Music has one of the most prominent functions in Chinese culture for over 3000 years. Music has been used for all life and death situations. Confucius believed that music is the best way to teach people about social and moral ethics, such as showing appropriate social manners and being tolerant and respectful. Taoism believes that music promotes self-cultivation and self-realization, promoting people to achieve inner and outer balance.

For over 2000 years, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been using many non-traditional modalities of healing, such as music and sound therapy in order not only to diagnose and cure illnesses but also to treat soul-mind-body disorders.

Traditional Chinese music therapy

Music therapy has been widely used in China in dealing with mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, etc. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) the mental disorders are closely attached to emotional disorders. Music can influence emotions if the pitch, frequency, timbre, and volume are properly adjusted. Also, music can influence the flow of Qi – vital energy. In TCM, particular actions and emotions correspond and mutually affect different organs and body parts.

In ancient China, one of music’s earliest purposes was for healing. It was believed that music has the power to heal the heart, enrich the mind, and harmonize a person’s soul. Hence the age-old saying: “Music before medicine”, (Chin. 樂先藥後, yuè xiān yào hòu).

During the time of the Yellow Emperor (2698–2598 B.C.), people discovered the relationship between music, the five elements, and the human body’s five internal and five sensory organs. The Chinese character for “medicine” (藥 yào) even stems from the character for “music” (樂, yuè).

TCM Music Therapy employs the theory of five phases and pentatonic musical scale in order to analyze and treat illnesses. The pentatonic music scale was firstly defined in Chapter of Music, from the Book of Rites (Chin. LI Ji 礼记) from 51 B.C. to 21 B.C.

Chinese believe that the Pentatonic scale primary sounds are imprinted at the beginning of the universe, as that the humans and nature are the One. The music represents the bridge between the human body and the universe, and each human organ has its corresponding sound in nature. There are five scales and six characters in nature, and correspondingly in the human body exist five Zang-organs (yin in nature) and six Fu-organs (yang in nature).

Chinese believe that elements in nature are made of five substances: earth, water, fire, wood, and metal. These five elements have various corresponding aspects, such as internal body organs, seasons, musical notes, color, etc.

Chinese pentatonic music scale is composed from five notes or sounds — jiao, zhi, gong, shang, and yu — and is usually performed on classical Chinese musical instruments:
- jiao note corresponds to the wood element and influences the liver;
- zhi is linked to the fire element and is connected to heart and blood flow;
- gong belongs to the earth element and has an influence on the spleen;
- shang is linked to the metal element and nourishes the lung yin;
- yu sound is linked to the water element and is connected to the kidney yin.

In traditional Chinese medicine Shen (spirit) (Chin. 神) is the reflection of the vitality of the human body. Shen governs all psychological and physiological activities. Music is regarded as the best connection with Shen. In TCM, the psychological and physiological processes can be translated into Qi, blood, emotions and cognition.

The Six Healing Sounds (Chin. Liu Zi Jue 六字訣)

The Six Healing Sounds are a self-healing qi gong technique that incorporates sound emission, intention and movement. These audible vocal sounds were developed by Taoist qi gong practitioners in ancient China. They were the earliest qi gong masters of longevity and confident in the human potential for immortality.

The earliest record of the breathing technique is believed to be written by Tao Hongjing (Chin. 陶弘景), a well-known traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) doctor, who lived from AD 456 to 536.

Six Healing Sounds is one of the common forms of Chinese qigong, and involves the coordination of movement and breathing patterns with specific sounds.

In Daoism, body, mind and spirit are literally one, although there are clear distinctions between them. The liminal realm is entered in qigong when a body-mind-spirit state open for healing and transformation.

Qigong creates a liminal field. The outer aspect of the liminal field is called the qi field. When practicing qi gong we unify the mind with intention or yi (Chin. 意) and generate qi field.

Cure sickness

Modern lifestyles create a life full of physical and emotional stresses such as overcrowding, pollution, radiation, junk food, chemical additives, anxiety, loneliness, inactivity, or too much activity.

As a separate factor or altogether, it is produced tension which blocks the energy flow in the body, thus the organs overheat. Effects multiply significantly when we have a lack of natural resources used us our energy fillers, such as running water and trees.

Chinese medicine teaches that each organ is surrounded by a sac or membrane, called fascia, which regulates its temperature or excess heat out through the skin, where it is exchanged for cool life force energy from nature.

The Sounds speed up the heat exchange through the digestive system and the mouth. It helps to release excess heat from the fascia, cooling and cleansing the organs and skin.

How it works?

The Six Healing Sounds are based on an ancient Taoist technique for balancing and harmonizing the body. Each sound is associated with a different gesture, organ, color, season, and emotions. By focusing our intake and release of breath, posture, visualization, and tapping into the vibration of each healing sound, we can relax, release stress, and transform “negative” emotions into “positive” emotions.

Each healthy organ is associated with a particular sound, color, and quality of energy. Emotional problems, pollution, poor food, injuries, and overly strenuous exercise can overheat the internal organs causing them to weaken.

This changes the state of each organ’s sound frequency, color, and energetic quality. The Six Healing Sounds practice helps us restoring balance, and cleanse the vital organs by correcting these factors. They also stimulate the flow of Qi throughout the body in order to enhance one’s overall health and vitality.

This practice is helpful to all but is particularly effective for those with warmer constitutions as it helps clear heat from the body’s essential organs. Do each sound 3, 6 or 9 times. For best effect, sit on the edge of a chair. You can also do the Six Healing Sounds while lying on the floor or in bed. Do the movements slowly and quietly, and try to remain still and focused. Begin each sound by picturing its appropriate color and smiling from the point between the eyes.

Six Healing Sounds aim to transform the negative energy trapped within the body. Each of our organs has an assigned unique sound that resonates with it and helps to release negative emotions trapped in the organ, and replace them with fresh healing Qi energy.

When qi gets congested or blocked due to inappropriate diet, poor lifestyle habits, repressed emotions and/or weak constitution, it becomes congested can turn into a cause of pain, discomfort or illness. 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.

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:
    (Wood) → (Fire) → (Earth) → (Metal) → Chuī (Water) → (Wood).
    This order is based on the mutual generation of the five elements (五行相生). Alternatively, 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, , can be practiced all year round to support the triple energizer.
  • To promote healing, practice the six healing sounds in the following order:
    (Fire) → (Metal) → (Wood) → (Earth) → Chuī (Water) → (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.

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 preferably three times a day.

Assisting moves

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.

Nobody movements accompanied the Liu Zi Jue exercises until the Ming Dynasty (1386 - 1644).

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 (Chin. 丹田; an area close to the navel where the 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.