The Six Healing Sounds (also called Liuzijue, or 六字诀 in Chinese) is a breathing technique devised by the ancient Chinese to improve health and promote healing and longevity. The earliest record of the breathing technique is believed to appear during the Southern and Northern Dynasties written by Tao Hongjing (陶弘景), a well-known Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor, Taoist, alchemist as well as astrologer who lived from AD 456 to 536. (Incidentally, he also played a crucial role in the discovery and identification of “Chinese snow” (potassium nitrate) by being the first person on record to describe the unique lilac-colored flame produced when the mineral is burned.)
Over the centuries, the Six Healing Sounds (SHS) went through a number of development and modification by various prominent TCM doctors, Taoists, monks and ascetics such as Sun Simiao (孙思邈), also known as China’s King of Medicine, and Zhiyi (智顗大师), the founder of the Tian Tai school of Buddhism. However, due to a lack of a standard way to transcribe the sound of Chinese characters in the past, much confusions about the pronunciation of some words arise. So the Chinese Administration of Sport of China decided to gather existing records of SHS, compare them and study the differences with the help of Chinese linguistics experts. In 2003, a revised version of SHS is released, and it is now promoted as a health-promoting Qigong practice (健身气功) in China. The SHS you see in this article is based on this version.
How the Six Healing Sounds Work
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the five major organs* — heart, liver, spleen, lung and kidney — are each assigned an element (fire, earth, metal, water or wood). Every organ also has an associated sound in which the organ resonates with. By using the associated sound, stale, congested qi can be expelled from the affected organ and be replaced with fresh, clear qi.
When qi gets congested or blocked due to inappropriate diet, poor lifestyle habits, repressed emotions and/or weak constitution, it becomes congested and turns into a cause of pain, discomfort or illness. Depending on where the qi gets stuck, symptoms vary. If it gets stuck in the spleen, the stale qi may manifest as bloating, abdominal pain, gas, and/or poor digestion. If it is in the liver, then it might be felt as pain in the lower right rib cage, quick temper, or liver/gallbladder dysfunction. If it gets trapped in the head, then it could lead to headache or illusion. According to TCM theories, badly congested qi can also lead to stagnated blood and blood clots.
The Six Healing Sounds practice helps to move congested qi and allow the body to get rid of it by creating different internal vibrations and pressures within different parts of the body through the inhaling and exhaling of air. In other words, when you make the six healing sounds, you are giving the internal organs a good massage to expel stale qi.
Let us now look at what the six healing sounds are:
Sound: Xū (嘘)
Associated Organ: Liver
Associated Element: Wood
Associated Season: Spring
Sound: Hē (呵)
Associated Organ: Heart
Associated Element: Fire
Associated Season: Summer
Sound: Hū (呼)
Associated Organ: Spleen
Associated Element: Earth
Associated Season: All Seasons
Sound: Sī (呬)
Associated Organ: Lung
Associated Element: Metal
Associated Season: Autumn
Sound: Chuī (吹)
Associated Organ: Kidney
Associated Element: Water
Associated Season: Winter
Sound: Xī (嘻)
Associated Organ: Triple Energizer* / Gallbladder
Associated Element: Wood
Associated Season: All Seasons
Watch the Video of Six Healing sounds and moves
How to Use the Six Healing Sounds
There are several ways to use the Six Healing Sounds, and its usage largely depends on your current state of health:
For health maintenance, practice the six healing sounds in the order as given above, that is:
Xū (Wood) → Hē (Fire) → Hū (Earth) → Sī (Metal) → Chuī (Water) → Xī (Wood). This order is based on the mutual generation of the five elements (五行相生). Alternatively, if you are short of time, you can practice just the sound that is associated with the current season. For example, if it is winter, practice the sound, Chuī, to strengthen the kidney system. Note that the last sound, Xī, can be practiced all year round to support the triple energizer.
To promote healing, practice the six healing sounds in the following order:
Hē (Fire) → Sī (Metal) → Xū (Wood) → Hū (Earth) → Chuī (Water) → Xī (Wood). This order is based on the mutual overcoming of the five elements (五行相剋).Alternatively, if a specific part of your body requires special attention, you can practice only the healing sound associated with that organ. But as the organs referred to in TCM are not quite the same as the anatomical organs we are familiar with, you may need to consult a TCM practitioner to give you an accurate diagnosis of the organ(s) you should focus on.
Regardless of whether you are practicing all six healing sounds or only one of them, always breathe in slowly through your nose and breathe out evenly from your mouth. Repeat each sound six times, and practice the sequence (be it one sound or six sounds) preferably three times a day.
The early version of the Six Healing Sounds was merely a breathing technique that did not include any movements. But as it evolved through the years, movements were added to aid in the flow of qi and to better expel stale qi out of the body.
Now, each sound has a set of assisting moves that are gentle and easy to learn for young and old alike. The moves are illustrated in the video below starting from 14m:30s. The six sets of movements are preceded by opening moves called Qi Shi(起势) to activate the qi, and end with finishing moves called Shou Shi (收势) to guide qi back to the lower Dan Tian (丹田; an area close to the navel where life force is gathered and stored). Throughout all the movements, keep yourself calm and composed and your movements fluid, controlled and coordinated with your breathing and the healing sounds.
But unfortunately the video is spoken in Mandarin without any subtitles, so non-Chinese speakers may find it hard to follow. If you have difficulties understanding the video, you can still practice the six healing sounds as a breathing exercise without any movements.
Should You Say Out Loud?
The general guideline is, beginners should say each healing sound out loud. That means, audible sound should be produced when you are practicing each word. This will help you to get the right pronunciation, prevent the holding of breath and familiarize you with flow of qi that each sound makes within the body.
As you become more familiar with the different vibrations made by each sound, whether or not an audible sound is made becomes less important. The importance, after all, is not the sound itself, but how it is produced. At this stage, if you find that little or no sound is made during your practice, it is perfectly all right.
With this, I hope you will enjoy your practice!
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Note:* Though they are called organs, the five “organs” referred to in TCM are not entirely the same as those we see in X-ray films or MRI scans. Instead, they refer more to the five major bodily functions which are: heart, liver, spleen, lung and kidney. For a more detailed discussion on TCM, check out this introductory article on Wikipedia, or better still grab a book on TCM fundamentals from your nearest library.