What Is The Microcosmic Orbit?
The Microcosmic Orbit is one of the most well-known of qigong practices based in the Eight Extraordinary Meridians – the body’s deepest level of energetic structuring. I’ve come across several dozen variations of the Microcosmic Orbit practice, and here will present a very simple one, that I’ve found to be quite lovely. Most generally, the purpose of the Microcosmic Orbit practice is to create a continuous circular energetic loop between what typically, in an adult human body, are two distinct meridians: the Ren (Conception Vessel) and the Du (Governing Vessel).
When we’re in our mother’s womb, our energy circulates naturally along this pathway, moving from the perineum up along the spinal column, and then down along the center-line of the front of our tiny torso, back to the area of the lower dantian. This circuit – along with our grosser levels of physical functioning – is “fed” via the umbilical cord.
Once we’re born, and the umbilical cord is cut, a rather dramatic reorganization unfolds, one of whose consequences is that, within the first few years of our life, that once-continuous energetic circuit separates into the Ren meridian – flowing from the perineum up the front of the torso to the area of the lower lip – and the Du meridian – flowing from the tip of the coccyx up along the spinal column, over the head and ending near the upper lip. We can use the Microcosmic Orbit practice to re-member a flow of energy very similar to what we experienced in our mother’s womb.
Before working with this practice, please review abdominal breathing, which will be our foundation.
How To Practice The Microcosmic Orbit
Sit with your spine comfortably upright, either on a straight-backed chair or crossed-legged on a cushion on the floor. Close your eyes, and release any unnecessary tension, particularly in your face, neck, jaw or shoulders. Smiling gently will help this to happen. Tune into the flow of your breathing, and follow the inhalations and exhalations for ten rounds of the breath, making no effort to alter, in any way, their rhythm or quality.
Notice that, in the manner of abdominal breathing, with each inhalation, your lower abdomen gently expands, and with each exhalation it relaxes back to a neutral position. Place the palms of your hands on your lower abdomen, with the tips of your thumbs touching directly over your navel, and your first fingers touching several inches below your navel.
Now, to begin to explore the Microcosmic Orbit, imagine that each inhalation fills the space of your lower dantian (within the triangle outlines by your two hands) with beautiful golden-white light. See this light forming into a sphere of energy within the space of your lower dantian. With each inhalation, add to the potent brightness of this sphere of light. As you do this, you may feel sensations of warmth or tingling. Simply enjoy those sensations. Devote at least ten inhalations to “charging” the dantian in this way, using the power of visualization to fill it with energy/light.
Once the dantian feels full and bright, proceed to this next step of the practice: As before, with the inhalation, draw energy into the dantain. Then, with the exhalation, send that sphere of light/energy from the dantian down to Hui Yin – the first point on the Ren meridian – which is located about a half-inch in front of the anus (just behind the root of the scrotum, for males; and just behind the posterior labial commissure, for females).So, with the exhalation, we’re sending the energy of the dantian – in the form of a beautiful sphere of golden-white light – down to the center of the perineum/pelvic-floor. Use your imagination in combination with gentle intention to move the energy in this way.
With the very next inhalation, feel that sphere of light/energy immediately being drawn upward (kind of like the sphere of light/energy had just “bounced” upward off of that Hui Yin point) into the lower end of the spinal column. Allow the energy, with that single inhalation, to flow from the root of the spine all the way up to the center of the brain, directly beneath the crown of the head. Then, with the next exhalation, feel it flowing, like a waterfall, down the center-line of the face and front of the torso, back into the space of the lower dantian. You’ve just completed one round of the Microcosmic Orbit.
When you’re first learning the practice, it’s nice to pause for several rounds of the breath, gathering new light/energy into the dantian, before once again circulating that energy down to Hui Yin, up along the spinal column (i.e. the Du meridian) to the brain, and then down the front of the body (i.e. the Ren meridian) back to the lower dantian. Once you’re more familiar with the practice, you can experiment with allowing the cycling to be more continuous.
As with any qigong practice, do your best to maintain an attitude – a mental posture – of gentle focus and relaxed clarity. If you notice yourself clenching, either physically or mentally/emotionally, take a break – drop the practice entirely, for a couple minutes or longer, coming back to it when you’ve realigned with a spirit of childlike playfulness, patience and wonder. Enjoy!