What are the Dantians? The energy centers of Chinese medicine

If you have practiced tai chi or qigong or consulted a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioner, you may have heard of dantian.

Dantian, or dan tian, translates from Chinese to “field of elixir”. It describes what some believe to be the seat of life energy in the body.

The concept of dantian has its roots in Taoist and Buddhist traditions and is believed to be linked to higher states of consciousness.

In TCM, dantians are considered energy centers similar to the Indian yogic concept of chakras.

They are believed to hold the “three treasures” of the body, known as:

They are believed to be subtle energies that support and sustain blood, body fluids and solid tissues.

According to tradition, practitioners cultivate and protect the proper formation and circulation of dantian energies to restore and promote health and well-being. It involves cultivating qi, or life force, in more rarefied forms.

Dantian is considered by some to be essential for cultivating health and well-being on a subtle level.

They are thought to support the development of the physical body as well as the development of the mind and soul on the path to consciousness, according to a 2018 article in the Journal of Daoist Studies.

Dantian are also used in:

In traditional martial arts, proper posture and movement are coordinated with the breath to cultivate energy in the dantian centers.

It is important to note that there is no scientific evidence to support the energetic forces associated with dantian.

That said, some studies mention possible beneficial effects of dantian breathing, a practice similar to diaphragmatic breathing.

There are three main dantians in the body:

  • the lower dantian
  • the middle dantian
  • the upper dantian

Superior dantian (shen)

The upper dantian is most closely related to the third eye, or Ajna. It is believed to be located in the pineal gland. It is considered a vessel for shen, an energy considered more subtle than qi.

“Shen is mind and intelligent consciousness, and is the result of growing your jing/essence upward through the heart into qi and finally into shen,” says Martha Soffer, founder of Surya Spa in Los Angeles. “Similarly, if your jing or physical essence and qi/life force are not healthy, your mental state will also suffer.”

Upper Dantian

  • shen energy headquarters
  • linked to the third eye chakra
  • corresponds to the mind and intelligent consciousness
  • thought to be located in the pineal gland
  • the most subtle of the three energies

Middle dantian (qi)

The middle dantian is located in the center of the chest and is most closely related to the heart chakra, or Anahata. It is associated with the thymus and is considered the seat of qi.

“Qi is a more subtle and less dense energy than jing, and as you ascend through the dantians you also evolve through purity of consciousness and subtlety of energy, just as you would looking at the chakras,” says Soffer. “Qi, like prana, is as ubiquitous in the body as it is in nature. It is the basis of the form and function of universal energy.

According to practitioners, the middle dantian is the spark of all living beings. The energy of this dantian is considered unique compared to the other two.

“The energy here is created from the food and fluids we consume and the air we breathe, and is located appropriately around the upper abdomen, where we consume, digest and distribute energy. energy throughout the body,” says Ali Vander Baan, a licensed acupuncturist. and founder of Yintuition Wellness in Boston.

According to Soffer, when a person’s essence (jing) is properly cultivated, their life force increases to support middle dantian and heart opening.

“It’s a common occurrence on the path to enlightenment, to become open-minded, loving, compassionate, and a source of good for the world around you,” says Soffer.

Middle Dantian

  • seat of qi energy
  • located in the center of the chest
  • linked to the heart chakra
  • universal energy as form and function
  • less dense than jing energy

Lower dantian (jing)

Known as the vessel of jing, the lower dantian is considered one of the three treasures, or essences, essential to a person’s health.

Jing “is the most substantial energy, composed of genetic material, and is the source of energy from which the physical body is created”, explains Vander Baan.

Jing is considered the essence of a person. It is said to be linked to the wisdom of our genetic code, reproduction and the gifts passed down to us from our parents.

According to Soffer, jing is closely related to the kidneys and adrenal glands and is also related to the survival response.

“Jing gives a person the physical life force and the will to survive,” says Soffer. “Jing has similarities to Kundalini…in that it is a seat of both physical and sexual strength and power, a person’s bodily consciousness and sense of place.”

The lower dantian is considered by some to be a combination of the root and sacral chakras. According to Soffer, it is located two finger widths below the navel and parallel to the perineum.

Jing is considered Kundalini energy. According to Soffer, it can feel like heat in the body due to its transformative qualities. This is called an internal spiritual fire which can be cultivated to awaken the higher energy centers.

This “power root” is located between the kidneys and helps circulate water and blood throughout the body, Soffer explains.

Lower Dantian

  • jing energy headquarters
  • the most substantial energy from which the physical body is created
  • related to genetics, sexuality, reproduction and survival response
  • located two finger widths below the navel and above the perineum
  • associated with the Sacral and Root Chakras as well as Kundalini energy

Dantian breathing is similar to pranayama, or the ancient Indian practice of breath control. It is an intentional practice that focuses on the control of the breath, which is believed to contain subtle life force energy.

According to a 2017 study of 42 college students, dantian breathing can help reduce depressed mood. A small study from 2011 indicated that dantian breathing can help promote a relaxed and attentive mind.

More recently, a 2019 scientific literature review indicated that dantian breathing may be useful in sports psychology.

“In Western terms, it’s considered diaphragmatic breathing, in which the belly expands outward with each inhale, then contracts inward and upward with each exhale,” says Soffer. “The chest rises and falls gently, but as a secondary movement down the belly.”

With inner focus and intention, the practitioner draws vital breath into the lower dantian with each inhalation.

Vander Baan notes that the practice of lower dantian breathing can energize the qi and shen energy centers.

From a Western perspective, diaphragmatic breathing has many benefits.

“It allows your diaphragm to dramatically increase blood flow, especially to your vital organs, thereby improving organ function,” says Soffer.

Additionally, Soffer suggests that deep abdominal breathing gently adjusts and tones the vagus nerve, which may improve the adaptive response of the peripheral nervous system.

It can have immediate positive effects on stress response, according to a 2017 study, as well as your sense of well-being.

“It makes you feel more calm and safe instead of just being in a light fight-or-flight state all the time,” says Soffer.

Studies suggest that diaphragmatic breathing can reduce stress. A 2017 study suggests it may lead to improvements in digestion, and a 2021 before-and-after study suggests it may also improve sleep quality.

There are several dantian meditation techniques from different lineages and wisdom traditions.

During dantian meditation, your body is brought into a state of calm alertness. Attention is focused inward on the dantian area – usually the lower dantian.

Visual imagery can also be used to enhance your focus and experience.

“It can be visualizing a ball of condensed energy, light, or fire in your dantian growing with each breath,” Soffer explains. “As the energy accumulates, it can be absorbed and benefit all surrounding tissues and eventually follow its natural upward path to support the development and evolution of the next dantian.”

Finally, jing is thought to evolve into qi and qi into shen. Shen then appears as the energy of consciousness and intelligence in the upper dantian.

This is said to result in the conscious experience of emptiness. According to Soffer, this void is a description of the unity of pure potential and universal consciousness.

Meridians are channels of energy that run throughout your body. Dantian, on the other hand, are major energy centers independent of the meridians.

“Meridians are more like rivers or streams (narrow, flowing bodies of water), while dantians are more like lakes or reservoirs (larger bodies of water),” says Vander Baan.

In other words, the meridians are more like highways allowing qi, or life energy, to travel throughout the body. We speak of Dantian in terms of vessels, containers or reservoirs of their respective energy.

Dantian and chakras may be similar, but are not considered the same.

Several of the chakras can correspond to the three dantians, but they are believed to differ fundamentally in that dantians are reservoirs or fields of energy, while chakras are gateways.

“Both the dantian and the chakras are energy centers, while the dantians are also known as reservoirs of subtle essences including jing, qi, and shen,” Soffer explains.

Dantian’s history dates back thousands of years. It is part of the body of alternative therapies – such as reiki, qi gong and tai chi – which are often used in conjunction with TCM today.

There are no scientific studies indicating that dantian energy is stored or travels through the body.

However, diaphragmatic breathing techniques, used in dantian breathing, are proven to provide a host of health benefits to the body.

Daley Quinn is a beauty and wellness journalist and content strategist living in Boston. She is a former national magazine beauty editor and her work has appeared on sites including Allure, Well + Good, Byrdie, Fashionista, The Cut, WWD, Women’s Health Mag, HelloGiggles, Shape, Elite Daily, and more. . You can see more of her work on her website.