Placing your thoughts into your dantien

Placing your thoughts into your dantien

Postby The Wandering Brit » Fri May 21, 2004 1:36 pm

In class, when practicing the form or chigung, we are advised to place our thoughts into the dantien. Initially I took this to mean 'place one's mental focus on the dantien' but now I'm beginning to wonder whether the idea is to try and move your seat of conciousness from your head/brain down to your stomach.

I, and I expect most people, intuitvely think of 'myself' being located in my head -that my conciousness resides in my head, behind my eyes and looks out through them. However, I see no reason why the conciousness cannout fully inhabit another area - although my attempts at 'shifting myself' fully down to my dantien are not going particularly well.

I would be interested in people's opinions as to whether the concept of bringing your thoughts down to the dantien is merely a case of focussing on this area, or is there more to it than that - are we trying to shift the seat of consiousness altogether? And if so, why?
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Postby DavidJ » Fri May 21, 2004 6:56 pm

Hi WB,

Several years ago I read, though I forget where, that unlike the Western idea that the mind resides in the brain, that some in the East consider the mind to reside throughout the body.

Interestingly, since then I have read that if you removed all of the tissue in the human body (of someone), except for neurons - brain all nerves - that (if somehow it didn't just collapse) you could still recognize that person.

Regards,

David J
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Postby Graham » Fri May 21, 2004 6:57 pm

If Tai Chi Chuan is an art that makes use of the concept of distinguishing (separating) Yin and Yang in the body then it might be interesting to consider distinguishing Yin and Yang in the mind as well.

The questions to consider are: what is yin and yang in the mind? And what would be the process of separating them? How would you do it?

I think this line of questioning leads to more insight into why we are asked to focus on the dan tien. It's an interesting thing to ponder!
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Postby Yury Snisarenko » Sat May 22, 2004 4:45 pm

It's commonly said in Chinese "yi shou3 dantian". Yi is 'thought/idea' (sometimes it's translated as 'mind'). What is important here ¨C 'shou' is just 'to guard/conserve'. Then the whole phrase means "the mind guards/conserves dantian." I have got Yang Zhenduo's video on 108 forms. But I don't understand Chinese well and if I'm not mistaken Yang Zhenduo on that video once said "qi chen dantian, bu yi chen dantian" (I could mistake) that means "qi sinks to dantian, don't sink yi to diantian". I repeat I could mistake. Hope Louis will correct me.
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Postby Audi » Sun May 23, 2004 2:34 am

Hi all,

Yuri,

I recall "Qi chen dantian," but I do not recall anything like "bu yi chen dantian." Nevertheless, I have never heard that the "yi" should be concentrated on or in the dantian. I would guess that concentrating on this would not be in keeping with the Yangs' practice, but I could be wrong.

If one's practice is focused on Qi Gong theories, I could understand why someone might want to focus on the Dantian. I would guess that the theory would hold that such concentration would move the Qi in various helpful ways.

I understand "Qi chen dantian" (Sink the Qi to the Dantian) differently than sinking "Yi" to the dantian. For me, sinking Qi means to avoid keeping a feeling of agitation in the upper body that ignores the contribution of the lower body and the connection between the two. You want to feel how your center connects to the ground and can feel still.
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Postby Polaris » Sun May 23, 2004 5:21 am

For my 2 cents worth, I would say that they Yi is the agent which sends the Qi to Dantian and the Shen to the top of the head. The Yi has to be able to go anywhere and do anything that your creativity can practically imagine based on your abilities, not rigidly focussed on one area. I have been taught that if you concentrate your attention on the upper Dantian between the eyes you will be at the mercy of hopes and fears aroused by this world. If you can rest your attention in the lower Dantian (and thereby guide your physical motions from there) you have easier access to an oceanic, eternal perspective. Again, the Yi is the agent for accomplishing this, but it isn't something that has to be "kept" there, rather it was said that it "rests" there.

Cheers,
-P.
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Postby Audi » Sun May 23, 2004 12:47 pm

Hi all,

Polaris, I have not been taught using terms like upper and lower dantian, but I think I can follow your thought. Put in this way, the notion does appeal to me and sounds quite sophisticated and sensible. I can find echoes of it in what I actually try to do.

I confess to feeling some cultural distance with respect to some of this way of thinking, because I do not think of the term “mind” in this way. David’s comment about the mind being spread throughout the body also makes sense in this context.

If someone tells me to put my “mind” or “seat of consciousness” in my Dantian, this implies to me putting a unitary thing in one place and not putting it elsewhere. This notion does not appeal to me. On the other hand, if one can achieve some degree of bodily integration, such integration seems to need a certain core that can guide the whole, an axis around which the body “turns.”

For me, it feels that this core can be in many places, but that some places work better than others. Keeping it in the head feels quite natural, but in some ways, ineffective. It feels too easy simply to allow the awareness to reside in the head and to ignore everything else. Such action allows the feeling of integration to dissipate. Nurturing it outside the head forces some degree of integration, because you must maintain communication between this place and the awareness that naturally arises in your head. From this little bit of integration, it is easier to maintain the feeling of the whole.

I have to say that if I am using my awareness at all correctly, I did not reach this place by constantly “thinking” of my Dantian throughout the form or periodically checking on its “location.” I think it arose naturally by concentrating on trying to be “relaxed and extended.” For me, extension requires opposition between a point A and a point B (like a rubber band). To extend in one direction, I must simultaneously extend in another. Locating A and B creates a still point C from which the two extend. Doing this for each joint in 360 degrees and in three (or four?) dimensions creates a feeling of a central point from which the webs of extension radiate. Merely breathing affects the webs because of the motion caused by the ribs and the changes in internal pressure. This center is what I feel to be Dantian in a practical sense.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby Polaris » Sun May 23, 2004 3:34 pm

Ah yes, I too have felt a centre=Dantian correlation. I am told that "thinking" Qi to Dantian doesn't work well, that it is dropped there briefly by Yi (not the same as verbal thought) and then subsequently "felt" as it moves around. One then "sends" Qi with Yi to wherever as needed, but the training regimen is designed over time to get one into the habit of always bringing the Qi/centre back to lower Dantian in "rootedness."

My Sifu and his uncle (my Sikung) speak English well, so they have always used these English terms in teaching us North American and British students. To make matters worse, if they do teach in Chinese, Sifu usually teaches in Cantonese and Sikung in Mandarin, while a large number of our HK students are originally from Fujian! So, English it is, but I am looking forward to the "Gold Book" translation if it ever comes out, then I will at least be able to put characters to some of these terms.

Cheers,
P.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Tue May 25, 2004 7:03 pm

Greetings Wandering Brit,

If you will excuse the pun I am about to make, this topic is very dear to my heart. I think perhaps the very notion of a “seat of consciousness” comes from a habitual and metaphorical way of understanding what consciousness means, and the metaphor may be inherently flawed. The most conspicuous enunciation of the metaphor probably comes by way of Rene Descartes, whose dualism assumed that things mental and physical are fundamentally distinct. By this model, “the self,” the locus of consciousness, resides inside a theater-like mind, receiving and processing images appearing on the stage of consciousness. The makes the self into a sort of “mini me” inside of a cranium, on top of a body that somehow is “not me.”

While it may be accurate to say that “most people” locate the self in their heads, there may be reason enough to challenge that assumption. It could well be the case that locating consciousness in this way (in the head) is historically recent, and culturally anomolous. The traditional Chinese associated thinking and feeling with the xin (mind/heart), and while the location of the heart is readily apparent, it was not the location that seemed to matter to early Chinese thinkers, but rather what the heart did, and how it operated as a system of influences. In general, traditional Chinese medicine thought of the heart and other major organs not so much in terms of their locations and morphologies, but as spheres of influence.

I learned the practice of sinking qi to the dantian as fundamentally a physiological operation, and I understand the mental aspect of the operation as physiological as well, since the brain and nervous systems are in fact part and parcel of the body. I described my understanding of the operation a while back somewhere in this thread:
http://www.yangfamilytaichi.com/ubb/Forum7/HTML/000036.html

I agree with many of the responses here to your questions. David’s remark that the mind is “throughout the body” is very much in accord with my understanding of traditional Chinese medical and philosophical ideas. One of the metaphorical models in early Chinese texts is one of fluidity—that the mind suffuses the body rather like a fluid. The concept of qi is often used in these contexts, with qi being a sort of fluid conduit of consciousness. I hasten to say this does not mean that qi is a fluid, but that qi is a concept used to described a behaviour that is fluid-like. The fluid metaphor carries over into expressions such as one used for “concentration”—ningshen. Ning has connotations of “coagulate,” “condense,” or “congeal.” Zhuangzi used this term, and Yang Chengfu also used it in his descriptive narrative on the closing posture of the taijiquan form in a four-character phrase, “ningshen jinglu,” which means “concentrate the spirit, still the thoughts.”

I like the clarity Polaris adds in his statement that the yi (mind intent) is “the agent” that sends qi to the dantian. In fact there is a formula in taiji texts stating that where the yi goes, the qi arrives. I believe Yang Chengfu says this in his “Talk on Practice.” An important distinction to be made here is that consciousness should not be confused with thinking. So I would quible with the wording “placing your thoughts into your dantian.” In fact, in my experience, one of the values of sinking the qi to the dantian is that it helps one to de-emphasize mental preoccupations and distracting thoughts, hence Yang Chengfu’s phrase, “concentrate the spirit, still the thoughts.”

Several documents in the body of classics known as the “Yang Forty Chapters” describe a goal of “conscious movement” (zhijue yundong), that is, movement that is suffused with consciousness—mindful movement. I think the practice of sinking the qi to the dantian (sink, ‘chen2,’is another fluid-based metaphor, by the way) is a fundamental prerequisite for this goal of conscious movement in taijiquan.

Take care,
Louis


[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 05-25-2004).]
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Postby chris » Tue May 25, 2004 9:11 pm

From a structural perspective, the lower dantian is near enough to your body's CoG that awareness of it will increase the quality of your movement. Many instructors refer to dantian and CoG interchangeably, though FWIW I do not consider this ideal.

From an energetic perspective, I think the lower dantian it is an area with comparatively small risk of unpleasant side effects due to incorrect practice, and for that reason alone could be recommended as a baseline for exploration.
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Postby Yury Snisarenko » Wed May 26, 2004 5:57 am

Louis has brought up the theme which I was always intended to discuss. It is "consciousness". It is so interesting for me that I with my poor English will try to present some questions, which should help to illuminate this notion.

I believe that western and eastern philosophical traditions have similar theory of consciousness but they look at it from different angle. Western philosophy always paid grate attention to this notion and "construction" of consciousness. I and many friends of mine at youth were influenced by works of western philosophers and books of yogi Ramacharaka about consciousness and construction of consciousness.

The main idea of those works is that consciousness can be presented in three layers (simplify). These layers are sub consciousness (under consciousness), consciousness itself (intellect), super or above consciousness (intuition).

My questions are

Is this model similar to eastern model of consciousness? Can anybody present these three layers in Chinese? What western theory was useful for you in analyzing Chinese philosophical conceptions about consciousness?

Thank you
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Postby The Wandering Brit » Wed May 26, 2004 9:50 am

Louis wrote: "So I would quibble with the wording “placing your thoughts into your dantian.” "

That is the crux of my point; I have read so many statements along the lines of 'place the mind in the dantian' that I was interested to know exactly what was meant by this as, potential translation issues aside, the statement raises huge questions about the nature of self and conciousness and how is is dealt with in Tai Chi.

(As an aside, it is also a subject close to my heart Louis...my dissertation at University was on personal identity. My own theory at the time probably doesn't bear up to close inspection now! At the risk of going off-topic, I would really recommend Derek Parfitt's 'Reasons and Persons' to anyone interested in the nature of consciousness and theories of personal identity)
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Postby Yury Snisarenko » Wed May 26, 2004 10:43 am

" was interested to know exactly what was meant by this as, potential translation issues aside, the statement raises huge questions about the nature of self and conciousness and how is is dealt with in Tai Chi."

I think we also should know the concepts of meditation.
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Postby Michael » Wed May 26, 2004 3:18 pm

WB and others,

This is just an opinion from my own practice and experience.

I think Polaris said a significant thing with "resting" your mind there. You do not "focus" on it so much as being aware--not the right word I want to use. It is like looking through your hand in Cloud hands or cross hands.

As in meditation a "focus" point is intended to help you lose "focus", to help stop thoughts. Replace focus with "awareness". But often a focus point can become another obstacle.

This can work the same way phyisically in the loosening of the muscles, with the tension falling away...allowing the chi to to accumulate at the Dantien.

I would add that I generally agree with Louis on this subject.

my best

[This message has been edited by Michael (edited 05-26-2004).]
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Postby Louis Swaim » Wed May 26, 2004 7:28 pm

Greetings Wandering Brit,

Thank you for the Derek Parfit reference. I confess to having no familiarity with his work, but I’ve seen his name referenced in some interesting contexts, notably in Roger Ames, ed., _Self As Person in Asian Theory and Practice_. Something about David Hume, and a model of self that stresses “continuity” over “identity.” Just as a first impression, I like that. Identity, to me, is a hard predicate. I prefer softer ones.

Take care,
Louis
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