The term is also used to translate various terms used in the native languages of some east Asian Taoist and Buddhist practices. Neidan and Tantra are considered forms of internal alchemy, but western commentators often focus on sexual practices.
Internal alchemy, like the more general alchemy from which it derived, focuses on transmuting energies and substances. The practices focus on restoring balance and elevating spiritual vitality. The goals of internal alchemy are improved health, longevity and peacefulness. Practitioners often seek immortality or reunion with God or another divine source.
The energies and substances of the body are described in metaphor. Elements, metals and humours have all been used to classify and define characteristics of the human system. Internal alchemists map the body, noting which routes energy move through and which areas are associated with particular "elements". Examples include the Sephiroth of Kaballah, the seven seals of esoteric Christianity, the seven Hindu chakras and the Chinese .
In many cultures, notably those of the East, diseases and medical ailments were thought to be due to imbalance in the afflicted person's internal alchemy, or a weakness of one's life spirit. Consequently, medical treatments were a mix of supernatural appeals and pharmacology, using spells, amulets, and repulsive herbs to "banish" evil influence or strengthen the spirit.