The traditional Chinese meditative exercises of Qigong have been used throughout history in the pursuit of a healthy, long life. To achieve this goal, thousands of different exercises have been derived that have been practiced by millions of people for thousands of years. Many of these practices vary with the exercises involved and the eventual intent of the training, but all have their roots in the area know as the lower Dan Tien.
Qigong theory holds that, along with the myriad of acupuncture points and meridians, there are 3 primary energy centers in the human body: the upper, middle and lower Dan Tien’s. The upper Dan Tien is located between the eyebrows in the spot traditionally held to be the ‘third eye’. The middle Dan Tien is located in the center of the chest/solar plexus area and the lower Dan Tien located about an inch below the navel. All are important energy centers dealing with storing, refining and transforming Qi, but the lower Dan Tien is particularly important in the initial cultivation practices of Qigong. The lower Dan Tien contains our base, root energy. Like the body’s main battery, Qi is stored here and used to fuel the entire body. When performing most Qigong practices, after building and circulating Qi throughout the body, you direct this Qi to the lower Dan Tien to safely store it for the body’s future use.
A great initial Qigong practice you can try to stimulate Qi in the lower Dan Tien involves abdominal breathing. Abdominal breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, is a much deeper, natural way to breathe, and stimulates Qi production in the lower Dan Tien when practiced consistently.
As we age, the location of our breath gradually moves from deep in our abdomen to our chest. Try this simple exercise. Sit up straight and place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Now, breathe naturally, as you normally would. Which hand moves more? If you are like most adults, your chest will move, and your belly may not move at all. This shallow chest breathing does not fully oxygenate your lungs when you inhale, and does not prime the Qi ‘pump’ in your belly, thus not allowing the body to produce the Qi that it could.
Thankfully, the habit of abdominal breathing is easy to cultivate again with some conscious practice. Place your hands back on your chest and abdomen again and this time, try and direct your breath down into your belly when you breathe in. Try not to force this, allow your chest and belly to remain as relaxed as possible. Feel what the sensation is like to breathe deeply like this. Now allow your hands to come to rest in a comfortable position in your lap and continue to breathe into your belly for 5 – 10 minutes. Try and repeat this practice at least once a day, breathing in a deep, relaxed manner, expanding your belly as you inhale. You may be surprised how quickly your body will ‘remember’ this way of breathing and you will naturally do it throughout your day without consciously thinking about it.
When this process is again ‘natural’ for you, you can move onto the next stage of this practice. When you breathe in and out of your belly, place your mind down there, just below your navel and inside your abdomen. Observe there quietly as you gently breathe in and out. Placing your mind here will help Qi collect and grow. In time, you will begin to sense a ‘ball’ of energy located here. This is your lower Dan Tien. Books often give a very specific location for this, but I have found that with each of us unique beings, the location differs slightly from person to person. Go with the sensations you feel and allow your attention to rest there, remaining as relaxed as possible. Tension that you hold in your mind and body cause the free flow of Qi to stagnate and can lead to illness. Continuing with this practice will help develop a strong foundation from which you can build a solid Qigong practice.
If you would like to learn more about Qigong you can read some more posts here, and you can learn a wonderful 5 minute energizing Qigong form by clicking this link.