The Microcosmic Orbit
The first sign of success in meditation is a feeling of warmth in the region of the navel, or lower ‘Elixir Field’. This is the seat of vitality where energy gathers naturally when the body is still and the mind is calm, and when the breath is deep, slow and rhythmic.
Other related signs of success are chills or ‘goose bumps’ running up the spine, tingling sensations in the feet, hands and/or genitals, and waves of warmth flowing like water across the surface of the body. These signs indicate that vital-energy has begun to concentrate and circulate within the body’s two most important energy channels, which together form what is known as the Microcosmic Orbit (hsiao jou-tien). This is explained as follows by Master Chao Pi-chen in Taoist Yoga:
To transmute the generative force consists of raising it in the Governing Channel from the base of the spine up to the back of the head and into the brain, then lowering it in the Channel of Function to the cavity behind the palate, the throat, the solar plexus, and then to the dan-tien under the navel. This is micro cosmic orbiting.
Study carefully the Microcosmic Orbit as depicted in Figure 11.1 and memorize the various vital-energy terminals along the way. The Governing Channel (du-mo) belongs to Yang and commences at the perineum point (hui-yin) midway between anus and scrotum, rises up through the coccyx to the Gate of Life (ming-men) directly opposite the navel, then moves up to the Spinal Center (jì-jung) opposite the solar plexus, on up to the Extreme Yang (ji-yang) point between the shoulder blades, then up into the Great Hammer (da-chui) point where the thoracic and cervical vertebrae meet. From there it enters the base of the skull at the Wind Mansion (feng-fu) point, moves on up to the crown of the head at the Myriad Confluence (bai-hui) point, down between the eyes to the point associated with the pituitary gland and called the Sealed Chamber (yin-tang) or ‘Third Eye’, and finally down to the cavity behind the palate (yin-jiao), where it stops. From there it connects with its Yin opposite, the Channel of Function (ren-mo), also known as Channel of Conception, which runs down the front of the body.
The Channel of Function receives the energy coming down from the Governing Channel at a point just below the tongue called the Fluid Collector (cheng-jiang). In order to make this vital-energy connection, the tongue must be pressed up against the palate to form a bridge so that the energy may cross the gap between upper and lower jaw. From the tongue the energy drops down to the Pearl Jade (hsuan-ji) point at the base of the throat, down to the Central Stage (shan-jung) point at the heart, on down to the Central Bay (chung-wan) in the solar plexus, onward to the Spirit Shrine (shen-chueh) at the navel, into the Sea of Energy (chee-hai) below the navel, and finally back down to the Confluence of Yin (hui-yin) midway between anus and scrotum, where the energy links up again with the Governing Channel.
At first, simply try to focus your mind internally on these two powerful energy channels and their major staging points. Look for any signs of warmth, chills, tingling or ‘opening’ along the Microcosmic Orbit, and if you find any, then focus attention on it. Once you have developed a ‘feel’ for these channels and terminal points, you may eventually progress to the stage of ‘using mind to move energy’ rather than simply following energy with mind. However, this must be done without excessive mental effort, which tends to tire the spirit and block the breath. Just try to keep the mind as light and empty as possible, while leisurely exploring the inner channels for energy, and above all don’t worry about ‘results’. It requires many words to describe this in writing, but in actual practice it all occurs spontaneously, non-verbally and totally intuitively. Patience and prolonged practice are the only keys that can open the gates of the Microcosmic Orbit.
Proper manipulation of the eyes and tongue can facilitate opening of the Microcosmic Orbit. The tongue is the bridge that conducts energy across the chasm from palate to throat. There are three positions: directly behind the teeth, midpalate, and all the way back to the soft rear section of the roof of the mouth. The last position is particularly good for energy circulation. During love-making, partners may intersect their Microcosmic Orbits by touching tongues, and if the man retains his semen they may intercirculate their energies internally. This completes the circuit of ‘dual cultivation’, causing Yin and Yang energies from man and woman to flow from one partner into the other and back again, with their linked genitals forming the lower terminals and linked tongues the upper terminals of their enhanced Microcosmic Orbits (see Figure 6.1).
As for the eyes, the Elixir Classic states, ‘Spirit is aroused by rolling the eyes and energy is aroused by breathing.’ You may assist the mind in guiding energy by slowly rolling the eyes up in a clockwise direction until they reach ‘12 o’clock’ position, then crossing the eyes and bringing them back down to the inside corners, then rolling them up again in the opposite direction, crossing and bringing them down again, then back up clockwise, etc. As you roll the eyes upward, imagine energy rising up the spinal channel, and as you cross and lower them, visualize energy dropping down from palate to throat to solar plexus to navel.
By coordinating eyes and breath during meditation, spirit and energy are harmonized and the mind gradually gains control over the flow of energy through the Microcosmic Orbit. Master Chao Pi-chen advises the adept to roll eyes up and raise energy during inhalation. However, Master Chao’s method involves the breath known as ‘reverse abdominal breathing’ and should only be cultivated after you have made solid progress in both basic breathing and basic meditation. Many masters recommend drawing energy from the sacrum up the spinal channel and into the head during the exhalation stage, then dropping it down from head to abdomen during inhalation. For beginners, this approach is probably the easier method. The fundamental principle of breath and energy control in deep breathing is, ‘During inhalation, energy descends; during exhalation, energy rises.’
The ultimate purpose of circulating energy in the Microcosmic Orbit is to sublimate sexual energy from the loins into spiritual vitality in the head, then drop this enhanced vitality down into the energy center below the navel for storage as pure vitality. Sexual energy is by far the most powerful and pervasive form of chee in the human system, male and female. Sexual potency is absolutely indispensable to spiritual progress, for sexual energy is the key to making all breakthroughs on the spiritual path. A sexually weak or impotent person stands no hope whatsoever of reading the higher stages of spiritual development, because he simply cannot muster sufficient energy. He or she must first fully restore his or her sexual vitality through detoxification, proper nutrition, breathing and exercise, and well regulated sexual intercourse, then use this enhanced sexual potency as a bottomless battery of power to propel the spirit to ever higher realms of experience on the wings of pure vitality.
Adepts of the Microcosmic Orbit and other advanced practices generally opt for a vegetarian diet in order to avoid the distracting aphrodisiac side-effects of such foods as meat and fish. They also avoid excessively stimulating seasonings for the same reason. Master Chao Pi-chen advises practitioners to ‘abstain from the Five Pungent Roots, which are aphrodisiac and increase production of generative fluid’. These roots are garlic, leeks and the three varieties of onion. On the other hand, if you are sexually weak or impotent, it’s a good idea to start out by including aphrodisiac herbs and foods in your diet in order to build up sufficient semen and sexual hormones to generate the vitality required for successful meditation. However, it is equally important for such adepts to conserve rather than expend their newfound sources of sexual essence and energy. If they build up their semen and hormones only to indulge in reckless ejaculations, they will end up more impotent than ever. Ordinary people simply let the generative force gradually drain away through excessive ejaculation, nocturnal emissìons, sexual fantasies, weak genitals, ‘leaky’ anal sphincters, etc.‚ until the ‘lamp runs out of oil and the light goes out’. Opening the Microcosmic Orbit prevents such loss of vitality through the lower orifices and thereby replaces the process of gradual depletion with the process of gradual accretion.
Regarding nocturnal emissions in men, recall that Sun Ssu-mo and other Taoist physicians stated categorically that nocturnal emissions are by far the greatest threat to male sexual potency and overall physical vitality. Master Chao Pi-chen makes an interesting point regarding ‘wet dreams’ in Taoist Yoga:
All dreams are unreal except that of emission, which is followed by the actual discharge of the generative fluid . . . Worldly men in their dreams acquire or lose many things such as money or objects but when they wake up they find it was all unreal; but when they dream of nocturnal emission, it is always real.
A year of careful cultivation of chee can all go down the drain with a series of uncontrolled nocturnal emissions. One great advantage of practicing conscious ejaculation control during actual sexual intercourse is that the retention response eventually becomes so automatic that the adept will instinctively ‘lock’ the urogenital diaphragm to prevent ejaculation even during the wildest erotic dream.
The danger to vitality comes front the prolonged and uncontrolled emission of semen during involuntary nocturnal emissions and from lack of compensation for such loss through direct contact with a woman’s nourishing Yin essence. It is precisely because of the dangers of nocturnal emission that ordinary adepts are advised not to attempt absolute celibacy or absolute continence of semen, at least until they have completely mastered the sublimation of sexual essence into spiritual vitality through manipulation of the Microcosmic Orbit, both during sexual intercourse and during meditation. In the meantime, male adepts should practice conservation of semen during sex, properly regulate ejaculation frequency and prolong intercourse for as long as possible.
A few final words about the Microcosmic Orbit. The importance of sexual vitality in this meditation cannot be overemphasized, nor the importance of preserving this vitality. For men, this means carefully regulating ejaculation, preferably staying within Sun Ssu-mo’s measure of two emissions per month, or 24 per year. For women, it means maintaining sufficiently good health to feel sexually vibrant. Men generally cannot awaken the Microcosmic Orbit unless they have at least two or three weeks of semen stored up, and it’s virtually impossible within the first few days after an ejaculation. On the other hand, the first few hours after prolonged sexual intercourse without ejaculation is an excellent time to sit still, do nothing and explore the Microcosmic Orbit.
Once you have opened the Microcosmic Orbit, you can practice circulating energy through it any time, any place, under any conditions, simply by using mind and breath in combination. When both partners in a sexual relationship have opened their channels, sexual intercourse takes on dimensions of energy and ecstasy previously unimagined and beyond reach. Such lovers can cause the hot Yang and cool Yin energies to meet and mingle and pass them back and forth via the linked tongues and linked genitals. It takes many years of practice with a loving and understanding partner to reach such heights of alchemy and ecstasy, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Such practice makes long-term monogamous relationships far more interesting and satisfying, not to mention far more healthy and life-prolonging, than conventional sexual relations, which not only grow boring over the years but also drain the male of his vital life-force as well as his interest in his partner. But remember, patience and practice are the keys to success, and in the meantime you should focus on the journey, not the goal.
(Excerpt taken from “The Tao Of Health, Sex and Longevity“. Reproduced with the kind permission of Daniel Reid.)
About the Author
Daniel Reid is a bestselling author and leading expert on eastern philosophy and medicine. He has written numerous books and magazine articles on various aspects of Asian self-health and self-healing practices, and has established an international reputation for the practical efficacy of his traditional approach to modern health problems.
Daniel Reid was born in 1948 in San Francisco and spent his childhood in East Africa. After completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in East Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley in 1970, and a Masters of Arts degree in Chinese Language and Civilization at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in 1973, Reid moved to Taiwan, where he spent 16 years studying and writing about various aspects of traditional Chinese culture, focusing particularly on Chinese medicine and ancient Taoist health and longevity systems. In 1989, he relocated to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he continued his research and writing until 1999, when he immigrated with his wife Snow to the Byron Bay region of Australia, where he now makes his home.
Daniel Reid’s published books include:
- The Tao of Health, Sex, and Longevity
- The Complete Book of Chinese Health and Healing
- Handbook of Chinese Healing Herbs
- Complete Guide to Chi Gung
- Shambhala Guide to Traditional Chinese Medicine
- The Tao of Detox
- Guarding The Three Treasures
- The Essence of Chi Gung: A Handbook of Basic Forms for Daily Practice