This Qigong consists of 12 relatively intense exercises that strengthen the entire body, promoting flexibility, balance and coordination as well as strength, speed and stamina. Many Qigong instructors claim that this is perhaps the most effective of all Qigongs for dealing with neck pain associated with a wide variety of problems in the cervical section of the spine.
Yi Jin Jing is now regarded as an essential Qigong practice in Shaolin Kung Fu, and is a fundamental part of the physical conditioning regime used by these warrior-monks. When practised regularly, it develops tremendous internal force as well as fast reflexes, mental clarity and great courage.
Yi translates literally as ‘Change’, Jin signifies ‘Muscles and Tendons’, but also refers to the entire physical system, including the bones, organs, skin and the subtle energy body with its meridians, and Jing literally means ‘Classic’, as in ‘Classic Method’. So Yi Jin Jing is most accurately translated as ‘Classic Method for Transforming the Muscles and Tendons’.
There are different accounts with regard to the origins of Yi Jin Jing. One that has long been popular claims that a manuscript containing these exercises was left behind at a Shaolin monastery in approximately the 6th century by Bodhidharma – believed by some to have been a former South Indian prince who had achieved enlightenment and renounced royal life to become a monk.
Bodhidharma is regarded as the first patriarch of Chinese Chan (Zen) Buddhism, and is credited with pioneering the physical training of the Shaolin Temple monks which led to the creation of Shaolin Kung Fu.
It is said that, disturbed by the poor physical shape of the monks, Bodhidharma instructed them in techniques to maintain their physical condition and also taught them meditation. The story goes that he taught the monks an internal practice called The Sinew Metamorphosis Classic, and that after his departure two manuscripts in the Indian language, written by Bodhidharma, were discovered inside the temple, one of them being the Yi Jin Jing.
This very popular account of the early origins of this system of training has now been discredited and it seems likely that the creation of this Qigong form was considerably more recent. According to Ryuchi Matsuda (1938–2013), the respected Japanese author of A Historical Outline of Chinese Martial Arts, the earliest surviving edition of the Yi Jin Jing was dated to 1827. More importantly, during the course of his research, Matsuda discovered that prior to the 19th century there is no mention of – let alone attribution to – Bodhidharma in any of the numerous texts written about the Shaolin martial arts.
The movements of Yi Jin Jing, precisely coordinated with breathing, involve multi-directional and wide-ranging motions of maximum extension, where the muscles are infused with dynamic tension which stimulates the spinal nerves, thereby relieving pain and other symptoms associated with back injury. In addition, Yi Jin Jing helps to establish and maintain a smooth circulation of Qi in the primary channels and the internal organs, thereby slowing down the ageing and degeneration processes of the physical body.
By unifying intention, strength and consciousness with muscular force, Yi Jin Jing frees the mind of thoughts and calms the spirit, allowing the life force to flow freely.
Because of its incredibly powerful effects on health and wellbeing, this Qigong is widely used in China in sanatoriums and hospitals.
It is of interest to note that the first and last Chinese characters of Yi Jin Jing are the same Chinese characters used for ‘Yi Jing’ – often spelt as ‘I Ching’ in English – also called the ‘Book of Changes’.