Regular practice of the Microcosmic Orbit will bring greater energy, ease and peace throughout the body and mind.
There is an ancient Taoist meditation method for refining, raising, and circulating internal energy via the ‘orbit’ formed by the major energy channels in the body. This chi energy cultivation technique is called the Microcosmic Orbit and is a classic Taoist Chi Kung meditation. It is also known as the ‘circulation of light’ and involves deep breathing exercises, as well as meditation and concentration techniques, and has a fantastic effect on the entire energy system.
This orbit is created by circulating energy from the Governing Channel; which runs from the perineum up to the head, and the Conception Channel; which runs from the head back down to the perineum. Activating the Microcosmic Orbit is a key step that leads to more advanced practices. Taoists believe that the microcosmic orbit meditation fills the reservoirs of the Governing and Conception channels with energy, which is then distributed to all the major organ-energy meridians, thereby energizing the internal organs.
The Symbolism of Chi
Microcosmic Orbit draws abundant energy up from the sacrum into the brain and, in doing so, enhances the cerebral circulation of blood and stimulates secretions of vital neurochemicals. It is also the first stage for cultivating the ‘Golden Elixir‘ of immortality, a process that begins in the lower abdomen and culminates in the mid-brain. This is probably the best of all Taoist methods for cultivating health and longevity, while also ‘opening the three passes’ to higher spiritual awareness.
Taoists often refer to things through symbolism. ‘Opening the three passes’ is another name for this meditation method, and refers to the three critical junctions. These junctions pave the way for energy to travel up from the sacrum through the Governing Channel along the spine and into the head.
How to Practice the Microcosmic Orbit
The first step is to still the body, calm the mind, and regulate the breath. With this settled mind, sit alone in a quiet room, senses shut and eyelids lowered. Turn your attention within, and visualize a pocket of energy in the umbilical region; within it is a point of golden light, clear and bright, immaculately pure. Focus your attention on the navel until you feel the ‘pocket of energy’ glowing in the umbilical region. The breath through your nose will naturally become light and subtle, going out and in evenly, continuously and quietly, and gradually becoming slighter and subtler. When the feeling is stable and the energy there is full, use your mind to guide energy down to the perineum and back up through the aperture in the coccyx.
Steadily visualize this energy as being like a small snake gradually passing through the nine apertures of the coccyx. When you feel the energy has gone through this pass, visualize this energy rising up to where the ribs meet the spine, then going through this pass and right up to the Jade Pillow, or the back of the brain.
Then, imagine your spirit in the ‘Nirvana Chamber’ in the center of the brain, taking in the energy. When this energy goes through the Jade Pillow, press the tongue against the palate. The head should move forward and tilt slightly upwards to help it. When the energy penetrates the Nirvana Chamber, it may feel hot or swollen. This means the pass has been cleared and the energy has reached the Nirvana Center.
Next, focus attention on the Celestial Eye, between the eyebrows, and draw energy forwards from the midbrain and out through the point between the brows. This may cause a tingling or throbbing sensation there. The center of the brows will then throb – this means the Celestial Eye is about to open. At this point, move the spirit into the center of the brows and draw the energy through the Celestial Eye.
Returning to the Root
You may wish to stay and work with this point for a few minutes, before letting energy sink down through the palate and tongue, into the throat and finally the heart. This may feel as though there is cool water running down the multi-storeyed tower of the windpipe. Do not swallow; let it go down by itself, bathing the bronchial tubes. After that, the vital energy will bathe the internal organs and then return to the genitals. This is what is called the ‘Return to the Root’.
From the heart, draw it down through the Middle Dantian Field (the Chinese word dantian (丹田) literally means ‘elixir field’. A better translation is ‘energy centre’), in the solar plexus, past the navel, and down into the Ocean of Energy reservoir in the Lower Dantian, where energy gathers, mixes, and is reserved for internal circulation. Then begin another cycle up through the coccyx to the mid-spine behind the heart and up, past the Jade Pillow, into the brain.
Breathe naturally with your abdomen, and don’t worry about whether the energy moves up or down on the inhalation or exhalation; coordinate the flow of breath and energy in whatever manner suits you best. However, if you reach the stage where you can complete a full Microcosmic Orbit in a single breath, it’s best to raise the energy up from the coccyx to the head on exhalation and draw it down from the Upper to Lower Dantian Field on inhalation.
If you practice this technique for a long time, eventually you will be able to complete a whole cycle of ascent and descent in one visualization. If you quietly practice this inner work continuously; whether walking, standing still, sitting, or lying down, the vital energy will circulate within, and there will naturally be no problem of leakage. Chronic physical ailments, Taoists believe, will naturally disappear.
Once the inner energy is circulating, the breath will naturally become fine, and the true positive energy of heaven and earth will be inhaled by way of the breath. This true energy can then travel down to unite with your own generative energy. The two energies will mix together, both to be circulated by you, descending and ascending over and over to replenish the depleted true energy in your body.
The true energy harmonises and reforms, so that the vital fluids produced by your body, and the energy of daily life, can combine to produce true vitality. When true vitality is fully developed, it naturally produces true energy, and when true energy is fully developed it naturally produces our true spirit.
Working With Physical Problems
If you have any physical problems or discomfort in a particular section of your body, focus your energy at the pass closest to the discomfort and let it throb there for a while. This will help heal and rejuvenate the injured tissues. For example, if you have pelvic problems, focus energy on the coccyx pass; for lower-back pain, focus on the lowest lumbar vertebra just above the sacrum; for upper-back and shoulder pain, focus on the fifth thoracic vertebra, and so forth.
This meditation may also cause the head to rock or the body to tremble, which Taoists believe are signs of progress.
Benefits of the Practice
Regular practice of the Microcosmic Orbit will bring greater energy, ease and peace throughout the body and mind. It frees up chi, or life force energy, so that more vital force flows around the body, which means better organ function and energy flow. This also allows a complete balance of opposite forces in your body, particularly yin and yang. The practice will open up your crown chakra to receive higher information and flow of cosmic energy, and leads to improved sexual function and overall life force.