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What is Dantian
There are numerous references to the dantian in Tai Chi Chuan practice, as well as in other martial arts and in Chinese methods of meditation and self-cultivation. In Japanese practices, it is referred to as the hara.
The word dantian, also written as tan tien, usually refers to the general area in the lower abdomen, beneath the navel and about one-third of the way in the abdominal cavity.
It is sometimes associated with the acupuncture point Guanyuan, Origin Pass, conception vessel 4. The dantian is also sometimes associated with conception vessel 6, qi hai, sea of qi or ocean of breath.
The word dantian translates as cinnabar fields, or elixir field. Alchemists in ancient China, as in the West, were interested in transmuting base metals into gold. Others were interested in transforming the base materials of life into a golden elixir for immortality or long life. Others sought higher stages of illumination or to create a soul. Another use is to transmute the qi in the dantian into spirit, or shen.
For the average practitioner, it involves improving health and reinvigorating internal organs. Sometimes massaging the dantian helps to stabilize ones emotions or to improve internal organ function. A famous Japanese healer diagnoses diseases using the patients dantian.
Since the dantian is so fundamental to the culture, there are many uses and locations described. There are three primary dantian. One is in the abdomen, one in the heart, area and the upper one in the location of the third eye, or brain.
Sometimes one of the dantians is described as being at the top of the head, at the Bahui acupuncture point, a second at the navel, and a third at the Huiyin acupuncture point at the bottom of the torso between the legs.
The dantian at the navel, or in the lower abdomen, is sometimes described as including the important mingmen area at the back, between the kidneys, roughly opposite the navel.
The dantian in the lower abdomen is said to be the residence of primordial qi, or the yuan qi, the energy that each person receives from their parents.
This inheritance is the foundation of life, and as one matures, it is consumed as people use it in daily life. People learn to get other energy from food, air, and their environment for daily life.
Tai Chi Chuan and meditation are said to be two methods of replenishing this original qi. During daily life, energy from the dantian is drawn upward and used by intellectual activity. If properly used, some of the energy re-circulates throughout the body, returning to the abdomen.
Too often it remains in the head, causing distress or disease. Often, when people get emotionally upset, it can mean that their qi has risen to their emotional or mental centers, where it stagnates.
In Tai Chi Chuan and meditation, one tries to "sink" the qi, or energy, into the lower abdomen. Of course, one cannot sink all of the qi. The idea is to help recirculate the qi through the dantian.
For most beginners, there is no specific feeling in the dantian and no feeling of energy there. So, it is hard for them to comprehend. The practitioner may be told to put their mind in their lower abdomen. This also is not that easy to do for a beginner, or even an advanced practitioner. But it is easy to say.
It sometimes helps to be aware of the abdominal wall moving out and in as you breathe. This awareness helps to give a focus point. But dont make a judgement whether it is too little or too much.There are many ways to work with the dantian, including rotating it and coordinating the rotation with movements as practiced in the Chen style. There are many variations on this.Most styles just let the energy sink to the dantian. Then the movements will naturally activate and massage the dantian.
The important thing is not to try to force the energy or the mind. The first principle is relaxed awareness. Even awareness of ones own body will help to release qi and let it gently return to the lower abdomen.
Over time, one may experience some fullness or heat in the lower abdomen, but this is not a measure of success or failure. With reasonably good practice over time, qi will accumulate in the dantian.
The abdomen should always be kept relaxed, but as qi accumulates from daily practice, it does become "strong," like a drum during movement.
This condition may exist even in a relaxed state. But it is self-defeating to try to create this artificially by force or try to make it become strong.
Keep in mind that teachers are often limited in what they can say about this and other complex practices because they are often talking to beginners and people they do not know well. So, they can only speak in the simplest terms lest the students try too hard, do the wrong thing, and injure themselves because they are inexperienced.
So, the beginner should listen with this in mind and continue practice with common sense. Later, they can ask for clarification based on their experience.
Like all internal practices, this is not a procedure where day by day you get better and better in a linear fashion. It is an organic process with delays and errors and gradual development. Your development depends on your own abilities and efforts, like everything else. You cannot expect a teacher to always want to or be able to tell you what to do next in this process, since you are dealing with yourself in a global perspective.
Even more important than the teacher or the result is training yourself to consistently search for insight and to always keep trying. Proper humility helps to preempt impatience.
Lowering Qi to Dantian
Lowering Qi to Dantian can dredge the channels of the entire body, harmonize blood and Qi, prolong life, eliminate worries and fatigue, calm the bad emotions like anger, fear, and worry, open the mind, and boost wisdom. As far as I am concerted, lowering Qi to Dantian means: the exerciser has made a certain progress and entered the deep relaxation and serenity in the exercise, as mentioned in Lao Zi “empty the heart and fill the abdomen”. Lowering Qi to Dantian means to meet the requirements of “keep the head and neck straight and lift the head as if propping up something”, lowering the shoulders and elbows, drawing in the chest, straightening the back, relaxing the waist, and keeping the coccygeal end in the middle after long-term persistent practice, so that the entire body is completed relaxed inside out and a serene, calm, and worriless state is naturally achieved. With the “Bird Exercise” of Health Qigong•Wu Qin Xi as an example, this paper dwells on how to relax the body and mind and lower Qi to Dantian to achieve serenity during practice.
After the exerciser has got familiar with the movements of the exercise and has begun to comprehend the key points to the exercise, relaxation exercises such as lowering shoulders and elbows can be introduced. In the first movement of “Bird Flying”, both legs are slightly bent, both palms are closed in front of the abdomen, the centers of palms are obliquely directed toward each other, the eyes are directed at the lower front. After the posture is established, attention is first drawing to the lowering of shoulders and the mind is concentrated on the tips of elbows to feel them lowering. This feeling is brought by the relaxation of the elbows. As both palms are pushing upward on the lateral sides of the body, both shoulders will be lowered and kept from rising. The elbows should not be raised. And the back is straight and eminent. Then the head slowly moves into the straight position and the chin is slightly withdrawn. The neck is relaxed and the small ligaments of the C-spine joints are loosened so that the suspended top is not stubborn. At the moment when both palms move laterally like spread wings, the shoulders are lowered and the mind is concentrated on the thumbs and index fingers of both hands. Lift the wrists to move the palms like waves and you will feel an indistinct force transmitted from the wrists to the ends of the thumbs and index fingers. As both arms are lowered and the shoulder joints are opened, the shoulder blades will be loosened horizontally with the tend so that both shoulders will be slightly withdrawn, both flanks are slightly contracted, and the thoracic skeleton is slightly withdrawn. Therefore there will be a slight tensioning sensation towards the left and right on the shoulders and back. This relaxation will be naturally transmitted to the elbows, wrists, and fingers and the process will be too quick for the mind to stay. In this way the shoulders will be lowered and the shoulder blades will be opened horizontally. The shrinking bosom and straightening back results will be naturally produced. Shrinking bosom and straightening back shall be completely compliant with the natural form of the human body and shall not be arched back and shrunk chest. Do not deliberately produce it. On the basis of shrinking bosom and straightening back, slightly draw in the buttocks. While doing this, relax the muscles in the buttocks and waist as much as possible so that the muscles of the buttocks are spread downwards. Then gently retract them forward and inward as if propping up the lower abdomen with the buttocks. This will restrict the projection of the buttocks and ensure the straightness of the lumbar vertebrae and the coccygeal end. By combining lowering shoulders and elbows, shrinking bosom and straightening back, and loosening waist and contracting buttocks, we can help lower Qi to Dantian. In this way the reversely ascending pathogenic Qi caused by bad emotions will be gradually lowered and eliminated and the harmonious Qi will be gradually distributed throughout the body. During the breath regulation of Bird Exercise, the body and mind will have an other experience: The body will be light and delightful. The respiration will be smooth and stable. The exerciser will temporarily forget all worries and sorrow and become carefree and cozy. This is the initial stage of lowering Qi to Dantian.
After the key points to the practice are comprehended, the movements can be further refined. During practice, the exerciser will be able to actively eliminate the distracting thoughts, focus the mind on the practice of the exercise, and maintain a peaceful and serene mind, and achieve a leisurely and calm look. In the first movement of “Bird Flying”, the palms are obliquely directed towards each other and the eyes are directed towards the lower front. No mind guidance is required and the exerciser should naturally meet the relaxation requirements such as lowering shoulders and elbows and shrinking bosom and straightening back. When both palms are moved up laterally, the shoulder blades will be opened horizontally towards both sides to drive the shoulder to move down. At the moment when both palms move laterally like spread wings, the shoulders are lowered and the mind is concentrated on the thumbs and index fingers of both hands. Lift the wrists to move the palms like waves and you will feel an indistinct force transmitted from the wrists to the tips of the ten fingers. This sensation is especially obvious with the thumbs and index fingers. As the palms move downward, the brain is between mindful and mindless. And the brain knows where the mind goes. Before the brain realizes the concept of “relaxation”, the body movement will suddenly relax the muscles in the shoulder blades. All of a sudden the entire body will receive the transmitted relaxation. A slightly numb sensation comes across the entire back. These are the results of the force of Qigong. The force is the force produced suddenly when the mind guides the circulation of the clear and harmonious Qi in the body when both the body and mind are relaxed and serene. It is the result of appropriate mind, appropriate Qi, and appropriate strength. Therefore it is also known as internal force. This practicing experience does not occur during every practice. As the shoulder blades are loosened to drive both shoulders to lower, the horizontal relaxation caused by the internal force will promote the natural extension and slight upheaval of muscles in the back. The sensation of straightening back will come along. Once this sensation occurs, the chest will be naturally relaxed and contained. The criterion for shrinking bosom is: At the moment the shoulder joints are opened and the shoulder blades are loosened horizontally, you will feel as if a round door is opened in the chest and the long-standing worries in the heart are discharged. The chest is slightly empty and the heart will suddenly feel relaxed and easy. The internal Qi that sways between both arms when they are moved upward and downward seems to be blocking the arms. And driven by the internal force of Dantian and Mingmen, the softened arms will be like the wings of the light crane that are spread in the air. When both arms are moved upward and downward, the entire body is relaxed and kept down. At the same time Baihui Acupoint on the top of the head will always feel a slight propping sensation instead of an imagined up-propping force. Baihui is suspended on the top, the coccygeal end is in the middle of the lower body, the shoulders and elbows are lowered, the chest is shrunk, the back is straightened, the waist is relaxed, the bottoms will be contracted, and the spinal column will e naturally relaxed segment by segment to form an up-down pulling posture. The state of “keeping the head and neck straight and lifting the head as if propping up something” will be naturally achieved and the heart will be suddenly enlightened. At this moment, the turbine Qi in the body will be lowered and eliminated. The clear Qi will be raised and infused into all parts of the body. The external form and the internal Qi will be gradually merged. Although we cannot clearly feel the incoming and outgoing movements of genuine Qi during this stage, the lower abdomen will feel the numbness, heat, and swelling caused by the swarming internal Qi. This sensation is generated because after entering serenity, the interoception is improved and the proprioceptive sensitivity is increased. The experience varies from person to person and should not be deliberately pursued. Otherwise deviations like “abnormal sensory perception” will be easily caused. After breath regulation of Bird Exercise is completed, the exerciser will unconsciously enter the intermediate stage of lowering Qi to Dantian: The body is soft and comfortable, the breath is even, gentle, and long, the brain is clear, and the chest is relaxed and empty. The gloom accumulated in the chest will be eliminated. All constraints of material desire are suddenly removed. The mind is suddenly opened. Dantian is filled with internal Qi and begins to communicate with the Qi of Mingmen. The facial appearance is calm and stable. The exerciser will look both mighty and easy.
With the refining of movements, the exercise enters the automation stage. All distracting thoughts are eliminated during the exercise and even the movements as well as the ego are forgotten. But all movements are still in line with the standard requirements and will still represent the verves of the five animals. After the last movement of “Bird Stretching” is completed, both hands will be naturally lowered at the lateral sides of the body, the eyes will be directed at the front, the entire body will be completely relaxed inside out, the mind will be free of worries, and Yang Qi will be calm and harmonious. Linked with the previous posture, both legs are slightly bent, both palms are closed in front of the abdomen, centers of the palms are obliquely directed at each other, and the eyes are directed at the lower front. The exerciser is still in a relaxed, serene, and gentle practicing state. When both palms are moved up laterally, the shoulder blades will be opened horizontally towards both sides to drive the shoulder to move down. Lowering means the lowering sensation of muscles in the relaxed and gentle state and is the criterion for relaxation. The relaxation in this stage has transcended lowering and is mainly represented by looseness. Genuine Qi flows throughout the body. The entire body is relaxed and loosened. Relaxation is driven by the internal force from the muscles to the tendons and bones and from the exterior to the interior to penetrate the body bit by bit and segment by segment. When both palms are lowered, the relaxation and looseness produced by the internal force will be even stronger. The mind already knows everything before the thought is moved. The interior of the shoulders will be automatically relaxed and loosened. The relaxation and looseness will be suddenly transmitted to every part of the body. The chest will be vacant. The back will be filled up with internal Qi. It seems that the muscles and bones are missing. Shrinking bosom and straightening back has exceeded the body form requirements. Baihui Acupoint on the top of the head will be vacant and unobstructed. And almost no up-propping force is felt because the channels around Baihui are smooth. The exerciser will begin to comprehend the true meanings of “Achieving the ultimate vacancy and adhering to the true serenity”, “coordinating the mind with Tao”, and “clearing the mind to gain insight into nature”. At this moment, the Qi activity will be smooth. “Man resides in Qi and Qi resides in man”. As the internal Qi is unsettled and breaks through the body surfaces, the body will be merged into Qi between heaven and earth and the feeling of boundaries of the body will be lost. This state does not run through the entire practicing process as Qi activity is transient. It shows up at different moments for different people. And it differs even in the same person with the different serenity states during exercise. After breath regulation of Bird Exercise is completed, the exerciser will unconsciously enter the advanced stage of lowering Qi to Dantian: The body will be naturally relaxed and gentle and the respiratory Qi will directly reach Dantian. The targets of “Exhale softly, inhale slowly, stay between consciousness and unconsciousness, and remain continuous and unbroken” will be truly reached. The brain will be clear and free of thoughts. The mind will be vacant and ready for everything. Wisdom will appear in the vacant mind and shine the interior and exterior of the body like bright sunshine (deficiency of the upper portion of the body). Qi circulates smoothly in Dantian and merges with the Qi of Mingmen. The facial expression will be calm and imbued with supreme heroism and mightiness (excess in the lower portion of the body).
by Zhang Caiqin, Inner Mongolia Normal University