Dantian: What "Move from your Center" Actually Means
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According to many traditions, the energy center of the body lies in a specific location, known to house an abundance of life-force energy or qi. In Chinese Qigong it is called the Dantian which loosely translates to "elixir field", "sea of qi", or “energy center.” The Japanese refer to it as Hara, and in the Sufi tradition it is known as Kath and they are all located in the same area – the lower abdomen, 2-3 cun (or thumb widths) below the navel and 2-3 thumb widths inward is its center and radiates omni-directional.
When your awareness is on the Dantian, it can act as a center point to sense your entire body. This is exactly why it is known as our physical center. It also “houses” a great amount of energy, which is why many martial artists and Tai Chi practitioners focus on this part of the body throughout their practice to ignite their entire body.
Renowned Tai Chi teacher Kenneth Cohen, author of The Way of Qigong, says that it’s possible to strengthen the abdominals by learning how to compact the qi (prana) into the belly, stating, ”...the belly is considered the dan tian or “field of the elixir,” where you plant the seeds of long life and wisdom.”
The belly also happens to be a place of much sensation. Emotions are often said to be felt in that area of the body as well as heat and warmth and also where a jolt of energy is known to spring from. That’s why it’s so important to be “ in touch” with that part of the body – it gives us cues about our emotional state, and emotions can be used as a powerful tool to signal our mind on how to perceive our environment as well as our inner workings. According to Michael Gerson M.D. “You have more nerve cells in the gut than you do in the combined remainder of the peripheral nervous system.”
The Dantian is also a great area to meditate on. Meditating on the Dantien brings more power to that area and makes it stronger (and therefore makes you stronger). You can either sit in cross-legged position and place your awareness in this area for 10-20 minutes, or you can simply keep your focus on this area as you go about your day. Many breathing techniques (pranayama) are also focused entirely on activating this area for obvious reasons.
My Taiji teacher used an exercise to demonstrate the power of focusing on the Dantian. Standing, he would have us focus on the top of our head while another student attempted to push us over. It was very easy to be pushed down and thrown off balance. However, when we focused our concentration on our Dantian, in the same stance, it was near impossible to push someone over. A simple change in attention unlocked a wealth of strength. So, you can imagine what meditating on this area for an extended period of time can do.
In many renowned martial arts, the practitioner is taught not only to place his/her awareness on this area, but also to move from this center. The result is a more fluid and effortless movement as well as more power and strength in each move.