You ain’t learned nothing yet, kiddo.
In the Chinese classics, the Small Universe (小周天, or xiao zhou tian) is often referred to 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’ll probably just hurt yourself with the Small Universe.
Are You Ready?
In some Qigong schools, they teach the Small Universe to beginners. This is madness. It’s like teaching a toddler to drive an 18-Wheeler. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
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.
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. Simple.
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 fixed 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. Anxiety, for example, is caused by energy blockages in the Spleen and Stomach Meridians. You need to clear these blockages before adding any pressure to the pipes.
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 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 no gaps, along the entire loop. Instead of bubbles traveling around, you have a continuous stream. A high-level master (like my teacher) has 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. My teacher says that illness and disease just “bounce off” of the Small Universe. In my experience, this is a pretty accurate description.
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. My teacher is a good example. Keeping up with the man is virtually impossible, even for me. Typically, when we host him in our town, my wife and I have to set up shifts to take care of him. He just goes and goes and goes, all day, without any lulls in his energy. And then he sleeps 4-5 hours a night, and does it again the next day!
Obviously, I can’t verify this one from personal experience (yet!), but I can make some reasonable predictions. My teacher, who is almost 70 as of this writing, looks 50 and says that he feels 20. Similarly, people are usually surprised to hear that I’m 40. Since I feel better at 40 than I did at 30, since I’ve steadily gotten rid of aches, pains, and illness, and since my 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. (The oldest woman in the world is currently 130.) 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?
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.
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. My teacher is famous for eating copious amounts of ice cream, sugar, and sweets. How does he manage it and still look so young? Because the Small Universe protects him.
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.
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.
One final warning. If you mess yourself up, there are very few people in the world who can fix you. I’m one of them. Now, I’m a compassionate guy, and I’ll do my best to fix you up. But I also reserve the right to make fun of you. I mean, what were you thinking?!? Someone tells you not to touch the hot iron, so you go and touch it? Sheesh.