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Daoist Meditation Lesson Nine Theory: Golden Fluid Returning to Dantian Meditation

The ninth and final lesson of Nine Lessons on Daoist Meditation: A Theoretical Discussion of the Golden Fluid Returning to Dantian Meditation.

Ye Huan Dan Tian Nei Gong 金 液 還 丹 田 内 功

In this lesson we will explore a method of Daoist meditation that combines many of the elements of the previous lessons into one exercise. The focus of this lesson is on the Golden Fluid Returning to Dantian Meditation (sometimes known as the seated Eight Brocade Qi Gong). It is one of the meditation practices through which Jing, Qi/Breath and Shen are inter-transformed and thus is considered a Daoist “alchemical practice.”

The Golden Fluid Returning to Dantian Meditation builds on the previous lesson, in which we allowed Qi/Breath to circulate in Ren Mo and Du Mo, in combination with the swallowing of the golden fluid (the saliva). Therefore, we will be employing the Micro-Cosmic Orbit practice in conjunction with various movements and self-massage techniques to facilitate the movement of the Qi/Breath through the Du and Ren vessels and the inter-transformation of the Three Treasures: Jing, Qi/Breath, and Shen.

Su Dong Po and the Golden Fluid Meditation

Su Dong Po (also known as Su Shi) was a famous poet of the Northern Song Dynasty. He was born into an illustrious family of officials and scholars – both his father and brother were famous literati. Su Dung Po took the Imperial Exam in 1057 and in addition to his political career, he was an innovator and master of poetry, prose, calligraphy, and painting. He was one the founders of the Southern Song style of painting. His political career had many ups and downs, and at different times he was imprisoned and exiled. Many of his poems are informed by Daoism and Chan Buddhism and at various times he practiced both Daoist and Buddhist methods of meditation, including the Golden Fluid Returning to Dan Tian Meditation. He wrote of his personal experience in practicing this method:

Its effect is not sensed at the beginning, but after practicing for one hundred days, its effect cannot be measured and is a hundred times more effective than herbal drugs. Although the method is relatively simple and easy, real skill can only be obtained after long-term practice. After training for twenty days, I feel that my spirit is really different. I feel quite warm below the umbilicus, my low back and steps feel light. A shine remains on my face for long time. I feel I am not far from being immortal.[1]

Su’s fluid poetry reflects a spontaneity and fluidity that stem from his practice of Chan and Daoism and his personal experiences with the poignancy of life; its  pleasures, disappointments and vicissitudes. Two examples are below.

To what can our life on earth be likened?
To a flock of geese,
Alighting on the snow.
Sometimes leaving a trace of their passage
. [2]

Written on Abbot Lun’s Wall at Mount Chiao (1074)
The Master stays on Mount Chiao,
(though in fact he’s never “stayed” anywhere).
No sooner had I arrived than I asked him about the Way,
But the Master never said a word.
Not that he was lost for words –
He saw no reason for replying.
Then I thought, Look at your head and feet –
Comfortable enough in hat and shoes, aren’t they?
It’s like the man with the long beard
Who never worried how long it was.
But one day someone asked him,
“What do you do with it when you sleep?”
That night, pulling up the covers,
He couldn’t decide if it went on top or under.
All night he tossed and turned wondering where to put it,
Till he felt like yanking it out by its roots.
These words might seem trite and shallow
But in fact they have deep meaning.
When I asked the Master what he thought,
he Master smiled his approval.

Li Qing Yun: “Immortal” of the Modern Era

In the modern era, the Golden Fluid method was made famous in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, by Li Qing Yun (Li Ching-yun) who was purportedly born in Sichuan province in 1678 and died at age 256 in 1933. Some say that he buried 22 wives and had numerous children. [4] He joined the army at age 71, but was also an herbalist and perhaps a practitioner of martial arts. In 1927 General Yang Shen, impressed with his health, strength and youthfulness at an advanced age, investigated his life. He interviewed adults from Li’s hometown who said he looked much the same now as he had when they were children. According to a Time Magazine article written in 1933, in 1930 Professor Wu Chung-chieh of Chengdu University found records indicating that the Imperial Chinese Government had congratulated one Li Ching-yun in 1827 on his birthday. The birthday was his 150th, making the man who died last week – if it was the same Li Ching-yun, and respectful Chinese preferred to think so – a 256-year-old. [5]

Part of the Li Qing Yun’s secret, according to some, was methodical practice of the Seated Eight Brocade Exercises (Golden Fluid Meditation) which he maintained for over 100 years. [6] When asked about the secret of his long life, he merely said: Keep a quiet heart, sit like a tortoise, walk sprightly like a pigeon and sleep like a dog.[7] Whether or not the story of Li Qing Yun is true, if it inspires one to practice Daoist meditation, it is worth hearing.

The Three Passes

San Guan (“Three Passes” or “Three Gates”) refers to three important places on the Du Channel. These three areas are the places where it is most difficult for the Qi/Breath to circulate, where it can become impeded. One is the Wei Lu Guan (Tailbone Pass). The second is the Jia Ji Guan along the sides of the spine at the area around Ming Men, and proceeding upward on either side of the spine along the thorax (mid back). Jia Ji means to “squeeze the spine” and is also sometimes a name for the area around the 6th thoracic vertebrae, which lies just behind the diaphragm.[8] The third is the Yu Zhen Guan (Jade Pillow pass) at the occipital region.[9]

If Qi/Breath becomes stuck at the tailbone, their may be heavy aching pain in the sacrum. Focusing on the gentle lifting of the perineum, without forcing the breath, will aid in smoothing the flow of the Qi/Breath. Blockage at the Mingmen area in the low back can result in aching across the low back. Often this occurs because of prior injury or tightness of the low back. Focusing on the Qi/Breath filling the Dantian and moving backward to the Mingmen as you attend to the tongue touching the upper palate will help move the Qi/Breath through this gate. It is most common for the Qi/Breath to become stuck at the occipital  gate, resulting in stiffness of the neck and aching pain at the back of the head. Closing the eyes, and looking upward and inward as you subtly raise the head will help move the Qi/Breath through this gate. Practicing the deer exercise can help prevent blockage at the sacrum, the crane exercise can help prevent blockage at the Mingmen and Jia Ji Guan, and practice of the tortoise exercise can help prevent blockage at the occiput and neck (the Yu Zhen gate).

The diagram below illustrating the waxing and waning of yin and yang during the Micro-Cosmic Orbit uses the traditional Chinese character: 門 Men  (gate-door), to show the location of the Three Passes:

The Image of the Waterwheel

A waterwheel turning along a millrace is a common image in Daoist meditation and is often used to describe the dynamic of the Micro-Cosmic Orbit. The waterwheel contains a hub at it’s center. The hub is still and empty relative to the buckets or paddles, which are full and move up and down at the periphery. As one bucket or paddle goes up from the bottom to the top, another moves downward from top to bottom. The hub represents the stillness of the spirit and heart inside. The turning buckets represent the movement of the Qi/Breath, the transformation of  and yin and yang,  in the Du and Ren Vessels. In the Nei Gong classic it says:

In front is the Ren and in the back is the Du.
Between these the qi  turns constantly

The repetition of the character gun, “turn” (ie: gun gun 滚滚) in this passage conveys the idea that the Qi/Breath literally turns, rolls, boils or spirals though the Ren and Du vessels, much like the action of water in a moving stream.

The circuit created by the Ren and the Du vessels transports substances that have Water-like nature: the Jing (generative energy), the Qi/Breath (vapor), and the Golden Fluid (saliva). The upward movement of the waterwheel transmutes Jing into Qi/Breath and Qi/Breath into Shen. The downward movement  is concerned with the nourishing of the Qi/Breath by Shen, and the replenishment of Jing by Qi/Breath. With time, as the circulation becomes smooth, the movement can travel in both directions simultaneously.[11]

Eva Wong tells us that two conditions must be met for the waterwheel to turn:

“First, the three gates along the Du meridian must be open. To open these gates, generative energy must be plentiful. When the generative energy is plentiful, it can be transmuted into vapor. When there is sufficient vapor, the vapor can thrust through the Du meridian and open the three gates. Second, the mind must be empty and still of thoughts. It is when stillness had reached its height that movement will begin.” [12]


[1] Fire Pathognomy Due to Internal Injury in Chinese Medicine, by Tian He Lu translated by Huang Guo Qi.


[3] Selected poems of Su Tung P’o translated by Burton Watson. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canon Press. 1994, p. 60.

[4] Time Magazine CHINA: Tortoise-Pigeon-Dog. Monday, May 15, 1933,9171,745510,00.html

[5] Ibid.

[6] Qi Gong Teachings of a Taoist Immortal: The Eight Essential Exercises of Master Li Ching-Yun, by Stuart Alve Olson, Rochester Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 2002, pp. 30-4.

[7] Time Magazine. CHINA: Tortoise-Pigeon-Dog.

[8] Xiuzhentu: Diagram of Cultivating Truth, translated by Mikael Ikivesi, 2009, p. 31.

[9] Chinese Qigong Outgoing-Qi Therapy by Bi Yongsheng. Trans. By Yu Wenping and John R. Black. Jinan, China: Shandong Science and Technology Press, 1992, pp. 109-110.

[10] Nei Gong: The Authentic Classic A translation of the Nei Gong Zhen Chuan Translated by Tom Bisio, Josh Paynter and Huang Guo Qi. Denver Colorado: Outskirts Press, 2011, p. 3.

[11] Holding Yin, Embracing Yang: Three Taoist Classics on Meditation, Breath Regulation, Sexual Yoga and the Circulation of Internal Energy, Translated by Eva Wong, Boston: Shambhala, 2005, pp. 15-16.

[12] Ibid, p. 16.

All material © 2013. Excerpted from the upcoming book, Decoding the Dao, Nine Lessons on Daoist Meditation, by Tom Bisio. All rights reserved.