‘Fanning the Furnace’ Guided Imagery Meditation Chi Kung
Tan Tien Breathing is also known as Fanning the Furnace Breathing, Lower Heaven Breathing, or Field of Elixir Breathing. These names refer to a type of ages-old guided imagery chi kung (chi kung/qigong means breathing in congruence with effort or in time with movement). The most common title that I’ve come to utilize is Fanning the (sparkling) Furnace.
In this tradition (Tao Chan/Ming Chia), it is said that there are two tan tien points/portals. With regard to the ‘real’ tan tien, it is located just behind the navel/CV-8 acupoint (also known as the sea of chi). This point is approximately two and one-half inches (two and one-half cun – e.g., personal thumb-widths – per one’s own body mapping) above the ‘circulatory’ tan tien/CV-5 acupoint (CV is the common abbreviation for the central vessel in acupressure/TCM/traditional Chinese medicine theory).
The real tan tien is viewed as the body’s central bio-electric energy (chi/qi) point or ‘furnace’ and the circulatory tan tien is as per its namesake, for circulating the bio-electric energy stored in the real tan tien: This so-coined energy is viewed as our ‘original energy’ which has an intrinsic association with our kidneys, where, in an healthy person, it additionally resides. It is also said that this is the energy which one is born with – and/or brought us into this existence – once again, all in congruence with traditional acupuncture/TCM theory).
The real tan tien is viewed as the place where our corporeal bio-electric energy is generally centered. Though through true effort, pertinent insight, and meditative witnessing/guided imagery, one can better and better learn to (QUITE healthfully) enhance this centering or storage of bio-electric energy/chi/ki/pranha – not unlike a ‘furnace’ or ‘field of elixir’ or ‘sea of chi’. Traditionally speaking, when one focuses one’s mind/attention/yi at this point & performs competent abdominal/diaphragmatic breathing, it is believed to substantively enhance the quality of one’s health and well-being (which is such that words do not adequately describe – it can only be better and better witnessed).
Such breathing, relaxation, and guided imagery congruent with the execution of competent ‘witnessing’ (versus thinking) during any activity or level of ‘being’ is the centerpiece of true meditation. Such is traditionally and particularly performed with the practice of chi kung, tai chi chuan, kung fu, and yoga – albeit it can be embraced and practiced with almost all activity (sedate or moving through life’s general activities).
This practice is viewed as a potent means by which to promote health/wellness/greater longevity, e.g., centering/lowering/sinking/concentrating one’s bio-electric energy – enhancing one’s furnace or field of elixir – building the strength of one’s energy so that one can learn to feel the sparkling energy at will (AND all-of-the-time). It can only be realized when combined with skilled diaphragmatic breathing: such skilled breathing is what can be coined as fanning the furnace.
Once one becomes quite skilled in this practice, one can learn to use/move it in fashions congruent with various traditional and more complicated types of guided imagery/meditation/witnessing – consistent with succinct manipulation for health/wellness/treatment purposes (inclusive of stimulation of acupoints for self-treatment and using one’s hands to stimulate/treat the acupoints using one’s fingers and hands – coined traditionally as chi kung an mo): Theretofore, as one learns to fan the furnace competently, one learns to employ the circulatory tan tien in order to move the energy in one’s various guided imagery/visualization practices. Please realize that these skills, are just that – skills. It should be quite obvious that these practices cannot be learned ‘overnight’.
This basic guided imagery utilizes either the advance or reverse breathing methods (as described below). Even though this type of meditative breathing guided imagery is considered a most basic technique, it does not mean that it is easy or of lesser importance, e.g., most students of the art will not go further along (to even more difficult techniques), which makes this technique all the more important. AND this technique is the foundation of all other types of traditional guided imagery visualization.
It can be misunderstood that the real tan tien can be so much more important than the circulatory tan tien. Albeit, like the real tan tien point, the circulatory tan tien is viewed as a very important point also – each complement the other, yin to yang – yang to yin. As stated, the latter’s purpose is to circulate chi but not store it (e.g., IT cannot store chi). By practicing pertinent guided imagery, one can ‘fan the furnace’ so-to-speak AND healthfully promote the circulation of chi. Through time and effort, one learns to practice both types of tan tien breathing – which as stated are meant to intrinsically complement one another. Therein, one can attain a nearer and nearer to impeccable state of stillness. In working toward this, remarkable levels of relaxation and lightness can be realized/embraced. All of this must be complemented by what is coined as ‘witnessing’ – learning to play the part of a less and less blemished witness in one’s guided imagery meditation. These practices cannot be entirely rationally understood – but at best being a witness without thought or expectations (thoughts which most often serve to get in the way).
These practices are coined as true skills, e.g., all-of-the-time diaphragmatic breathing consistent fanning the furnace through guided imagery meditation/witnessing, and true relaxation – altogether congruent with working toward true mastery thereof. The meaning of this ‘true mastery’ is enjoying such objective insight that one witnesses the truth – inclusive of, that the greatest blessing of all is that no matter how skilled one becomes, there is always room for improvement (most particularly on this Earth). Accordingly, it is learning to better and better play the part of an healthy conduit/diplomat between Heaven (OR just the heavens – whichever one prefers) and Earth…in harmony with better and better realization of true health.
Below find a most basic form of Fanning the Furnace guided imagery:
This is a form of mindfulness meditation guided imagery/visualization chi kung.
Herein, this guided imagery will be set forth for a standing position, but it can also be done in a sitting position – sitting on a chair/stool, or in a lotus sitting posture. At more and more skilled levels, it can be performed in most any setting in one’s daily life – which is a primary goal. It is traditionally set forth that there may be nothing more healthful.
This exercise is engineered to be practiced in a spirit congruent with the following question – How Much Gratitude Does One Need to be Healthy? (it is additionally practiced as a so-titled ancillary guided imagery which is a preparation exercise for most other types of guided imagery meditation in this tradition)
Stand with one’s feet almost together (called a ‘humble stance’), and bend one’s knees comfortably. Put one’s tongue against the roof of one’s mouth (connecting the Governing and Central Vessels – congruent with acupuncture theory – promoting of greater and greater homeostasis). Relax one’s face, shoulders, hands, and feet – it’s said, “if they’re relaxed, you’re relaxed.”
Realize that relaxation is a true skill – there is always room for improvement. Realize, we ALWAYS have some stress, no matter how relaxed we are. Be so relaxed that one is barely standing – in what we coin as a Swaying Willow demeanor. Gently roll the spine above the waist, forward and backward. This demeanor is much like a willow tree swaying in a gentle wind. Breathe in, all the way forward and backward, and breathe out in between. Constantly adjust one’s eyes so that one is always looking slightly above straight ahead, without focusing or staring – a ‘visual meditative demeanor’ (though it is done both with the eyes open and closed – begin with the eyes open).
Fan the furnace by getting the ‘engine’ of the (advance vs. reverse) diaphragmatic/abdominal breathing going. Breathe in, push one’s abdomen out, breathe out, pull one’s abdomen in. Pretend that one’s lungs are in one’s abdomen.
One of the greatest gifts one can allow oneself, is all-of-the-time diaphragmatic breathing – there is nothing more healthful. If one practices this breathing for five minutes twice daily, in 30 to 60 days most people will realize all-of-the-time diaphragmatic breathing. It greatly enhances circulation, and promotes the secretion of relaxing, pain killing hormones (empirically substantiated).
A minority of people benefit more from reverse breathing – breathing in pulling one’s abdomen in, and breathing out pushing one’s abdomen out. Unlike the former advance-style breathing, this breathing is more for people who tend to be more so lethargic/cold/less active, versus those who tend to be more so stressed/anxious/very active/warm. Advance breathing is also coined summer breathing, and reverse breathing is also coined winter breathing. The former cools one, the latter warms one. Both can be utilized for fanning the furnace guided imagery.
Be in a spirit of gratitude and true appreciation. Be all in the moment. A true appreciation of the miracle of the moment. Ask oneself, “How much gratitude does one need to be healthy?” Don’t continue to work toward thinking about the question, but endeavor to be in that splendid spirit.
Try not to think, just witness one’s breathing, relaxation, and subtle movement. Endeavor to play the part of a less and less blemished witness. If a thought comes to one’s mind, embrace it, see it for what it is, don’t hang on to it, just let it go – put all of one’s attention in just what one is doing.
Mindfulness meditation is putting ALL of one’s attention into just one, two, or three aspects of what one is doing at any given time. It is next to impossible to be upset, anxious, worried, depressed, sad, or frustrated, if one is not thinking such thoughts. This is a primary purpose of mindfulness meditation – it is the sword (h’uo t’uo) that cuts out internal dialogue and/or cyclical thinking – ideally all thought…BEING ‘light’. Thoughts are often ‘heavy’.
Using the above-stated criteria, move onto this variation of the Fanning the Furnace exercise: As one breathes in, imagine that one brings fresh energy in which strengthens the furnace behind one’s navel – not unlike a gentle fire or sparkling warmth. As one breathes out, imagine that the breath out fans the furnace…stronger and stronger, until one learns to feel the furnace. Learn to relax and witness this, versus think about it. Over time, one can learn to feel/witness the furnace at will, all-of-the-time. It is said that nothing is more healthful, combined with the proper breathing and relaxation.
*Remember, this is all congruent with learning all-of-the-time diaphragmatic breathing and witnessing AND learning to truly relax. The diaphragmatic breathing complements witnessing and relaxation and vice-versa. These facets are intrinsically connected. They are initially learned separately, but are one or in harmony when realized at a skilled level.
**When one learns to feel the sparkling furnace at will, one moves onto moving the energy around the body in order to heal the body, and for general guided imagery purposes. Many complementary types of traditional guided imagery can be taught and are set forth in student handouts and in my blog posts. There are over a dozen guided imagery practices handed-down in this tradition.
***The ‘sparkling feelings’ have a truly significant association with the spine-tingling/sparkling feelings some experience in special (often sentimental) moments in one’s lifetime. Additionally (and not in any way to be in a spirit of being coarse), many people sometimes experience these types of feelings during urination. These feelings are completely in the realm of ‘sweet and innocent’, and not in any fashion sexual.
****The key is to learn to succinctly center/focus the so-coined energy at the furnace and strengthen it there – stronger and stronger and stronger, and learn to additionally use it, move it, in a splendidly healthful fashion congruent with tradition. This practice is traditionally complemented by the handed-down resonant healing/assertive Five Phases single and multisyllabic sounds.
*****Please know that all of the nomenclature/terminology utilized herein is just that, terminology – never meant to be misleading. It is said that “real truth can only be witnessed, not thought about or logically understood.” It is said that “the Way that can be told is not the eternal Way, the way that can be told is the mother of all things.” It is reflected in the madman screaming, “If the stars are not words, stop calling them stars.” Even so, we as human beings most often, at least in most settings, begin learning things by way of words. It can be a beginning, but at best not the whole or the end. – Dr Glen Hepker
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