The Dantien, The External Harmonies & Dui-la

Last week and this week we are focusing on three important concepts for both Qigong & Taijiquan: The Dantien, The External Harmonies and Dui-La. All of these concepts/principles relate to each other, all working together to help us create a body structure that is integrated and whole. When we think about these three notions, we can easily train ourselves to feel the body not as individual parts or units but as the whole and interconnected animal body we are. When thinking about the “dantien,” think about your center of gravity, slightly below your navel and inside of your body as the center point in a ball. When thinking of the “external harmonies,” think about how each body part: the shoulders and hips, the elbows and knees and the hands and feet, relate to the center part of the ball and to each other. Perceive these relationships in multidimensional planes: vertical, horizontal, diagonal, circular. When thinking about “dui-la,” think about how the harmonies and their different planes of motion emanate from and return to the dantien - like a rubber band opens and closes in your hands. Practice a movement or two with this in mind. See where it is easy and intuitive, where tension and stiffness make it less accessible. When you raise your arms up, for example, think about your feet going down and rooting. At first, this may seem to be an overly physical approach to practice, but we must address our body “container” and these ideas. Over time the process becomes less mechanical and more intuitive. These basics and this process of inquiry is good for both health & martial arts skill building.

Oftentimes we come to a practice such as Taijiquan or Qigong to “fix” something or “improve” something in ourselves. In doing so we can also overly focus on the part that needs “fixing” or “improving.” We feel we need to breath more deeply or get our shoulders more relaxed, for example, so we try to shove our shoulders down or force air into our lungs. The result is oftentimes that we create more tension and we feel worse. If we think about our body as an interconnected whole, we expand our capacities. For example, when thinking about relaxing the shoulders, perhaps forget about the shoulders and think about opening the feet more, move up your “chain” from there. You may find tension or an old injury that is actually the root of you keeping your shoulders tense. Perhaps it is an ankle or a hip problem that is the root of the shoulder tension. You may notice an unresolved discussion that is the root of shallow breathing and begin to explore possibilities for balancing that stress. We can explore shifting our focus to see if we can discover the root of an issue and see if this helps. 

When looking for a photo for the banner of this blog I realized I loved this picture of my one and only surfing lesson. I failed miserably! However, in falling off the surfboard (in only 2’ of water, mind you), I did it quite well! This falling posture beautifully illustrates how harmonized and elastic my body was, the fall emanating quite nicely from the dantien!

Here are some handouts that might be useful for you. For a visceral understanding of dui-la, get a rubber band, wrap it around both hands and play with expanding and relaxing it. Imagine your whole body is like this.

The Dantien (c Embrace The Moon)
External Harmonies (Thank you to Chen Taijiquan Brisbane for your great public material)

Suggested Reading:
Chen Taijiquan: Masters & Methods, Chapter 4

Coming attractions: The Center Line, The Three Treasures



These days of such political strife and social acrimony give us all an opportunity to practice mental & emotional “dui-la.” We may not want to, but as a challenging practice it is interesting to really try to see the opposite side of a charged argument or position. It does not mean we have to agree but the very process of attempting to see across the horizon to a different shore expands us. It is interesting to see if the tension created by holding so tight to our position might ease a bit through this practice. I tried this last week and it was really hard, but I actually found myself able to somewhat understand where the other person was coming from and he, me. He asked what we might do to solve the problems we were discussing and I thought, this is it, staying with opposing viewpoints long enough to simply hear the other person. After all, we are all connected to this same planetary/universal center, we are all related to each other’s hands and feet.

I heard this poem yesterday and it resonated for me:

“Mankind owns four things
that are no good at sea. 
Anchor, rudder, oars, 
and the fear of going down.”
-Antonio Machado