You would think, or anyway I would think, that internal energy cultivators would agree on something as fundamental as which direction energy travels in the circuit involving the du and ren meridians, a circuit often referred to as the small universe circulation or small water wheel or microcosmic orbit.
When I first began to study qigong, I learned, and indeed most books teach, that energy travels up the back in the du meridian and down through the third eye on the forehead to the end of the du meridian just above the upper lip. Then it enters the ren meridian just below the lower lip and travels down the ren to the bottom of the torso where the du meridian begins.
I have done exercises to cultivate this energy flow, and I can feel it.
But later I began hearing that maybe women need to send more energy to their hearts. Dr. Sun—Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun, my longtime qigong teacher, creator of Yi Ren Qigong and founder of the Institute of Qigong and Integrative Medicine—created a female version of the small universe exercise we’d all been doing, which had started with a “reverse” refreshing cycle up the front and down the back and then had three cycles of up the back, down the front. The new exercise had three cycles of up the front and down the back, ending with one of up the back and down the front.
Dr. Sun offered it to women (and men, for that matter) as something they could do if they liked it, if it felt right to them. I didn’t like it and ended up devising my own exercise, which involved bringing energy up the back to the kidneys and then sending it to the heart. I don’t think other women much liked it either—or maybe we were all just used to doing it the “male” way. At any rate, this female version of the small universe exercise seemed to get lost.
In their book “Daoist Nei Gong for Women,” British teacher Damo Mitchell and his partner Roni Edlund say that the “reverse small water wheel” begins to take place of its own accord during training for both sexes and that it becomes very important for women, but not for men.
And now the acupuncturist recommended to me by Damo after I attended his recent seminar in Toronto has told me that in children, qi travels up the front and down the back. Around the ages of 5 to 7, as children begin to settle into the realities of life, the qi reverses direction, and they become less intuitive and imaginative. For men, it continues to travel up the back and down the front. But in women, he says, qi reverses again at menopause to travel up the front and down the back, and they can enter into a period of intuitive awareness and spiritual growth.
After he told me this, I was confused. I did a bit of googling around, finding one website which stated categorically that qi always travels up the front and down the back in women. I was even more confused.
I complained to a Yi Ren Qigong friend about this, as in “Why can’t they make up their minds?” Part of her answer had to do with qigong practice having been almost exclusively male for so many years, but she also said that in the past, Dr. Sun had talked about energy traveling in both directions all the time, saying that what we perceived was what we put our attention on.
This should have annoyed me, since it raised more questions than it answered and failed to pin anything down. And yet it was strangely satisfying.
I took it to mean that there was no right answer, that I was going to have to pay attention and find out for myself what was true for me, trying not to force one thing or another to happen, remaining open to the experience of my own body.
This is hard….