What is the Dantian?

Tai Chi instructors may talk about qi, dantian, song, jing, et al, but do we have an understanding of what they mean? Let’s talk about the dantian.  

Regardless of how it’s spelled (dan tien or dan t’ian or dantian or tan t’ien), dantian can be translated in several ways, including, but not limited to:

  • elixir field

  • sea of qi

  • storage area for qi

  • red field

  • energy center

  • even “Alchemical Cauldron”

There is a great deal of information in literature about the middle (chest area) and upper (between the eyebrows) dantian, but let’s focus on the lower dantian, which is the one we talk about in class. According to most sources, the lower dantian is located in the lower abdomen, 3 finger widths (though some say 2-3 thumb widths) below the navel, and 2-3 thumb widths inward. As long as you know it is somewhere around the navel, let’s not get too technical.

The lower dantian has been described as “like the root of the tree of life” because it is considered the foundation of breathing, body awareness and rooted standing.  Moving from and placing awareness on the dantian results in movement that is fluid and effortless, with more strength and power. Also known as our “physical center” or center of gravity and balance, the lower dantian is an important focal point for meditation, qigong and Tai Chi, as well as in Chinese medicine. Students are often instructed to center their minds on the dantian to help control their thoughts and emotions.

While the lower dantian is believed to be the center of energy storage, it also serves as the connection to the rest of the body, and is otherwise known as the core. The core is an important part of the body in many cultures, medicinal practices, and sports and athletics, both Asian and Western.

There is a major difference between mindlessly moving your hands and feet, and doing Tai Chi. When doing Tai Chi, our feet keep us rooted to the floor (earth), the physical motion in generated in the dantian and expressed by the hands, resulting in smooth, purposeful movements. Regular practice and focusing on the essential principles will help you achieve this.

Your reward: A sense of relaxation and peace as you move smoothly through the postures; affectionately known as “getting in the zone.”