Nei Gong, which can be translated as 'Internal Skill' is a process of internal change rather than a set of exercises, although to move through this process we do use static and moving exercises such as Qi Gong and Dao Yins which are our tools. The process has a number of stages, we start by working with the physical body to get it as healthy as possible, then we awaken the energy body and clear blockages and finally our consciousness to experience a true understanding of our real nature.
All physical training exercises should have Nei Gong principles within them, making internal arts such as Taijiquan internal, without which they are just a series of external movements.
Preparing the physical body by relaxing, aligning, lengthening the tendons, opening the joints and connecting the body.
Regulating and controlling the breath and the mind. Beginning conversion of Jing to Qi. Awakening the Energy body. Movement of Yang Qi. Internal Vibration. Conversion of Qi to Shen. Conversion of Shen to Dao.
If we practise sincerely and correctly, over time we will notice a number of changes to our bodies. Tensions are realised and we totally relax.
Our immune system gets stronger, the Guardian Qi layer or Wei Qi layer is strengthened which helps to protect the organs from external pathogens entering deep into the body causing illness.
Old injuries may start to fade, I have noticed this myself.
We become calmer and more centred, able to deal with stress better.
Our posture and alignments start to try and correct themselves, we may have been holding tension in a particular part of the body for years without realising it and when it shifts our posture can change to a more natural state.
The fascia which holds all our insides together and connects us together like a wet suit, starts to unstick allowing it to slide about as it should and strengthen our core.
Obviously this is a very basic explanation but according to Daoist philosophy, everything that exists came from emptiness or Wuji, or "without extremities", the point before the Big Bang, in Western science.
According to Yin Yang theory, to have movement you need stillness first and to have stillness we need movement. A spiralling force was born out of Wuji this was the catalyst for change and is called Taiji. Spirals exist everywhere in nature from the Milky Way to plants to inside our bodies and through the concept of the Macrocosm (outer) and Microcosm (inner) Daoism explains this.
From this spiralling movement came Yin and Yang, the two extremes, when the spiralling force interacts with Yin and Yang everything in existence is born, or to put it another way, black and white came first then all the shades of grey were created in between.
Then came something called the Wu Xing or the "Five Elemental Processes", a cycle of movement and direction on the energetic and physical realms was born such as what we see in the seasons or in our bodies through ageing, and the Daoist's called them Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. The word Hua or to transform is fundamental to good health, when there is no Hua, stagnation arises which can lead to disharmony and sickness.
Finally Heaven and Earth was created and all these energetic movements were manifested into physical reality. So everything in the physical world first came into being in the consciousness realm.
Acquired and Congenital are Daoist terms, Congenital Qi is the energy that we are born with given to us by our parents and when it's used up we die. Acquired Qi is gained from the food we eat and the air we breath and this tops up our Qi throughout our lives, unhealthy living can quickly diminish our Acquired Qi and we become in danger of using our Congenital.
As we open the sinew surface layers or the ‘riverbeds’ we then start opening the twelve primary meridians or the Acquired Pathways and then we progress to the deeper eight extra-ordinary meridians or the Congenital Pathways something that takes a lot of dedication to achieve.
When we are born we are connected to Heaven and Earth, our Dan Tien is awake and our Congenital meridians are open. As we grow older we are influenced more and more by the world and its negativity, our energy systems begin to switch over to the Acquired state of being and our Dan Tien slows down, we are now following the creation path of birth, illness and death or our "Ming". Our aim is to switch back to the Congenital state and reverse the process in ourselves.
The Nei Gong Process of Internal Change is a map to follow in order to return us to the source or Wuji. The Three Bodies of Man
A very important concept in Daoist thought is the Three Bodies of Man, they are:
The Physical body, the Energetic body and the Consciousness body.
Another important concept is Jing, Qi and Shen or the Three Treasures. Everything in the universe vibrates, and Jing Qi Shen is one vibration. Jing, is the denser and slowest vibration and closer to the physical realm although it is not actually physical matter, it is our essence or potential. Qi belongs to the energetic realm and body, it has a higher frequency. Shen has the highest frequency and belongs to the realm of Consciousness. Through our Nei Gong practise and especially Nei Dan which can take us even further, we can nurture and convert our Jing into Qi then eventually into Shen.
The Three Dan Tien or Elixir fields are areas of energy or information.
The first and largest is the lower Dan Tien and sits below the navel, this is our main entry point to awaken the Energy System. Generally, most people's lower Dan Tien's are turning slowly over a twenty-four hour period, we aim to increase that like a water wheel turning faster, allowing energy to move through our bodies and strengthen the conversion of Jing into Qi.
The middle Dan Tien sits in the centre of the chest and converts Qi into Shen or the energy of the Consciousness body.
The upper Dan Tien sits on the forehead between the eyes (the Third Eye) and here Shen is finally converted into the vibration of Dao.
For a far greater explanation on the subject see Laoshr Damo Mitchell's book entitled, 'A Comprehensive Guide to Daoist Nei Gong'.
Main image; China. Top left; Dragon head in Chinese temple. Top right; Temple Chin. Bottom; Daoist Creation Process and The Three Dan Tien.