The earliest reference to Dantian can be found in the “Huangting Jing,” an important Taoist scripture comprising the “Inner View” and “Outer View” sections. It is believed to have been transmitted by the famous female Taoist practitioner Wei Huacun during the Western Jin Dynasty. The “Huangting Jing” first introduces the concept of “three Dantian”: “Breathe into the Dantian between the hut and the palace,” “Within the Dantian, the essence and qi are subtle,” “Stand in the Ming Hall and look at the Dantian to open the gate of life.” The text emphasizes the significance of the Lower Dantian, stating, “With essence or fetus, handle both sides, core and child combine to extend life and brilliance.”
According to Daoist beliefs, the Lower Dantian serves as the foundation of human life, the gate of Yin and Yang, the origin of the Five Qi, the storage place for male essence and female fetus, and the dwelling of true gods and the “red child.” It is also referred to as “Gate of Life,” “Gate of Birth,” or “Birth Palace,” with “core and child” representing the gods residing in the womb, also known as “Bo Tao” or “He Yan.” It is suggested that if people focus their attention on the Lower Dantian and cultivate the Yin and Yang gods residing there, the Qi of Yin and Yang will not decline, and their life force will not wither.
In modern times, there are two main interpretations of Dantian. In Taoism, Dantian is described as being three fingers below the navel, known as the “root of life,” the “source of essence,” and the “abode of vitality.” In traditional Chinese medicine, four acupuncture points below the navel, namely, Yinjiao, Qihai, Shimen, and Guanyuan, are also referred to as Dantian. Both interpretations generally refer to the same location. As the Three Meridians (Ren Mai, Du Mai, and Chong Mai) pass through or indirectly connect to Dantian, practitioners of internal arts emphasize its cultivation.
In Tai Chi Chuan’s practice, the term “Dantian Internal Rotation” specifically refers to the area three fingers below the navel. It involves using mental focus to control the movement of internal Qi in the lower abdomen, resembling a virtual ball that can be directed at will. The method emphasizes leading Qi with intention and coordinating it with body movement, aiming to circulate the Qi from Dantian to the extremities. The specific practice involves standing naturally with feet shoulder-width apart, placing both hands on the lower abdomen, and rotating the hands clockwise or counterclockwise while visualizing the movement of a small circle gradually expanding into a larger one. The exercise incorporates inhalation and exhalation with the circular movement of Dantian. With regular practice, the Qi is guided to move within the abdomen without the need for hand movements, ultimately allowing full control through mental focus alone.
The training of Dantian Internal Rotation not only promotes health and well-being but also enhances internal strength. As mentioned in the “Principles of Tai Chi Boxing,” “Dantian Internal Rotation refines essence, while the rotation of the whole body refines Qi.” It implies that through cultivating Qi, one can transform essence, refine Qi into spirit, and enable the internal power to have the function of “spiritual awareness leading inward and inward awareness concealing outward.” This harmonious combination of internal Qi and external form enables the practitioner to exhibit softness overcoming hardness, a fundamental principle in Tai Chi, and gain an advantage in martial applications.
Additionally, when practicing Tai Chi forms, the practitioner focuses on returning Qi to Dantian after each movement, creating a seamless flow of energy. Dantian Internal Rotation plays a significant role in Tai Chi push hands and applications. It enables the practitioner to generate force smoothly and naturally by applying internal spiraling energy, facilitating the coiling and issuing of power. Through consistent practice, the movements become integrated, and the Qi circulation becomes habitual, leading to a natural and effortless application of Tai Chi’s internal principles.
In conclusion, Dantian serves as the root of Tai Chi, and cultivating Dantian Internal Rotation strengthens the foundation of one’s practice. Therefore, in Tai Chi, it is essential not only to excel in the forms but also to develop proficiency in Dantian Internal Rotation, as it benefits both health preservation and practical application.