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A collection of notes on the topics of classical Chinese, medicine, and traditional culture.

This blog is a collection of ruminations, translations, and personal opinions by Sabine and some guest authors. Reflecting my own personality, some posts are academic, some clinical, and some personal, some are excerpts from existing books and some may become part of future books. Please leave comments with feedback, questions, constructive criticism, and differences of opinion as long as you argue your reasons for disagreement logically. Any personal attacks, uncivil remarks, or self-promoting comments will be deleted.

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More on the Liu He 六合: Guest Post by Daniel Skyle

Some thoughts on the liu he in Daoist practice, in the Internal Martial Arts, in clinic, and in life

 by Daniel Skyle


It was very interesting to read the translation from the Neijing and then the comment on the idea of liu he on Sabine Wilms´s website. When I read it, I realized how much the concept of liu he has percolated through my life. It has taken its place very firmly both in my practical training and in clinic, and, by extension, in how I always try to share it with my patients to help them.

In the neijiaquan – the Internal Martial Arts (IMA) – and in Daoist practice, liu he is a core concept. This then later evolved into skills that are put into clinic, both for our own health and to increase the effect of our treatments.

In this context liu he is often translated into English as ”the six harmonies”. In the IMA, these are three external harmonies and three internal harmonies (waisanhe and neisanhe) which are practiced again and again and again, until they are finally hardwired into the person´s very existence.


The Three External Harmonies – harumphing at the orchestra

The three external harmonies are that there should be both links and smooth connections between 1) hands and feet, 2) knees and elbows, and 3) hips and shoulders. These are slowly connected up, like weaving a piece of cloth, and trained to move more and more in synch.

First, the hands always move together with the feet, which is the beginner´s early steps. Then, slowly, connections are made through the fascia and energy-system in specific ways to connect them up both physically and using yi, intent and mind.

Over decades, these steps go in cycles, and eventually become millimeter perfect, all one garment with perfect cut.

(And the character for channels is jing: warp. Jingmi is warp density, ends per inch. The same character as channels also means a Classic, one of the major texts, a jing as in Daodejing, Neijing, Nanjing; they are part of the very fabric of society.)

 Step by step the Six Harmonies are stabilized and worked with, only going on to the others after longer periods of time. The practice has to be relaxed and comfortable for the mind; just adding connections past the mind´s ability to deal with them well will only produce a sound like a monkey hitting piano-keys.

As time and practice goes on, the other connections are brought to life and woken up, like a philharmonic orchestra where the different instruments were sleeping but now the conductor is harumphing in front of them, by turns saying gentle things – sending out coffee to the cellist, ordering a croissant for the tambourine – and by turns talking through gritted teeth and yelling at the tuba.

The three external harmonies are always part of one´s practice, always part of life, just as playing scales and training pieces are always there for a musician. They weave our physical existence to a coherent whole. They are the frame that smooths out the cloth canvas where we paint pictures filled with Turner´s love for light.


The Three Internal Harmonies – stepping inside and talking to the flutist

The three internal harmonies are shen, yi and qi.

Here we are crossing the bridge towards meditation in the practice. Shen – our conscious awareness, covering both parts of our mind, emotions, thoughts, and the way we perceive reality. Yi – the trained skill of intent, like a painter´s brush-strokes which aren´t the painter, but are highly trained and ever more specific. And the final link from them to our physical body, qi, which is also the link to the three external harmonies.

Piece by piece, the three internal harmonies are trained too, in many different techniques both in the practice, the clinic, and in everyday life.

After that step, the internal harmonies are woven together with the three external harmonies to become one whole, one concert played by the entire orchestra.

The whole was there all the time, underneath, it just had to be woken up and woven together again. (...and the burly flutist had to have a quiet little talk with the conductor to help him calm down and start smiling again.)


Weaving together to become whole, and the meaning of hale 

In Daoist practice, this concept of weaving together to a whole is ever present. It comes both in physical practices and in the meditation-work.

We see it echoed in the phrase zhenren, one level of Daoist training that means a Real Person, someone who has done specific energy-work to a specific level of wholeness.

Here in the West, this is echoed in the old root to the word heal: hale, whole. A genuine healer – be it a health-care professional or just someone with that natural skill when they talk to others – a genuine healer helps other beings to become more whole.


Upright and honest and aligned: the Neiye and letting our life become zheng

In one of the earliest Daoist texts we have, the Neiye, the Classic of Internal Training, we find the liu he in another guise: zheng. Zheng can mean many things, but it is often seen as ”straight, structured, aligned, upright, honest.” Zhenglu is the right way, the correct path; fangzheng, straightforward, upright, righteous. Zheng can mean foursquare, or something correctly structured in the middle. It´s the same zheng as in zhengqi, Upright Qi, and the same zheng as in zhongzheng, gallbladder.

In this case, though, zheng is an umbrella-word for the specific set of techniques of which the Six Harmonies are just one. Zheng forms part of the basics of meditation-work in creating a structured, relaxed, and open body, with fewer knots or blockages in it.

Neiye XI

When your body is not aligned,

the inner power will not come.

When you are not tranquil within,

your mind will not be well-ordered.

Align your body, assist the inner power

then it will gradually come on its own.


This translation is a good starting point for reading, and comes from Harold Roth´s Original Tao (Columbia University Press 1999).


Training-codes in the texts, and letting the wholeness go 

There are then also different codes in the text that contain training-techniques, just like in many other Daoist and Chinese medical texts. These are part of the inner door teachings in different traditions. 

To take a simple intro to this, line 5 begins zheng xing – here translated as ”align your body”. In Daoist practice, it really means ”align the/your shape”. The shape often begins with your physical body but is then followed by many other precise levels of aligning the shape, over decades of training, which always weaves together with the physical body and physical existence.

Eventually, over several decades of practice, one reaches the stage where shape finally is let go, where names are lost, and one does like Zhuangzi´s old friends who were so skilled that:

  ”On loan from everything else, they´ll soon be entrusted back to the one body. Forgetting liver and gallbladder, abandoning ears and eyes, they´ll continue on again, twirling through a blur of endings and beginnings. They roam at ease beyond the tawdry dust of this world, wander without themselves, boundless and free through the selfless unfolding of things.” (David Hinton, Chuang Tzu, the Inner Chapters, Counterpoint 1997).


Embracing simplicity and keeping to the real

One of many training proverbs from Daoism is baopu shouyi: ”Embrace Simplicity, Keep To the Real.”

Here we see the core Daoist concept of pu, simplicity, which is first a weaving together and then a  simplifying of ourselves, through training and through our life. And in the second part of the phrase, using that trained intent, the yi, we keep to that wholeness, the weaving together that is zhen (true, real, genuine...), real, real as in zhenren.

An interesting Western parallell to zheng in our life is from the Western 15th century mystic Jacopone da Todi, who said:

  ”What fruit dost thou bring back from this thy vision?”

  ”An ordered life in every state.”

  (Evelyn Underhill, The Essentials of Mysticism, Oneworld Publications 1999)


The concept of zheng as being an upright clinician – someone who follows the Classics and is true to one´s calling and one´s patients – can be found in a lecture by Andrew Nugent-Head on the Chinese medicine-writings of Chen Xiuyuan from the Qing dynasty:


The Six Levels of the Shanghan Lun: understanding the entire weave

In the Six Levels of Chinese Medicine, the liujing, we see how all the depths weave together in the cloth that is our physical body. We study them to see how they weave together to form one whole. They were originally written about in the Neijing, but came to a peak in the Shanghan Zabing Lun by Zhang Zhongjing. 

When we begin to know what the Six Levels are as one whole piece of cloth, without the rends and the tears and the wear from life, we can begin studying the the bianhua, the change in them.

Then we study the change of what cuts or abrades the cloth, what problems might have happened to it, the mistakes the seamstress might have made. Knowing the whole, we can then understand the different depths more fully, and how we can help sow them back together into one garment again.


The Liu He in the Chinese medicine clinic

The liu he weaves us together on many different levels. In clinic, the liu he become part of the toolbox of material we practice every day while treating patients. They help keep our body and mind relaxed yet more and more structured and focused. The Six Harmonies help us keep a good structure in our body – crucial for long hours in clinic, and crucial for having a free movement of qi in ourselves. The amount that our own system is free is the amount that we can open up in our patients.

The Six Harmonies can be trained with each and every movement we make, with each step, while taking pulses and while needling, while listening and palpating, and while wishing our patient a good week afterwards. There is also a wealth of material that grows out of the Six Harmonies, and which increases our treatment effect even more. 

This practice helps us to let the Six Harmonies finally spread into our entire life so that it becomes more zheng, more honest and upright. This is something that echoes very clearly from Sun Simiao´s incredible text on Chinese medicine ethics:


Darning with the One Needle

As we become more one piece of cloth using the liu he, and more upright studying zheng, we also spread this to our patients.

Because they listen to our system; the clearer a signal we have, the easier it is for them to follow it.

The acupuncturist is the needle, and in our role as a Chinese medical practitioner in healing the society around us, with that alignment and upright heart we help darn the very warp and weft where we live.

                                                                                            Daniel Skyle © 2015

Daniel Skyle is an acupuncturist in Classical Chinese Medicine, journalist and writer. He has practiced Daoism, qigong, and the internal martial arts for 25 years. He has two clinics in Sweden and has written the first book on Daoism in Swedish, which  will come out in English during 2015. It is an introductory book with great depth, including an overview of the tradition and its history, how spiritual practice is built up, the codes in classical texts, an introductory chapter on Chinese medicine and interviews with five monks in the White Cloud Temple in Beijing.

  Next book coming after that is a collection of essays on Daoism and Chinese medicine to help people in our time. He is currently doing interviews with hermits in the mountains in China, and with Chinese doctors. Books and news will soon be up on, and you can find out more about them and his articles on the blog,, or contact him at