Many years ago in the U.S., while walking one of the main streets through the heart of Berkeley, California, I stumbled across an unassuming store dedicated to Tao philosophy. Books galore, recordings, diagrams — along with various trinkets and tools — lined the walls. I wasn’t overly familiar with Taoism, but I was strongly drawn to the recorded tapes of bone breathing meditations. Since I was struggling mightily with insomnia, the tapes seemed like a godsend — promising nights of restful sleep and days filled with vitality. I adhered faithfully to the program for many months. Be it by coincidence or not, I enjoyed an exceptionally energetic (and well-rested) period in my life while utilizing this unusual practice.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, the tremendous potential of bone breathing had been demonstrated several years prior, when a middle-aged woman suffering from severe osteoporosis was dramatically healed by the method.
A Miracle in the Making
Mantak Chia is considered one of the foremost Taoist masters alive today. He has introduced many important Taoist teachings to the West — like Bone Marrow Nei Kung — and has made this wisdom accessible to the general public. In the early 1980’s, he had an American student in Los Angeles, California who was plagued with rapidly deteriorating bone mass from osteoporosis. Specialists in Western medicine tried everything within their arsenal, to no avail — and the disease continued to progress at an alarming rate. The prognosis was bleak: collapse of the spine, threatening the nervous system with paralysis or even death.
After enrolling in the bone breathing class taught by Chia, the student began a daily practice involving 3 hours of continuously “washing” her skeletal system, with what is referred to as the subtle breath in Taoism.
Within half a year, not only was the bone loss arrested, but it began to reverse. She gained an impressive 10% bone mass during the six month period. Her physicians were astounded. At the end of five years of diligent practice, she had replaced 100% of her bone mass without any symptoms of osteoporosis. This is just one instance of many where people have been miraculously healed by the method.
Basic Bone Breathing
“The ancient Taoists have left us the maxim that says that `The practice of the Tao begins with feeling’. Without feeling the practice may degenerate into being just a mental exercise unrelated to the bones. Bone breathing is not only for those repairing bones, … the Taoists developed these practices for opening the human potential to its maximum. One powerful effect of bone breathing sessions is the ability to calm the mind and arrest the current of internal talk which goes on constantly. It also brings a profound sense of relaxation and openness that aids in resolving muscular tension and stress.” ~ Healing Tao
Bone breathing (or marrow washing) is a profound, yet simple technique to strengthen the bones, reduce stress, encourage revitalizing sleep, fortify immunity, boost energy and overall heal the body. It can be practiced anytime and is easy to learn.
Beyond healing the bones, Taoist practitioners use the method as a means to absorb subtle energies — of the trees, rivers, sun, moon and stars — to maintain ultimate health and enjoy the ocean of calmness the technique inspires.
If you would like to experience this deep healing and relaxation for yourself, below is the fundamental practice. For a more comprehensive understanding, see: “Bone Marrow Nei Kung: Taoist Techniques for Rejuvenating the Blood and Bone” by Mantak Chia.
The Fundamental Practice
- To begin, bring yourself into a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. Fingers are stretched open and relaxed. Inhale through the nose and take several deep breaths. Imagine there is energy in your environment that can be felt subtly on the surface of your skin.
- Next, bring your attention to the tips of your fingers on your left hand. Feel the energy of your surroundings move through the skin and down into the bones — you should experience a sense of warmth/heaviness/tingling. Keep the breath rhythmic and deep. Continue to the draw energy into all the bones of the hand and upwards into the wrists, forearms, upper arm and shoulders — visualizing your bones are like a sponge absorbing energy from all around. Repeat with the right hand.
- Proceed by drawing energy into the scapulae, collarbone, sternum and ribs from both arms. Now, move your attention to your toes, moving energy up through both feet to the ankles, calves, knees, thighbones, pelvis and sacrum. You will then breath energy up the vertebra into the spinal column and skull. Lastly, breath energy into the whole body for a minimum of nine full breaths. Conclude by drawing all energy into the navel center and imagine “closing” it.
In addition to fortifying the skeleton, bone breathing increases the production of red and white blood cells, fosters sexual energy, stimulates the immune system and improves the flow of blood.
Healing Tao offers this final advice about the practice in “Bone Breathing: Strengthening your Bones”:
“Eventually it is possible to have the whole skeleton doing bone breathing, that is including the teeth. As practice develops try to breathe through the whole body at once, like a sponge.
If more specific knowledge of the bones is desired then it is advisable to work with a anatomical chart of the skeleton to guide the energy with more precision.”