This Sunday, I chose a breathing visualization that yields multiple benefits. The primary component of the technique is the Dan Tien (DT), which is the energy “bank” that lies about three finger widths (cun, in the lingo of Traditional Chinese Medicine) below the navel. At this level of the DT, the qi is known as essential energy, or jing qi. (Technically, this is the lower DT; the middle resides at the level of the heart, and the upper corresponds to the Third Eye.) The DT is said to house the fires that stoke the entire organ system: when active and healthy, the DT provides continuous, balanced energy; when one is unwell or fatigued, the DT works overtime to distribute reserve energy.
The breath pattern for this practice is nothing more than deep, steady inhalation and exhalation: However, because it is paired with a precise visualization, there is a significant element of mindfulness to the control of the breath. The key to this practice is to focus inwardly, so that your mind’s eye becomes inextricably linked to the visualized movement of the breath. Because you will attach your mind to the traveling energy within a very specific region, that locale receives the full benefit of your mental, physical, and ethereal energies.
An additional benefit of this technique is that it helps to soothe an aching or stiff lower back: The conscious breathing relaxes the nervous system, which calms the pain response; the localized flow of qi through the lumbar area helps to flush stagnant energy from tight muscles; and the movement of the diaphragm gently massages the core from within.
To begin, come into whatever position you like! Lying on your back with a pillow under your knees is wonderful for a sore back; seated in a chair or on the floor; or even standing with knees softly bent is a fine option. Then, place one hand on your lower belly, so that the palm covers the area three cun below the navel: I like to place the tip of my thumb on my belly button; the palm then naturally finds the DT. Rest the other hand on top of the that hand.
Special note: The above-mentioned placement of the thumb will also act as a guide during the visualization, as the navel is a specified point therein.
Begin to attune your mind to the sensations in your palms; allow that energy to begin a conversation with the DT. Next, generate the idea of warmth, and allow that to manifest in your palms and DT. Take your inner eye to the navel: inhale fully and steadily. Use your mind to guide the breath into the DT.
Now, with your mind’s eye at the DT, begin a slow, steady exhalation; this exhale will take you down, up, and around this lower region of your body, so be mindful of the steadiness of the released breath. As begin your exhale, guide the breath down the center line of your body, from the DT toward the genitals; continue exhaling as the traveling breath moves to the perineum, and begins to loop up to the lower back.
As the breathed “line” of qi arrives on your spine at the level of the kidneys (the Gate of Vitality, or ming men point), you will visualize the qi separating, so that it can wrap around your waist to the right and left. The exhale completes as the two strands of this qi return to meet at the navel point. To begin again, inhale from the belly button into the DT, and continue. Repeat this entire route 3-8 times.
Special note: If at first you have some trouble guiding the qi along its full route on one exhalation, you can complete one exhale at the ming men point. There, inhale, and then exhale to move the energy around your waist, reconnecting at the navel. Once your mind is familiar with the visualization, try to travel the entire pathway on one exhale.
When you have become comfortable with the directionality of this visualization, the process becomes highly meditative. The “harness” that you create through your visualization acts as a stabilizing force, energetically and mentally. Further, from a yogic perspective, you are stimulating and harmonizing the First and Second chakras, which correspond to stability and creativity, respectively: Once rooted and balanced, you have the sense of security that yields an inner environment conducive to creativity.