The final papers from this Summer's Taijiquan class at the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine included some gems. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. This paper was printed with permission by the author:
The term "xu ling ding jin" is one of utter importance to the Tai Ji practitioner. The term xu represents "empty", "void", "extract", "shapeless". Ling means to guide, lead, or receive. Ding literally means the top of the head and jing is the common word for energy in the Tai Ji world. (Zhongwen, Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan)
When I was practicing Chen Tai Ji, my teacher always stressed on xu ling ding jin as one of the most basic fundamentals to have before beginning any Tai Ji practice. In fact, it was so important that it was at the top of the list for our basic thirteen principles. For me, xu ling ding jin was not something I could grasp right from the start. It took me many long months before I was able to truly apply this principle into my body. And even now, the technique is not at a high level for me. However, I am able to discuss in detail what I know about xu ling ding jin.
Xu ling ding jin is considered the gate that opens to heaven. Fu Zhongwen describes xu ling ding jin as "an intangible and lively energy that lifts the crown of the head." (Barrett, Taiji Quan Through The Western Gate) My teacher describes many of our techniques and principles through the use of our own imagination. For xu ling ding jin, he would have us imagine an almost threadlike material that connects the crown of our heads [bai hui] to the heavens and the other part of the same/similar thread which connects our dan tien to the core of planet earth. With this type of thread, one who practices this technique is able to root into the floor like stone and connect with heaven's qi at the same time. One need not use strength to execute the technique, instead one should only relax into it, but at the same time keeping their intent. The three treasures will flow harmoniously if xu ling ding jin is performed correctly. Qi and blood will flow correctly through the body, while jing is able to ascend and nourish the body and shen. It is for this reason why Tai Ji practitioners are always keeping their root within the medial center and are able to do it while in a standing position. Many kung fu practitioners need to use low stances in order to keep their root, but xu ling ding jin will provide the Tai Ji practitioner's main root. This represents the yin aspect of xu ling ding jin, the root of where our human understanding is more capable of grasping. The yang aspect of xu ling ding jin would be the bai hui point, where energy is capable of entering and exiting towards and from the heavens. The energy of this point should be empty and leading upwards. This is the aspect of the principle in which I have not fully grasped yet, especially since a student of Yang LuChan writes: "The whole body will be light and agile when the crown is suspended from above" (Yao, Song of Thirteen Postures) In my understanding, it would make sense that this is the ultimate balanced posture in almost all if not all aspects of life. Within this posture lies harmony and through harmony, one is able to go either direction as one pleases. He is able to root into the ground like a two-ton stone or is able to be light as a feather and agile as a leopard is he chooses.
In this position, I can also add the details according to what I believe to be the optimal positioning. In its most relaxed position, the arms should be at the anterior sides where the elbow has a bit of peng and hands are not in a fist nor palm position. Instead, they are also harmonized in a kind of baby's hand position. In this way, hands could either turn to fists or palms (yin and yang), elbows can either flex or extend, and shoulders can have ability to as it pleases. Feet should also be positioned in a similar manner where feet are pointed almost forward, but peng is present within the knees and gua and also a bit at the arches of the feet as toes can curl a bit to provide more balance and grip into the earth. Weight should not be focused on the legs, but rather the dan tien which leads the energy channels down into the legs and then through the lao gong points and attaching to where ever the practitioner puts their yi into. As for the dan tien itself, it should be at a continuously circling position, three dimensionally as if it were an invisible sphere. By invisible, I mean as small as a dot from a ballpoint pen as true masters of Tai Ji are able to create invisible circles where the body may look a bit rigid and yet centripetal force is completely manipulated by the practitioner. Breath itself should always be performed where dan tien and ming men are both expanding at the same time and the fifth bow (spinal cord) is constantly changing from curved to the opposite and chest will extend as ming men/dan tien contracts.
That is my understanding of xu ling ding jin. As for questions, I will probably ask you during class but in case I don't, I have one. I was always told that babies would breathe through their stomachs or dan tiens, but I was also wondering if this meant they were also breathing through their ming mens as well (both dan tien and ming men expanding at the same time). I would like to know if babies are naturally doing this and if this is natural for adults or do adults need to practice this technique in order to breathe through both ming men and dan tien at the same time?