“Use Dantain as furnace, use open and closing (the breathing muscles) as bellows, use fire to refine, use wind to hurry the fire, when one feels warmth (in the Dantian) as signal of working, and feeling good is a sign one is on the right path” (Hui Ming Jing by Liu Huayang, an English translation of a portion of the book is included in the Secret of the Golden Flower translation).
Furnace is an important metaphorical concept in Taoist yoga or internal alchemy. This is the place where initial chi is collected and strengthened. The Dantian (centre-point of lower abdomen) is the furnace, inside the furnace fire (a metaphor) will be added, wind (another metaphor) will be blown. The final objective is to refine the ingredients (elixirs) into the Golden Flower or Golden Dan (pill). More metaphors!
According the Master, the first step of refining is inside the lower abdomen. The ingredients are external elixir (breathing mechanism – see previous post) and internal elixir (chi stimulated through the action of external elixir). And the whole process is directed by the mind (as energized in the third eye). In other words, the mind thus defined is also one of the ingredients for a proper refining process. The point of focus is the mid-point inside the lower abdomen (下丹田). The synchronized movement of the diaphragm and the pelvic floor muscles act as bellows (風箱). Wind as force generated by breathing mechanism will be created. Wind acts to stir up the chi and move it along defined chi-channels. A focused mind, to control contractions of subtle muscles, acts as fire to stimulate the creation of stronger chi. A warm feeling in the abdomen will be felt by the practitioner, signifying doing the practice correctly (效验). A pleasant overall feeling is an indicator that chi is being managed correctly (无事) – please refer to my previous posts “Practitioners be warned”.
During the practice, reverse abdominal breathing shall be used (check here for details). A primary focus shall be at one’s Dantian and a secondary focus shall be at one’s third eye. A calm mind free from external and internal distractions shall be maintained during practice.
Taoist yoga is also called internal alchemy, a transformation from simple matter to complex and more sophisticated matter. It is in sharp contrast with external alchemy where a transformation from base metal to precious metal or to “pill of immortality” was literally done through a real furnace! According to the classics, external alchemy is a misunderstanding of the true practice (i.e. only inner alchemy being true practice). Probably, I think, the now defunct practice of external alchemy was market-driven. When there were rich people who liked to have immortality physically rather than spirituality (not too difficult to imagine that!), there would be supply. More so, these rich people most likely would not fancy a simple life without much physical enjoyment (again not too difficult to imagine!), nor the difficulty in learning Taoist yoga. With a supply of these rich guys there would be “gurus” offering the easy way out – swallow a physical pill (refined through the practice of external alchemy) – at a huge price, in some cases including the life of the rich guy himself.