This week in our focus exercise we encounter the first of the extraordinary meridians as we complete what is commonly referred to as the microcosmic orbit with our energy. This microcosmic orbit is created by circulating energy through the Governing and Central/Conception meridians.
Structuring Your Sessions
This week again begin by doing a little of the previous weeks exercises. Activate the centre until you can begin to feel some energy there and press outwards to spread this energy to fill your body. Then spend the rest of your session focusing on this week’s exercise. If you have enough time you can complete the rest of the set during your session if you wish, but make sure you spend plenty of time focused on this week’s exercises so that you can start to understand the exercise and FEEL the effect that it has on the energy flow in your body.
This is the pattern that you will follow in all subsequent weeks. Each exercise is important preparation for the next in the series.
The following video shows the focus exercise for this week. Do as many repetitions of this simple exercise as you want to/have time for in your session.
Additional details about the exercise
This exercise is a type of ‘lift up pour down’ exercise (there are numerous variations of this type of exercise in various qigong practices) where we use the motion of the arms to raise energy upwards in our body and then cause it to descend. In this case we are using rising and falling of the energy to tap into our internal energy we have stimulated in the preceding exercises and circulate it up and down the Governing and Central/Conception meridians in a loop or circuit. We do this first circulating the energy up the spine and down the front of the body and then in the reverse direction.
The circulation of energy is primarily caused by the physical stimulation caused by the movement of the exercise. As you begin to raise your arms by your sides, the pelvis floor muscles (underneath the pelvis) activate to provide a firm base to support the movement. As your arms raise a little higher the gluteal muscles (buttocks) engage on either side of the sacrum. As the arms raise higher still, the activity of the back muscles (latissimus dorsi, erector spinae and other accessory muscles) create a slight ‘pulling’ on both sides of the spine upwards towards the shoulders. As the arms move up higher than the shoulders and you begin to look upwards the muscles of the neck (trapezius, levator scapulae and others) engage and the pulling continues up the spine and into the sheath of connective tissue that goes over the skull and right to the top of the eyebrows. As you lower your hands in front of your body, the load on the spine is reduced and the force travels down the centre of the front of your body with the combined activity of the chest, rib and abdominal muscles focusing this force into the line of the sternum and linea alba (connective tissue running down the centre of the abdominal muscles.
The activity and movement of force is then reversed when we move our arms in the opposite direction.
As you perform this movement slowly, at first see if you can feel the rise and fall of this physical force as the different muscles engage. As this force moves through the body it stimulates movement of fluid, heat, nerve activity and so on, as well. As you continue to practice the exercise, see if you can also feel the movement of these other types of energy as well – giving an overall sensation of moving ‘qi’ or lifeforce energy.
Circulating energy in the way described for this exercise is commonly referred to as the ‘micro-cosmic orbit’. This circulation is thought to be an important representation of the movement of energy in the universe or cosmos. In particular this circulation creates a harmonious linkage between yin and yang. The energy smoothly circulates to from yin to yang as the arms raise and the body becomes more active with the energy rising to the head, and then from yang back to yin as the arms lower, the body becomes more passive or resting and the energy sinks back down to the lower abdomen.
The pathways used for this circulation are referred to as the governing meridian and the central or conception meridian. These meridians have a strong association with the two major branches of your autonomic nervous system. The governing meridian is yang or active in nature and is related to the sympathetic nervous system which runs up the spine and is responsible for increasing activity in body. The central meridian is yin or passive in nature and is related to the parasympathetic nervous system which while originating in the spine has a distribution more to the front of the body and is responsible for relaxing functions within the body.
So by linking these two we create a beneficial cycle between stimulation and relaxation, keeping the bodies energy in balance.
Note: While these meridians are strongly associated with the branches of the nervous system, this is not their only role, they are associated with a whole group of functions within the body. What is presented here is a very simple description of both the meridians and their role and the various branches of your extremely sophisticated nervous system. This representation is sufficient for a basic understanding of the effect of these qigong practices. Further understanding through in depth study of anatomy and physiology is highly recommended!
There are several variations of the microcosmic orbit, and different methods of achieving this circulation. The method in this exercise is a very simple and effective one. Alternate versions of the microcosmic orbit and their relative merits are discussed in the qigong theory course.