July 15, 2016 nathanbrine

The Three Spaces 

The Taoist body can be broken down into:

  • Spaces  (3D spaces or cavities)
  • Surfaces  (2D planes)
  • Lines  (meridians etc.)
  • Points  (acu-points etc.)
  • Also, passes (關 guan) and openings (竅 qiao)

Lines and points are fairly well known outside Taoist circles, spaces not so much. Spaces form the structure of the Taoist universe. Spaces are divided into the three internal spaces 內三空 and the three external spaces 外三空. These spaces can also be further sub-divided.


The three internal spaces are spherical cavities inside the body.

  • Upper space – head cavity
  • Middle space – chest cavity
  • Lower space – lower abdomen

Each inner space is a big sphere with a smaller sphere at its centre. The smaller sphere is an energetic field commonly known as a dantian 丹田 (Note: in the Dragon Gate Tradition we only call it a dantian once there is a dan, the elixir, formed there). These fields at the centre of the spaces are where the alchemical work happens. Contracting and expanding the space surrounding each field can help us locate and activate the fields. The fields are home to the three treasures of the Taoist body: jing, qi, and shen. However, each of the spaces surrounding the fields also contain a kind of energy.

  • Upper space – cosmic energy (宇宙能量)
  • Middle space – reincarnation energy (轉世能量)
  • Lower space – personal energy(本體能量)

The lower space is our lower abdomen. Our personnel energy gathers here. This area gives us strength so this space is active and likes to move. It is the least pressurized space. In the centre of this space is the Xiatian (lower dantian), this is where jing resides. This space is connected to our personal space.

The middle space is our chest cavity. Reincarnation energy gathers here. Because the physical heart is here, we have desires and emotions. This space is very dark but it gives us memory. In the centre of the middle space is the Zhongtian (middle dantian), this is where qi resides. This space is connected to the social space.

The upper space is our head cavity. Cosmic energy gathers here. The upper space is bright and gives us wisdom, it is also the most pressurized space. In the centre of the upper space is the Shangtian (upper dantian), this is where shen resides. This space is connected to the cosmic space.


The three external spaces are a series of concentric spheres outside out bodies. Each of these external spaces are subdivided into inner and outer. Also, each external space is connected to its respective internal space in the body.

  • Cosmic Space – (Heaven) the natural world beyond society, and the sky and everything in it
  • Social Space – (Earth) the social world
  • Personal Space – (Man) our own personal space including our body

The personal space is our body and the space around our body. It is connected to the internal lower space (lower abdominal cavity).

  • Inner personal space – from body pores inwards
  • Outer personal space – from body pores to arm length away

The social space is the human world. Civilization. Society. Reincarnation energy is almost always connected with people and this happens in the social space, therefore this space is connected to the internal middle space (chest cavity).

  • Inner social space – the training area (if not doing as practice then your home and family)
  • Outer social space – outside the training area space to the natural cosmic space

The cosmic space is the wild uninhabited great beyond. It is connected to the internal upper space (head cavity).

  • Inner cosmic space – nature (rivers, lakes, forests and mountains)
  • Outer cosmic space – the heavens, the celestial palace and its three treasures: sun, moon, and stars


When we do the three spaces practice we follow the instructions to occupy and then unify the three external spaces into one space. Then we go inside and set up the internal three spaces. Finally we combine these spaces to form the inner cavity 內腔. Once we have sealed this all up, the Taoist universe is structured and we’re ready to have some fun.

I should mention that this stuff is best approached as a practice. It’s easy to think of it as metaphysics, but it’s not really. The three spaces practice is a way of experiencing our bodies and the world around us. That’s my sense anyway. Also the results are pretty stellar when practiced.

For one thing, it’s much easier to go inside the body and do stuff. The three internal spaces, the three dantians, and the inner cavity can all be used as cauldrons 鼎, all seven. Also working with the internal spaces helps us address imbalances found in those cavities. And working with the external spaces helps us set up our resonance/response (ganying 感應) with the outside world. Actually, throughout our practice we can utilize these spaces in many different ways. It’s a fantastic foundational practice for neidan.

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