5.a.xxi.freeing-_the_dantien Section

Freeing and Filling the Dantien

by Nick Gudge - March 2012

This article is not for beginners. It assumes a considerable amount of practice has already been completed, a variety of skills achieved, a significant understanding of the body has been reached along with a considerable strengthening of the legs. There are many ideas like those of loosening (song), peng jing, opening and closing etc are all assumed. The understanding of these ideas is not simply intellectual but something visceral. If this has not been achieved’ while it is likely the reader will think they understand what is written, it is almost certain that they will misunderstand and consequently train inappropriately. As in all things taijiquan, there are various paths or routes to understanding. However there is a rough order to the acquisition of skills e.g. standing, walking, running, hurdling. The improvement in a more fundamental skill will change the understanding and use of subsequent skills.

Freeing the dantien

Dantien is the Chinese term for the area in the waist, below the navel, in front of the spine, which is the locus of control of the body in taijiquan. It is also central to the traditional mechanism used to understand gathering and utilising qi in the body. Finally it is an embedded part of the body, not a surface part of the body so its control requires considerable effort or understanding and practice to bring about progress.

The dantien is embedded inside the waist. If the waist is stiff then any subtle movements within the waist will not be possible, nor will an understanding of these movements be possible. The first step to freeing the dantien is to loosen (song) the waist. My preference is to introduce waist-loosening exercises to my beginners and to persist with them until the waist is free to move in all three planes. This means loosening the waist relative to the pelvis (horizontal waist movement), loosening the waist relative to the spine, (forward vertical waist movement), and loosening the waist relative to the ribs, (side vertical waist movement.) Until the waist is free any further discussion of freeing the dantien is pointless. Virtually everyone I meet in the taiji world has a stiff waist, despite years of training. Check to see if your waist is loose: if it isn’t, loosen it! Practice loosening it a lot.

Assuming the waist is loose and free to move in any direction, the process of loosening the waist will have built up a certain proprioception (body awareness) of the muscular possibilities of the waist. This proprioception is a key component both in the subsequent recognition of the dantien and of the control element in using the dantien.

The assumptions used here are that the form has been practiced sufficiently (thousand of repetitions) to become an embedded part of the practitioners consciousness. Sufficient practice has occurred to ensure the switch from trying make the shen fa occur correctly to becoming aware that something is missing or being done incorrectly. The practitioner’s mind becomes able to divide itself to focussing on both the external and the internal. While practicing, the mind watches the waist to ensure that no stiffness develops, initially at the end of each posture and then during each posture.

Filling the dantien

Having reached a point where, with peng developed everywhere and opening and closing drive the flow of qi to the hands and other parts of the body where it is clearly felt in many or all of the postures, the next step is to ‘fill the dantien’. This involves understanding ‘collapsing the waist’ (ta yao) and being able to feel and recognise what is happening inside the body (to comprehend the bio-feedback of proprioception) to improve the process. In my experience the feeling is unequivocal. The qi is led back to the dantien at the end of each posture by the mind. Again this phrase is an excellent description of what happens inside the body: there is a physiological element that is discernable internally and externally. Unfortunately this cannot be made to happen before the pre-requisite level of skill and understanding are achieved.

When a skilled practitioners seems to have stopped moving mid-form, the likelihood is that the outside appears to have stopped moving while the inside continues to move, the qi moving all the way to the extremities and then returning to the dantien.

There is no need to ask about this process. When your teacher leads you to this understanding then you will know you are ready to begin this step. Trying to short-cut this process is counter-productive. In Chen Style the saying is ‘the long route is the quickest way.’

Nick Gudge is a student of Wang Hai Jun and teaches Chen style taijiquan (tai chi) classes in Limerick.