Find your center. Trust your gut. Strengthen your core. Breathe into your belly. Activate your Dan Tian.
We reference the center of ourselves in a variety of ways, each of which highlights the vital role it plays in our well-being. It's the home of our internal compass, the intersection of heaven & earth, the ethereal womb from which life springs forth. A sanctuary wherein we can retreat & reconnect to our truth. The place from which we realign & cultivate a calm self-awareness. It's where we digest what comes at us & through us.
In Daoism & Chinese medicine, the region below & behind our navel is referred to as the lower Dan Tian, which translates as "elixir field", "energy center", or "sea of qi". It is the residence of the deepest energies of the body & the source of all movement.
When we mindfully direct our attention to this area, whether through meditation, acupuncture, qi gong, or otherwise, we can nurture & tend to the roots that anchor & sustain us, & encourage the transformation of our Jing essence into the elixir of Qi that animates our lives. On a body level, this can facilitate & regulate digestion, boost fertility, strengthen & energize the body-mind-spirit, support the immune system, & preserve health & extend life.
When we consciously nourish our Essence & cultivate the Qi in our lower Dan Tian, we are tuning in to our "gut". It's a trite & homely term for a stunningly dynamic, consequential, diverse, & vital system. Learning to listen & trust our gut is more important than we may realize. Our gut feelings are very real. Research today suggests that there’s an entire ecosystem of microorganisms in an expansive network operating in our guts (i.e., the gut microbiome).
This network is now what scientists are calling our "second brain". It's filled with over 100 million neurons. Neurons are specialized cells that transmit information to other nerve cells. Our guts actually influence our mood & overall psychoemotional state. Having a healthy gut can not only allow us to digest what we eat & drink, but to process all forms information that comes at us in a new & intelligent way. A harmonious gut can provide protection from feelings of hopelessness, depression & anxiety. Clearly what we put into our bodies impacts how we feel & yet it is not the whole picture.
When we are mindful & paying attention to our second brain’s activity we can begin to notice when we are present, calm & at ease, or when we feel fragmented & disregulated. One of the best indicators of this is our breath. Take a deep breath right now as you are reading this. Notice the subtle feeling of wellbeing this likely created. The breath allows us to shift from our amygdala (flight or fight mode) to our prefrontal cortex where we can access solutions to whatever is coming at us. It sends the message that allows us to calm down; there is no saber tooth tiger in the room. It allows us to shift from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic.
The Vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve with the widest distribution throughout the body, travels down through the brainstem to influence parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs, & digestive tract. It carries information bidirectionally - downstream from the brain to the organs, & vice versa. Body sensations & gut instincts are our intuitive sense getting transferred up to the brain by the vagus nerve. This nerve impacts memory, prevents systemic inflammation, helps us breathe, & most importantly helps to initiate & regulate our body’s relaxation response.
So eat mindfully, exercise, relax, & replenish regularly, nourish your microbiome, laugh often, find one thing each day that brings you joy, & BREATHE. Reach out when you need support - community & communion are essential to our well being. We are here for you.