Iron Shirt Chi Kung and Tai Chi Chi Kung

Tan Tien Chi Kung has a particularly close connection with the three basic Iron Shirt Practices which focus on the strengthening of the internal organs and firm rooting, the changing and strengthening of the tendons and the cleansing and renewal of the bone marrow. In the Iron Shirt practices, compression creates space for new Chi in the muscles, tendons and the bones, as the fat which has been accumulated there is expelled. With the process of aging, fat tends to accumulate, so that the bones in particular lose their regenerative function, as fat takes the place of the blood cells.

Through bone breathing the regenerative capacity of the bone marrow is restored. New red and white blood cells start to regrow after the fat has been expelled.

Maintaining a firm but gentle Chi pressure in the Lower Tan Tien is also at the heart of creating Chi pressure needed in Tai Chi Chi Kung.

In no other Taoist practice are consciousness, posture and energy circulation so intimately interwoven as in Tai Chi Chi Kung. This is beautifully illustrated by the book on the Inner Structure of Tai Chi by Mantak Chia and Juan Li.

It is not accidental that Tai Chi has become widely popular as a way to preserve and enhance health and self-healing, although most practitioners may not be very aware of its inner structure. They may see it as a pleasant form of higher gymnastics and not have an inkling of its inner energy structure. Somehow, in the initial stage, it may be the intuition of their body which leads them to Tai Chi. Tai Chi Chi Kung provides a synthesis of all learning processes on the use of Chi from other Universal Tao practices.

In Tai Chi Chi Kung, the Lower Tan Tien, as the locus of the center of gravity in the body, plays a key role. The whole training in Tai Chi Chi Kung is directed towards bringing and keeping the center of gravity downward in the Lower Tan Tien. One may call it the practice of learning to come "down to earth".

Tai Chi's movement is exactly counter to that of today's global culture with its upward movement which disconnects people from the earth, so they lose their structural alignment with gravity and their Chi pressure. As a result they lose their inner power, physically, mentally and spiritually. When the center of gravity comes down, also the sense of weight of the body goes down. One starts to feel lighter; it is as if one is less affected by the law of gravity and feels more free and spacious as well as more grounded. This opens the way for the transfer of consciousness into higher bodies which are free of gravity. This is only safe and wise, in the Taoist view, if and when the body remains grounded and centered. The higher you want to go, the more you have to ground. Precisely for this grounding, Chi pressure in the Lower Tan Tien needs to grow. One can exercise Chi pressure downward into the ground, so that the Earth force will resonate and bounce up. If one is not grounded and centered and there is no good Chi pressure in the Lower Tan Tien, it is unavoidable that fear accumulates, and it is even more difficult to center and touch ground; it blocks Chi by creating tension in the body especially in the kidneys.

The connection with the earth declines and a sense of being at ease and at home in one's own body is weakened. Life is increasingly experienced in terms of outside pressure. This leads to an inner state in which the body feels compelled to experience life as a threat coming from outside against which the body has to defend itself and organize itself.

In this process the body's energies, rather than serving the growth of inner balance, are turned against "the others" and the world as the actual or potential enemy. The very basis of existence becomes one which is marked by and legitimizes aggression. Competition and the creation of a win/lose situation becomes a compulsion.

In this situation, Tan Tien Chi Kung, Tai Chi Chi Kung and other

Taoist practices are a blessing, as they help the student to rediscover and regain the inner way of reconnecting with their own center and ground. They also create awareness of the inner structure of the body and of the glorious unity between high and low, heaven and earth and the mutual relationships between the sexual organs, the perineum, the anus , the belly, the mind and the spirit.

When grounded and rooted, one can come to feel at home and at ease and peace with oneself. Then one becomes less vulnerable and swayed by the external circumstances, no matter what happens around one.

The Tan Tien Chi Kung training of smiling to one's pelvic floor and embracing one's body in all its functions enables one, both physically and psychologically to remain centered and rooted. The more you are centered and rooted, the less others can push you.

Training in centering, grounding and rooting and moving from your center, coordinating the contraction of anus and perineum so as to gather internal pressure, has major implications for one's relationship to the world. If one feels safe and at ease with oneself, there is no need to project one's own negative energies on others. As a result, others are less likely to see you as their opponent or enemy. Also, as one exudes inner power, there is reason for others to be respectful.

If they still want to attack you, they cannot push you over, as you have learned to lead the energy of the opponent into the ground. So in actual fact they do not push you but the air with which you are connected, in view of your alignment. Who can push over the Earth and the Universe?

The more intimate you become with the energies of the universe in your inner structure, the less vulnerable you become until you have become invulnerable. That means that you are one with the Tao and all imbalances in the pressure from inside and outside have been dissolved.

Tai Chi Chi Kung is also a powerful antidote against aging, which is greatly accelerated by a movement upward of the center of gravity, with the consequent loss of power and stability. This movement can be reversed by bringing the focus of attention down to the Lower Tan Tien which is the purpose of Tan Tien Chi Kung.

For this, the mind has to undo itself from that which prevents it from inner relaxation, as true attention and mindfulness can only grow if the mind is freed from negative emotions and mental states and learns to practice emptiness. Then it can create the conditions for new fullness and one can see that life consists of cycles: fullness and emptiness, living and dying, beginnings and ends, old and new, seasons and phases, days and nights, mornings and evenings, and dark and light.

This is precisely what Tai Chi Chi Kung practice focuses on: the continuous flow between Yin and Yang positions whereby each move towards fullness becomes a condition for emptiness, and fullness can only arise out of emptiness.

With the center in the Lower Tan Tien, the body can move in perfect alignment with gravity. It can only do so if the breath is kept low and the diaphragm finds itself in a relaxed state, as it responds to the relaxation in the Lower Tan Tien.

Such a process towards relaxation is the very aim and art as a play of movements; to become a child again, finding joy and delight in the practice for its own sake.

In the process of rhythmic movement, breathing may gradually become rhythmic, deep, smooth and slow. The Wind Force can then quiet the Fire Force, as the Chi of the overheated heart is led to the lungs so that heartburn can be prevented.

Thus deep breathing has a cooling and calming effect and balances the Fire when it gets too excited. The Water element is activated when excess heat of the heart is brought down through the spine to warm up the kidneys. The Water energy of the kidneys can be guided upward to cool the heart.

It is the process of rhythmic movement and relaxation from the Lower Tan Tien and in line with gravity, which makes the Earth energy bounce up. Water and Fire can gradually enter into balance. In this connection, it is interesting to know that the original Chinese character for Chi was written as "no fire" and the Chi Kung practitioner in those times was aiming at achieving a state of "no fire".

Fire Ancient Chinese Writing
Fig. 6.13 Chinese Character "No Fire
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