Ch'i Anatomy

Ch’i does pervade the entire human body, but it does so in a relatively orderly fashion. There are numerous pathways and storage areas for this vital energy. To make things more complicated, ch’i takes various forms depending upon which “storage center” it is occupying.

Meridians
The energy meridians are the means by which ch’i is transported throughout the energy body. There are twelve in all, and where one ends another begins, ultimately forming a large complex circuit. Healers often focus on the meridian system; strengthening the ones that have been weakened or sedating those that are overactive. The healing may involve use of numerous critical spots called acupuncture or acupressure points which lie on the meridian. There are hundreds of these acu-points in all. Each meridian is responsible for a particular organ and has a corresponding ‘element.’ A specific meridian will be strongest within a range of two hours throughout the day. That two hour period is the optimal time to practice ch’i kung to heal or prevent illness in the intended organ system.
Time: Organ and Element
3 am – 5 am: lungs, metal
5 am – 7 am: large intestine, metal
7 am – 9 am: stomach, earth
9 am – 11 am: spleen (and pancreas), earth
11 am – 1 pm: heart, fire
1 pm – 3 pm: small intestine, fire
3 pm – 5 pm: urinary bladder, water
5 pm – 7 pm: kidneys, water
7 pm – 9 pm: pericardium (circulation and sex), fire
9 pm – 11 pm: triple burner (stress and immune system), fire
11 pm – 1 am: gall bladder, wood
1 am – 3 am: liver, wood

The Five Element Theory
Each organ corresponds to an element. These elements do not reflect the material substance from which it is formed, but rather the manner in which it functions. The elements affect and are affected by many factors. As a whole, they can make supportive or destructive cycles.

~Wood~
Process: birth and growth
Body parts: eyes and sinews
Positive feeling: clarity
Negative feeling: anger
Resolving quality: forgiveness
Food: sour
Color: green (and turquoise, blue, possibly purple) Shape: vertical lines and forms
Season: spring
Direction: east
Strengthens: fire element
Weakens: earth element

~Fire~
Process: expansion
Body parts: tongue and blood vessels
Positive feeling: joy
Negative feeling: hate
Resolving quality: acceptance
Food: bitter
Color: red (and orange, possibly purple)
Shape: triangles
Season: summer
Direction: south
Strengthens: earth element
Weakens: metal element

~Earth~
Process: stability or apex of change*
Body parts: eyes and muscles
Positive feeling: concentration
Negative feeling: pensiveness or worry
Resolving quality: trust
Food: sweet
Color: yellow (and brown)
Shape: horizontal lines, boxes
Season: Indian summer, or seasonal transition
Direction: center
Strengthens: fire element
Weakens: water element
(* think of the peak height of a thrown ball – the vertical velocity will be zero)

~Metal~
Process: contraction and collection
Body parts: nose and skin and hair
Positive feeling: caring
Negative feeling: sadness
Resolving quality: inner strength
Food: pungent
Color: white (and metallic surfaces, rainbow)
Shape: dome-topped, round
Season: fall
Direction: west
Strengthens: water element
Weakens: wood element

~Water~
Process: dissension and storage
Body parts: ears and bones
Positive feeling: courage
Negative feeling: fear
Resolving quality: will
Food: salty
Color: black (and deep blues)
Shape: waves, fluid shapes
Season: winter
Direction: north
Strengthens: wood element
Weakens: fire element

Extraordinary Vessels
These vessels are “extraordinary” as they are “in addition to” the regular meridians. The energy vessels can be thought of as storing more ch’i than the meridians, but more flowing than the dan tiens (see below). There are generally thought to be eight systems of these extraordinary vessels. The most well known vessels are the Governing and Conception vessels. The Governing vessel runs upward behind the spine. The Conception vessel runs down the front of the body. These two connect and form the “microcosmic orbit” and regulate the other “regular” meridians. Also, there is a vessel running straight through the marrow of the spinal column, known as the Central or Thrusting Channel. This vessel is used in meditations dealing with spiritual enlightenment. The dan tiens are located on this channel. Additionally, there is a Belt or Girdle vessel that circles your waste which is thought to help in physical equilibrium and feelings of confidence. Furthermore there are vessels in the limbs. Some schools believe there are two in each arm and leg making up pairs. One runs to the foot or hand and another runs back to the center of the body. On the other hand, different schools believe that there are actually no ch’i vessels in the arms. Not too many ch’i kung exercises focus on strengthening a specific vessel, but there are exceptions. Ch’i kung, along with healthy living, gradually builds them all up.

Dan Tien
The dan tiens are the batteries which are capable of holding the power of the universe. They are our oceans of ch’i. Dan tiens, translated from Chinese, means “elixir fields,” – the regions that hold the “elixir” to health, longevity, and ultimately spiritual immortality. The dan tiens are perhaps the Chinese equivalent to the Indian charkas. However, ch’i kung stresses only three centers, although they do not deny the existence of others. Reconciling the two schools can be difficult, but certain similarities are undeniable. However, this writing will focus on the Chinese dan tiens only.

Lower Dan Tien
The lower dan tien is directly responsible for our physical wellbeing. Here one finds the “earth elixir,” (earth as in physical form). This center deals with our quantity of ch’i. Meditating upon the lower dan tien can make it become quite warm, full of ch’i. Probably the most important place to focus in ch’i kung training, at least for beginners, is this center. The lower dan tien region is mostly yin while the center of the real lower dan tien is a small but powerful yang. This dan tien is full of jing ch’i -energy in its material form, i.e. the hormones and fat (including sexual fluid and, in other cases, bone marrow, blood, lymph, cerebral spinal fluid, etc.). Jing transform into zhen or ren ch’i (neutral human energy). Neutral ch’i in turn governs jing. It is important to differentiate between the “false lower dan tien” and the “real lower dan tien.” The real lower dan tien is located approximately two inches down from the navel and another two inches inside the body. Here, “original essence” or hormones are “burned” and transformed into ch’i. In this “real” dan tien you can both produce and store vast quantities of energy. On the other hand, the “false dan tien” is also located two inches below the belly button but is not inside the belly; rather, it is on the surface of the body. Just because it is “false” does not mean it does not exist. It basically corresponds to the “ch’i hai” (translated to “sea of energy”) acupuncture point. The difference is that this “false” center usually burns fat instead of hormones. You cannot store ch’i for very long on this point. It will eventually move along the Conception vessel and into the Governing vessel. Most ch’i kung experts make it a point to concentrate on the “real” lower dan tien because of its storing capacity.

Middle Dan Tien
The middle dan tien is also known as the “heart/mind” center. Here one finds the “human elixir,” (human as in how we relate to others and ourselves). This center deals with emotions, relationships, and peace. It is located near the inside, center of the chest or sternum. The healthy, “enlightened” middle dan tien puts forth limitless compassion and love. Energy from the lower and upper dan tien blend here – it is both yin and yang. It is governed by the upper dan tien, and it itself governs the lower dan tien. Likewise, the lower dan tien fuels this middle dan tien, and the middle dan tien in turn fuels the upper dan tien. This dan tien transforms rhen chi into shen chi (spirit).

Upper Dan Tien
The upper dan tien is best known as the third eye. Here one finds the “heaven elixir,” (heaven as in mysterious, limitless, and without form). It deals with intention, will power, awareness, and spirituality. This dan tien is concerned with the quality of energy. It is mostly yang, with the center of the head (sometimes called the mud pill palace, among other things) being a small but powerful yin. Here spirit is made ready for a “flight into the universe.” Mastering the upper dan tien is rare and leads to spiritual enlightenment and immortality. This upper dan tien is fueled by the middle dan tien but also governs it. The spirit of the upper dan tien is fueled by, but also controls, neutral ch’i.