By Sorcha Hegarty
In the last article, Qi – Small Word, Big Concept, we talked about qi, the life force and vital energy that underpins the basis for tai chi and qi gong practices. Qi comes in many forms, and is stored in the body in the dantians.
There are three main dantians in the body: the Shang Dantian in the forehead, connected with consciousness and spirit, the Zhong Dantian at heart level, is where the Gu Qi (from the food and drink we consume) and Kong Qi (from the air we breathe) mix together into a form that the body can use, and the lower Xia Dantian, about three fingers below the navel, is where the acquired qi is combined with the Yuan Qi (the life essence inherited from our parents) to form True Qi.
Usually, in tai chi and qi gong, when someone mentions the dantian, it’s the Xia Dantian that they’re referring to. This is also known as the “golden stove” of the body, and in terms of cultivating qi, it’s the most important one to focus on.
In purely physical terms, the Xia Dantian is located three thumb-widths below the navel, and about two thumb-widths in. This is the human body’s centre of gravity. When we’re moving, fighting and trying to keep our balance, focusing on moving from this point and maintaining an awareness of the centre of gravity helps keep us stabilized, and makes it harder for an opponent to unbalance us.
The dantian is so important to qi, though, that the emphasis on it goes far beyond the fact that it’s the centre of gravity. The lower dantian is the body’s powerhouse – where all the vital energy is stored. When we focus on the dantian in meditation, breathing, standing, and during the movements of tai chi and qi gong, it doesn’t just keep us physically rooted. Cultivating a strong store of qi helps keep us emotionally grounded throughout our lives. It’s very easy to be derailed by other people’s stresses and dramas as we go through life. That sense of calm that we can feel during qi gong or meditation is quickly lost in the hustle and bustle. The dantian is like the roots of a tree, holding us steady against life’s buffets and blows.
In traditional Japanese culture, the dantian is called the “hara”, or belly, and masters of calligraphy or martial arts are said to be “acting from the hara” – what we might call being “in the zone”.
Tai chi emphasises being both hard and soft: being strong and flexible at the same time. Think of a tree with deep roots and very flexible branches: the branches can move freely, responding to whatever the wind blows their way, but the connection with the ground is never lost: the tree stays firmly placed and strong, bending but not breaking. Energy follows attention, so keep your mind on your dantian, and watch your qi grow.
© Sorcha Hegarty, 2013