Key differences between Qigong and Neidan

Many people in the world, and so called Masters and Teachers of Dao or other traditions misunderstand classic texts and start to build their own systems based on false assumptions or ideas. It leads to a very important issue, discussed many times in the Daoist books: Neidan Inner Alchemy vs Qigong (or similar practices with many different names).

Recently there is widespread opinion that Daoist alchemy and qigong are the same. This is a delusion. Qigong is nothing but degenerated part of Daoist alchemy, which greatly distorted the true principles of it’s ancestor.

From the book of the Teacher of Single Yang
Translated by Dmitry A. Artemyev

The main difference between these Neidan and Qigong is that they work with absolutely different substances:

  • Neidan works with Pre-Heaven Yuan Jing, Yuan Qi and Yuan Shen
  • Qigong works with Post-Heaven Jing, Qi and Shen

Qigong methods popular are well known, the most popular being various sets such as Baduanjing, Zhinengqigong, standing and sitting meditation, dynamic exercises, stretching methods, and various methods working with the mind and visualization. There are several books and video about it these methods.

On the other hand, Neidan methods are kept in secret. Most people have an illusion that they can use Qigong methods or Qi sensations to exercises to get the results described in Neidan books.

For example, the first major stage of Neidan after prelimiary work has been worked out. At this stage in Neidan students restore Yuan Qi, using special, Pre-Heaven based methods. To understand these methods, you need to be learn from a school, with linage, that preserved methods to restore Yuan Qi.

凝神调息,调息凝神, 八个字,就是下手工夫 – “Concentrate the Shen and regulate and harmonize the breath, regulate and harmonize the breath and concentrate the Shen is the first step to Gong Fu [mastership].”

Zhang San Feng

The above is used as a prove that Neidan includes has Qigong-like methods, described as “regulate and harmonize the breath” or “preserving the heart-mind”

A neidan practitioner can understand, based on the experience, that the above quote couldn’t mean here that a Neidan methods is to “regulate and harmonize the breath”. Scriptures warn us against these types of methods being claimed as alchemy (see here).

To add to that, there is actually no mention about methods in any Daoist text, what to do, how to do it, yet somebody is supposed to read the above, and “regulate the breath” and that is supposed to be the Neidan – this is unfortunately widespread approach to Daoism in the West, it is blind and without Tradition.

Things for the reader to remember:

  • There are no Qigong methods in Neidan, so nobody can fool other people and teach Qigong methods using Neidan terminology.
  • It’s easy to be confused by classic texts, hence the saying: “It is impossible to find a true teacher without understanding the books; It is impossible to understand the books without a teacher”.
  • Practice without understanding Daoist classics is blinds, read classics without practice (or a teacher) is useless.

Sources and further reading:

3 thoughts on “Key differences between Qigong and Neidan

  1. Hello Raulito, Thank you for the good question, Neigong is usually something closer to Qigong and/or Inner work of Internal Martial Arts systems to develop post-heaven Qi or internal power. Where Neidan is a completely different, and deeper process of Xing (shen) and Ming (yuan qi) which a person cannot understand or work out without a teacher’s guidance, direction and corrections. We will write more on Neidan in the near future to help give more understanding.

    Also, the translation of Neigong in Chinese literally means – “inner work”, “nei” meaning – internal, “gong” meaning – work. So in some texts there might be some cases where neigong refers to alchemy as well – it is a more wide term. In texts, it depends on context, who is saying it, why it’s being said etc.

    The translation of Neidan is literally “internal medicine” – The ancient meaning of dan (丹) refers to cinnabar. In ancient scriptures, cinnabar has been mentioned as being used in waidan – Daoist external alchemy.


    1. Thank you for replying to my question.

      I hope there will an elaboration or further discussion in the future.

      Have a nice day!


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