What is the dantian? Why is lower dantian breathing important?

By: Dr Jason Chong (Traditional East Asian Medicine Physician)

My business name is Dantian Health, hence I am often asked about the dantian. What is it? Why is it important? How can we strengthen it?

What is the dantian?

The dantian, often translated as elixir or cinnabar field, is a core energy centre of our body. A dantian is different from a chakra as it is a storehouse of energy, whereas a chakra is a gateway.

In Chinese medicine, we view three dantian within the body.

The three dantian

The three dantian can be related to three of the five elements which represent heaven (Fire), earth (Water) and man (Earth) in between.

Lower dantian

The lower dantian is in the area a few fingers below your navel, and in Japanese traditions is the area of the Hara. It houses your vital energy, power and essence.

The lower dantian holds primary importance as it nourishes the other two. It is a central area of focus in meditation practices, martial arts and Oriental medicine.

In this dantian is our reserves of Qi (energy), our prenatal Qi, which we inherited from our parents. It is the energetic and structural centre of the body.

What is the Ming Men?

In the lower dantian, the Ming Men is found. The Ming Men, also known as the Gate of Life, houses both our primal Yin and Yang energies.

Our Jing, or Essence, is stored here, our most Yin and precious substance that carries the seed of our potential.

From this area also stems our Yuan Qi, the primal vitality which infuses the channels to stimulate the function of the internal organs. This primal, Imperial Fire is the source of warmth and vitality.

The Ming Men is so important the DU4 acupuncture point is named after it!

Middle dantian

The middle dantian around your solar plexus. It relates to your breath, mind, love and inner organs. It is where we maintain a connection to ourselves and others

The middle dantian is vital for the creation of postnatal Qi. This is the renewable energy we draw from our diet and breath throughout our lives. This nourishes our body and sustains our activities.

Upper dantian

The upper dantian is in the forehead between your eyebrows or around your brain. It relates to your Shen (spirit), intuition and spiritual life. This is where we create our worlds around us.

Weakness of the dantian

Lower dantian

When our energy is not focused and centred in our lower dantian, it can float upwards. This disturbs our upper dantians, affecting mental and emotional well-being. This creates distress and disease. Smaller afflictions and nuisances in life cause more irritation than usual. We lose sight of our essence and purpose, no longer living with true intent.

When this is functioning sub-optimally, we must draw on our deeper reserves of energy (prenatal Qi) day by day. This is not a sustainable practice as these reserves are finite. It is akin to utilising renewable energy sources such as wind and solar vs coal and gas.

Middle dantian

When this area is not held and open, we also have trouble connecting to our heart. Our ability to experience, receive and express love becomes reduced. Finding inspiration becomes difficult as we lack a sense of connection.

Upper dantian

When our upper dantian is struggling, we have trouble creating our vision forward. Our expression of vitality becomes dulled, often seen in the (lack of) sparkle in our eyes.

This is often the area from which we lead our lives. It is a top-heavy approach, prone to toppling over. If actions come from the upper dantian alone, there is a disconnect from our hearts and essence. This leads to a life not congruent with our values and mission.

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How to strengthen the dantian

Strengthening and grounding oneself in the lower dantian will benefit the other dantian. There is of course further work that can be done to maintain health in these areas.

What is your favourite practice to remain centered and grounded?x

Practice lower dantian breathing during an acupuncture treatment to help your body relax deeper. This allows the body to listen clearly, deepening the therapeutic result.

Lower dantian breathing exercise

We can strengthen our lower dantian to build and hold our Qi. Lower dantian breathing benefits us by helping us feel healthier, less stressed and happier.

Having a stronger core means that you are less vulnerable to falling off balance. This means we can be physically, emotionally and mentally more stable.

A simple meditative practice can be practised as follows:

  • Hold a still and erect posture.
    • Feet shoulder-width apart
    • Knees are slightly bent so they are not locked
    • The pelvic floor pulled forward
    • Spine straight
    • Neck pulled back
    • Head straight
    • Imagine a string passing from the crown of your head, through your spine to the ground between your feet.
  • Draw the breath deep down and to the lower dantian
  • Expand the lower abdomen on inhalation as the diaphragm expands.
  • Allow the focus of the mind to rest in this lower dantian.
  • Observe the Qi as warmth fills up in this vital centre with each breath.

To assist your focus remaining in this area you can place your hands, one on top of the other, over the lower dantian. For males, the left hand should be underneath, for females, the right.

This can be practised daily for 10-15 minutes, or longer if desired.

Mindful movement

In martial arts such as Tai Chi or Aikido, the lower dantian is of primary focus. By keeping attention at the core it becomes easier to move. When physical movements come from this centre they are stronger, more purposeful and softer.

Action needs less energy as it comes from the centre of your essence. By focusing on the lower dantian you also become more stable and grounded. This is applicable for both physical movements as well as movement in our life.

Mastering the art of movement from your dantian takes time and practice. It is best learnt from a teacher who can correct your posture and guide you through this process.

Why Dantian Health?

The reasoning behind my business name is that I view the dantian as a central core to health and vitality. The aim is to have the heart open, vision clear and actions that are grounded in the essence of our lower dantian. This allows a healthier, more purposeful existence filled. It brings us a life filled with joy and vitality.

It is my desire to see this authentic, healthy life available to everyone.

What else would you like to know?

Thanks for reading this far. Have I missed your question? Was something unclear? Let me know in the comments below, I read and respond to everyone!

Photo of author

Dr Jason Chong (Traditional East Asian Medicine Physician)

Traditional East Asian Medicine Physician. Educator.

Jason is the owner and principal practitioner at Dantian Health, providing consultations for Classical Chinese Herbal Medicine and Japanese Acupuncture in Melbourne, Australia.

He is a qualified acupuncture physician, Classical Chinese herbal medicine clinician, shiatsu practitioner and tuina therapist, Oriental therapies educator and director at the Australian Shiatsu College.

Jason's qualifications include:

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