In the Da Xuan tradition we start with the principle that a human being is between heaven (the divine, pure yang) and earth (the mundane, pure yin) – heaven on top , humans in the middle and earth below. We are able to exchange with both the mundane and divine but do not completely belong to either. On a personal level this concept appears as the three parts of the human being:
– The mental mind and spiritual elements (yang, function)
– The breath and emotional elements (exchange between yin and yang)
– The body and physical elements (yin, structure)
Despite the implications of the terms mundane and divine, we actually treat all three parts as being of equal importance. Practically speaking this means that our practice is divided evenly between the three, both on any given day and over longer periods.
The next most important principle is maintaining a daily practice. It is said that a pot of water will eventually boil on low heat, but if it is taken on and off the stove it may never get there. This means that we prefer to do 15 minutes of practice every day rather than 2 or 3 big one or two hour sessions every week with no other practice in between.
Da Xuan is a tradition that is specifically in-life. Unlike many other spiritual or self-cultivation traditions, we do not expect practitioners to become secluded from society. Quite the contrary, the purpose of the tradition and the practices is to allow you to engage more fully with life. A golden prison of training is not what we want, and spending all your time hiding away from the world in your practice is not desirable.
So how much do we practice? There is no one answer to this, it is a personal balance that must be found to be appropriate to your specific circumstances. Train as much as you can while still living your life. Someone not deep in the practice but still wishing to enjoy better health and well being can easily achieve such things with 15 minutes a day. A more serious practitioner dedicated to preserving and engaging with the whole tradition may practice for many hours each day. The time spent practicing will naturally (and expectedly) fluctuate for everyone as interests change and life happens. Even so, it is necessary to invest at least a small amount of time every day if you want to continue evolving and growing!
PHYSICAL TRAINING AND MARTIAL ARTS
We train on the physical level primarily through a series of basic exercises and various martial arts drills, both solo and with partners (called wai gong – external training).
After time, the basic foundation of qualities is created and a practitioner becomes able to express these qualities in a more personalised manner in whichever of the school’s arts (Xing Yi, Tai Chi, Bagua, Ziranmen Quan) is more appealing or suitable.
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 ground against incoming force. Developing your grounding aids in building self-confidence and capacity to confront difficulties in life.
– Structure: We learn to align the body so that no unnecessary tension is used – in motion, expressions of strength or against external forces such as gravity. It’s essentially learning how to do physical activities without fighting your own strength.
– Strength: This one is pretty straight forward; being strong is always good! However we develop our strength in a particular way so as not to go against the other qualities.
– 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 centre 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.
DA XUAN QIGONG
Qigong (also called nei gong – internal training) is a practice that combines basic physical motions with breathing, work on sensations and exchange. As such it acts as a bridge between the physical training and the pure training of the breath. 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 and misdirection. We have no time for fantasy and so there are plenty of tests to make sure that the experience is manifested in reality. The internal qualities are:
– Feeling: We develop sensitivity to internal sensation of both the physical structures (our physical limits/skin, muscles, connective tissue, bones and eventually organs) and circulation. In the tradition we say tension blocks feeling, so we learn to relax deeply to feel more and more intricate details of the internal landscape.
– Uniting: By tractioning and grabbing in a particular way, we begin to repair broken links to unite the body. 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 as any impacts are efficiently spread across the system rather than getting stuck in weak links.
– Grounding: This is the felt counterpart of the physical grounding – learning to make the body feel either extremely heavy or light as a feather. As this aspect of grounding grows, more possibility for deeper work becomes available and ignites a general feeling of being very settled. It also serves to reinforce the physical grounding!
Proficiency in these foundational capacities allows one to explore deeper aspects of the Da Xuan Family Qigong: absorb, project, disappear, test, release and finally returning to natural expression.
PRIMORDIAL BREATHING & INTERNAL ALCHEMY
Daoism is known for its deep work on breathing and internal alchemy (called nei dan). In Da Xuan we have many practices that develop the breath directly.
We start with the primordial breathing methods. These are basic exercises to become familiar with the different ways of breathing such as conscious breathing, abdominal breathing and reverse abdominal breathing. There are also exercises that develop the lung capacity, challenge the rhythm of breathing and free the lungs and diaphragm from restrictions.
Once the basic breath work is done, it is possible to move onto the internal alchemy practices. Da Xuan’s internal alchemy comes from the Ge clan, who joined 8 other clans to form the Da Xuan tradition. It’s a way of circulating the breath along specific pathways (typically the ren, du and central channels) to open the centres and realise the full potential of our being.
Internal Alchemy is typically only useful for dedicated practitioners, however everyone can enjoy the benefits that come from the practice of primordial breathing!
TRAINING THE MIND & MENTAL QUALITIES
Before we can begin the deeper spiritual practices of meditation, we must first tame the mind and develop the basic mental qualities (called shen gong – mind/spirit training). The main problem with the mind is that we do not understand its processes – why it changes all the time, why some thoughts or emotions come from seemingly nowhere, or why random memories appear at irrelevant times.
So we train to get to know the mind and how it operates. We also develop the possibilities of keeping the mind focused where necessary and how to relax the mind so that we may be properly available to those around us and or to just be available to the world in a given moment if there are no others around.
If you would like to know more about these practices, a good place to start is with Serge’s book – Shen Gong and Nei Dan in Da Xuan. This book contains many of the basic practices of the mind and breathing work as well as a more thorough introduction to the tradition of Da Xuan!