Inhale As If Smelling Incense

I was very fortunate to come to Master Yu Hongkun's (於鴻坤) Hainan Kung Fu Center recently and learned a set of ancient exercises of Xingyi Quan (形意拳). After a few days of practice, both my body and spirit have undergone significant changes, and marveled at the wonders of ancient Kung Fu. After I came back, there is a phrase taught by Master Yu is still imprinted in my mind. That is, Inhale as if smelling incense (吸氣如聞香). As you may know that breathing is a crucial element in the practice of Kung Fu, but what's the relationship between Kung Fu and incense?

This is a very interesting topic, to clarify this issue, it's necessary to explain what Kung Fu or Xingyi Quan is. The history of Kung Fu may date back to the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD) when the legendary doctor Hua Tuo (華佗) created the Five Animal Frolics (五禽戲). By imitating the movements of five animals, it could regulate the body's meridians, alleviate illness, and thus prolong life. Hua Tuo said, I have an exercise, known as the Five Animal Frolics, to imitates the tiger, deer, bear, ape, and bird. It not only eliminates illnesses but also strengthens the body. If you feel unwell, performing one of the animal movements will induce a pleasant sweat. Afterwards, the body feels relaxed, and the appetite is greatly increased too. (華佗曰: 吾有一術,為五禽之戲,一曰虎,二曰鹿,三曰熊,四曰猿,五曰鳥,亦以除疾,兼利蹄足,以當導引,體有不快,起作一禽之戲,怡然汗出,因以著粉,身體輕便而欲食。)

This is the first function of Kung Fu, to keep the various channels of the body flowing smoothly without obstruction. From this aspect, incense has excellent effects too. Many types of incense have the ability to open the channels, and promoting the circulation of Qi and blood. If you have experienced our Samadhi or Smiling Orchid before, you could feel how it enter specific meridians and facilitate the flow of Qi.

Another important role of Kung Fu is the practice of Qi. Some people also refer to it as internal Kung Fu (Neijia, 內家拳) or Qigong (氣功). This involves its extremely valuable aspect: how to accumulate Qi and make it stronger. In Taoism, the Qi is divided into two types: the prenatal Qi (先天之氣) and the postnatal Qi (後天之氣). Prenatal Qi is born with, and it is the most fundamental life force. While the postnatal Qi can be acquired from our daily foods to ensure the healthy operation of our body and internal organs. For most people, the prenatal Qi is continuously depleted from birth and cannot be increased. However, through special exercises methods, it can be restored.

If we understand this principle, we can go back to the breathing method mentioned by Master Yu - Inhale as if smelling incense. In Kung Fu, smelling incense is not through the nose, but through Dantian (丹田). As we often say, sink your Qi to the Dantian (氣沈丹田). Many Kung Fu or Taoist exercises require breathing through the Dantian as a basic principle, actually we humans do not breathe through our lungs from the beginning. For example, when we were still in our mother's womb, our body indeed breathe through Dantian, which is also called embryonic breathing (胎息).

This kind of embryonic breath is different from our ordinary breathing. What we inhale is Qi or energy, not simple oxygen or carbon dioxide in the air. But how can we breathe through the Dantian? As Master Yu taught, we need to sigh first, exhale like a sigh (呼氣如嘆息), expelling all the dirty air in the body. After that, we can focus on the Dantian area, then inhale deeply and slowly. Since calm our minds, we can feel the Qi passing through the mouth, nose, and pores of the skin all over the body, gathering at Dantian.

Whether we are practicing Kung Fu or smelling incense, if we inhale in this way, the energy or Qi accumulated in the incense can truly be absorbed by our body.

For example, the agarwood, which absorbs energy over hundreds or even thousands of years from nature, definitely it is a truly high grade source of Qi. But if we just inhale in normal ways, we can only smell the fragrance on the surface level, cannot truly absorb the Qi it contains.

Both Kung Fu and incense, the philosophy behind is the same, that is, everything in the world, including humans, consists of two parts, the visible material part, and the invisible Qi or energy part, we need both at the same time. When you practice Kung Fu or appreciate incense with this wisdom, you will discover a more wonderful world.


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