Steel Bar Wrapped in Cotton

Poet Linda Addison recently thanked me for introducing her to Bone Breathing. Years ago she was diagnosed with osteopenia, a condition where bone mineral density is lower than normal. It is sometimes a precursor to osteoporosis. a serious loss of bone mass that makes bones highly susceptible to breakage. She credits Bone Breathing and taijiquan with a correction of her her current state of good bone health. She is not alone. May others have experienced profound improvement in bone density.

One of the promises of taijiquan is to develop bones that are like “steel bars wrapped in cotton.” Muscular tension is relaxed so that the qi can penetrate to the marrow of the bones. The bones become dense, hard, and ALIVE.

Maria shows peng jin

Maria shows peng jin

When we are young, bone marrow is red. Red marrow produces red blood cells, white blood cells, lymphocytes, and platelets. As we age, fatty deposits accumulate and turn it yellow. This inhibits qi flow and begins the deterioration of the body. Bone Breathing is a directed approach to energize the marrow by consciously bringing fresh qi to that area.

I learned the basics of Bone Breathing from Mantak Chia’s Bone Marrow Nei Kung about 25 years ago and adapted a simple version to my practice. The Fractal Enlightenment website gives a very good summary of the practice, and includes links to Mantak Chia demonstrating it.

Here is my explanation, using language I have developed:

  • Begin by extending the fingers (particularly the index fingers) to heighten coherence and tensegrity.  This will greatly increase the circulation of qi. Imagine sucking in Nature Qi through the fingertips (like little vacuum cleaners in your fingertips) and spiraling the qi around the bones in your fingers and arms up to your shoulders. It may help to visualize the energy as a pure white mist.
  • Hold your breath and feel the qi between the muscles and bones. It may help to gently contract the muscles in your arms just enough to generate a piezoelectric (“pressure electricity) charge. Any muscular contraction generates such a charge, which attracts the bone-building cells (osteoblasts) and deposits minerals on the stress side of the bone. (This is why resistance exercise is helpful in maintaining bone density.) The piezoelectric charge will help you to eventually recognize an even more insubstantial energy which you gather between muscles and bones. This is traditionally called “packing,” but I prefer the less forceful term and action, “gather.”
  • Lead the energy through the pores of the bones into the bone marrow. Begin by using muscular contraction to generate that piezoelectric charge to draw the energy in. Visualize that white mist energizing, cleansing, and revitalizing your bone marrow, transforming that tired old fatty yellow tissue into a vibrant red. Alternatively, I prefer to lead the qi into the marrow by intention rather than squeezing with muscles. I do that by visualizing space in the marrow, which draws the qi in to fill it.
  • As you exhale, imagine that you are discharging a gray mist out your fingertips that carries all the stale qi with it.
  • Repeat three times or more.
Bone Marrow Nei Kung

Bone Marrow Nei Kung

(Diagram from the internet. I believe it was from Mantak Chia’s Bone Marrow Nei Kung.)


Your arms and hands should tingle with vitality. After you get the hang of it with your arms, repeat the same process with your feet and legs. Suck in the white mist through your toes and fill the marrow in your legs up to your hips. Do that three times. When you are ready to take it further, do both hands and feet simultaneously and circulate the qi through all the bones in your body.

Remember the maxim: The yi (wisdom mind) leads the qi. The qi leads the blood. That is, the energy follows your attention, and circulation follows the energy. Just by heightening your awareness of your bones, you will strengthen them. That process is greatly enhanced by consciously Bone Breathing.

Don’t wait until your bones become fragile to do something about it. Bone Breathing is so quick and easy…and effective.

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