Which Way Does It Go, Anyway?

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….


Filed under Practicing

3 responses to “Which Way Does It Go, Anyway?

  1. Vanessa

    I found this post by googling ‘macrocosmic orbit different males and females. So very interesting. I had little sensation with the microcosmic orbit until I did it in reverse and will now take more notice at the heart centre. I recently practised the macrocosmic orbit and again was aware of the direction and pathways but not of the flow energy. I shall experiment carefully. Thank you.

  2. Hi Barbara, found your blog 🙂 I like it. I hope the acupuncturist could help you in some way. When Qi travels up the back of the body through the Du meridian it draws Qi upwards to nourish the brain. It is based upon cycles within the teachings of the tendon changing and marrow washing classics. This is the standard direction for the majority of people and in the case of men there is rarely any deviation from this cycle unless they are aiming to work with very specific practices from certain schools. In my opinion the usefulness of these ‘reverse directions’ for men is questionable other than to correct a number of deviations which may occur from incorrect practice. In the case of women, the ‘standard’ direction still wants to be the same as for men as they also need to nourish the body in the same manner. On top of this though they also have a ‘reverse’ cycle within the Ren meridian which draws Jing from the Uterus region of the body and brings it upwards towards the heart where it nourishes the middle Dan Tian and stabilises the Shen there. Male Shen is stabilised in other ways. This reverse direction for women does not go down the Du (though many mistakenly believe it does); instead it simply raises to the heart, enters the heart and sinks back through the body depositing the Jing and Qi here. The cycle should never go backwards over the top of the head as this will be a ‘reversal’ in the negative sense of the term and run the risk of causing problems in slightly sensitive types 🙂
    This reversal happens of its own accord and doesn’t seem to follow much of a pattern (though this would be nice!) and should simply be allowed rather than generated. The only exception to this are there are a few mudras and standing practices which gently nudge it in that direction. Your acupuncturist is correct in that after menopause this direction is more emphasised and generally takes place more often. When you are not generating the cycle in your body, it will move in that way at rest for the majority of people and nourish the heart. If this does not happen naturally for post menopausal women then the Shen can become somewhat starved and this can result in sadness and depletion of spirit. Again, no real need to force this direction though, it will just take place of its own accord if you dont batter it into the opposite flow!
    As for children, their cycles are in a constant state of flux. Sometimes Du, sometimes Ren. This is the switching of Qi absorption between the heart and the mind, the spirit and the intellect.
    So in essence, both directions are there, both have their place and yes, it is confusing!
    Best wishes to you and best of luck in your practice. It was nice having the chance to talk to you over lunch in Canada

    • Thank you, Damo — This is indeed helpful and fits with what I have felt in standing. I can “make” whatever it is that I feel moving inside me go most anywhere, and actually the small universe exercise I learned at the beginning of my qigong practice five years ago involves one reverse cycle and three up-the-du-down-the-ren cycles. But when I have tried doing standing with my hands at heart level, per your and Roni’s book on neigong for women, it pretty much seemed that whatever rose to heart level via the front of the body didn’t want to go any farther. I guess the message is, again, to let things do as they will instead of trying to get them to fit my ideas of what should happen. I just wish this weren’t so hard.

      Interestingly, I spent yesterday evening with you, or rather with your video from the Virtual Qigong Festival 2016 “Qigong, Problems in Practice and Jing.” I had found it a couple of nights previous when I’d googled “jimmy fallon youtube” because I like to watch videos from his show when I am too tired to do anything else. My iPhone always offers me a list of Jimmy Fallon videos, plus videos from other talk shows, plus an occasional wild card video based on some previous YouTube visit. And so there you were. Something completely different from Jimmy Fallon. Anyway, last night I was going through the video again taking notes, intending to write a post about it, because it seemed to me that the problems you described are similar to what I have experienced and told you about at the Ottawa seminar. Indeed, you said I had kidney yin deficiency and recommended the acupuncturist I mentioned in my post, who I do like very much.
      In the video you recommend that people having untoward effects from qigong building their jing by cleaning up their lifestyle and reducing their stress. Certainly the first “spell,” one of the two which I took to the ER, occurred at a time of considerable stress. In the year since then I have reduced the stress in my life considerably. I started a seated meditation practice (which my cat really appreciates) and am spending so much time in my pajamas that I just ordered a new pair. I never smoked, have pretty much stopped drinking, and continue to struggle to improve my diet, which could be better but could also be worse. (I am torn between the books that advocate avoiding grains and the books that advocate avoiding animal products. I do know that my diet will improve by most everyone’s standards when the holidays are over and Starbucks stops selling eggnog lattes.)

      At any rate, there’s still one cause of jing weakness that I probably can’t do much about, which is my age (74). Perhaps you and your parents could partner in writing a book on qigong for old people. I, for one, would read it.

      Again, thank you for this reply. I know how busy you are and am touched that you checked out my blog and found this piece and took the time to write.

      Yours, Barbara

      Yours, Barbara

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