Emphasizing the Extremities in Practice, Breathing
Most times, the dan tian, (the body’s energy/gravity center) is the predominent area of breathing emphasis in most Tai Chi and Qigong exercises, including silk-reeling, the principle movement in Chen-style Tai Chi, among many others.
Though heavily-centered on the dan tian (forgive the pun), my staple practices (Hun Yuan and Wudang Qigong and Tai Chi) all contain particular exercises that bring the intention to the hands and the feet.
Often though, when the distal regions are emphasized, the practitioner is sending the energy outward from the dan tian (also known as the sea of Qi elixir field or vitality center) to these areas.
However, focusing on the extremities during practice or breathing in general has allowed me to improve energy flow to and generation in the dan tian.
Wuji Stance Basics
I’ve discussed it elsewhere, but the Wuji stance is maybe the most foundational position in Qigong. The ultimate goal of Wuji is to transcend thinking about the posture and to simply exist within it.
It revolves around the Three Powers, which include:
- Visualizing a connection lifting the top of your head into the heavens. The spine is suspended from the head which is suspended from heaven, like a dangling string of pearls.
- Next, with tailbone “tucked in,” envision a connection from your sacrum to the center of the earth, sinking the weight down through the feet, which corresponds to Earth.
- Concentrating on the Dan Tian which corresponds to Humanity. The upward lift and downward pull opens this gravity center and fills the body with Qi.
Adjusting your posture optimizes the inner flow of blood and lymph in your body.
The Dan Tian as the Body’s “Power Plant”
As mentioned, the torso is the body’s energy center, and releasing it creates openness around the organs and promotes the circulation of nutrients, blood, lymph and neurological impulses.
The hips, legs, feet and shoulders, arms, hands all connect through the torso, making movement fluid, coherent, and connected.
Thus, if you have cold hands or feet, it signifies energy stagnation in the torso region or more specifically, the dan tian.
Qigong Master Mantak Chia likes to refer to the lower dan tian as the body’s battery or power plant. The battery is charged through mindful breathing exercises, and then pumps an electrical charge (Qi) outward through the body.
As it’s a linear process, so obviously it reaches the distal areas, like the extremities last.
Bringing in Qi Through the Extremities
Lately, many of the exercises I’ve been exploring (Jiechi, craniosacral or spinal cord breathing) set the intention on the extremities in some way.
Master Chia has exercises — like the “dragon tail (sacrum) vibration” — that suck in Qi from the Earth up through the feet and pelvic floor to the Dantian and spinal cord.
Several of the Wudang Qigong warms ups I do breathe in Qi from the hands, including the “clearing” exercise.
And there are Tai Chi practices, like the basic silk reeling motion and the more advanced “cloud hands” form which teach how to coordinate the dan tian with the limbs through whole-body spiraling movements — the intention is to continually maintain a connection (a slight pull) from the toes to the fingers.
I know the intent of the Yang element of Tai Chi and Kung Fu is often sending impulses to the extremities when striking. But, most times though, in all Qigong practices I’ve come across, the intention is not drawing in Qi through the breath from these distal areas, but sending it out to them.
In the wuji stance or zhan zhuang, the big toe, little toe, heel and especially ball of the foot (Kidney 1 point) root to the floor and, with intent, project energetic roots into the ground, or through the floor into the ground.
With these visualization, the roots grow out of the soles of your feet each time you exhale. With each breath the roots extend deeper into the earth, which improves concentration and feeling more connected, grounded and centered.
Another example is the “Microcosmic Orbit”, where as you inhale, visualize the breath moving from the tip of your nose down the front of the body and resting on the tip of your tailbone, and visualize the breath moving from your tailbone all the way up the back of the body and resting upon the tip of your nose on the exhale.
However, I’ve found breathing in from the hands (laogong, PC 8 point) and feet (Kd 1 point) to the dan tian and out the ming men (Door of Life) point at the lower back to be highly beneficial in cultivating Qi in the dan tian and helping me tap into zhan zhuang or the silk reeling motion, and allow me to sink the kua.
I definitely try to envision my feet firmly rooting to the Earth in (and outside of) practice. But, while my weight is sinking from the kua, my feet are receiving Qi instead of sending it down, and the hands are taking it in as well, regardless of the posture.
It totally makes sense to me though, since there are six leg meridians that connect to the feet and ten that run through the hands.
I just have a much easier relaxing areas where I hold tension in the legs and torso and can thus better cultivate Qi in the dan tian when visualizing the breath coming in through the extremities.
Seems to me it’s an advantageous potential technique that should be conveyed more, at least based on the descriptions of the various exercises I’ve heard — which believe me, is a few.
So try it out next time you’re practicing or just trying to breath to the abdomen and let me know what you think.