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, both solo and with partners (called wai gong – external training).
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 establish in the beginning are:
– Grounding: 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.
– Strength of Structure: We learn to align the body so that no unnecessary tension is used, and train the weak links in the body to be strong. This allows the structure to act as a single unit, allowing you to express strength without going against yourself.
– Coordination: Knowing 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 are all capacities which are trained to develop the coordination as a whole.
– 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 is rarely seen in other methods of physical training, and obviously has huge implications in dealing with our hyper stressed modern world.
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, roll and rotate using the power of the lower center and the strength of the back while learning to progressively reduce tension in the extremities.
The practices of Dao Yin are some of the most effective for building the structure, training the weak links, and establishing the 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.
MARTIAL ARTS (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). 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 us to test our qualities under more pressure and help us understand how to express the qualities even when the conditions are not ideal. The exercises can help us to understand how to better express ourselves and how to know our 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 Chi, Bagua, Xing Yi and Ziranmen.
Qigong (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:
– Feeling: We develop capacity to feel what is already there in more detail, whether it be the physical structures (our physical limits/skin, muscles, connective tissue, bones and eventually organs), our circulation or other subtle sensations. In the tradition we say tension blocks feeling, so we learn to relax deeply to feel more and more intricate details of what is going on within and around us.
– Uniting: 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.
– Grounding: This is the energetic counterpart of the physical grounding. We learn to drop our weight and feelings of circulation down into the ground, and to let 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.
We often want to start out with quite advanced exercises, when the truth is we need to first work on the critical basics: removing inhibition from the diaphragm and other related tissues, increasing the capacity of the lungs, calming the breathing actions, finding rhythm in breathing and much more.
Internal alchemy (called nei dan – internal elixir) takes the foundation built in Primordial Breathing and refines it even further, condensing our energetic feeling and bringing us a real experience of circulation and each of our centers:
- The lower center, perfectly open and available from our birth until our death. Bringing our awareness to the lower center is the fundamental basis of the energy work, it is the source of our vitality, the “battery” of our body.
- The middle center, either open or closed depending on your personal history. Our relationship to our emotions and to other people directly depends on this middle center, and training with it allow us to release ourselves from the imbalances which tint our emotional perceptions.
- 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.
The second aspect of training the mind is related to 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:
- We must, as much as possible, make the masks and characters that we pretend to be disappear.
- We must then clarify our thoughts so that the one we think we are, our mental mind, can work without disturbing us.
- Finally, it is important, in order to be fully happy, to keep a daily connection with the one we really are, through meditation, breathing or even physical exercises.