History of Qigong: Bone Marrow Cleansing

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In the 6th Century AD, Bodidharma taught 3 different sets of qigong exercises to the monks at the Shaolin Temple:

1) The 18 Luohan Hands
2) Sinew Metamorphosis
3) Bone Marrow Cleansing

Bone Marrow Cleansing

This article will discuss the history, philosophy, and practice of the Classic of Bone Marrow Cleansing.  Click on the links above for information about the other two sets.

In romanized Chinese, the Classic of Bone Marrow Cleansing is written Xi Sui Jing  (洗髓经), which is pronounced as follows:

  • Xi (like the word “she”)
  • Sui (like the word “sway” )
  • Jing (rhymes with “ring”)

Unlike the other two qigong sets that Bodhidharma taught, there are no written records of the techniques for Bone Marrow Cleansing.  Some people think this means that the art has been lost.

What if the reason there are no drawings or descriptions of Bone Marrow Cleansing in the classics is because the art is formless?

We’ve seen this phenomenon before.  Many classics mention Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow, but it is never described or pictured.  For those who know it, the reason is clear — there’s nothing to draw.  And the description is already imbedded in the name!

If we apply the same theory to Bone Marrow Cleansing, then it all makes sense!  The art that Bodhidharma taught was more of a skill than a technique.  But what was that skill?

The Five Levels

Qigong masters have long known that Qi flows at five different levels:

1. The Skin
When you perform Lifting the Sky, you may feel like there are tiny insects crawling on your skin. This is the qi flowing at the skin level.

2. The Flesh
As the qi goes deeper, it flows along the flesh and the muscles. The Shaolin art called Golden Bridge has this effect, making your arms solid and powerful like iron.  Although you may or may not feel the energy in your muscles, your sparring partner certainly will.  Years ago, my classmates nicknamed me “Iron Arms” because I practiced a lot of Golden Bridge.  They said that my arms felt like iron when we sparred.  My qi was probably at the muscle level.

3. The Meridians
Then the qi flows through the 12 Primary and 8 Extraordinary Meridians.  These meridians, which are invisible, form a complex energy network through the body. The Small Universe Circulation and Big Universe Circulation bring qi to this level.

4. The Organs
From the meridians, the qi flows into the internal organs.  Certain exercises from the 18 Luohan Hands, like Separating Water and Nourishing Kidneys, bring qi to the organs.

5. The Bones and the Marrow
And finally, the qi flows to the deepest level — the bones and marrow (which also includes the nerves, according to Chinese medical theory).  The exercise Turning Head has this effect when practiced at an advanced level.

Bodhidharma’s Marrow

Records show that Bodhidharma also talked about 5 levels of attainment.   He told some of his disciples that they had attained the “skin” of his teaching, and others that they had attained the “flesh”.  Only to Hei Ke, his best disciple, did Bodhidharma say, “you have attained the  marrow.”

Is it a coincidence that Bodhidharma’s five levels of attainment correspond exactly to the five levels of Qi flow? Bodhidharma was a powerful qigong master as well as a Zen master.  It makes perfect sense that he was able to perceive the Qi flowing at the five levels levels.

Skills vs. Techniques


To understand Bone Marrow Cleansing, you have to understand the difference between skills and techniques.  Lifting the Sky is a technique.  But using this technique to send Qi to the skin is a skill.  The same technique can be used to generate a spontaneous flow of Qi through the body.  Different skills; same technique.

This explains why Bone Marrow Cleansing was thought to be lost — because most people can’t differentiate between skills and techniques.  If I tell the average person that I can use Carrying the Moon to induce a spontaneous energy flow, or cleanse my organs, or create an internal shower of cosmic energy, they won’t understand.  How can the same technique do 3 different things?

It’s not the technique.  In fact, I can do the same things using Lifting the Sky instead.  But I prefer to use Carrying the Moon because it facilitates the skill.  In other words, certain techniques make the skill more accessible.

Maybe an analogy will help.  Kicking a soccer ball in a certain way is a technique.  But scoring a goal requires skill.  Maybe you have a favorite technique for scoring a goal, but if you are skillful, you can use also use other kicks.  You can use also use your favorite kick to pass the ball to a teammate, or even to play another game, like Rugby.

Bone Marrow Cleansing

To direct chi to the different levels, we use selections from the 18 Luohan Hands.  Why not use Sinew Metamorphosis?  If you are skillful, then you can.  In fact, if you are very skillful, you need not use any techniques; you can just go straight to the skill.

But certain exercises from the 18 Luohan Hands are better, especially for students.  We’ll use the following techniques:

  1. The Skin Level – Lifting the Sky
  2. The Muscle Level – Lifting the Sky
  3. The Meridian Level – Pushing Mountains
  4. The Organ Level – Carrying the Moon
  5. The Bone Marrow Level – Turning Head

Actually, we can use other techniques too.  For example, depending on which organ we want to direct the Qi to, we might choose Separating Water, Nourishing Kidneys, or Plucking Stars.  Or we can use Carrying the Moon.  It depends on our skill level.

How do you direct the qi?  Easy. Learn from a great teacher. When you learn from a great teacher, these skills are not just demonstrated, they are transmitted.  Even if I described the steps in detail, it wouldn’t do you any good unless you already have the skill.  And if you already have the skill, then you don’t need my description.

Also, it’s unwise to start sending qi around the body unless you’ve spend a lot of time with Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow. Actually, one reason my students are able to grasp Bone Marrow Cleansing so easily is because they’ve spent years letting their Qi flow freely.  By doing this, they clear a ton of energy blockages.  They also learn to go deeper into the Zen mind, which is critical for success with arts like Bone Marrow Cleansing.

Bai Hui

Bai hui (百会) is an important energy point located at the top of the head.  In Chinese, the word bai (sounds like “bye”) means “hundred”, and hui  (rhymes with “way”) means “meetings”.  In Chinese classics, they often use the number 100 to signify “many”.  So this point is the meeting place of many meridians — specifically the 6 yang meridians.  Interestingly, it’s also a convergence of the cranial faults.

Before doing Bone Marrow Cleansing, remember to open bai bui using your Zen mind.  It is located at the intersection of a line drawn up from the nose, and a line drawn from ear to ear.  Don’t worry about getting the exact spot.  If you’ve been practicing regularly for some time, you should be able to feel this point pulsing with energy.

This is another reason students shouldn’t rush to practice Bone Marrow Cleansing.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about when I say, “open Bai Hui with your mind,” then you aren’t ready for this art.  Go back to basics, like Lifting the Sky and Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow.

Benefits of Bone Marrow Cleansing

Why practice Bone Marrow Cleansing?  It’s a good question.  Since students get such good results with the basics, why would they need more advanced techniques like this.

Using Bone Marrow Cleansing is a thematic approach to Qigong, as opposed to Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow, which is holistic.  In other words, Bone Marrow Cleansing moves the Qi according to certain areas, whereas Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow moves the Qi wherever it needs to go.

Of the two, the holistic approach is much, much more important. This is ironic because most Qigong schools focus on the thematic approach.  If you understand Chinese medical theory, then you know that it’s insufficient to simply direct Qi to an area that hurts.  The root of the problem may be in a totally different area.

For my students, the thematic approach is a useful compliment to the holistic approach.  It helps to “force” the Qi to areas where it is not yet flowing freely.  If you’re going to use only one approach, then definitely use the holistic one.  But if you have the opportunity to use both, then they compliment each other nicely.

For example, let’s say that you’ve been practicing the 18 Luohan Hands and Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow for 2 years.  You’ve gotten great results in many areas, but you still have some lingering health problems.  After seeing a master diagnostician like my wife, you find out that the root of the problem is in the Liver Meridian.

In this case, it makes sense to use the 4th Level of Bone Marrow Cleansing to direct Qi to the Liver.  But how often?  This is a good question.

Practicing Bone Marrow Cleansing

Don’t practice these techniques too often.  They are more powerful than you think.  You should treat them as if they are an acupuncture session — something that you get 1-3 times per week.

The rest of the time, you should be doing other exercises, like the 18 Luohan Hands, Sinew Metamorphosis, and of course Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow or the Five Animal Play.  In other words, keep your practice varied, but also balanced.

Whether or not the art is exactly what Bodhidharma taught doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that it is useful.  And it is.  Students practicing this art are able to improve upon already amazing results, making Flowing Zen even more powerful medicine than it already was.  It’s another tool in our already well-stocked tool box.

Drop me a comment below if you have something to say.  (Really, it’s that easy.)  Or if you haven’t already gotten your free ebooks and free lesson, then make sure to grab them here.  

Mindfully yours,
Sifu Anthony

I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world to use qigong for their own stubborn health issues. I teach online courses, and also lead in-person retreats and workshops.

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29 Responses to History of Qigong: Bone Marrow Cleansing

  1. Stephen September 27, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    Sifu Anthony,

    I cannot wait to learn this in Vegas! What are your personal experiences if you don’t mind sharing?

    • Sifu Anthony September 27, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

      I’ve had some amazing experiences, especially with the 5th Level. It’s incredibly powerful. When we did it in Costa Rica in February, I felt the Qi surging up and down my spine like I’ve never felt before. It was an amazing experience!

  2. Fred Chu September 28, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

    Though I’ve never learnt Bone Marrow Cleansing or Sinew Metamorphosis, I really appreciate these articles on Bodhidharma’s legacy!

  3. Vicky October 1, 2012 at 11:45 pm #

    Hi Sifu,
    I also really love this whole History of Qigong series. Bone Marrow Cleansing always sounded really interesting but I never really knew what it was.. I can’t wait for your book!

  4. Dave March 18, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

    Sifu – Can you recommend a book on the subject? Something that digs into the details? Thanks much!

    • Sifu Anthony March 19, 2013 at 8:16 am #

      Sorry Dave. Unfortunately, I don’t know any good books on the subject. All of my information comes from my teacher, and his information comes from Chinese books.

  5. Randall April 13, 2013 at 8:10 pm #

    I was exposed to some toxins, one of which is known to invade the marrow and cause possible health related issues (benzene). Does the use of Qigong Blood Marrow Cleanse benefit an individual such as myself and should I accompany this with acupuncture or lymphatic cleanse? I am on numerous herbs including dandelion root, milk thistle, rosemary, and burdock root plus an array of vitamins.

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais April 24, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

      Hi Randall. You don’t need Bone Marrow Cleansing in your situation. What you need is Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow. You can read about it via the link below. My upcoming book will teach this once-secret technique.


      Acupuncture and lymphatic draining would be a good compliment to Flowing Zen Qigong.

  6. Fiore July 9, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    Hello. I’m very happy to read all this! But I have a simple question to ask, and I don’t want to be intrusive at all!

    My question is this: Why don’t you describe the tecnique used in this advanced Qigong? I mean, you said that even if you tried to describe it, we wouldn’t understant it? I think I can grasp something there, I feel it!

    Thank you and I’m sorry if the question was a bit “intrusive” 🙂

    • Fiore July 9, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

      Sorry, bu I didn’t mean “describe the tecnique”; I did mean “discribe steps to steps the skill of “direct the Qi”. Thanks again

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais July 9, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

      Hi Fiore. I did describe the technique. It’s simple: Go learn from a master! 🙂

      • Fiore July 9, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

        Excuse me if I insist. You can ignore what I’m going to tell you, if you wish, but I have another question (excuse my English, anyway) 🙂

        I’m a beginner in Qigong. I’ve just started to practise Qigong. Well, I started with a 100-days course, till I found a book (Chi Kung: The Way of Power), where I try to stay in the posture as much as possible. Now I found something very interesting… your site.

        Actually I understood some key points which I really needed, then I sensed these key points within the practise. It’s something that you find by yourself alone.

        Now, to reach the Bone Marrow Cleansing Qigong technique, well, actually I don’t know if that would be possible without a master and I don’t want to be a “master of myself”, but I think that everyone of us has a Master inside (God).

        Anyway, I reached to the point, my question is this:

        Do you think one can reach the level of Bone Marrow Cleansing Qigong training without a master, if this person is smart and wise enough to understand the key points? If you can’t, why? What are the reasons why you can’t reach that level? Please, consider also what I said before my question, thanks

        • Fiore July 9, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

          ah sorry! I forgot to say that I don’t have any chance at all to find a master in my area, I live in South Italy. Where I live there’s no idea of what Qigong is. You are crazy for them, if they see you practising Qigong

          • Sifu Anthony Korahais July 9, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

            Hi Fiore. Masters are hard to find, whether it’s South Italy, or the South of China. But you’ve given up before even trying. There are several masters in Italy. But if you don’t search, you’ll never find them.

        • Sifu Anthony Korahais July 9, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

          Fiore — yes, I think that it’s possible reach the level of Bone Marrow Cleansing without a master. If you practice very hard, and if you get very lucky, you might be able to do it in 30 years (as opposed to 3-5 years with master).

          So even if you succeed, it will take you ten times as long as it would with a master. And of course, you may not even succeed.

          • Fiore July 10, 2013 at 5:57 am #

            I agree with you 100%. Thanks for the answer

  7. Alex McLeod August 1, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

    Great article.

    Out of curiosity, is the Organ level the same as what sifu taught during massaging internal organs?

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais August 2, 2013 at 9:56 am #

      Alex, yes and no. The skill is similar (sending Qi to the various organs), but with Bone Marrow Cleansing, we do all of the organs in one session. So it requires more skill. But personally, I really love doing all of the organs at once like this.

      • Alex McLeod August 3, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

        Wow. I tried it like you said, and that was awesome. Thanks!

  8. Marcos October 31, 2013 at 8:42 am #


    Thank you for sharing this useful information. It’s just what i need now.

    See you

  9. Stehen November 12, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    Hi. I happened to come across a casual friend who knows some practitioners already possess the technique of Xi Sui Jing which is different than yours. In brief, it is about strengthening the male’s private part. Xi Sui means bone marrow. It is like the stem cells full of life and energy. It comes from the testicles as I was told.

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais November 12, 2013 at 10:37 am #

      Hi Stehen (or is it Stephen?). That’s an unusual version of Xi Sui Jing. In Chinese medicine, the concept of Xi Sui, or Bone Marrow, relates to the nerves and the central nervous system. It has nothing to do with the testicles or stem cells.

  10. steve potter December 3, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    hi sifu,

    Do you know of any masters in the pacific northwest ? i live in Victoria,BC,on Vancouver island. I am really looking forward to your new online teaching but as you say there is no substitute for the qi transmision from a living master.

    many thanks

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais December 3, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

      Hi Steve. Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone. Definitely do some searching and see what you can find. In early 2014, you can try my online courses too. That will help you to get started, and to know what to look for.

      Or you can just come to Costa Rica. 🙂

  11. Raphael Castellano March 15, 2015 at 10:07 pm #

    Hello, I really enjoyed reading the information on your website, What I’d like to know is, if you knew of any masters located in my country which is in the caribbean The Republic of Trinidad & Tobago….
    there are a few people that hold tai chi classes and stuff but a lot of them aren’t actual masters and I’d very much like to learn Shaolin kung fu, Thank you.

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais March 19, 2015 at 12:08 pm #

      Hi Raphael. I don’t know of ay masters in your area. But in the near future, I will offer online courses. Are you on my email list?

  12. Tony November 29, 2015 at 8:07 pm #

    Wow! I never knew turning head helped at the bone marrow level. It is one of my favorite qi gong exercises. Is the exercise equivalent to bone marrow brain washing from an external sense or the ‘technique’ but not the skill?

  13. Barry Shane Wright June 20, 2017 at 3:12 am #

    Hi Sifu Anthony, I teach bone/marrow washing Qi-Gong, I teach 2 levels of the Nei-Qi Technique (at level 6-7) but only after my students have learned first 5 levels of (small Qi Circulation) level 6 and 7 requires (Grand Qi Circulation) Traditional Taoist internal Nei Qi circulation combined with the skill of Internal cauldron (ding) circle walking was the method taught to me by my Taoist grandmaster who was from the Celestial Masters branch of Taoism in (Taiwan). But I teach way down under as in (Western Australia).

    Taoistmaster: Barry Shane Wright.

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