Nei Dan: The Practice of Making the Inner Elixir

MeditationIn those Qi cultivation disciplines that have become known as Qigong it is traditional to refer to the “Three Mindful Corrections” –– regulate the body, regulate the breath and regulate the mind. Qigong does not occur without the third – the regulation of the mind, otherwise it is merely a form of exercise. To regulate the mind is typically referred to as inner practice, stillness or meditation. Tai Chi takes this practice into motion, a moving meditation –– stillness in motion. Many forms of Qigong have no body movement and focus primarily on meditation – Quiescent Qigong or Meditative Qigong. This is also known as Nei Dan (Inner Elixir Practice).

There are two aspects to Qigong meditation. First is to completely relax in a state of full alertness and awareness. Relaxation without awareness is sleep. Much of the physiological benefit of Qigong is based on the results of alert relaxation within the human system. In the West, this has come to be called the “Relaxation Response”. The second aspect is intention, what the Chinese call “Mind Intent”, Yi. In Chinese this means “voice of the Heart”.

Interestingly, in the Chinese language there is not a single word for Heart, nor is there a word for Mind. There is only one word for both –– Xin, Heart/Mind. Yi or intention is not just mind intent, it is Heart/Mind intent. The actual meaning is voice of the Heart/Mind. It is said that the mind leads the Qi. With mind intent the Qigong practitioner purposefully leads or directs –– cultivates — the Qi.

The Three Dan Tian and the Multi-Dimensional Human

Using the intention, in focused practice, the transcendental and spiritual Qi of Heaven is purposefully engaged and cultivated in the Heaven Dan Tian –– upper Dan Tian in the area of the brain and the neuro-endocrine system of the head.  This is the supreme Yang Qi, Yuan Shen, the primordial, boundless spirit component of the multi-dimensional self. This Yang component of our balanced and harmonious self is naturally present. Purposeful or intentful cultivation practice enhances the quality, quantity and balance of this Heavenly resource. The Heaven Dan Tian is located in the head, between and behind the eyes (brain, pituitary, pineal, hypothalamus).

Using the intention, in focused practice, the practical and material Qi of Earth is purposefully engaged and cultivated in the Earth Dan Tian. This is the maximum Yin Qi, Yuan Jing associated with the structural, bio-chemical, concentrated and substantial component of the multidimensional self. This Yin component of the balanced and harmonious self is also naturally present. Cultivation practice enhances the quality, quantity and balance of this Earthly resource. Earth Dan Tian is located around the umbilicus (belly button, lower abdomen).

The merging of Heaven and Earth  — Shen and Jing (or Jing Shen)– in the presence of the pre-natal Yuan Qi is the original spark of life which creates the conditions necessary for life. The natural tendency for this process is to create a vital living being. It does not, however, naturally create an enlightened being. Transforming a living being into an enlightened living being requires an even more clarified process, a purposeful and methodical transition toward even greater balance and an open and undisturbed Heart/Mind. The mixing of Yin and Yang (Jing and Shen) in the Heart/Mind Dan Tian creates a profound inner medicine ––Nei Dan. In many of the great classic scriptures of Daoism  this is known as Golden Elixir (Jin Dan) because it is highly refined –– so highly refined that it is associated with the ability of the alchemist to transform raw ingredients into Gold. The Heart/Mind Dan Tian is located at the level of the heart (also thymus gland).

Getting a balance of Yin and Yang –– Earth and Heaven –– in the Heart/Mind DanTian requires not only the capacity to clear distraction but also the capacity to allow the Heart/Mind to contain the merging. This vessel for the merging of Yin and Yang (Hearth and Heaven) is referred to as the alchemical vessel, but it is actually the compassionate heart. It is this purified, open, accepting heart that cultivates the capacity of the practitioner to sustain the Qigong state in the midst of conditions and conditioning. When the three Dan Tian are working optimally they produce healing resources including hormones, enzymes and neurotransmitters. This cultivation practice is a powerful exercise in the use of intention to maximize the capacity to produce the combined Earth Elixir for the body and Heaven Elixir of the Spirit –– merging to produce the Heart/Mind Elixir –– which is essentially, love, acceptance, patience and compassion.

Three Dan Tian Meditation Method:

There are literally hundreds of Qigong meditations.  Three Dan Tian Meditation has two express purposes. First, the practice is intended to practically cultivate the associated resources –– Qi and its physiological and energetic equivalents –– of the three specific Dan Tian for health, healing and longevity. The second is to potentiate altered states of being and action. One of the best ways to state this is that the intention is to potentiate awareness of one’s eternal universal self –– known as immortality in the Chinese tradition. In the awareness of one’s eternal nature intuition, insight and wisdom are promised as side effects.


Find a quiet location where there are few distractions. Sit, lie down or stand comfortably. Deepen and lengthen the breath. Clear the mind of concerns and considerations. There is a lot to think about in this life, so promise yourself that you can think about all these details and things after the Nei Dan practice. Turn your attention inward, just as if you have closed the door on a very special room in which you can deeply relax. Then begin the Three Dan Tian practice. Allow the breath to become full and slow and relaxed. Clear your mind as if you were a monk contently sweeping the leaves from the temple courtyard.
Earth Dan Tian

Bring your attention to the area around your navel. Feel if you can, or imagine, that your Qi is focused here. Affirm to yourself that this practice causes and enhances highly effective activity in the abdominal organs, glands and tissues, and refines a profound internal elixir that heals and empowers your body, your mind and your spirit. Now use the mind to open the lower Dan Tian to the Earth. Using your intention and, with the breath if you wish, pull in the energy, vitality and subtle messages of the solid, concentrated, Yin Earth into the Dan Tian to mix with the body energy. Continue to hold this focus until you feel complete. In this you are making a very subtle Earth Elixir for inner healing and empowerment

Heaven Dan Tian

Now, bring your attention to the area of your head. Feel if you can,  or imagine, that Heavenly Shen Qi is focused here causing highly effective activity in the organs, glands and tissues of the head including the brain, pituitary gland, pineal gland, hypothalamus, cerebral-spinal fluid system and the sensory systems of sight, hearing, smell and taste. Now use the mind intent to open the upper Dan Tian to the Heavens, — stars and planets, endless sky, cosmos and the benevolence of ascended immortals and master teachers. Pull in the energy, vitality and message of all celestial forces to mix with the body energy. Affirm that the upper Dan Tian is associated with all of the radiance and transcendence of Heaven. In this you produce a profound Spirit Elixir that can heal the body, the emotions and even the destiny.

Heart/Mind Dan Tian

Now bring your attention to the area around your heart. Feel if you can, or imagine, that Qi from the whole body is focused here and causing highly effective activity in the organs, glands and tissues of the chest including the heart, lungs and thymus gland. Now, use the mind intent to open the Heart/Mind Dan Tian. Imagine or feel if you can the forces and the Elixir of Heaven pouring downward into the Heart/Mind. Imagine or feel if you can the Elixir of Earth pouring upwards into the Heart/Mind to merge with Heaven creating the Ultimate Elixir of Balance and Harmony.

The merging of Heaven and Earth creates the biological life of the world – the biosphere. Exchange your Heart/Mind Elixir, energy and subtle information with all life forms – plants (grasses, flowers, fruits, trees) and animals (swimming, walking, flying) into the Middle (Zhong) Dan Tian to mix with the body energy. When the Heart/Mind Elixir is produced it creates the “place” for the Shen to reside in the Heart. This practice allows the virtue and benevolence of the celestial realms to come into your life. It is promised that you will become more peaceful, make better choices and spontaneously have the compassion to serve others


Continue this practice for as little as a few minutes or as long as it is comfortable for you to sustain the focus, not drifting off into concerns and considerations. When you are complete or find your attention pulled in other directions, either conclude the practice or return to it. If the mind gets busy it is a quick diagnosis of the fact that more preliminary forms of Qigong or Tai Chi practice will be helpful.

When you conclude, take it slowly re-connecting with your local self and your daily associations. The breath will have found a natural rhythm, now take a few breaths to re-connect with this day, this time, this location. Do not rush into your multitude of things to do. Take a few moments to integrate the benefits of this practice with your worldly life. Say to yourself something like, “I will take this sense of the coordination of my lower, middle and upper self and the Earth, Heart/Mind and Heaven Elixirs into my day and into my relationships and interactions”.

Roger Jahnke, O.M.D., has dedicated his professional life helping to sharing the powerful ancient healing traditions of China. He is the director and chief instructor of the Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi, Santa Barbara, California; and a cofounder of the National Qigong Association. With almost 30 years of clinical practice as a physician of acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine and eight research tours to China, Dr. Jahnke has emerged as a key spokesperson for Tai Chi  (Taiji) and Qigong (Chi Kung) and is a master teacher of these arts.  Unless otherwise indicated, all photos are the property of Dr. Jahnke.

Top Photography By Dedda71 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons