You’ve made it to week two! We will now begin looking at each of the exercises in detail so you can understand what you are doing with them, refine your practice and hopefully really FEEL the energy.
This week our focus will be on activating and balancing the centre or dantien.
Structuring your sessions
How you structure your qigong sessions in this and subsequent weeks will depend on how much time you have allowed yourself for your qigong practice. If you have allowed only 10-15 minutes, you will want to begin with a simple warmup, then during the body of the session spend your whole time doing just the one exercise so you can really give it some quality attention in an unhurried way. At the end of your session you will want to finish with a simple cool down as part of your regular routine.
If you have allowed yourself more time, you may still want to just focus on the one exercise for the entire session so that you can REALLY get into the exercise. Alternatively, you may decide that after ten or so minutes focusing on this week’s exercise you would also like to go on and complete the entire set of exercises as part of your practice session.
The following video shows a simple routine you can use to begin your qigong practice sessions. The routine involves loosening and rotating the major joints of the body to lubricate them and make sure they are moving freely, then standing and quietly focusing on your breathing for a few breaths to calm you mind and prepare yourself to focus on the qigong exercises you will do in your session. This opening routine is very simple and won’t take you long to remember so you can begin each session with it.
The focus exercise this week is activating the centre. The practice is very simple, essentially massaging the belly in a circular motion. But it is well worth putting time into this to soften and stimulate the movement and energy in this area. It will set you up well for the following practices in this set of exercises. For more insight into this exercise refer to the ‘additional details’ and ‘theory’ sections lower down on this page.
This next video shows a simple routine you can use to end your qigong practice sessions. It involves some simple self massage, starting with the abdomen, then the kidneys and lower back before ‘patting’ all over the entire body to balance to wake up and stimulate the physical body and make sure the energy is evenly distributed around the body. This closing routine is very simple and won’t take you long to remember so you can finish each session with it.
Click here to see a video of the complete set of exercises if you want to do the full set as part of one or more of your sessions this week and need a reminder of how it goes.
Additional details about the exercise
There are a number of small details that may be interested in or may help you with this exercise.
Posture: to get the most from this exercise make sure your feet are planted firmly on the ground about shoulder width apart, with the heels down to help you relax in your posture. Your knees should be slightly bent, your shoulders relaxed with your weight sitting through the centre of your body (just in front of your spine, through the softness of your organs). This will help you to relax and activate the area of your dantien in your abdomen.
Hands: there is a very slight difference between which hand you have on top when doing this exercise. If you have the right hand on top of the left, it will be a little more stimulating, if you have the left hand on top of the right it will be a little more relaxing. Traditionally males would generally have their right hand on top more as their nature is more yang and active, females would have their left hand on top more as their nature is more yin and passive. In practice though you can and should experiment with both, the difference is slight and it will do you no harm to try both, then use which ever arrangement feels best to you on a given day.
Speed and Pressure: there is no set speed or level of pressure to be used for this exercise. The main aim is to become aware of and stimulate the activity in your centre, to do this is good to experiment with different speeds and pressure of massage. It is a good idea to start out slow and gentle, but try using faster and firmer pressure as well and focus on the sensation and stimulation this causes deep in the centre of your body.
Organ Function vs Energy Activity: one of the effects of this abdominal massage is to stimulate the large intestine. The large intestine runs in a clockwise direction when looking at the front of the body. However our aim is not to just stimulate the large intestine, but to activate all of the energy in this area. While the large intestine runs in one particular direction, the energy can and should flow and circulate in any direction in this centre. For this reason we will massage in both the clockwise and counter-clockwise direction as we stimulate the energy in this centre.
There are actually several dantien within the body, but one dantien is of such major significance that it is commonly referred to simply as the dantien. Whenever you see reference to the dantien when discussing qigong it will be this dantien that is being referred to unless it clearly specifies that it is referring to another dantien. Dantien literally translates as ‘red field’ or ‘cinnabar field’ or more loosely as ‘elixir field’ or ‘sea of qi’. This area acts as a storage centre for life energy or qi
Physically the dantien is in the centre of mass of the body, the centre of our enteric nervous system and also the centre of our digestion. These three aspects help to explain its pivotal role in the energy systems of our body.
As centre of mass of our body, this means that all physical forces flow through this area. Also this means that the dantien is at the centre of the collective activity of all the cells of our body.
As centre of our enteric nervous system, the area of the dantien is rich with nerve endings and is actually capable of processing some types of information independently of the brain and sending the results to the brain. This network of nerves is responsible for the ‘gut feelings’ we get, which often are very accurate. In this way the dantien is also a centre of information processing in the body.
Finally as centre of our digestion, this area is responsible for processing food into nutrients to very literally supply the energy needs of our entire body. This also means that this area is rich with blood moving to and from the area carrying these nutrients.
A Healthy Dantien
For this energy centre to be healthy and function well, we want the whole area to be soft warm and active. It should be filled with fluid and not feel hard at all (this is different from having weak abdominal muscles, these muscles are on the outside of the body and should be flexible and strong to help support and protect the digestive organs beneath them).
If our dantien is soft it means there is plenty of blood flow to this area. If we allow the weight of our body to sit centred around this area, it will cause the muscle tensions to be balanced throughout our body and provide cushioning and softness to all the structures and movements of our body. If it is warm, it means that the cells in the area are active and will be able to digest food well. If we have plenty of electrical activity in this area, it means the nerves are functioning well and will be able to process information effectively.
For many of us, our dantien will not match this description initially. It will take some work to make this area soft, warm and active. The massage you will focus on during this week is an effective way to do this, and will be a great way to keep this area healthy and active in the future.