The Seeds of Sound Part 3: Six Healing Sounds - China
Photo: Phillip Larson, Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests at The Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China.
Our next leg of our journey around the world, learning about seed sounds and mantras, lands us in China. As much of the Earth, prior to modern medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) used on breathing exercises and vocal sounds for healing. Chinese thought ties the five major organs, liver, heart, spleen, lungs, and kidneys with the five elements wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, and the four seasons of the year. All is seen as part of the whole, and the element of balance (Yin-Yang) is central to this way of thinking. The balance of Qi or Chi, the Chinese word for breath or air, is essential to live a long, healthy life. The practice of balancing Qi is Qigong or Chi Kung. Even in the West we se the word equate life with breath. The Latin word “spirare” gives us our English word “spirit.” From this practice come the Six Healing Sounds, which are thought to be highly effective at balancing Qi.
While the concept of "qi" has been studied in China for over 3000 years, the Six Healing Sounds, or Liuzijue, are thought to have originated about 1500 years ago. The oldest known record of the Six Sounds was written by Tao Hongjing, a Traditional Chinese medical doctor, alchemist, author, pharmacologist, astronomer, astrologer, and Taoist who lived from 456 to 536 C.E. and founded the Maoshan school, the principle retreat of Shangqing Daoism. Tao wrote in his book On Caring for the Health of the Mind and Prolonging the Life Span, “One has only one way for inhalation, but six for exhalation.” The Six Sounds were further refined during the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 C.E.) by the monk Zou Pu’an in his book “The Supreme Knack for Health Preservation – Six Character Approach to Breathing Exercises.”
What are the Six Sounds?
The Six Sounds are like the chakra bijas from the last post in this series, Aural Yoga; in that, they are meant to cause vibration in the body and re-alignment. However, in action they are closer to pranayama or yogic breath work than to melodic mantra chanting. Taoist breathing technique is also called “Reverse Breathing,” where the practitioner’s lower abdomen moves in on the inhalation and moves outward on the exhalation. When using the six healing sounds, the practitioner chants the syllable on the exhalation. While it is believed that all six of these sounds have the ability to cure illnesses and restore qi (chi) balance, each sound is said to have a certain main function. Overall, they help restore emotional balance.
Overindulgence in the five emotions happiness, anger, sadness, worry or fear, and fright can create imbalances. Emotions can injure the qi, while seasonal elements can attack the body. Sudden anger damages the yin qi; becoming easily excited or overjoyed will damage the yang qi. This causes the qi to rebel and rise to the head, squeezing the shen out of the heart and allowing it to float away. Failing to regulate one’s emotions can be likened to Summer and Winter failing to regulate each other, threatening life itself.
– The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, chapter five
噓 Xu or shu – This sound is meant to benefit the liver and gallbladder. It is associated with the element of wood, the emotion of anger, and the season of spring. The vowel is similar to the German “ü.” The pronunciation is like the English word “shoe” with the lips rounded. Xu is said to eliminate general illness.
呵 He – This sound is meant to supplement the qi of the heart and small intestine. It is associated with the element of fire, the emotions of joy and excitement, and the season of summer. It is also described as the “laughing sound.” The vowel is similar “u” in the English word “put.” Some sources say it should be pronounced like “huh,” while others suggest thinking of the word “her,” but dropping the “r.” He is said to release tension.
呼 Hu – This sound is pronounced like the English word “hoo” with an open vowel like you are blowing out a candle. This sounds means “to sigh,” “to exhale” or “to call.” It cultivates the spleen/pancreas Qi and benefits the stomach as well. It is associated with the element of earth, the emotional state of brooding or seriousness, and all of the seasons. Hu is said to expel cold.
呬 Si or Tz – It is pronounced either like “shh,” “sss” or like the English word “sir” without the “r.” This hiss-like chant is barely audible. This sound is meant to supplement the lung and benefit the small intestine. It is associated with the element metal, the emotion of sorrow, and the season of autumn. This sound means “to rest.” It is said to help regain equilibrium.
吹 Chui or Chway – It is pronounced like the English word “way” with “ch” on the front of it. This sound is meant to supplement the Kidney Qi and benefit the bladder. It is associated with the element water, the emotion of fear, and the season of winter. This sound means “to blow out,” “to blast,” or “to puff.” It is said to expel heat from the body.
嘻 Xi – It is pronounced like the English word “she” with a high and forward tongue placement. It means “mirthful.” It is said to regulate with “Triple Burner” Qi which is associated with the center of torso and major organs. It more or less corresponds to the heart, solar plexus, and sacral chakras. However, it refers to the functioning not that physicality of the body’s organs. (It is sometimes associated with the gallbladder as well.) It is associated with the element of wood and all the seasons.
Hum up and down throughout your range.
Find a pitch that feels natural to you. You can sing on that pitch indefinitely with little effort.
Close your eyes and focus inward. Inhale deeply and exhale with rounded lips. Then inhale deeply and exhale on the first sound, u or shu. Feel where this sound vibrates in your body. Do this six times.
Repeat this with all six of the sounds.
Then repeat this with only mentally voicing the sounds as you exhale and visualize the air moving into the parts of the body to which each sound is tuned. Do you feel the way the Qi (energy, breath, or sprit) is moving through your body?
Photo: Janae Jean, Street with Red Lanterns, Chinatown, Los Angeles, CA
Whether or not the medical claims can be proven in a Western clinical setting has yet to be seen. Either way, the sounds themselves have intrinsic value as a healing tool. As a famous Chinese proverb says, “A bird does not sing because it has the answer, it sings because it has a song.” The act of singing or chanting has value as long as it gives us another way to express who we are inside our hearts and minds.
“China Hand Kung Fu.” http://www.chinahand.com/chikung/chikung9.htm, Accessed 2/21/18.
“Liu Zi Jue.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liu_Zi_Jue, Accessed 2/21/18. (Note: I normally wouldn’t cite Wikipedia as a resource, however this article cites others that are only available in Chinese.)
Morales, Joseph F. “Six Healing Sounds.” http://baharna.com/chant/six_healing.htm, Accessed 2/21/18.
Voigt, John. “The Six Healing Sounds: Chinese Mantras for Purifying the Body, Mind, and Soul.” https://www.qi-journal.com/Qigong.asp?Name=Six%20Healing%20Sounds&-token.D=Article, Accessed 2/21/18.
Wee Peng Ho. “The Conscious Life.” https://theconsciouslife.com/six-healing-sounds.htm, Accessed 2/21/18.
Wong Kiew Kit. “The Art of Chi Kung.” Cosmos: Malaysia, 2014.