What Is the Dan Tian?



Grandmaster Wong performing dan tian Breathing, an excellent qigong exercise.

Another concept that is repeatedly mentioned in Shaolin Kungfu, Qigong, and Taijiquan is that of the dan tian. In my classes, I give an explanation of the dan tian, both its location and function within the paradigm of Chinese medicine. But like anything that new and foreign to people, its significance is often hard to grasp, in spite of its importance within the Shaolin Arts. So, what in the world is the dan tian?


The term ‘dan tian’ is actually made up of two characters in Chinese, 'Dan 丹' which means cinnabar or vermillion, and 'Tian 田' which refers to a field in the agricultural sense. It is commonly translated as the ‘Cinnabar Field’ or the ‘Field of Elixir’. For thousands upon thousands of years in Chinese and other cultures, cinnabar was used to make vermillion, a pigment used in things like paintings, ceramics, tattoos, and religious ceremonies. Cinnabar was often sprinkled into the tombs of China’s wealthy elite. Indeed, pottery with cinnabar or vermillion in it fetches tens of thousands of dollars at auction today, so it is still quite prized.


Located approximately two inches below the navel, and two inches in from the navel, the dan tian is where we store our vital energy once we have built it and circulated it in our qigong practice. In Shaolin Kungfu, before we begin a set, we sink our Qi to the dan tian. When we move, we move from the dan tian, when we explode internal force for a strike, we do so from the dan tian. Remember last week when I talked about how helpful kungfu stance training is to maintaining balance on ice and snow? That is because when our Qi is at the dan tian, we are stable yet agile.


The dan tian holds a prized place in Chinese martial, qigong, and medical culture. From a Chinese medicine standpoint, the energy of the kidneys, which is the foundation of life and reproduction, is distributed through this area, which also houses the body’s original Qi, the vital energy and essence passed down to them from their parents. So it comes as no surprise that I needle these points a lot when I’m working with women who are trying to get pregnant. Acupuncture points on this area of the body have such poetic names as ‘Gate of Origin’ and ‘Sea of Qi’, which are actually other names for the dan tian.


In learning Cosmos Qigong or Shaolin Kungfu, we learn through gentle focus how to guide our Qi back to the dan tian. In doing this, we use that very energy to nourish us, while helping us feel healthy and full of abundant energy, not to mention powerful and balanced. Are you interested in joining one of our classes to make the most of your energy? Registration is just a click away.

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