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Qi Gong: Developing Axial Consciousness

Traditionally, the central focus of qigong practice is to cultivate and balance qi as it affects mind (心), body (身), and spirit (靈). (Liu, JeeLoo. An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy: From Ancient Philosophy to Chinese Buddhism. Wiley-Blackwell./ Frantzis, Bruce Kumar (1995). Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body (The Tao of Energy Enhancement). North Atlantic Books.)

In Chinese philosophy, the concept of qi as a form of pervasive life energy includes original qi that a person has at birth, and qi a person acquires from air, water, food, sunlight, and interaction with the environment. (Liu, JeeLoo. An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy: From Ancient Philosophy to Chinese Buddhism. Wiley-Blackwell./ Li, Chenyang (1999). The Tao encounters the West: explorations in comparative philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press.) A person is believed to become ill or die when qi becomes diminished or unbalanced. Health is believed to be returned by rebuilding qi, eliminating qi blockages, and correcting qi imbalances.

Traditional Chinese medicine focuses on tracing and correcting underlying disharmony, in terms of deficiency and excess, using the complementary and opposing forces of yin and yang, to create a balanced flow of qi. Qi is believed to be cultivated and stored in three main dantian energy centers and to travel through the body along twelve main meridians, with numerous smaller branches and tributaries. The main meridians correspond to twelve main organs (Zàng fǔ).


Dantian locations


Qi Gong as a physical health practice, presented by the contemporary Chinese and Westerners, is a complex accretion of the ancient Chinese meditative practice xing qi 行氣 or “circulating qi,” and gymnastic exercise daoyin 導引 or “guiding and pulling… The tradition of the meditative practices and gymnastic exercises goes back a long way in Chinese history. The first source, and the earliest evidence of the meditative practice and gymnastic exercise is the discovery of the Neolithic vessel in the early 1980s in Northwest China. The pottery is identified as a Shamanic vessel. The image on the nearly 7000 year old pottery, archaeologists suggest, represents the hermaphroditic unity of wu xi 巫覡, or the priest-shaman… Since the image of the body posture on the pottery is identical to the posture of the essential meditative practice or gymnastic exercise, the Chinese Qi Gong historian Li Zhiyong 李志庸 contends that the priest-shamans were the earliest masters of the Chinese meditative practice and gymnastic exercise. The Harvard anthropology professor K. C. Chang not only agrees with Li, but also suggests that the meditative practice and gymnastic exercise might have been the essential method for the priest-shamans to arrive at the state of trance/ecstasy. (Chang, 145) In addition, the French sinologist Catherine Despeux also traces the meditative practice and gymnastic exercise back to the ancient shamanic techniques of ecstasy. She sums up the studies of the Marcel Granet and Maxime Kaltenmark, which trace the shamanic origins of the legendary immortals Pengzu 彭祖, Chisongzi 赤松子, the masters of the wind and the rain, and the animal-bird dances. Despeux concludes: “the gymnastic exercises are a later development of original shamanic techniques.” (Despeux, 239) (YeYoung, Bing. “Origins of Qi Gong”. YeYoung Culture Studies: Sacramento, CA From:

Picture 137 (2)

Picture 136

Zhuangzi specifies:  “Zhenren 真人, or the True Man’s food is plain, but his breathing is unfathomable and tranquil. While the breathing of mass is through their throats, the breathing of the True Man is through his heels.” (Guo, 228) Zhuangzi conceives such training for the Way by refining and energizing qi in controlling one’s posture and breathing.  (YeYoung, Bing. “Origins of Qi Gong”. YeYoung Culture Studies: Sacramento, CA From:

Taoist and Buddhist teachers often instruct their students to center the mind in the navel or lower dantian. This is believed to aid control of thoughts and emotions. Acting from the dantian is considered to be related to higher states of awareness or samadhi.

Qi is cultivated in the dantian. The energy from other subtle dimensions enters the physical realm at the dantian.

The lower dantian corresponds to the yoga concept of the swadhisthana chakra. In yoga philosophy, it is thought to be the seat of prana that radiates outwards to the entire body. (T’ai Chi Ch’uan and Meditation by Da Liu, pages 91-92 – Routledge and Keegan Paul 1987)


Earth energy and heaven energy meet in the lower dantian.

The body’s vitality is called jing centered in the lower dantian. The power that makes mental activity possible is called Qi. The energy of the heart is called shen. All three spread throughout the whole body. The relationship between them can be compared to a candle. Jing is the candlestick, Qi is the flame, and Shen is the light that emanates from the flame. The flame becomes greater when the candlestick is bigger. The light is brighter when the flame is greater. (

One must cultivate their jing(vitality) in the lower dantian(below navel) in order to attain more qi. The more qi one accumulates, the greater their heart will radiate. This is the unification of qi(breath/spirit) with jing(vitality/earth) to create shen(love/heart).


The three dantian are also known as the “Cinnabar Fields”.”

In Yin Xi’s biography in the Lishi zhenxian tidao tong jian, j. 8, “yin Xi zhuan” we find the following passage: Yin Xi asked Laozi: “Purifying gold and absorbing breath, can the Tao be dichotomous in the way?” Laozi replied: “The floreate essence of Heaven and Earth, the root of Yin and Yang, is what is known as the two qi (breath, pneuma). The Yang dragon and Yin tiger, the liquid of wood and the essence of metal, take their two qi and unite them; the product obtained upon purification is what is called the outer elixir (waidan). Keep it within and purify the viscera, expel the old [breath] and introduce the new, conduct it up to the Nihuan (upper field of cinnabar), make it descend and concentrate in the lower cinnabar field, circulate it non-stop until it goes to audience in the scarlet palace (heart, middle field of cinnabar). (Baldrian Hussein, Farzeen. “Inner Alchemy: Notes on the Origin and Use of the Term neidan.” Cahiers d’Extreme-Asie 5.1 (1989): 172).

The three places in the human body where neurons are most concentrated are the brain, the heart, and the gut. When all three work in unison the result is axial consciousness.

“Our true consciousness, the consciousness into which humanity is evolving, does not lie in either the pole of the head or the pole of the belly. Our true consciousness is a field sustained by the axis that runs between those poles – as the poles of a bar magnet sustain a magnetic field around it. Before we can grow into an axial consciousness, though, we have to reclaim what we abandoned so long ago: the female genius of being, which resides in the belly.” (Shepherd, Philip New Self, New World: Recovering Our Senses in the Twenty-First Century North Atlantic Books 2010)

Gut Brain & Axial Consciousness


The following is from the article “Coming Home to the Body” by Philip Shepherd, whose book New Self, New World: Recovering Our Senses in the Twenty-First Century is one of my favorite all time works:

“One of the primary messages of our culture’s story is that it is normal and even unavoidable to live in our heads. Neurology (and who can doubt such an advanced science?) assures us that the self is pretty much contained in the brain – and I’m sure, incidentally, that most neurologists do clearly feel their self contained in their craniums. What neurologists rarely mention, and tacitly dismiss, is that there is a second, independent, self-sufficient brain in the belly that perceives, remembers, decides and acts. We have known about that second brain for over a hundred years, but our culture’s headstrong story has no place for that aspect of our physiology – so although it is accepted by medical science, it is pretty much ignored by everyone.


Other cultures recognize and celebrate the thinking in the belly as the seat of our profoundest truths – cultures as diverse as the Japanese, the Incas, North American Aboriginals and the Chinese. In fact, the belly is where European cultures experienced their thinking some 10,000 years ago – but as those ancient cultures moved from female-centered values that celebrated the Goddess to male-centered values that celebrated the God, the center of our thinking began to drift up from the belly, so that by the time Homer was writing, our thinking was experienced in the chest (the word Homer used for ‘mind’ was phren, and it also meant ‘diaphragm’), and it had arrived in the head by Plato’s day

Living in the head enables us to withdraw from all the messy sensations of the world around us and gain clear perspectives on it so that we can make good choices, or ‘decisions’ – decisions that are, ipso facto, largely uninformed by the messy sensations of the world. Furthermore, from the sensation-deprived prospect of the head, the world appears to be largely dead and controllable, reducible to subatomic particles obeying the laws of physics…

… The head is where we can consciously think. So highly do we value our faculty of reason that we overlook its fundamental impotence: wondrous as that faculty is, you cannot reason your way into the present. If you are not present, you will not be informed by the present – and then your ‘decisions’ will be made according to your second-hand ideas about the present, oblivious of its song and blind to its deeper harmony. The division of the self, then – which our culture’s story presents as normal and inevitable – means our actions will be divided from and deaf to the world’s harmony. There is an enduring principle at work here: as we relate to the body, so we relate to the world. It cannot be otherwise…

If the brain in the head is where we can consciously think, the brain in the belly – which is associated with the female aspect of our consciousness – is where we can consciously ‘be’. Its genius brings us into relationship with all things, and integrates the many into a felt whole. As a culture, we have pretty much lost the ability to just ‘be’ – we are devotedly addicted to doing, doing, doing. Birthing a new self doesn’t ask us to abandon the male and return to the female – it asks us to honor both and unite their strengths, recognizing at the same time that ‘home’ for the new-born self will not be in the head, but in the belly: awake to the mindful present, guided by its subtle whisperings, working in harmony with it.

Our true consciousness, the consciousness into which humanity is evolving, does not lie in either the pole of the head or the pole of the belly. Our true consciousness is a field sustained by the axis that runs between those poles – as the poles of a bar magnet sustain a magnetic field around it. Before we can grow into an axial consciousness, though, we have to reclaim what we abandoned so long ago: the female genius of being, which resides in the belly.”

brain-gut_axis (2)


Indigenous Astrology

California Indians knew, unequivocally, that their lifelines as humans lay in the cycles of the land. Events were timed with the coming and going of animals and the ripening of culturally important plants. This synchrony was a constant reminder that human destiny and nonhuman life were intimately intertwined. Even the conception of a baby might be planned around specific seasons marked by animal births and the sprouting of plants.  The most favorable time for Miwok woman to have a child was between the months of March and June because, as a Southern Sierra Miwok man explained to a Belgium Argonaut, “[i]t is when the Spirit gives existence to everything, that the ‘Ohha (woman) should give existence.”  He further commented that during these months, “he [the sun] is superior in his turn, makes every-thing  grow, the birds in the air, terrestrial animals, and plants.” (Anderson, M. Kat Tending the Wild University of California Press 2005: 60)


Living Mountains and Human Spirit

santa ynez mts2

Sacred mountains, symbolizing the exaltation of divine providence, are to be found in all parts of the world. Moreover, the fusion of man and mountain into a living embodiment of truth and light as the way to knowledge of self and the universe is a fundamental belief of many extant traditions. Equally, mountains are metaphors for transcendent states of being; they are also living repositories of sacred energies and conduits of power and revelation.

Mountains occupy a prominent position in the spiritual life of prominent position in the spiritual life of innumerable cultures across the planet… For example, the thirteenth-century Japanese Zen Master and teacher Dogen tells us that “from time immemorial the mountains have been the dwelling place of the great sages; wise men and sages have all made the mountains their own chambers, their own body and mind.’ In much the same spirit, Masanobu Fukuoka believes that “Those who make use of discriminating knowledge cannot grasp the truth of [Mount Fuji]. Without the whole, the parts are lost, and without the parts, there is no whole. Both lie within the same plane… To know the real Fuji one must look at the self in relation to Fuji rather than at the mountain itself… When one’s eyes are opened by forgetting the self and becoming one with Fuji, then one will know the true form of the mountain.

The Kogi of Colombia make their home on a mountaintop and have instructions about the sacredness of the mountain world: “The Mother told us to look after all mountains. They are ceremonial houses. We know that all the mountains we see are alive. So we make offerings to them.” The Kikuyu, with more than two million members the largest tribe in Kenya, revere Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest peak and the heavenly abode of their Supreme Being, Ngai…

… Alfonso Ortiz,, a Native American poet and writer, turns to a Tewa expression Pin pe obi, “look to the mountaintop,” for a guiding vision of life… He conveys the potential of the summits when he recites a Tewa prayer, “Within and around the mountains, your authority returns to you.”

(McLuhan, T.C. The Way of the Earth: Encounters with Nature in Ancient and Contemporary Thought SIMON & SHUSTER 1996: 28-29)

santa ynez mts3


Agricultural/Industrial societies are afraid of Wilderness

Hunter/Gatherer and Plant Tending societies are sustained by Wilderness

Notes from “The cosmos as intersubjective: Native American other-than human persons”

… when the power concept manitou is understood as knowledge and influence, the term embodies (that is to say is given presence, rather than abstract representation) an awareness of the social interdependence of all persons. Far from being impersonal, then, manitou describes a world emerging from the intersubjectivity of various beings’ self-oriented and other-oriented purposes… (Morrison, Kenneth M. “The cosmos as intersubjective: Native American other-than human persons” Indigenous religions: a companion. Harvey, Graham, ed. Continuum, 2000. pp. 26-27)

… As one would expect in a cosmos constituted by persons, the Ojibwa think precisely in relational, rather than objective, terms. For them, as for other Native American peoples, causality and personal intentionality are synonymous, particularly since they invariably locate power – here understood as the ability to influence other beings – in the interplay of all sorts of persons. Such a relational view shapes the ways in which the Ojibwa conceive of a wide range of interpersonal phenomena. They understood prominent features of the land as having emerged from the intentional acts of Nanabozho, their culture hero. They think of the course of the seasons, and of day and night, as related to the purposes of Winter and Summer, the Sun, the Moon, and the stars. Bird and animal behavior reveal a similar purposefulness as these persons interact with each other, and with Ojibwa individuals… Hallowell writes that the Ojibwa are not at all interested in dominant non-Indian modes of thinking. They do not ask: What causes? They ask instead: Who causes? (p. 31)

… Native American ways of life have a relational character whose power cannot be understood either in objective or supernaturalistic ways. Native American religious sensibilities focus on the ways in which reality is interactive, rather than substantial, fixed, mechanical, or magical. (p. 33)

Native American languages encode the insight that speech is a power all persons share. As Gary Witherspoon (1977) has shown, the Navajo think of language as generative rather than, as in European convention, representative. Navajo speech does not encode realities which might exist independently, objectively apart from itself. In Witherspoon’s interpretation, Navajo words do not mirror reality. Words do not stand for or, as is often said, symbolize any reality apart from themselves. On the contrary, Navajo speech embodies the speaker’s intentionality, and extends the self beyond the body, to shape a reality coming into being in the field of interpersonal dialogue. Speech influences and motivates a cosmos of relationships and social processes (Witherspoon 1977). (pp. 34-35)

Taoist Body/Cosmic Power

“In one sense… the mystical aspect of the Daoist religion may be considered as comprising ways to realize “the whole glory” of the unity of humans, heaven, and earth.  The organic metaphors employed in Daoist writing suggest that this unity is to be conceived as an ontogenetic unity, that is, a root from which the diversity of things flowers. The genetic metaphor of root and branch (ben-mo) is a powerful way of conceiving our relation to the primordial source (yuandao) from which all life flows. Human beings experience a unity with this transformative, multifarious vitality within their bodies. For the Daoist, then, it is the body, not just the heart-mind (xin), that must be cultivated and imaged in order to realize the unity of humans and the cosmos. It is this point that most clearly distinguishes Daoist cultivation practices from Confucian intellectual discourse. This does not mean that Daoism and Confucianism are in any sense opposed to each other intellectually or practically. Rather, they operate on different terrains. Confucians seek primarily the transformation of the self through the cultivation of the heart-mind by means of devoted attention to the classics. Daoists seek primarily to realize a sort of transparency or porosity between their bodily identity and the economy of cosmic power in which it is embedded

… In the practice of Daoist cultivation, then, the human body forms the preeminent landscape or terrain for the Daoist imagination. To use an analogy from the Chinese, the character xing means “form” primarily in the concrete sense of the bodily form and secondarily in the abstract sense of the form of things. The body, in Daoist thought, informs—is the preeminent form of—human understanding and may serve as a vital metaphor for understanding our relationship with the world and for managing the practical complexities of social organization…

… The Daoist religious system known as Highest Clarity (Shangqing) employed this theory of microcosm/macrocosm correspondence in its practice of invoking the presence of celestial divinities in the energy systems of the body, naming them, and describing how they configure the energy in each physiological system of the body.”  (Miller, James “Envisioning the Daoist Body in the Economy of Cosmic Power” Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences)

“Human beings have 360 joints, nine bodily openings, and five yin and six yang systems of function. In the flesh tightness is desirable; in the blood vessels free flow is desirable; in the sinews and bones solidity is desirable; in the operations of the heart and mind harmony is desirable; in the essential Qi regular motion is desirable. When [these desiderata] are realized, illness has nowhere to abide, and there is nothing from which pathology can develop. When illness lasts and pathology develops, it is because the essential Qi has become static.” (Lüshi chunqiu 20, trans. Nathan Sivin, Medicine, Philosophy and Religion in Ancient China (Aldershot, England: Variorum, 1995), 6.)

“It is important to remember that yin and yang are not forces or substances but modes or aspects of the transpiration of vital energy. This energy is the stuff of the universe as well as the vitality of our bodies. The last sentence of the quotation is particularly instructive. The nature of yang-Qi (expiration) is to transform, whereas the nature of yin-Qi (inspiration) is to receive and store form. The transformation of things, that is, the process of life itself, takes place by means of the continuous dynamic of the projection (yang) and reception (yin) of energy. Moreover, this dynamic, at its root, informs the cosmic diversity of the “ten thousand things.” The binary dynamic that models the energetic transpiration of human physiological systems is the same dynamic that models the phases of the moon and the orbits of the stars. The basic binary character of the universe is a function of the dynamic nature of energy: Qi is never static; it is either expanding or contracting, activating or storing. There is no such thing as a steady  state…

… Within the bodily “ecosystem,” each physiological subsystem, then, is constructed for the purpose of the free circulation of vital energy and fluids throughout the body. In traditional Chinese medicine, the diagnosis of pathologies consists of analyzing the network of relations between energy systems in order to detect disturbances to the homeostasis. This means taking into account the causal relationships within the systems, and also the synchronic correlation between the bodily systems and the macrocosmic environment

… When a change takes place in the global environment, therefore, it is inevitable that this will produce a synchronous reaction on other processes. For this reason different forms of ritual “astro-geomantic” practice are prescribed by Daoist priests, in accordance with the rotations of the stars and the contours of the earth.”  (Miller, James “Envisioning the Daoist Body in the Economy of Cosmic Power” Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences)