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Living from your center

Living from your center


Before I decided to go to grad school for Chinese medicine, I read a book about a clinic in China that only accepted terminal patients and treated them exclusively with qi gong (“chee gong”). Their success rate was phenomenal. They partnered with medical doctors and recorded videos of tumors dissolving in real time on the screen of an ultrasound machine while students (i.e., former patients) beamed Qi (life energy) at them. 

When I discovered that instruction in qi gong was going to be part of my training, I was thrilled. My teacher was a sweet old woman named Hui-Xian Chen. She had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer when she lived in China and after medical treatment couldn’t heal it, she went home to get her affairs in order. From her house she saw people practicing qi gong in the park. 

Eventually, she ventured out and watched them from a chair. She started following along while seated. After a while, she was able to stand and join the group. She felt better and better each day. Several months later she returned to the hospital and her doctors told her the cancer was gone without a trace. 

She devoted her life to learning and teaching qi gong. She had a mission of certifying 200 teachers and I was lucky enough to be one of them. 

I think of qi gong as the ancient art of learning to perceive, cultivate, and manipulate Qi. Elements of Qigong theory and practice are present in acupuncture and martial arts. Most Qigong practices are meditative, and may include slow, graceful movements, rapid forceful ones, or no outward movement at all. One’s attention is nearly always on some facet of the energetic anatomy of the body. 

In my opinion, the greatest gift of Qigong is a concept called the “lower dantian.” It’s a potent counterforce to the modern epidemic of thought-dominated-consciousness. 

In Qigong theory, our energetic makeup consists of a “central channel” like a vertical axis that runs from the very top of the head to the very base of the torso at the perineum. When our energy is relatively focused and consolidated in this central channel, we feel strong and centered. 

Along the central channel are three highly significant energy centers, called dantians. The lower dantian is located a few inches below the navel and a few inches deep (about halfway between the front and back of the body). The middle dantian is located at the level of the heart, and the upper dantian is located at the level of the eyebrows, all centered at the midline of the body.

The lower dantian is considered to be a region in which energy is stored and transformed, like a cauldron. It’s our center of gravity, and it’s the place from which movement and power are initiated in numerous Asian arts (massage, calligraphy, kung fu, tai chi). 

Now, it’s time for an experiment. Stand up for a moment and throw a punch in the air.

Chances are, you initiated the movement from your shoulder or elbow. I’m going to have you try it again, but this time, first get in touch with your lower dantian. Stand with a slight bend in your knees. Feel your thighs working. Bring your attention to your belly. Focus on a point a little below your navel, and deep at the center of your body. By scanning around in this area, you can find a point that feels most powerful and solid. 

Take a few breaths, imagining you’re drawing ambient energy into this point and consolidating it there. When you’re ready, try throwing another punch, but this time, let the thrust begin at the lower dantian, feel how it ripples through your pelvis, and allow the impulse to rush up and out to your fist. 

Do it a few times – feel the energy build in the lower abdomen like a mounting electrical charge, and then allow it to release like a bolt of lightning. Does it feel different than punching from the shoulder?

When we’re under stress, our breathing is shallow, and we’re consumed by our thoughts. This is a clear indication of energetic imbalance. Our energy needs to be anchored downward. 

Here are three ways to correct this. 

One: breathe deeply and slowly. Let your abdomen relax completely, and allow each breath to descend the whole way down to the pelvis, imagining you’re filling and opening this bowl, feeling your hips expand from the inside. Humans are often restricted in the belly, which limits the depth of the breath and causes a massive energetic “knot” in this area which contributes to the preponderance of big bellies in our country. Let the belly fill and them empty, making the exhale very long and complete. 

Two: Notice the gaps between your thoughts and enter them. Make the gaps more spacious. Just BE. Notice what you see, hear, and feel without labeling, analyzing, judging, or commenting. Keep feeling your breath. If you notice your mind trying to grab your attention, just shift your focus to some other aspect of the here-and-now.

Three: Bring your attention to your lower dantian. Breathe into this area. As you inhale, imagine that you’re funneling energy from every direction into this point. As you exhale, imagine that the energy is being condensed into an area the size of a pearl. The more you condense energy into this point, the more grounded and powerful you’ll feel. Allow your focus on this region to ground you, to counteract the tendency to float up into your head. 

If you make this a daily practice – breathing into your belly and focusing on your lower dantian – you’ll begin to notice that stressful events don’t throw you off the way they used to. You bounce back quicker, too. 

If this feels good, consider living more from your lower dantian. What would it feel like to stir a bowl of food or beat eggs with the movement coming from the lower dantian? How would it feel to initiate the movement of walking from the lower dantian? How about painting, or writing, or dancing, or speaking, or listening all from the lower dantian? Give it a try and let me know what happens.

Be well,



    Hi Peter,
    What are you thoughts on Tai Chi?

    Thank you,


    Thank you, Peter, for the timely reminders of what I already knew. Qi Gong was one of the courses I really appreciated in my acupuncture studies


    Perfect timing – will begin this practice today!


    I really loved this article. I have so many chronic health conditions that this really gives me hope. Thank you for sharing.

    Sandy Hemp

    Very interesting — I look forward to trying this!

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