first practice: meridian-based body mandala

For those of you who like to cut to the chase, here’s a beginning stage Neidan yoga practice at this level. The key idea: hone in on a few essential qi flows (meridians, central channel) and related points (acupoints, chakra symbols including the petals) and stabilize awareness.

A paraphrase of a sentiment shared over the ages by the likes of Michelangelo and Ben Franklin: Perfection consists of trifles … perfection is no trifle! (That is, the details count and, in the end, though it’s a lot of work, the result makes it all worthwhile.)

THEN, progressively build the body mandala including points within and outside the physical body. This is similar in aim to the Tibetan Buddhist practices but simpler to implement. The Tibetan approach requires great visualization skill (a certain part of the right parietal lobe of the brain) whereas qigong (and this approach) is much more of a somatic approach (touch and sensation which means a different part of the brain).

Later stages of the Neidan yoga approach tend to merge with the Tibetan approach since once higher levels of brain coherence are achieved (by hook or crook or whatever works within the realm of decency) most areas of brain function can be accessed and employed gainfully.

In essence, this tack towards building a body mandala (BBM) is a streamlined and super-simplified path. The Tibetans recognized that BBM is not quite an ordinary feat even for their own monks so they introduced their own version of a beginner’s take on the practice. Their simplified meditations are based on the deity, Vajrayogini. You can read about these to get a feel for what a vanilla Tibetan approach to BBM would be.

Here you go: a sample of what early Neidan yoga practice for BBM entails:

The rest of this web page introduces and then details the main ideas behind meditation and why the Neidan yoga perspective and simplified method just makes good sense—for most folks with ordinary karma, at least. Definitely worth understanding what’s being said on this page even if you take your time going about it. The basic ideas can be a game-changer.

The Challenge of Advanced Meditation

Remember riding your first bike so many years ago? When you finally rode that two-wheeler all by yourself the clouds may have parted for a moment—the world seemed brighter and better. It took a while to achieve that happy skill but you eventually did so. The yogic journey to enlightenment resembles this process of learning but entails an interesting twist. In yoga, real success comes only to a few even though many wish to tread the spiritual path to its heights [1]. Yet books about meditation, energy work and endless new age motifs line the shelves of just about every bookshop in the country. With a few deft flicks, you can surf the web to find many traditional yoga classics available in full regalia. Meditation retreats, yoga schools and spiritual masters dot the countryside. Why the poor travel on such an apparently well-lit path?

Sophisticated meditative approaches such as the yogic traditions of India, China and Tibet clearly map the terrain at the heights of the spiritual ascent. But they are recipes that miss the heart of effective complementary medicine, namely feedback. The situation resembles having your doctor across the river shouting instructions to you about what to do once you get across the river. Not much help getting you started and even less help in keeping you on course if you brave the waters with such rickety advice in the first place. On your side of the river though, help rains down in buckets—everyone has some advice to pawn but all the platitudes provide little ballast for the job at hand. 

The fix for this mess comes from Oriental and modern energy medicine. By recasting yoga as a therapeutic process and then tidying up its traditional methods according to proven principles and techniques of integrative energy medicine, one develops an eminently powerful and effective approach to advanced meditation. Without doubt, yoga masters know their business. The ground between where they reside and the rest of us live though gets short shrift in all classical renditions of yoga regardless of culture. The acupuncture meridians provide a reliable way to assess and access this middle ground. When skillfully combined with traditional yogic techniques, they serve as a bridge across the river to higher awareness and enlightenment.

As an example, consider the common meditative challenge of maintaining focus on a single point, a task that underpins all more advanced meditations [1]. A typical approach would be to place the mind’s eye on an imagined spot and then just keep it there (dhyāna in Indian yoga, śamatha in Tibetan yoga). This seemingly simple task becomes monumental as time goes on however due to the natural impulse of the mind to wander about. Most meditators attempt to use will power to keep their attention fixed but such an approach often takes many years to master. One alternative method discussed in these pages adds in two acupuncture points to the task—a person now attends to all three simultaneously. Chosen for their position and effectiveness in promoting bioelectric flow (qi in Chinese yoga, prana in Indian yoga, rlung in Tibetan yoga), these two points can actually make the meditative task easier rather than more complicated. This may be due to the stabilizing neural flows they generate and echoes a traditional principle found in many cultures that “the mind rides on wind” (Tibetan yoga)—that is, by controlling the inner winds one can control the mind.

Three Blind Men

Seem familiar?

The earliest records available indicate that yoga started out four to six thousand years ago most likely in two separate regions: First, as part of the Indus valley culture in the region of modern Pakistan and western India [2]. This ramified into Hindu yoga.  And second, in the Kunlun mountains of western China. This mountain range tracks along the northern border of the Tibetan Plateau and also is associated with the source of the Yellow River at the eastern side of the Plateau. Daoists (Chinese yogis) trace their origins to this semi-mythical setting.

So, although westerners commonly associate the term yoga with the hatha yoga of Hinduism—a form of physical education that resembles mild gymnastics—in fact, yoga lives a cross-cultural life and has evolved over the centuries in three distinct formsIndian yoga, Tibetan Buddhism (Tibetan yoga) and Daoism (Daoist yoga).

Yogic ideas from the Indus valley gradually spread throughout India and eventually reached Tibet around the eighth century; from there they suffused across the border into China during the following centuries [3]. Due to the close proximity of these three regions, there appears to have been some intellectual and spiritual commerce—swapping of yogic ideas and experiences, so to speak. This seems to have particularly occurred between China and Tibet as Daoism and Tibetan Buddhism are quite similar practices in many regards. In each region, yoga mixed with local esoteric practices and steadily took on a form unique to the native temperament and culture.

A well-worn truth from the other side of the globe goes: “All roads lead to Rome.” This dictum stems from a time when the Romans ruled western civilization. If you lived anywhere around the Mediterranean basin, you knew about Caesar, taxes and the Roman legions.

The same holds for these three spins on yoga. No matter which you choose, if you peer beneath the cultural and philosophical veneer you find mostly a common ground of specific goals and techniques.

All seek enlightenment or its equivalent. All provide structured approaches that begin with moral cultivation and proceed to control of subtle energies (prana, qi, rlung).

All develop ways to link subtle energies to consciousness itself. All culminate with advanced concentrative practices that include points along the midline of the body.

Successful practice for all leads to transcendental awareness—consciousness independent of the human body[4]. All traditions assert the fundamental reality of a much deeper level of consciousness which supersedes current laws of science.

And, as these pages assert, all lack an effective application of fundamental modern energy medicine principles such as feedback control and systems integration. So, a trek along any of these paths presently fares as a much harder slog than it should be.

What am I?

A way to understand the meditative distinction between these roads to expanded perception follows from the age-old story of the three blind men. Each sightless man had a hold of one part of an elephant. Although he could not see, he certainly did have use of his mind so he reasoned about what he found. “It must be like a rope,” said one of the three as he held part of the tail. “No, it feels like a tree,” countered another as he clutched one of the perplexed elephant’s legs. (You would probably feel perplexed too if three blind folks were examining parts of you.) “I disagree!” shouted the third. “This must be a big snake,” he said as he considered the trunk. In yoga the same story unfolds. The elephant, of course, towers above all as what might now be called an information field or the zero point quantum field but take your pick for the pachyderm has been called countless names over the years—God, Brahman, Dharmakaya, Dao, the Light, you name it [5].

Each of the investigators has a slightly different take on the same thing much as the Indian, Tibetan and Chinese yoga systems do. They all basically end up at the same place, the elephant, but due to cultural and historical developments emphasize somewhat different aspects. In very broad brush, one might say that the distinctive flair of Indian yoga involves the most advanced meditations that center on the midline axis of the body (suṣumṇā  in Indian yoga) [6]; Tibetan yoga specializes especially in more spatially distributed meditations, such as focusing on space around the body [7] and Daoist yoga excels in manipulating the qi (or winds) especially near to or on the body [8]. No yoga system to date really integrates all three approaches in a methodical and effective manner.

The Midline

The details herein aim to lay the foundation for just such an integrative yoga energy medicine. To anchor this pioneering approach in terms of classical yoga, these pages explore an advanced meditation practice usually started about the time one gets to the Grand Prix level of yogic training. Known as building the body mandala in Tibetan traditions, the technique involves focusing on specific regions of the body and space around it. Mastery of this form requires advanced visualization skills and control of body energies [9]. A more tractable approach to realize the same ends can be realized by progressively adding microsystem meridian flows (the training wheels) in to a midline concentration practice (the bike). By leveraging these well-documented flows, one forms a body mandala from both the meridian and chakra systems and obtains a synergism not readily available via either system separately.

The midline, an imaginary line which divides the body into symmetrical left and right parts, appears to be the center of the cyclone for spiritual development. In yoga, awakening of midline energy flows (kuṇḍalinī – Indian yoga, tummo – Tibetan yoga) heralds the approach of journey’s end [10, 11].

These advanced flows only stabilize after intense concentration on midline points (chakras). Practices that aid movement of body energy along the spine and midline help facilitate this effect (kriya or kuṇḍalinī practice – Indian yoga, completion stage practice – Tibetan yoga, inner elixir qigong – Chinese yoga). Stabilized midline flows (kuṇḍalinī) in the body probably correspond to resonant midline dynamics in the brain [12]. Regardless of the exact mechanics, subjective accounts spanning thousands of years attest to the midline’s role as ultimate gatekeeper of enlightenment.

Neuroscience of the Midline and Chakras

Midbrain region - in the center at about the level of the ears; this corresponds to the general region of the Mud Palace in Daoism (ajna chakra in Hindu yoga)

A solid footing for these flows can be gleaned from neuroscience. Strung along the midline like pearls on a thread, the seven key traditional chakras outline a path up from the base of the spine to the very top of the head. The brain represents this region in an interesting way which may hint at one reason for the midline’s preeminent status in spiritual practice. Most sensory and motor information crosses sides as it traffics to and from the brain. So, the left hemisphere controls and monitors activity on the right side of the body and the right brain does the same for the left body. But who tends the midline? To develop representations for midline features, the brain integrates information from both hemispheres. A strip of surface tissue, the primary somatosensory cortex, houses the basic building blocks used in crafting a midline. Coursing from just under the top center of the head (GV-20, Baihui, in acupuncture) to just in front of the top ears (GB-7, Qubin) this strip links to each region of the body in a remarkably structured but inverted fashion [13]. Starting from the strip’s center and working outwards on, say, the left side one finds a map for the right foot, leg, torso, neck, head, arm, hand, face and mouth.

This neural arrangement cleaves each chakra into two parts—left and right. Nevertheless, these fractionated echoes of the mystical wheels find homes close to the midline. Their neighborhood stretches from within a thumb width of Baihui out along the cortical strips for a couple inches toward the ears. A second stage of neural processing, in the appropriately named secondary somatosensory cortex, then integrates the two primary cortical strips to produce a representation for the body’s midline. However, as before, the secondary cortex lies on both sides of the head—just behind the primary strip near the top of the ears [14]. So, although the chakras have been cobbled back into one piece, the brain sketches their midline portrait twice, once each from a different vantage. The midline, much like consciousness and many other felt experiences, thus finds no single spot to call home. In fact, a deep gap occurs between the left and right strips of primary somatosensory cortex where the chakras initially map to. The one bridge across this neural gorge spans it much further below at the level of the ear tops and the secondary somatosensory cortex. So, what to make of a midline?

Neuroscientists currently describe perception as an integration of multiple streams of data across time and space. So, focus on a chakra would knit together brain activity in several regions [15]. A yogi would add that this integration also occurs across more subtle dimensions (lokas – Indian yoga, realms or planes – Tibetan yoga). In traditional teachings, the chakras act as portals to these other dimensions. This hints that midline energy flows such as kuṇḍalinī and tummo—which evoke strong sensations along the length of the body’s midline from torso to crown—involve both neurological and more subtle energetic patterns. Further, based upon first-hand accounts, once ignited, these midline flows may take on a dynamic of their own and respond poorly to overt attempts at control by those without advanced meditative skills. A neural representation of the midline can thus moderate the actual subtle energy midline but appears as a distinct process.

Training Wheels

With training wheels, there's hope for the beginner (someone just learning the ropes of how to ride the waves of the mind)

Brain integration techniques demonstrate the value of incorporating off-midline representations into an overall therapeutic program. Now, the meridians found along the limbs and all microsystem meridians find their neural places on the sides of the brain. These brain mappings thus mimic the midline and off-midline relation of chakras and meridians. If the chakra system represents the fundamental bicycle needed to consummate advanced meditation then the meridians represent its neural training wheels. In effect, midline energy flows (kuṇḍalinī) can be stabilized by off-midline resonance patterns. Likewise, the space around the body serves as yet another type of neural training wheel for the midline chakra system. Each of the three great yoga traditions focuses more on one of these spatial—and hence neural—aspects (midline –
Indian, meridian – Chinese, space – Tibetan

The fundamental idea pins on linking specific bilateral neural regions (the training wheels) with midline neural structures (the bike). A classical approach to building the body mandala would supplement midline focus with targeted but broad areas in and around the body.

One example comes from an intricate practice called Heruka Body Mandala which prescribes visualization of many objects and beings in and around the body along with focus on twenty-four specific locations in the body. These include the crown, hairline, back of neck, ears, eyes, point between the eyebrows, tip of nose, mouth, throat, shoulders, armpits, fingers, breasts, point between the breasts (heart), navel, tip of the sex organ, anus, thighs, knees, calves, top of feet and the toes [9]. While some of these twenty four regions do have greater biological electrical flow than surrounding tissues (for instance, major joints), few afford the precise access to inner winds that chakras and acupuncture points (“little” chakras) do.

Meditation based solely on the midline smacks of the impossible. It's insurmountable at first—much as the challenge of riding a ten-speed bike looms large for a four-year old child.

However, research demonstrates that each hemisphere of the brain houses a map to many parts of the contralateral (opposite) body. For instance, sensation in the right arm gets recorded in the left hemisphere. And, given this, there's hope.

Bucking the system doesn't pay off when the system is THE System (the Dao, or Divine order)

The right tools for the right job ... and you're good to go!

Building a body mandala using all these systems—midline, meridian, space—has the potential to chart an optimal course for successful meditation. My clinical and personal experience bears this out. 

Adding meridian style qigong (Daoist yoga) to midline chakra meditations (Indian yoga) and emptiness/space meditations (Tibetan Buddhism) pinpoints and then harnesses the missing link between concentrative meditations (dhyāna, śamatha) and mindfulness/emptiness meditations (Vipassana in Theravadin Buddhism, Zen in Mahayana Buddhism, Dzogchen in Tibetan yoga).

The Yoga of "All Three"

Taijitu symbol - this is actually the second diagram in a five diagram sequence (from Wuji, primordial wholeness, all the way to "the ten thousand things") that explains Daoist philosophy and practice

So, how would you build a body mandala in this streamlined way? First off, have a strategy that incorporates all three yogic technologies. That is, work in threes as much as possible. As explained on other pages (refer to Introduction to Neidan Yoga), the notion of "three" rings true for lots of things and reflects a general way that nature categorizes its belongings. At the most general, you've got "something" of interest. Label it phase 1 (the name could be anything but the number one does make sense). This "something" will be in relation to a context (a bigger something). Label that phase 2. Finally, if you inspect what happens, you'll find the two of them in some manner of song or dance (a relation of some ilk). Yes, label this phase 3. A simple model, for sure. But, oh so powerful at times. Here are some examples:

Hindu Trimūrti (trinity of deities)

  1. Brahma = phase 1 = creation = rājas = day = yang = midline = left brain = foveal vision (the "what") = form realms (a region of the lokas) = concentration practices = differentiation (the derivative in math) = piṅgala channel = right-side of body (especially the torso and limbs) = strengthen qi (in Oriental medicine and Daoism) = self (in object relations psychotherapy) = point (any object or concept; something of interest)

  2. Shiva = phase 2 = destruction = tāmas = night = yin = space = right brain = peripheral vision (the "where") = formless realms = mindfulness practices and space/Big Sky meditations (from Buddhism, Dzogchen and other yogic traditions) = integration (the integral in math) = iḍā channel = left-side of body (especially the torso and limbs) = disperse (clear blockages) qi (in Oriental medicine and Daoism) = other (in object relations psychotherapy) = field (the context for the point of phase 1; or it could be another object in relation to the point)

  3. Vishnu = phase 3 = sustenance = sattva = cycles of nature = taijitu symbol = relations between midline and space (for instance, near space and just off-midline) = whole brain = integrated vision (foveal plus peripheral) = higher lokas (beyond form and formless realms) = Mahāmudrā and other advanced fusion practices = functional relations in math (any combination of operators, such as both differentiation and integration) = suṣumṇā channel = multiple bodies (physical plus higher energetic bodies) = harmonize qi of two or more systems (in Oriental medicine and Daoism) = "the Between" (in Gestalt psychotherapy) = dance (relationship, in whatever form, between two objects—for instance, between a woman and her partner [two objects] or between a woman and the culture she belongs to [point and field])

Hatha yoga (in terms of qi treatment from Oriental medicine and Daoism)

  1. Forward bends = phase 3 = restorative and nourishing = calming = harmonizes systems

  2. Twists and back bends = phase 2 = clear out stuck patterns (improve fluid and qi circulation)

  3. Balancing poses = phase 1 = strengthen and build energy = yang

Meditation (the general approach regardless of actual technique being practiced)

  1. Practice a specific skill for a set amount of time = phase 1 = creation = point

  2. Assess what happened = phase 2 = context for the activity = feedback = field

  3. Adjust the practice = phase 3 = harmonize (for instance, in Swara yoga, the breath in each nostril is monitored; one can use this to adjust the practice to get the most balance and vitality between the two streams of breath; this will definitely improve the outcomes for the practice since it's causing increased health and balance in the entire physical and energetic matrix of the practitioner)

Building a Meridian-based Body Mandala

Time to dig a little deeper into the details. Consider the rationale for building a simplified, meridian-based body mandala from this vantage: Most thoughts that scamper through the mind during idle moments bear little resemblance to actual circumstance. Random snippets from the past or anticipated future, they jut aimlessly into view and then depart just as precipitously. Taken as a matter of course by most folks, such chaotic mental chatter, however, looms large on the radar for serious meditators since only a highly focused mind rests stable enough for deep clarity and insight to develop. Not surprisingly then, concentration figures prominently as an early practice in all yogic meditative traditions [1].

The pioneering way to build a body mandala detailed here, achieves advanced levels of concentration by basing itself upon proven principles drawn from both classical yoga and modern energy medicine. While traditional teachings suffer no lack of pith advice, measured in terms of modern integrative medicine, they fall seriously short in providing a workable framework for applying their good advice.

Next stop the Moon ... well, sort of

Modern standards for excellence in engineering and across the sciences require well-defined processes that incorporate adequate means to monitor and adjust activities in a timely fashion. Can you imagine sending a spacecraft to the moon without adequate navigational feedback?

Whoops, there goes Mars—boy, did we ever take a wrong turn at that last cloud of space dust.  Why should any of the esoteric traditions be exempt from this mandate for close inspection of results? For instance, a typical meditation instruction might run, “If your mind seems foggy or confused, liven it up; if your mind seems agitated, calm it down.” A few added similarly lukewarm suggestions on how to achieve this usually get tossed in for good measure. However, in practice—in the trenches sitting on a cushion and trying to concentrate—such advice does not buy much. Years and years of hard application still must follow for one to get it right and develop real concentrative ability.

In contrast, the tools of modern integrative energy medicine give one a much better leverage for the battle with monkey mind. This web site explains how to harness acupuncture microsystems for instantaneous feedback and control of the meditative process. Instead of endlessly wrestling with your mind while you try to control it by willpower, you can learn to adjust the flow of biological energy (prana – Indian yoga, rlung or inner wind – Tibetan yoga, qi – Chinese yoga) along microsystem meridians and achieve the same effect in novel time and with ease.

The 14 major Meridians of Chinese Medicine - actually, according to Daoist yogis, there are thousands of meridians but these 14 provide a basis for building a simplified body mandala that still gets the job done

As an example, consider again the pivotal task of holding your focus to a single point. The usual tool of choice, will power, works—if at all—only after years and years of hard slog

A number of time-honored yogic techniques add a little to the mix by incorporating supplementary focal points or regions to stabilize concentration (for instance, generation stage practices in Tibetan Buddhism). But the style of micromeridian meditation advocated here differs from them radically in its use of modern energy medicine principles and techniques to monitor and adjust ongoing meditation. Traditional instructions encourage meditators to monitor two processes—first, whether focus remains on the object of attention and second, the level of cognitive arousal.

This jibes well with neuroscience which also identifies two main functions of attention—first, selection and cognitive control, and second, maintenance of an attentive or alert state [21]. However, the remedies usually offered up for lapses in attention include little provision for fine-tuning one’s efforts but rather assume that simple perseverance suffices.

Instructions to refocus on the desired object, perk up if drowsy and calm down if agitated all assume that simple will-power gets the job done. This rather smacks of mental calisthenics, a hit and miss approach to mental fitness which mostly misses. Why? Action without feedback quickly goes astray for any sufficiently complex process.

Upper Catawba Falls, North Carolina

Traditional fixes for a wandering mind resemble the waterfall model of software and systems development. First developed and widely deployed in the early 1970’s, the method assumes that an initial goal (the requirements) can be sequentially realized through a series of well-defined and linked activities (design, implementation, verification, maintenance) [22].

You might think this sounds reasonable and, in fact, for small-scale projects the methodology usually works suitably. But for large complicated systems the cock often cries another tune. Since the model assumes a cascade of perfectly defined events, the realities of uncertainty and change tend to cloud up its optimistic vision.

For example, the design, or even the requirements, may need to be changed once working prototypes come available since they may not perform as expected or perhaps uncover new logistical issues. The same holds true for concentration. A goal to haul in one’s wayward thoughts may lead to a few moments of extra will-power but if thoughts still rebel, what then?

Spiral model - Take it step by step

Decades ago, engineers got the right idea—make the process iterative rather than sequential. That is, take baby steps and adjust as you go. For a large software system, this might translate into the design and prototype of a handful of requirements—not the lot of them [23]. If the prototype works out, then fine and dandy, the troops can link it in to what’s already been built and move on to the next part. Otherwise, back to the drawing boards they go but probably with some parts salvaged and minimal cost. This spiral method and its variants for smaller-sized projects all emphasize flexibility and hold fort at one end of a continuum that spans across to their more rigidly-structured waterfall counterparts on the other end. Because human neurology, physiology and consciousness represent complex processes that vary moment to moment (the requirements change constantly), an adaptive, iterative approach to adjusting one’s meditation—take a baby step, notice what changes and adjust if needed—seems more prudent, and stands to provide much better control, than the traditional plan-driven waterfall solutions of classical yoga.

Micromeridian meditation excels in just such adaptive control. Part of this strategy entails using acupuncture points (acupoints) and meridians as both listening stations (for diagnosis) and control panels (for treatment).

Micromeridian Meditation

Ear microsystem - it provides a map to all parts of the body and physiology; other microsystems, like for the hand, do just the same thing

The journey to building a better body mandala starts with the hands. They open the doors to a world of microsystem energy work that stands unrivaled in its simplicity and effectiveness. In acupuncture, a microsystem houses a map of the entire physical body. Examples abound—hand, ear, foot, teeth, scalp, eyes, tongue, nose, even individual long bones such as the tibia (shin bone) [24, 25]. So, for instance, in terms of the hand microsystem, the spine maps to the bones of the middle finger. This means that a lower backache, say, can be treated not only directly by rubbing the painful area but also by manipulating the related area on the middle finger. Such indirect action smacks a little of magic but actually makes good sense.

As a microsystem tool, the hands arrived fairly late on the scene. The first codified work appeared in Korea at the start of the 1970’s and the technique introduced then, called Koryo Hand Therapy (KHT), has spread worldwide since [26]. One of the few models to identify microsystem acupuncture meridians, this approach provides a wonderful starting point for learning to build a body mandala.

Major anatomical landmarks on the hand and fingers

Some anatomy to start: The fingers of the hand are labeled D1 (thumb) through D5 (little finger) so the middle finger now has a new name, D3. “D" stands for digit. Each finger is made up of some bones called phalanges. The knuckles are joints where they meet and have special names. For D2 – D4, the knuckles closest to the finger tips are called distal interphalangeal (DIP) joints and those just a little closer toward the wrist get named proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joints.

The thumb stands out from the crowd here as it only has two phalanges so it has neither PIP nor DIP joint but rather just an interphalangeal (IP) joint. For all five fingers, the next knuckle in toward the wrist, called a metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint, acts as a junction between finger and the hand. The last part of this jigsaw puzzle: each metacarpal (MC) bone lies between the wrist and its related MCP joint. For the sake of brevity in what follows, only the acronym will be used and not its precise anatomical term. For instance PIP means PIP joint and MC means MC bone. Now you can start mapping!

Where to begin? Actually, anywhere along the midline will do just fine. So, for instance, the top of the head relates to the middle finger tip. D3’s DIP and PIP correspond to the top and bottom of the neck, respectively. The base (wrist side) of the D3 MC links to the tailbone (sacrum and coccyx). Note that the base of each MC lies just a little distal (finger side) to the wrist crease. Since the midline divides a body into two symmetrical halves one might guess that it possesses special properties just from geometric considerations.

In fact, several integrative health systems base their approach on this reasoning. For instance, cranial osteopathy posits a special relevance of the midline during embryological development which carries over into later life. Likewise, the fields of mathematics and physics also assert unique properties for the midline.

Try It Out

Most of the action in advanced yoga takes place along the midline of the body so this will be a good place to get familiar with. In KHT, the middle finger of both hands represents the upper part of the spine. The lower part of the spine, as you might guess, maps along the center of the hand down to the wrist.

1) Place your left hand palm down on your lap or a flat surface. Feel the bone between the DIP and PIP of your middle finger with your other hand. This bone maps to your neck from the shoulders to the base of the skull.

2) Now focus your attention on the left side of your neck about midway between the head and shoulders. Concentrate on this area with a receptive attitude.

3) Rapidly rub the phalange back and forth 10 or more times on each of four sides (left, top, right, bottom). You can lift D3 or the hand to reach underneath. What did you find? Remember to focus on the neck and not the hand.

4) Move your focus to the front of the neck and repeat steps 2 – 3. Try it again with focus on the right side and finally on the back side. For comparison, try all four sides on the other hand.

You may have noticed a change in sensation of your neck as you rubbed certain sides of the middle finger. If not, have patience as you will. The text below provides more details on the mapping.

Summary of the Method

The traditional instruction for achieving concentration on a single point (which engages neural circuits related to foveal focus) advocates placing all of one’s attention on the point. In contrast, micromeridian meditation parcels focus between several cognitive tasks.

This style accords with a guiding principle used extensively throughout engineering and the health sciences. In osteopathic manual medicine, “divided attention” refers to treating with one hand while diagnosing with the other simultaneously.

Many traditional meditation practices shepherd awareness to multiple targets [16, 17] but none systematically utilize modern energy medicine techniques to monitor and adjust the meditation process.

This innocent jiggling of auxiliary focus most often quickly achieves what much mental effort and gyration can not: the impulses to stray from midline focus subside and the mind comfortably settles back into balanced concentration. Why doesn’t will-power—the perennial tool advocated by yoga—cut it in this regard?

Because the mind’s habitual tendency to wander off its focus actually seems to be part of nature’s survival plan for us. Neuroscientists refer to this predilection for novelty as inhibition of return and suggest that it may have been wired into the brain ages ago to ensure survival.

Mother nature needed to guarantee that our hoary ancestors foraged about properly and did not dawdle to investigate some irrelevant stone or twig amidst the inchoate jumble of the countryside [27].

This means that using will-power as the chief means to refocus attention goes against the grain of nature and resembles trying to swim upstream against endless swirls and eddies.

How so? Will-power correlates with neural processes in the left prefrontal region (executive control and short-term memory) and unfortunately this area has also been implicated as part of the circuitry that implements inhibition of return [21, 28].

Picture a dog chasing its own tail. You’ve got the idea. Attempting to use the part of the brain that causes the problem to fix itself up conjures images of silent slapstick comedy shorts and droll monologue that goes nowhere.

In caricature, foveal meditation goes like this: “Hey, left frontal brain, up with the will-power!” “Okay, done.”

“Oops, we’re drifting off target (will power dwindles and/or more resistance occurs). I know, hey, left frontal brain, up with the fuel again!” “Sorry, we’re already stoking the fires with all the logs we’ve got (limited resources).”

“But we’re off visiting the third century and ice cream parlors!” “I’m sorry but the number you have reached is not in service at this time. Please try again later. This is a recording, call box 429. BEEP.”

Kunlun mountains - birthplace of Daoist yoga

The upshot? Micromeridian meditation sequentially introduces essential points and qi flows along the meridians for five key acupuncture systems—one macroscopic system: the body’s six great meridian couplets and one midline couplet, and four microsystems: hand, ear, eye and dental (lips/teeth, tongue). Each system corresponds to a neurological training wheel—an off-midline brain region that can be employed to stabilize midline concentration practices such as focusing on a chakra. This work corresponds to to the foundations, weigong and neigong levels of Neidan yoga.

Over time, as a meditator gains facility with this approach, she or he shepherds the paradigm one step further by linking in neurological and space-based flows. For instance, pulling qi up the inner side of a leg from foot to thigh activates a similar flow in the contralateral brain hemisphere up from just above the midbrain region (about the intersection of two lines—one back from halfway between the top of the eyebrows and the other between the top of the ears) to the top of the head. By consciously cultivating flow in both body and neural locations simultaneously, you will that find movement of inner wind (prana, qi) deepens and mental focus stabilizes remarkably well.

With body, neural and near-space flows in place and coordinated, a practitioner is finally ready to conjure a full body mandala. Now, traditional deity yoga and body mandala practices shine in this department but they prescribe monumentally complex patterns for visualization in the near and far space around the body [16, 17]. The approach described here, however, takes an alternate and more direct route by combining much simpler visualizations with somatically-based energy work (kriyā and kuṇḍalinī practice – Indian yoga, qigong – Chinese yoga).

One technique at this stage projects normal meridian flows to an enlarged map of the body. For instance,  the yangming channel (consisting of Lung and Stomach meridians) runs from ring finger down the backside of its related arm and then across the face and down the chest and front lateral side of the opposite leg to the second toe (next to the big toe) [18]. What happens if you imagine this same flow but for a bigger version of your body, say a seven foot or ten foot model?

In terms of neural flows, most of the same brain regions activate but now more subtle information links in as well (probably due to subtle energy field effects) [19, 20]. As one senses this imagined flow, inner and outer winds mingle and provide the foundation for development of both clairsentience and to a lesser degree, clairvoyance. The bottom line? Over time, you can literally feel and see the flow of qi (prana, rlung) in the space around you. This integration of felt sense with visualization generally offers a much quicker means to achieve stabilized focus with space-based meditation.


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