Monday, September 22, 2008

Microcosmic orbit

The Microcosmic Orbit also known as the 'Lesser Heavenly Circulation' or the 'Self Winding Wheel of the Law', is a Taoist Chi kung or Taoist yoga Chi energy cultivation technique. It involves deep breathing exercises in conjunction with meditation and concentration techniques which develop the flow of Chi along certain pathways of energy in the human body which may be familiar to those who are studying Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chi Kung, T'ai Chi Ch'uan, Neidan and Taoist alchemy. The exercise can be performed usually at first in a sitting position, but it can also be practiced standing as in Zhan zhuang or with movements included as with T'ai Chi Ch'uan. The clear understanding of the microcosmic orbit technique is very important not only because of it's historical context in the story of Chinese alchemy but because it is at the heart of many Taoist forms of exercise performed throughout the world by many millions of people today.


The history of the Microcosmic orbit dates back to prehistoric times in China, and the underlying principles can be found in the I Ching which was written over three thousand years ago at least two centuries before the time of the Yellow Emperor Huang Ti. For example the Chinese character for the I ching hexagram number 5. Waiting depicts a person sitting in meditation and the commentary pertains to the flow of energy from one of the psychic energy channels to another during meditation.

The commentary on the Image for hexagram 5 reveals the entire process of meditation. "The clouds rise up to heaven" symbolizes the meditator's energy rising upward as it evaporates into the head, where it is distilled into a saliva like nectar , which returns to the abdomen. " It furthers one to cross the great water" alludes to crossing the great water of the abdomen and mouth.

Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu have also alluded to the technique of meditation and encouraging circulation of energy through the psychic meridians in their writings.


The exercise itself usually begins with preparation designed to relax the physical body and develop the ability to concentrate. Students may indeed be encouraged to practice Taoist Yoga exercises or T'ai Chi Ch'uan as a way of building enough energy to begin performing the Microcosmic orbit exercise as it can induce a strain on the nervous system and cause energy depletion if practiced without adequate preparation. To begin with the student is encouraged to develop deep abdominal breathing into the primary Dantian or Taoist energy centre to develop heat and pressure in the lower abdomen or "Golden Stove". Normally essence or Jing can flow either way through the eight extra meridians or energy pathways in the body but in this exercise Jing is encouraged to flow upwards along the Governor vessel during inhalation and then downwards along the conception vessel returning to the Dantian on the exhalation. This means that energy flows from the Dantian downwards to the base of the spine then up the back along the centre line of the body to the crown of the head, then over the head and down the front centre line of the body and back to the starting point again making a full circle or orbit. This prevents the body's natural essences from becoming depleted as they normally flow downwards from the brain or 'sea of marrow' and are lost during ejaculation or menstruation during the reproductive processes. This raising and lowering Jing through the Microcosmic orbit and returning it to the Dantian purifies the essence and transforms it into chi or vitality. The tongue is placed into the roof of the mouth known as the 'Magpie Bridge' which acts as a kind of switch which completes the energy circuit so that too much energy cannot build up in the head which can lead to headaches or even hallucinations. This practice of tongue in the roof of the mouth also encourages the flow of saliva which has a cooling effect when swallowed which helps to offset the physiological heat of the exercises, but which can also be purified and transmuted into the 'Nectar of Heaven' which alchemists claimed will lead to immortality. As well as the lower dantian or cauldron there are other important points along the circuit of energy flow which include the 'three gates' which are areas where it is considered that energy may stagnate, these are the Wei-lu or Tailbone gate, the Dorsal gate on the back roughly level with the heart, and the Jade pillow on the back of the head. Other important areas include the Ming Men or gate of fire on the back about level with the kidneys and the Baihui or Niwan which is directly on top of the head.

The microcosmic orbit should be viewed in the context of a variety of Taoist exercises and techniques designed to purify the body physically, mentally and spiritually, improve health and longevity, and prepare the way for meditation, and also including other techniques such as the Macrocosmic orbit which means circulating energy into the other psychic energy meridians which flow around the torso and out into the arms and legs. These types of exercises are best practiced under the guidance of suitably qualified teachers who can help the beginner avoid any pitfalls along the way, especially for example if the subject may have a history of mental illness.

Further Reading


1 comment:

Samantha said...

A very insightful post on concentration exercises. Here's a website that i thought i might share with you, which is very helpful on teaching you how to improve your concentration. It's at There are easy guides for you to follow too.