Completing the Small Circle
In the previous lesson, I outlined the basic idea of the Small Circle or Microcosmic Orbit meditation. Learning to connect your internal solar system will give you much insight into your internal energy. The last lesson leads you through a series of points in your energy system. The point was to bring qi down from the minds eye to the perineum at the bottom of the torso. This involves bringing your awareness to each point along the way for a sufficient length of time that you can feel it at each point before moving to the next one, Basically you were learning the “Yin path“, the downward, relaxing, nurturing and frankly the easy path of energy flow.
If you have become adept at this skill, you are ready to learn the other half of the process, bringing energy up the “Yang path”. I hope that you noticed how the energy “wants” to flow down the yin path almost as if gravity were pulling it there and in a way, it is. Just to be real about it, there is a mechanical reason for this. By sequentially relaxing downward, your body is allowing blood and lymph as well as the flesh to sag and drain downward towards the earth. Keeping your back straight while this is happening aids the flow by assuring that all the necessary passageways remain open to that flow; slouching or having any misalignment or muscle tension will interfere with this process.
The yin path starts at the palate, descends through the tongue, past the thyroid, heart, solar plexus, dantian, sperm (ovarian) palace, and ends at the perineum. Purists might know that the “Ren” channel ends, and the “Tu” channel starts at the ovarian palace, but the Tu channel “emerges” at the perineum and that is why I start there. These seven places are one-half of the microcosmic orbit, the other seven points are the topic of this article, the “Yang Path“.
In my method, the “Yang Path” starts at the perineum but it is at the coccyx or tailbone where it moves up to the “gate of life” also called the “Ming Men” located just below where the thoracic spine joins with the lumbar spine. It then goes up to the kidneys and adrenal glands. From there the path goes between the shoulders at the “Shen Zhu”, at the third thoracic vertebra near to the thoracic/cervical junction. From this point, the qi moves upward, then enters the skull, goes through the “Jade Pillow”, up through the Crown Point, and then terminates at the minds eye.
When you have completed the yin path and are completely relaxed and all the energy has drained into your hips and pelvis it will coalesce near the premium. You are now ready to bring qi up the spine and recycle the energy via the “Yang path”.
This is a new skill and it can be confusing depending on how you interpret what you are doing in the moment. Just to clarify that statement, some teachers will tell you to “pull the qi to the tail bone using your anus and collect it there“. I would say this too, but invariably pulling and pushing qi up the back channel is not the most effective way to do it, in my opinion. It does work, and you can get started doing it this way and yet if there was an easier way, you might want to try it.
Before any practice I recommend Tuning the Breath
I recommend that you start to access the back channel (yang path) by first starting at the Crown Point. Just lift up on the Crown Point and feel the head lifting off the shoulders and the spine lengthening and this will pull the tailbone into a vertical alignment, which also opens the pathway at the rear of the anus towards the back. Ah, see now the whole channel is open and now you can pull the energy to the anus and it will be sucked up the spine all the way to the top! In the beginning, you may still need to coax it up by using your breath and muscle contractions, but as you get better at it, you can reduce the effort and concentration that you apply and spend more time enjoying the results.
From the bottom of the torso, pull up the PC Muscle (this muscle runs from the pubic bone to the tailbone) and you will feel a rush of energy there, this is when you want to pull up around the anus and feel the energy go around the anal sphincter muscle to the rear of the anus. The energy is now at the tip of the tailbone. Learn to feel your internal musculature here and you can contract the muscles there and actually create a wave of qi that will move up the sacrum to the lumbar spine and it will collect at the top of the lumbar region at a place known as the “Gate of Life”.
It may take a few tries to do this but keep at it and soon you will feel qi gathering at the Ming Men. You may need to rock your hips slightly to open the lower gate, this will help avoid stuck energy there. Some say it is like “sipping through a straw” each time you take a breath the energy descends some being pulled back up on the next breath. By using a combination of first pulling the spine up from the top, and then going through a series of muscular contractions and breaths you can apply mental energy to move the qi up, up, and up…
Over time, you will feel the energy moving up through the kidneys, and the Shen Zhu, through the jade pillow and up to the crown. When you get used to bringing the energy to the Ming Men you will find it has enough inertia to just rather shoot up through the other points. The yang path will flow fast as the qi rushes up to the top. This can be a beautiful and rewarding release of energy that can thrill you when you feel it. Remain calm, and enjoy this energy release as you might enjoy a sexual energy release as it its related to that same feeling. Once you get used to this experience you may never be the same again, you are gaining control over your energy.
I would not try to analyze this or focus on each individual point on the back channel at this point in your training. These skills take many years to acquire, and unless you have been doing this for that length of time, it would be meaningless for you to get too esoteric about it. It is not how much you know, or think you know about “meridians” and all that, what really matters is that you practice often and again I suggest you keep it simple.
Even though you can now complete the circle, you are still just at the beginning of a new journey. Do not be in a rush, just work on these new skills for a while and get good at “circulating the microcosmic orbit”. You will find that as you get to know this skill you will be able to use this all the time, like when you are doing sitting or standing meditation or while doing moving soft qigong, or Taiji or even use this skill during sex. This is a start of a new level of qigong training, truly “going internal”. While all forms of qigong training effect you internally, learning the small circle is the beginning of what we call “nei gong”. You are now moving into a higher level of mediation, where meditation and qigong come together and move your mind and body into the realm of pure energy, yet another step on the path of “Spiritual Alchemy”.