Overview of Internal Alchemy in Taoism

Meditating person silhouetted against a sunset.

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Inner Alchemy or Neidan, a term often used synonymously with Qigong, is the Taoist art and science of gathering, storing, and circulating the energies of the human body. In Inner Alchemy, our human body becomes a laboratory in which the Three Treasures of Jing, Qi, and Shen are cultivated. This is used for the purpose of improving physical, emotional, and mental health and, ultimately, merging with the Tao (i.e. becoming an immortal).

Three Treasures

Each of the Three Treasures used in the practice of Inner Alchemy is associated with a particular physical/energetic location:

  • Jing, or reproductive energy, has its home in the lower dantian (and snow mountain area).
  • Qi, or life energy, has its home in the middle dantian.
  • Shen, or spiritual energy, has its home in the upper dantian.

Taoist practitioners learn to transmute Jing into Qi into Shen, and the reverse. They also learn to modulate consciousness along its full spectrum of vibratory frequencies, in much the same way that we are able to tune into different radio stations. The dantians can be thought of as similar to the chakras of Hindu yogic systems — locations within the subtle body for the storing and transmutation of qi or prana. Of particular importance for Inner Alchemy practice is the lower dantian, the home of what is known as the immortal fetus.

The Process of Internal Alchemy

Internal Alchemy understands the human body to be a precious and necessary resource for our spiritual journey, rather than as something to be ignored or transcended. Along with the dantians, the practitioner of Inner Alchemy learns to perceive and work with the meridian system — in particular, the Eight Extraordinary Meridians. As we open, cleanse and balance the meridians, our awareness flows in. What emerges is good health, clarified perception, and direct experience of our connection to and embodiment of Tao.

Inner Alchemical processes are represented visually in the Nei Jing Tu. These processes are represented also by the lamp, candles, and other items found on the altars used in ceremonial Taoism, and by the practice of Baibai offering incense to the altar. Taoist ceremonies are ritual enactments not only of Taoist cosmological principles but also of the transformations of Inner Alchemy.

An excellent place to begin your practice of Inner Alchemy is with the inner smile and snow mountain practices.

Sources

Chia, Mantak. "Golden Elixir Chi Kung." Paperback, 2nd Edition, Destiny Books, November 23, 2004.

Liu. "Cultivating the Energy of Life." Hua-Yang, Eva Wong (translator), Paperback, Shambhala, 1998.

Po-tuan, Chang. "Understanding Reality: A Taoist Alchemical Classic." Thomas Clearly, F Second Printing Used edition, University of Hawaii Press, December 1, 1987.

Yu, Lu K'uan. "Taoist Yoga: Alchemy & Immortality." Charles Luk, Paperback, Red Wheel/Weiser, 1999.

Yudelove, Eric. "Taoist Yoga and Sexual Energy: Transforming Your Body, Mind, and Spirit." Paperback, 1st Edition, Llewellyn Publications, July 8, 2000.