One of the key principles in qigong theory is that the same principles apply throughout all of nature and the universe. So we will see the same repeating patterns of energy function and movement on every scale. We will see the same patterns occurring inside an individual as we see occurring on a larger scale in the environment around us. We also see the same patterns occurring within in an individual cell as we see occurring in an individual. At the extremes we see the same patterns occurring in individual atoms as we see in galaxies. Thus from observing natural phenomena many important insights can be drawn and used to help develop our skill with energy.
One analogy that is used frequently to describe the movement and gathering of energy in the body is that of water. Our bodies are composed of as much as 80% water, and just as water is extremely important to life on our planet, it is extremely important to the functioning of energy in our bodies. Water makes possible the easy movement and storage of many types of energy in our bodies. Water flows freely and changes shape easily, this makes it excellent for transferring physical force and vibration. Water conducts and stores heat easily. Also within the water in our bodies there are charged particles (potassium, sodium, hydroxide and other ions) which allows for the circulation of electrical energy. Water interacts with and diffracts light which allows us to see its full spectrum.
In coming weeks we will be looking at aspects of our energy anatomy which draw largely on water based descriptions. We will see movement of energy described as ocean currents and rivers, and fields of energy described as water vapour or rain. This week or focus is on gathering of energy into oceans or seas of qi.
If all of the water in our body were a great ocean, the centre of that ocean would be located a little below our navel in the centre of our body. This area is referred to as the ‘dantien’ or sea of qi. Because it is at the centre, it is the natural gathering place for the energy of the entire body. This includes the centre of physical forces that act upon and within the body, the centre of the electrical activity of all the nerves and cells, and the centre of the heating and cooling caused by the activity of the body. When we focus on making this area strong and balanced, we make the whole of the body strong and balanced because of each parts relationship with the centre.
Dividing The Oceans
Just as we divide the oceans and seas of our planet into different areas and give them different names, it is useful for us to divide the energy ‘oceans’ of our body. When we do this we recognize the distinctive characteristics of the energy that gathers in different parts of our body.
Yin and Yang
The first division we make is into two, the upper and lower dantien. The upper dantien is between the eyebrows at the root of the nose and in the centre of the head, the lower dantien is in much the same position as ‘the dantien’ when we consider the energy as undivided. This division of the energy reflects the principle of yin and yang. The upper dantien is more yang and the lower dantien is more yin. Therefore the energy in the upper dantien displays more yang type characteristics, it is hotter, lighter, faster and so on while the energy in the lower dantien is cooler, heavier and slower. When we focus on each of these centres, the energy generated or drawn from the centre will have these characteristics.
The Three Treasures
Dividing the energy further, the next step is to look at the energy as three centres or oceans. The upper and lower dantien remain in their same locations and we now also consider the energy of the middle dantien which is located at about the level of the heart in the centre of the body. This division of the energy corresponds to the idea of the three treasures and three powers. The three treasures are jing, qi and shen.
These are three types of energy within the body that have distinctive characteristics. The lower dantien is the centre of jing. Of the three treasures jing is the most substantial, almost like a liquid that moves through the body. Qi is centred in the middle dantien and is the most active and moving type of energy. Shen is centred in the upper dantien and relates to the idea of ‘spirit’ and is the least substantial of the energies.
Another way we can look at these concepts is in terms of mind, body and emotion. The head is the centre of our mind, the heart the centre of our emotion, and the lower dantien is the centre of our physical body. Each is equally important if we want a healthy and happy life.
Dividing the energy further we get seven centres, these centres correspond to the visible spectrum of light and the concept of ‘chakras’ from Indian yoga. The base is red, navel orange, solar plexus yellow, heart green, throat blue, brow indigo and crown violet. The energy at each of these centres relate to the functioning of the surrounding organs and tissues and the emotions that strongly affect these areas.
Sometimes in advanced practice we will go further and work with centres that relate to the invisible portion of the spectrum. These centres occur outside the body. Further detail about these centres will be given if the practices being taught require it.
While it is useful to look at each of these centres and the energy from them separately, it is important to remember that our aim is to make the whole healthy, balanced and strong. Our living energy is a combination of all these energies. The energy of the crown is present in the pelvis and the energy of the base is present in the head. Dividing the energy into centres just helps us to understand how parts of the whole are working together.
Week Three Homework:
- In your qigong practice sessions this week, spend time focusing on the energy of each of the centres we have looked at in this section.
- Imagine all the movement and energy for the qigong exercises come from this centre.
- Start by focusing on the lower dantien and then the upper dantien. How does your qigong practice feel different when you focus on each of these centres?
- Next focus on the lower, middle and upper dantien in turn. How does your qigong practice feel different when you focus on each of these centres?
- Finally focus on the seven centres of the visible spectrum in turn. How does your qigong practice feel different when you focus on each of these centres?