Tan Tien Breathing is also known as Fanning the Furnace Breathing, Lower Heaven Breathing, or Field of Elixir Breathing. These names refer to a type of ages-old guided imagery chi kung (chi kung/qigong means breathing in congruence with effort or in time with movement). The most common title that I’ve come to utilize is Fanning the (sparkling) Furnace.
In this tradition (Tao Chan/Ming Chia), it is said that there are two tan tien points/portals. With regards to the “real” tan tien, it is located just behind the navel (also known as the sea of chi). This point is approximately two and one-half inches above the “circulatory” tan tien.
The real tan tien is viewed as the body’s central bio-electric energy (chi/qi) point or “furnace” and the circulatory tan tien circulates the bio-electric energy stored in the real tan tien. This energy is viewed as our “original energy,” which has an intrinsic association with our kidneys, where, in a healthy person, it additionally resides. It also is said that this is the energy which one is born with — which brought us into this existence. All of this is in congruence with traditional acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine theory.
The real tan tien is viewed as the place where our corporeal bio-electric energy is generally centered. Through true effort, pertinent insight and meditative witnessing/guided imagery, one can better and better learn to (quite healthfully) enhance this centering or storage of bio-electric energy. Traditionally speaking, when one focuses one’s mind and attention at this point and performs competent abdominal diaphragmatic breathing, it is believed to substantively enhance the quality of one’s health and well-being (words do not adequately describe the effect, for it is best to witness it).
Such breathing, relaxation and guided imagery congruent with the execution of competent “witnessing” (versus thinking) during any activity or level of being is the centerpiece of true meditation. Such is traditionally and particularly performed with the practice of chi kung, tai chi chuan, kung fu and yoga, though it can be embraced and practiced with almost all activity (sedate or moving through life’s general activities).
This practice — centering, lowering, sinking and concentrating one’s bio-electric energy, enhancing one’s furnace or field of elixir — is viewed as a potent means to promote health, wellness and greater longevity. It builds the strength of one’s energy so that one can learn to feel the sparkling energy at will (and all of the time). It can only be realized when combined with skilled diaphragmatic breathing. Such skilled breathing is what is known as fanning the furnace.
Health & Wellness
Once one becomes quite skilled in this practice, one can learn to use and move it in fashions congruent with various traditional and more complicated types of guided imagery, meditation and witnessing — consistent with succinct manipulation for health, wellness, treatment purposes (inclusive of stimulating acupoints for self-treatment and using one’s hands to stimulate and treat the acupoints using one’s fingers and hands).
As one learns to fan the furnace competently, one learns to employ the circulatory tan tien to move the energy in one’s various guided imagery and visualization practices. Please realize that these skills, are just that — skills. It should be quite obvious that these practices cannot be learned overnight.
This basic guided imagery utilizes either the advance or reverse breathing methods (as described below). Even though this type of meditative breathing guided imagery is considered a most basic technique, it does not mean that it is easy or of lesser importance. Most students of the art will not go further along (to even more difficult techniques), which makes this technique all the more important — and this technique is the foundation of all other types of traditional guided imagery visualization.
It can be misunderstood that the real tan tien can be so much more important than the circulatory tan tien, which is viewed as a very important point also. Each complements the other, yin to yang — yang to yin. By practicing pertinent guided imagery, one can “fan the furnace” and healthfully promote the circulation of chi. Through time and effort, one learns to practice both types of tan tien breathing, which are meant to intrinsically complement one another. Therein, one can attain a nearer and nearer to impeccable state of stillness.
In working towards this, remarkable levels of relaxation and lightness can be realized and embraced. All of this must be complemented by what is coined as “witnessing” — learning to play the part of a less-blemished witness in one’s guided imagery meditation. These practices cannot be entirely rationally understood, but at best being a witness without thought or expectations getting in the way.
These practices are considered true skills, e.g., all-of-the-time diaphragmatic breathing’s consistent fanning of the furnace through guided imagery meditation, witnessing and true relaxation — altogether congruent with working toward true mastery thereof. The meaning of this true mastery is enjoying such objective insight that one witnesses the truth. The greatest blessing of all is that no matter how skilled one becomes, there is always room for improvement. Accordingly, it is about learning to better play the part of a healthy conduit or diplomat between heaven and Earth — in harmony with better realization of true health.
The following is a most basic form of Fanning the Furnace guided imagery. This is a form of mindfulness meditation guided imagery/visualization chi kung.
This guided imagery is for a standing position, but it can also be done in a sitting position — sitting on a chair/stool, or in a lotus sitting posture. At more and more skilled levels, it can be performed in most any setting in one’s daily life; that is a primary goal. It is traditionally set forth that there may be nothing more healthful.
This exercise is engineered to be practiced in a spirit congruent with the following question: How much gratitude does one need to be healthy?
Stand with your feet almost together (called a “humble stance”), and bend your knees comfortably. Put your tongue against the roof of the mouth Relax your face, shoulders, hands, and feet. It’s said, “If they’re relaxed, you’re relaxed.” Realize that relaxation is a true skill — there is always room for improvement.
We always have some stress, no matter how relaxed we are. Be so relaxed that you are barely standing — what we call a Swaying Willow demeanor. Gently roll the spine above the waist, forward and backward, like a willow tree swaying in a gentle wind. Breathe in, all the way forward and backward, and breathe out in between. Constantly adjust your eyes so that you are always looking slightly above straight ahead, without focusing or staring.
Fan the furnace by getting the “engine” of the diaphragmatic/abdominal breathing going. Breathe in, push your abdomen out, and breathe out, pull your abdomen in. Pretend that your lungs are your abdomen.
One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is all-of-the-time diaphragmatic breathing. There is nothing more healthful. Practice this breathing for five minutes, twice daily. In 30 to 60 days, most people will realize all-of-the-time diaphragmatic breathing. It greatly enhances circulation and promotes the secretion of relaxing, pain-killing hormones.
A minority of people benefit more from reverse breathing – breathe in, pull your abdomen in, and breathe out, push your abdomen out. Unlike the former advance-style breathing, this breathing is more for people who tend to be more lethargic, cold and less active, versus those who tend to be more so stressed, anxious, very active and warm. Advance breathing also is known as summer breathing, and reverse breathing is known as winter breathing. The former cools one, the latter warms one. Both can be utilized for fanning the furnace guided imagery.
In the moment
Be in a spirit of gratitude and true appreciation. Be all in the moment. Have true appreciation of the miracle of the moment. Ask yourself, “How much gratitude does one need to be healthy?” Don’t continue to think about the question, but try to be in that splendid spirit.
Try not to think, just witness your breathing, relaxation, and subtle movement. Try to play the part of a less-blemished witness. If a thought comes to your mind, embrace it, see it for what it is, don’t hang on to it, just let it go — put all of your attention in just what you are doing.
Mindfulness meditation is putting all of your attention into just one, two, or three aspects of what you are doing at any given time. It is next to impossible to be upset, anxious, worried, depressed, sad or frustrated if you are not thinking such thoughts. This is a primary purpose of mindfulness meditation. It is the sword (h’uo t’uo) that cuts out internal dialogue and/or cyclical thinking — ideally all thought being light. Thoughts often are heavy.
Using the above-stated criteria, move onto this variation of the Fanning the Furnace exercise. As you breathe in, imagine that you bring fresh energy that strengthens the furnace behind your navel, like a gentle fire or sparkling warmth. As you breathe out, imagine that the breath out fans the furnace, stronger and stronger, until you learn to feel the furnace. Learn to relax and witness this, versus think about it. Over time, you can learn to witness the furnace at will, all of the time. It is said that nothing is more healthful, combined with proper breathing and relaxation.
Remember, this is all congruent with learning all-of-the-time diaphragmatic breathing and witnessing — and learning to truly relax. The diaphragmatic breathing complements witnessing and relaxation, and vice-versa. These facets are intrinsically connected. They are initially learned separately, but they are in harmony when realized at a skilled level.
When you learn to feel the sparkling furnace at will, you begin moving the energy around the body in order to heal, and for general guided imagery purposes. Many complementary types of traditional guided imagery can be taught and are set forth in student handouts and in my blog posts. There are over a dozen guided imagery practices handed down in this tradition.
The key is to learn to succinctly center and focus the energy at the furnace and strengthen it there — stronger and stronger and stronger. Additionally, learn to use it and move it in a splendidly healthful fashion congruent with tradition. This practice is traditionally complemented by the handed-down resonant healing/assertive Five Phases single and multisyllabic sounds.
Please know that all of the nomenclature and terminology I have used is just that, terminology — never meant to be misleading. It is said that “real truth can only be witnessed, not thought about or logically understood.” It is said that “the Way that can be told is not the eternal Way, the way that can be told is the mother of all things.” It is reflected in the madman screaming, “If the stars are not words, stop calling them stars.” Even so, we as human beings most often, at least in most settings, begin learning things by way of words. It can be a beginning, but at best not the whole or the end.