Holistic Living

Dantian: An Introduction to the Field of Elixir

Dantian is a term employed in QiGong, Tai Chi, and in Chinese martial arts.  Here, sangha member Kelly Maclean gives a brief introduction to this energy center and explains its relation to vase breathing practices which we will encounter in meditation training.

Dantian: The  Etymology

Dan is a Chinese syllable that translates as “elixir”.  But literally, dan is the word for “cinnabar,” or “vermillion”.  Vermillion is a form of mercury used in making red ink.  And Chinese medicine also used vermillion for medicinal formulations. Tian means “field”—– as in “wheat field” or “magnetic field.”

In the context of Qigongdantian means “qi reservoir”.  But you may be more familiar with the Indian yoga term chakra.  Chakra means “wheel,” or “energy hub.”  We have various energy centers in the body.  Depending on the system of practice, we focus on any number of them at one time.

Dantian: Location


Generally speaking, the dantian energy center refers to the main qi reservoir in the body.  Moreover, it is centered inside the abdomen, with a superficial access point about 3 finger-widths below the navel.  We might describe it roughly as the center of gravity of the body.  And, like the hub of a wheel, it is the mechanical center around which movement is organized.  Sometimes this hub is referred to as the “lower dantian.

Next, the “middle dantian” is centered in the chest.  And finally, the “upper dantian” is centered in the head.  When sitting or standing, walking or practicing taijiquan (Tai Chi), we should aim to have the 3 dantians vertically aligned.  In this way, when we align properly, we promote a harmonious relationship with heaven and earth, ie the force of gravity.

Many kinds of methods can be used to cultivate the energy in the dantians.  These include breathing techniques, visualization, and movement.  Certainly, it helps to think of the lower dantian as representing the physical center of the body.  Moreover, the middle dantian represents the emotional or energetic center.  And lastly, the upper dantian represents the spiritual center of the body.



Kelly Maclean began her study of Chinese martial arts in 1988. She studied both internal and external styles. Her main interest is in the internal arts of QigongTaijiquan (Tai Chi), XingyiquanBaguazhang, and Water Style.  She has trained under some of the great masters of our time, including her primary teacher Shouyu Liang.  Kelly also studied with Chen Xiaowang, Chen Zhenglei, Yang Zhen Duo, He Weiqi, Madame Wang Jurong, Dr. Yang Jwing Ming, and Sam Masich.  She has competed with distinction in international competition  and was a member of the Canadian National Wushu Team.  Kelly lives and teaches in Vancouver, Canada.

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.