chi circulation.

A. Relaxed tendons enables the chi goes from shoulders to fingers

B. Relaxed tendons enables chi goes from hips to sole of foot

C. Relaxed tendons enables Chi goes from coccyx to the top of head.

2. Earth: Chi penetrates the bones

A. Chi sinks to the Tan tien

B. Mind can move Chi focuses from 4 limbs to fingertips and soles

C. Mind moves qi from weilu to niwan

3. Heaven: interpreting Chi

A. Ting Jin: listening to energy of others.

B. Dong Jin: understanding energy of others

C. The summit, Yi relies on Shen to move body, divine speed, and harmony with others.

Chapter 4 on Cheng Man-Ching, p.40:

“Still Cheng went to Taiwan. There he wanted to advance from the first step of the third (Heaven) stage of skill. This required that he go into seclusion for intensive meditation. He began this regimen, but his family had required some aid, and he was forced to return to Taipei and mundane affairs. If it is true that Cheng when he came to Taiwan wanted to retire from society so that his art would ascend, this seems to imply that the art we have is incomplete, that it needs some supplementing with other forms of Taoist meditation.”


Cheng Tzu’s 13 chapters/treatise: #6 Heart and Spine. Ben Lo and Martin Inn translation

Cheng Man Ching’s Advance Tai chi instructions with selected writings on Meditation, I-Ching, Medicine, and the Arts. Douglas Wiles translation.

Master Tapes from Shur Jung school in New york city.

Chinese Boxing “Master and Methods” Robert W. Smith