Below you can find a description of each of the topics I teach from the Da Xuan tradition. Because the tradition is unique and has a global view of how we approach training, it is often very difficult to relate it to something familiar for those who are trying to get an idea of what it’s about. You may have heard of tai chi or qi gong, however the Da Xuan way of training these arts is very different to the popular culture version of these arts that are often found in most cities. Tai chi is not just for old people (in fact it will challenge the hardiest athlete!) and qi gong is just as much about being strong as it is about being relaxed.
DA XUAN BASICS
The basics are the first and the most critical part of our practice because they set the foundation of everything to come. Here we build the physical body using a series of simple exercises (called wai gong – external training). The simplicity provokes a confrontation with the unnecessary tension and weak links within our body.
After time, the basic foundation of qualities is established and practitioners can start exploring more specific expressions of these basic qualities. Long term practitioners start to take on a style that is unique to them and so can each look very different to the outside viewer, but the underlying qualities are always present.
The qualities we focus on are:
This quite simply means being difficult to push over and more capable of holding your position against incoming force. Developing your grounding aids in building self-confidence and capacity to confront difficulties in life.
Train the weak links in the body to be strong, and focus on developing your alignment so you don’t waste your strength holding useless tension. This allows the structure to act as a single unit, allowing you to express strength without fighting yourself the whole time. Training your strength helps you to overcome fears and express yourself clearly.
Learn to feel precisely where your body and joints are in space, being able to clearly feel which direction they are moving in and being able to move each part in harmony with the center. Coordination helps to calm a busy mind and create a strong link between the mind and the body.
- Deep Relaxation
All of the above qualities contribute to an increasingly more deeply relaxed experience of the body in general and also within expressions of power and strength. This is quite a magical feeling that I have rarely seen in other methods of physical training, and obviously has huge implications in dealing with our hyper stressed modern world.
Partner exercises give you an opportunity to put the qualities built through the basic training to the test. The partner provides a ‘reality check’ for your felt sense of grounding, strength and relaxation, progressively adding more and more pressure and chaos to you as you work to maintain your qualities, eventually helping them to be available regardless of the environment. Partnered coordination drills will help the mind communicate with the body in clarity, and without resistance, so you can move in the directions you want to move without fighting yourselves, and respond with ease to changes made by your partner.
Dao Yin appears on the outside to look very much like pilates or yoga. The practice is done primarily lying on your back and learning to extend your limbs, roll, and rotate using the strength of the lower center. As the center becomes stronger, you will be able to progressively reduce tension in the extremities, giving you a quality of movement that is both strong and soft.
The practices of Dao Yin are some of the most effective for building the structure, training the weak links, and establishing the lower center. Being predominantly a lying practice done on a yoga mat, it keeps us in close contact with the ground, allowing us to align our backs and feel with increasing clarity the parts of ourselves that we don’t often get to look at. It is an excellent practice for calming a busy mind and dropping out of the chaos of thoughts into the solidity of the body.
(FOR SELF DEVELOPMENT)
In Da Xuan we have 2 distinct aspects of martial arts training. The first is the usage of martial arts exercises to build qualities and develop ourselves, which is what I teach in this topic. The second aspect is the usage in the unpredictable chaos of a real conflict – this is a very specific kind of training which requires a regular confrontations with violence. It’s important to understand the distinction, be clear about it, and not go into a fantasy about what our training is doing.
Even without going into violence, martial exercises are wonderful for training qualities in increasingly chaotic but controlled environments. Solo exercises can provide clarity for expressing qualities, and partner games like push hands allow you to test your qualities under more pressure and help you understand how to express the qualities even when the conditions are not ideal. The exercises can help you to understand how to better express yourself and how to know your own limits. The internal martial arts are also, in and of themselves, beautiful arts to come to mastery of and great for developing internal power, grounding and much more.
The martial arts exercises from the Da Xuan school draw from the basics of Tai Ji (aka Tai Chi), Bagua, Xing Yi and Ziranmen.
Qi gong (also called nei gong – internal training) is a practice that combines basic physical motions or static postures with breathing, work on sensations and circulation. The Da Xuan Family Qigong is a specific approach that will develop the internal qualities in a clear and methodical way with no need for esoteric fluff. The internal qualities are:
Training to develop capacity to feel what is already there in more detail, whether it be the physical structures (your physical limits/skin, muscles, connective tissue, bones and eventually organs), your circulation, or other subtle sensations. In the tradition we say tension blocks feeling, so you will learn to relax deeply to feel more and more intricate details of what is going on within and around you.
A united body moves in complete harmony with greatly increased circulation and superior structural strength. This makes you both stronger and more resistant to injuries, while also increasing the possibility of feeling in even more detail.
This is the energetic counterpart of the physical grounding. We learn to drop our weight and feelings of circulation down into the ground while simultaneously extending high into the sky by letting go of tension. As this aspect of our internal training grows, more possibility for deeper work becomes available and ignites a general feeling of being very settled, solid and stable. It is said in the tradition that the trees with the deepest roots can grow the tallest!
There is a very clear connection between breathing and emotions, particularly stress. Nothing brings a greater relaxation than breathing, and nothing brings more energy than breathing. It is at the center of everything we do in our practice and in our lives.
People today often want to start out with quite advanced exercises, when the truth is you need to first work on the critical basics: removing inhibition and tension from the diaphragm and other related tissues, increasing the capacity of the lungs to be able to take a large and full breath, calming and slowing the breathing actions, finding a rhythm in breathing, and much more. Primordial breathing practices will train you to achieve all of this, with simple exercises that anyone can do anywhere.
Internal alchemy (called nei dan – internal elixir) takes the foundation built in Primordial Breathing and refines it even further, condensing your energetic feeling and bringing you a real experience of circulation and each of your centers:
- The lower center, which is perfectly open and available from your birth until your death. Bringing your awareness to the lower center is the fundamental basis of the energy work, it is the source of your vitality, the “battery” of your body. Practices involve ‘heating’ the center and bringing feeling to specific points along the spine (Governing Vessel) and front line (Conception Vessel).
- The middle center, which is either open or closed depending on your personal history. Your relationship to your emotions and to other people directly depends on this middle center, and training with it allow you to release yourself from the imbalances which tint your emotional perceptions, causing them to be over-inflated or suppressed.
- The upper center, which is closed by default and can only be opened with specific training. It allows a clear perception of the world and opens the practitioner to infinity, to the mysterious.
Training in internal alchemy begins with an awareness of your breath and of your center, these being the essential basis to increase vitality. Without a sufficient amount of energy, it is impossible to work. You then learn to make this energy circulate in your body to feed your entire defensive system and amplify the general circulation of body fluids and energy. Only then can you explore the limits of your body, from the deepest center to the furthest borders of the outside world, sharing with the world and nourishing from it. This last step will become increasingly refined and lead the practitioner to return to a natural, fluid and constant exchange with the Universe.
SHEN DAN (MEDITATION)
The second aspect of training the mind is related to meditation and the spiritual search (called Shen Dan – the spiritual elixir). We say that the mind is made up of 3 parts: who we think we are, who we really are, and who we pretend to be.
The spiritual search consists of work on each of these 3 parts:
- You must, as much as possible, remove the masks and characters that you pretend to be.
- You must then clarify your thoughts so that the one you think you are, your mental mind, can work without disturbing you.
- Finally, it is important, in order to be fully happy, to keep a daily connection with the one you really are, through meditation, breathing or even physical exercises.
” What is Da Xuan? “