The following is an excerpt from my new book, The Taoist Alchemy of Wang Liping, Vol. 1, out Feb. 12, 2020.
Pore breathing, ‘breathing’ with the pores of our skin, is quite possibly the most useful foundational technique Wang Liping teaches. We use it a lot, especially in the early days of internal alchemy (neidan) training. Before the alchemical work can be done we need to stabilize the furnace (anlu). In phase one of neidan practice the furnace is the physical body. Pore breathing energetically seals the body (xiu bulou) and builds foundation (zhuji). Pore breathing also begins working with yin and yang energy, and is the first kan and li practice we do in Dragon Gate alchemy.
Taoists see body pores as the boundary of the human universe with outside space. In the old days pore breathing was called Personal Universe Breathing (zishen yuzhou huxi). During most neidan sessions we need to set up the human universe, in effect designating an inside and an outside space. Pore breathing helps us do this. Although no air is actually going in and out of our body pores, something is happening. Qi will begin to move into and out of the physical body. The technique also allows us to focus clearly on our physical body, feeling the body subtly contracting and expanding with the breath. This not only feels great but also allows us to begin moving and working the whole body.
Pore breathing is a core technique for later neidan training. Practice it often. It takes time to figure out, so be patient, but keep in mind that you need not master it before moving on to other techniques.
There are different dimensions or aspects to pore breathing. Start with the first two. When you feel comfortable with the practice, start adding in other aspects. There is no need to do all aspects at the same time, especially number five: squeeze.
Six aspects of pore breathing:
- Focus: concentrate your yinian (intention/awareness) on the body pores
- Breath: breathe in, contract body pores inwards; breathe out, expand body pores outwards
- Move: let your body subtly move with your breath
- Suck: encourage a subtle sucking and releasing sensation
- Squeeze: contract and expand the physical body
- Split: intention on pores, awareness in space around body, anchor point in the body
Before starting pore breathing, focus your yinian on all of your body pores. The body scan you learnt earlier works well for this. Remember, the various breathing techniques mainly differ in terms of where you put your yinian. Air stills goes in your nose to your lungs, but for pore breathing, the focus is on your skin and external form.
To do pore breathing, contract and expand your body pores with your breathing. Pore breathing is reverse breathing. The guided instructions are:
- Breathe in, contract body pores inwards
- Breathe out, expand body pores outwards
Of course, you do not literally move each and every body pore. Rather, feel all of the surface of your skin contracting inwards and expanding outwards.
Allow the physical body to subtly move with your breathing. Your body will squeeze just a little on the inhale and relax on the exhale.
Body pore breathing is often accompanied by a subtle sucking and releasing sensation. It may feel as though your body pores are sucking in something when you breathe in and releasing it when you breathe out. This something is qi—Pre-Heaven Original Qi from the natural environment to be precise. As your pore breathing develops, you may find that you are able to bring qi deeper inside your body on the inhale and expand it farther outside your body on the exhale.
Note: do not do this aspect every time you do pore breathing. Just use it every once in a while.
Once you get the hang of pore breathing you can try working the body more physically. The body squeeze is not a subtle movement. When you contract, your physical body moves. See how tightly you can contract. Always end on the exhale however, allowing your whole body to release and relax downwards, sinking onto the sit bones. When you get this right, you will feel a nice rise and fall. Contract and rise with the inhale; expand and sink down with the exhale.
- Breathe in, contract whole body
- Breathe out, expand body, body relaxes, body sinks down
There are a number of applications for the body squeeze. The practice relaxes and releases tension from the body. It creates space inside. It also helps bring your yinian and shen (spirit) into the body. Perhaps most usefully, it fills and smoothly distributes jing and qi inside your body. When we get this practice right, the inside of your torso will feel full and alive.
Another more advance aspect of pore breathing is learning to split your yinian (intention/awareness). Put some focus on the pores moving in and out with your breathing, while at the same time being aware of the space around your body, and finally anchoring your awareness inside your lower abdominal cavity. Splitting yinian is not easy, but with a little practice works wonders for our neidan practice.
Yinian means awareness and intention together. Yi is intention. Yi has direction and movement, and is the yang aspect of yinian. Nian is a passive field of awareness, and is the yin aspect of yinian. Put yi on pores where the movement happens, nian outside the body, and the anchor point inside the lower abdominal cavity. By splitting your yinian you will learn to more powerfully move qi into and out of your body.
- Breathe in, qi from all directions compress into whole body pores, and into lower abdominal cavity
- Breathe out, qi from lower abdominal cavity releases through body pores into surroundings.