The Real Truth About the Small Universe Qigong

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So you’ve learned a bunch of dynamic qigong exercises like the 18 Luohan Hands, the 12 Sinew Metamorphosis, and the 5 levels of Bone Marrow Cleansing.

You’ve learned it all, right?

Nope. You ain’t learned nothing yet, kiddo!!

In the Chinese classics, the Small Universe (小周天, or xiao zhou tian) is viewed as the ultimate qigong technique. In other words, all other forms of qigong pale in comparison.

But don’t worry.  If you’ve been faithfully practicing the qigong exercises I mentioned above, you’re still on the right track.

In fact, if you haven’t spent a few years practicing those exercises, then you’re not only off track, but you might just hurt yourself with the Small Universe.

Are You Ready?


In some qigong schools, the Small Universe is taught to beginners.

This is madness.

I think it’s totally irresponsible to teach this technique to someone who is not ready. 

The risk of messing up their energy system is high, and the chance of success is low.

In other words, the most likely result is that the student will get hurt, and the least likely result is that the student will get benefit.

If you think that I’m exaggerating, if you think that qigong can’t do any harm — think again.

You’d be shocked at how many people hurt themselves by practicing the Small Universe before they are ready.

It’s more common than you might think. I’ve even seen students end up in the emergency room as a result of practicing it incorrectly!

As an aside, I’ve seen the same with the yoga technique called Kundalini. Many people have come to me to heal the damage done by Kundalini Yoga.

I’m not a yoga master, but it’s obvious to me that Kundalini, which involves bringing energy from the chakra (energy center) near the anus up to the chakra in the head, is an advanced form of qigong. It’s definitely not for beginners.

Does all this scare you? Good! The Small Universe is powerful. Have some respect for it, just like you would for an 18-Wheeler.

Clearing Blockages

Most students are not ready for the Small Universe simply because they haven’t spent enough time clearing  blockages.

1. Mental Blockages

The Small Universe requires a well-trained Zen mind. If your mind is unfocused, if you are still distracted by random thoughts, if you can’t let go of the internal dialogue — then you’re not ready for the Small Universe.

2. Physical Blockages

If your structure is off, if one shoulder is higher than the other, if your pelvis is rotated, if your posture is bad — these things need to be corrected before attempting the Small Universe. And if you haven’t spent years doing qigong, then I can almost guarantee that your structure is off.

3. Emotional Blockages

If you suffer from emotional blockages, like anxiety or depression, then you’ll probably just make them worse by practicing the Small Universe.

Why? Because you’re adding pressure to clogged pipes. You need to clear these blockages before adding any pressure to the pipes.

4.  Pain

If you have any kind of chronic pain whatsoever — that’s a blockage. Ideally, you should be 100% pain free before doing the Small Universe.

As a compromise, students can still have some lingering pain, assuming that they’ve already gotten rid of a lot of it already.

The best way to clear all of the blockages mentioned above is to spend 2-3 years with the basics — the 18 Lohan Hands, Sinew Metamorphosis, and Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow.

Too impatient to wait for that?  Too bad.  The truth doesn’t change according to your ability to stomach it.

The Breakthrough

The Small Universe is more than a technique; it’s an energetic breakthrough.

It actually marks a developmental shift in your energy system.  Traditionally, it was also the mark of a real master. In fact, past masters would throw a celebration when the finally had the breakthrough.

When you achieve the Small Universe, the energy flow along the Ren and the Du meridians starts to flow freely.

The Ren meridian runs from your chin, down the center line of the torso, all the way to the perineum (between the genitals and the anus).

The Du meridian runs from the perineum, up the center line of the back, around the top of the head, down the nose, and to the upper lip.

When these two meridians connect, you form the Small Universe — down the Ren, and up the Du, in a continuous loop.

Real and False

What we are shooting for is called the “Real Breakthrough” of the Small Universe.  Along the way, we may also experience what is known as the “False Breakthrough”.

What’s the difference?

The False Breakthrough happens spontaneously to students who’ve been practicing basic techniques and clearing blockages for a few years. In the False Breakthrough, the two meridians are not continuously filled.  Small “bubbles” of energy travel around the loop, giving the sensation of the Small Universe.

In the Real Breakthrough, the energy is continuous, with only minor gaps along the entire loop.

Instead of bubbles traveling around, you have a continuous stream.

A high-level master will have a wide, powerful stream.  A younger master (like myself) will have a thinner stream. But the key factor is that both of our streams are continuous.

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of people who learned The Small Universe from other teachers (or from books). After just one look at them, you can tell that they haven’t had the Real Breakthrough.

Heck, you can tell they haven’t even had the False Breakthrough.

How can you tell?

It’s obvious when someone has had the Real Breakthrough.  The person looks vibrantly healthy, their skin is radiant, their eyes are clear, and there is a palpable sense of both energy and calm coming off of them.

Meanwhile, the people I described above looked pale, weak, and their eyes were dull.  When I asked them about their health, they admitted that they were still in pain.

And they’ll remain that way until they stop practicing the Small Universe and switch to more basic techniques.

Benefits of the Breakthrough

If there are so many risks, and if other types of qigong bring so many benefits, then why would anyone want to practice the Small Universe?

It’s a fair question.  Here are some reasons:

Eliminating 100 Diseases

It is said that when you complete the Small Universe, you’ll eliminate hundreds of diseases.

Actually, what it means is that you’ll keep “100” (the ancient Chinese way of saying many) diseases at bay.  To have the Real Breakthrough, you need to be relatively healthy already. But when you have the breakthrough, you step into a new realm of health.  In other words, illnesses just “bounce off” of the Small Universe.

Never-ending Energy

If you practice qigong in general, your energy levels should jump. But with the Small Universe, there’s something new.

In my experience, it seems like the Small Universe produces its own energy, almost like a generator. This happens continuously throughout the day, even when you’re not doing qigong.


Obviously, I can’t verify this one from personal experience (yet!), but I can make some reasonable predictions.

I feel better at 40 than I did at 30. I’ve steadily gotten rid of aches, pains, and illness, and my body is functioning better than ever. I think it’s fair to assume that it will last a long, long time.

How long?  Modern scientists say that humans have the capacity to live at least 120 years.

Of course, there are legends of ancient Chinese masters living to be much, much older than that.  Is it true?  If they had the Small Universe, who knows?

Martial Qigong

The Small Universe serves as the foundation for several Martial Qigong methods, like Cosmos Palm and Iron Shirt.

Although you can do arts like these without the Small Universe (I did for years), it’s a totally different experience after the breakthrough. It’s incredible to feel the Small Universe flowing while you practice these other methods.  It has to be experienced to be understood.

Party Rocking

It’s true. Having the Small Universe allows you to get away with more, shall we say, transgressions.

Of course, this shouldn’t be your main motivation, but I’ll admit that it’s a nice perk being able to stay up too late on occasion, or drink a few beers with friends, or eat stuff I shouldn’t eat.

Spiritual Cultivation

The Small Universe also opens up new realms of spiritual cultivation.  All great spiritual masters had the Small Universe, even if they never knew what it was called or specifically practiced the techniques. From years of meditation, the Small Universe opened naturally in them.  And once it does, it allows for deeper states of meditation.

The Techniques

In part 2 of this series, I’ll talk about the actual techniques of the Small Universe. With a better understanding of the risks vs. rewards, I going to assume that you won’t start practicing this advanced form of qigong from a web page.  And if you do, despite all the warnings — well, I can’t think of a better example of karma in action.

The good news is that if you do mess yourself up, the problem is fixable. You’ll need a good acupuncturist, a good herbalist, or a good qigong master, but the damage is not permanent.

In closing, let me make it clear that if you have a) a good teacher, and b) a good qigong foundation, then practicing the Small Universe is safe, and you shouldn’t be afraid at all.

But if you have neither a good teacher nor a good foundation, do yourself a favor and get those 2 things before messing with the Small Universe. 

Mindfully yours,
Sifu Anthony

I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world to use qigong for their own stubborn health issues. I teach online courses, and also lead in-person retreats and workshops.

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37 Responses to The Real Truth About the Small Universe Qigong

  1. Fred Chu October 17, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

    Ever since hearing about the Small Universe, I’ve been shocked at how many books and schools consider it an art that completely fresh beginners can delve right into. The only two authentic lineages I’ve run across (Shaolin Wahnam and Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming’s school, whose name escapes me at the moment) reserve the Small Universe for advanced students.

    Two schools I know about start with the Eight Pieces of Brocade for a few months before doing Small Universe during sitting meditation; another school starts straight with the Small Universe in sitting meditation! Not a single one of those schools’ students that I’ve met could be said to be healthy, vibrant, or possessing internal force.

    Looking forward to part two!

  2. Zach October 17, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    Great article, Anthony Sihing. I laughed out loud several times, because I’ve done my best to keep up with Sifu, too, and never come anywhere close.

    I also appreciate this post because it’s a great reminder of why I continue to practice. I’ve come a long way and experienced great benefits in so many areas of my life, but I’m still just an experienced beginner.

    The Shaolin Arts really are a journey, not a destination. What a rich adventure. And a true privilege.

    Thanks for the continued inspiration.

  3. Melissa October 17, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

    Well, you’ve done a great job of scaring me. I believe I would like to wait at least 10 years before even thinking about the small universe, Thank you. 🙂

    • Sifu Anthony October 18, 2012 at 10:36 am #

      Melissa, three years of steady practice is enough — if you have a good teacher. 🙂

      • Melissa October 19, 2012 at 9:31 am #

        Well, I guess I’m in luck. 😀

  4. Mike Rocha October 18, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    Excellent article! Just what I needed.

    My son and I will see you in St. Pete in a couple of weeks. I wish we could do all 4 days, but I don’t have the vacation time. So we’ll be there through Sunday. I am looking forward to it SO much.

    If we can find time while there, I’d like to chat with you about how I can go about learning (from a master of course) the other 9 Luohan Hands, 11 Sinew Metamorphasis, and all 5 of the Bone Marrow Cleansing.

    Also, I’ll do my best to have goal setting complete by then 🙂

    Talk to ya later.

    • Sifu Anthony October 19, 2012 at 10:46 am #

      Hi Mike. We can chat in St. Pete. But to be clear, you don’t need to learn all of that stuff. It’s good to know, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

  5. Shawn C. October 18, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

    Hi Sifu,

    What if we do not have a perfect physical structure to work with? –When I was 17, my left pelvis was broken in several places, and now my left hip is slightly rotated inward and not completely vertically aligned with the right hip. Would this be a problem for small universe?

    • Sifu Anthony October 19, 2012 at 10:49 am #

      Honestly, I’m not sure. The solution would be to do it carefully with close supervision. I’ll be able to tell if the Small Universe is causing problems. Worst case scenario, you would focus on Abdominal Breathing instead of the Small Universe.

  6. LuckyLuke October 19, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    FAntastic positive article, keeps me focused on continuing this daily Wanham practice. Thanks, Sifu Anthony

  7. Dirk August 24, 2013 at 7:39 am #

    Very nice, your way of writing is pleasant to read. It really makes sense how you explain al of this. I’m starting with a basic qigong meditationcourse next week. After reading this I feel confident that I made the right decision to sign myself up for the course. I’ve been practising several energetic healing techniques tru out the years but my feeling tels me that this wil be the next step. Thank you for your contribution in my quest.

    Kind regards,


  8. ted November 18, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

    Hi sifu,
    Im learning the standing posture and ermei wuji qigong.
    I myself not in a healthy conditions, not sure will you stop by singapore ?
    Would really like to hear some advice from you.
    best regards

  9. sunflower April 10, 2014 at 7:13 pm #

    Thank you for this article. I experienced something in a dream and want to know if QiGong in true form is what it is…. perhaps this small universe. QiGong has been on the *back burner* for me for awhile. I know I am being called to practice. In this Astral dream~ my hands were vibrating and humming, then my heart, then my whole body vibrating. This was a state we were to all be in~ yet— our programming of *distractions* keep this vibratory state dulled- the knowledge of the vibratory state forgotten. Will Qigong bring me to this place? What is Small Universe? Thanks so much!
    In Honor and Respect,

  10. Stephen July 11, 2014 at 11:59 pm #

    Another benefit worth mentioning is that Small Universe is great for increasing good luck! Hao Yun Chi!

  11. Benny Lava July 31, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    I am wondering if small universe is the same practice as microcosmic orbit?

  12. Jim January 15, 2015 at 9:21 am #

    Hi Sifu,

    I purchased the Small Universe Meditation dvd from Spring Forest Qigong (Chunyi Lin). It has not been successful for me, because I’m unable to keep my mind free of thought when moving energy from one place to another (true beginner)

    What is recommended for beginners? I see no mention of that.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais January 15, 2015 at 11:33 am #

      Hi Jim. I get a lot of emails from people with experiences similar to yours. I have a lot of respect for Master Lin, but the curriculum in my school is quite different. If you read my article on the 12 Phases of Qi Master, you’ll see that I start beginners with Discovering the Qi (phase 1) and Circulating the Qi (phase 2). By contrast, the Small Universe is not taught until phase 10 (Transforming the Qi).

      • Jim January 15, 2015 at 2:36 pm #

        Thanks for the quick reply.

        I found your article regarding the 12 phases. Where can I get more in depth practices for each one of your phases?

        • Sifu Anthony Korahais January 15, 2015 at 2:45 pm #

          Hi Jim. You can’t get more on the 12 Phases, not yet at least. Although I’m teaching using to the 12 Phases in Gainesville, I haven’t started to teach them publicly yet. However, I’m gearing up to launch some online classes for beginners, which will cover phases 1-2.

          • Sibinsai January 3, 2016 at 7:47 am #

            Ah, I have Spring Forest Qigong, should I not be doing the Small Universe then? I am a beginner. Thought I found his active exercise helpful.

            • Sifu Anthony Korahais January 4, 2016 at 11:19 am #

              Hi Sibinsai. If you find it helpful, then why would you stop? On the other hand, if you ever find it to be causing problems, then I suggest you stop or switch to more dynamic exercises.

  13. Carina January 23, 2015 at 4:49 am #

    Hi Anthony! Thanks so much for your warnings regarding the small universe. I just found Spring Forest qigong on Internet and I have practised Zhineng qigong för 10 years. I still have adrenal fatique and exhaustions. I understand that I have underlaying issues such as severe traumas, PTSD and suppressed feelings. I plan to buy the cd for beginners from Spring Forest. I tried practising moving yin and Yang from a clip ön you tube. Since I am ying I found it very useful. Do you see any danger with this CD? Does qigong tranform negative emotions such as fear, anger, sorrow? Thank you.

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais January 23, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

      Hi Carina. If you find it useful, then use it!

      Yes, Qigong should transform negative emotions. If you look at the 12 Phases of Qi Mastery, then the “Purifying the Qi” phase would focus on that aspect.

  14. Carina January 23, 2015 at 4:54 am #

    Dear Anthony! Pls notify Me on follow-up comments by email. Missed marking the box.
    Thanks, Carina

  15. Tony November 29, 2015 at 6:41 pm #

    So when you make the real breakthrough with Small Universe does it just run on its own or do you need to do exercises to maintain it? Would mastering small universe remove the need for sex or masturbation and enable some one to live like a saint?

    Why I began practicing qi gong for nearly 2 years is to help control my impulses. In the beginning of the journey I was able to control myself for seven months and this year four months. I feel qigong might be the true solution to my masturbation impulses though I have lost some control since the summer time despite a near daily qi gong and meditation practice.

    Would mastering and making a breakthrough with small universe with a master be a permanent solution ( and of course along with a near daily qi gong practice)?

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais December 2, 2015 at 9:55 am #

      Yes, the Small Universe starts to run on its own, but it still needs maintenance. I haven’t tried it, but I suspect that if I stop practicing it for too long, it will stop flowing on its own.

      The Small Universe is also helpful for redirecting sexual energy.

  16. FreeJazzTony April 3, 2016 at 6:27 pm #

    When will you make the article about the Big Universe? I can not wait to here about it from you.

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais April 4, 2016 at 9:45 am #

      Thanks for the reminder! I had forgotten about it. I’ll see if I can find the old draft and resurrect it.

      Here’s a quick explanation: The Big Universe (Da Zhou Tian) is a meditation that circulates the qi in a loop through the 12 primary meridians. We go down the yin meridians of the arms, then up the yang meridians to the head, then down the yang meridians on the back and the legs, and then up the yin meridians of the legs. For some reason, it’s actually easier to achieve that than the Small Universe.

  17. Vera June 17, 2016 at 11:34 am #

    Hi Sifu, you wrote this article 4 years ago ( now it is June 2016)….they were 4 years of amazing journey of shedding pain and negativity. My intuition was the great teacher behind the teachings of other masters and books.But what impressed me more from your article was the warning which I felt instinctively and thank you so much for enforcing and consolidating that warning.

  18. Greg July 17, 2016 at 8:18 am #

    Hi Anthony,

    Thank you for posting this. Another questioner here asked “Would mastering small universe remove the need for sex or masturbation and enable some one to live like a saint? ”

    You replied, “The Small Universe is also helpful for redirecting sexual energy.”

    I don’t see anything wrong with sex, so I don’t see a lack of sexual desire as saintly. I am not looking to redirect my sexual energy.

    My question is: is it true what I have read that working with the microcosmic orbit necessarily decreases sexual desire? I am a human being and I think sexuality is a part of life, like eating or breathing, and while I try to avoid excess in all these things I am also not interested in trying to avoid nature.

    In summary, does practicing the microcosmic orbit necessarily lead to a decrease in sexual desire? If you could explain this a little (or a lot), I would very much appreciate it.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge.

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais July 17, 2016 at 5:59 pm #

      Hi Greg. I’m in Costa Rica at the moment, but my quick answer as a married man is that no, it doesn’t decrease sexual desire. The opposite.

      • Greg July 30, 2016 at 8:10 am #

        Thank you for your reply! Look forward to your return.

        Part of what I have heard about Small Universe (SU) is that a man must decrease the frequency of ejaculation (some say even non-ejaculatory orgasm), and while I am not a porn star, I just want to live a human life here on this planet, rather than some mythical buddha-like existence. I am also not sure when ‘they’ talk about this if they mean that having a regular sex life merely impedes one’s progress with SU, or it seems like they are saying it actually causes a net negative (i.e. sex + SU is worse for one’s health than sex without SU).

        Qigong is very confusing for a qi-numb person like myself 🙂

        • Sifu Anthony Korahais August 2, 2016 at 11:11 am #

          I agree that qigong can be very confusing. But it doesn’t have to be. My mission is to demystify qigong and tai chi.

          Just don’t worry about the confusing stuff. In your first few years of qigong practice, you should be getting such amazing and obvious results that issues like this are of no concern.

          As for you being “qi numb”, it’s not true. You just need proper instruction and proper practice. Most of my students can feel qi within a month, and many feel it within hours.

  19. David W. August 25, 2016 at 11:35 am #

    I wouldn’t say I’m scared as my Taiji teacher said I can start working on the small universe 🙂 I really love your articles because I feel like some people shy away from stating the dangers of certain energy practices. First you build a foundation, then you move on to higher levels.

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais August 25, 2016 at 11:38 am #

      Hi David.

      If you have a good teacher an a good foundation, there’s nothing to be scared about.

      If you have neither a good teacher nor a good foundation — then I will simply quote the 1986 version of “The Fly”

      “Be afraid…be very afraid.” (link)

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