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What Is the Microcosmic Orbit?

By Maggie J. Hall
Updated Feb 19, 2024
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Microcosmic orbit involves an ancient Taoist form of meditation that generally combines breathing, meditation, and visualization techniques to circulate chi, the living force, around a specific pathway in the body. Commonly used in Taoist chi kung, or yoga, practitioners often refer to the exercise as the self-winding wheel of law. Instructors generally believe that microcosmic orbit meditation gives individuals the ability to control the movement of this energy. Many believe the essence nourishes the bodily systems as it travels.

Chinese culture suggests that the essence or chi circulates throughout various meridians within the body. Microcosmic orbit meditation enables individuals to cultivate and control the movement of this energy around the female yin and the male yang pathways. The abdomen, or area around the navel, is believed to be the starting point of the pathways.

The yang path travels from the abdomen down to the perineum and back toward the coccyx region. From here, the path continues up the spine, up and over the top of the head, and onto the face. Yang then moves down the face, into the mouth, and ends at the palate. Yin begins in the abdomen and travels up the medial front line of the body, ending at the tip of the tongue. According to the philosophy, the paths connect by touching the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth.

Prior to engaging in microcosmic orbit meditation, practitioners usually learn to physically relax and develop the ability to concentrate. This type of meditation may begin in a motionless sitting position. Practitioners of zhan huang, however, might perform microcosmic orbit meditation in a standing position, and individuals performing t’ai chi ch’uan may incorporate physical movement into the exercise. With a clear mind, practitioners commence deep breathing exercises stemming from the abdomen.

Using concentration and visualization, practitioners envision a golden ball of light forming in the abdomen, representing the chi. With the chi centered, microcosmic orbit breathing is thought to move the energy up and down along the pathways. Inhalation moves the chi upward, while exhalation guides it downward. Chi circulation begins by moving the light along the yang path, crossing the bridge formed by the tongue and palate, and bringing the energy back down the yin path to the abdominal region. These combined pathways form the orbit.

This rotation continues as many times as an individual desires. Practitioners believe that by orbiting the chi, the essence interacts with and opens 14 other energy centers. Opening these centers, Taoists maintain, nourishes the body’s various organs and systems, which offers many benefits. Microcosmic orbit meditation reportedly strengthens the immune system by encouraging lymph fluid movement, providing increased energy levels, and reducing internal stress that is often attributed to physical illness.

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