Heng & Ha

by Instructor Jeff Wong

During today’s members-only session with GM Sam Chin, we reviewed the Tu-Na Breathing exercise from our 15 Basics.

Tu Na, or 吐納, literally translated means “spit and collect”, is just a more literary term for “inhale-exhale” in Chinese.

GM Chin also brought in the reference of a related old Chinese word of “Heng Ha 哼哈”. There were some confusions by students regarding what those words mean, and how they apply in our Zhong Xin Dao I Liq Chuan’s practice. So hopefully the following explanations can be helpful to all. There are actually three ways to interpret “Heng Ha”:

  1. The most famous cultural reference for “Heng” (pronounced similar to English word “hung”) and “Ha”, are the two generals guarding the heaven’s gate in Chinese mythology. (See photo 1.) General Heng can spit out a white beam or steam (depending on artistic interpretation) from his nose, and suck in the opponent’s spirit, while General Ha can project a yellow beam from his mouth to shatter an enemy’s soul. Most often you can find depictions of those two generals on paintings posted on many traditional house doors in China, or as statues guarding some monastery entrances. The myths aside, they are described using the two most visible human organs for breathing.
  2. The second, and more practical reference to “Heng Ha” are used in “Dao Yin” Qi Gong physical and breathing exercises originated from Daoist practices. (See picture 2 and also in Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daoyin). In that reference, the “Heng” is actually used for signaling inhale, while “Ha” is used for exhale. If you pronounce the word “Heng” (or “hung”) literally, it requires an exhale through the nose to make the sound, but in this case, it’s due to lack of any nasal characters in Chinese that is done with an inhale, so “Heng” is actually similar to the sound when one is gasping for air and sucking in deep in the nostrils, without the exaggerated noise.
  3. The third reference, as in our Zhong Xin Dao I Liq Chuan, and in many internal martial art styles that also incorporate Dao Yin methods, represent a short and a long exhale. Noting here that either Heng and Ha can be the short or long exhales depending on your movement coordination and the martial art stylistic philosophies. More commonly in ZXD, we can match “Heng Ha” as the 1-2/short-long releases similar to our Tu Na exercise when we say “puh!” to do the first quick punctured exhale followed by the longer exhale. Sometimes, Heng can be used with a longer/slower Fa-Jin, with Ha as the final jolting action to finish the force issuing.

As for the mechanics of diaphragmatic and abdominal breathing, there are numerous videos and text out there (like this one from Instructor Ashe Higgs), I won’t pretend to be a biology expert here. They are not in the scope of my explanation of the etymology of the word “Heng Ha”.