I have more thoughts on the Tanden and Chi which I thought I might pass on. The problem is that everything I am going to write is based on very personal experience and has little scientific backing. Neither the Tanden nor Chi as far as I know has ever been properly investigated by scientists. And yet the experience of the Tanden and Chi is very real having been experienced by many thousands of practitioners of the meditative arts for many thousands of years. It is carefully described in the meditation literature of India, China and Japan that I am personally acquainted with, and I am sure it is described in the literature of many more traditions. And of course it is very important in the East Asian healing arts.
And yet what I have read of this literature does not meet my hard headed science trained standards. For example I have read and been told that Chi sometimes descends entering through the top of the head. But I have also been told it enters through the feet. Zen monks shave their head and don't wear socks while meditating, all the better to let Chi enter their bodies. And then an interesting question might be, does Chi phenomena happen primarily within the body or is it only happening in the Brain? My scientist brother in law asked me this question after my also scientist sister described a chi experience she had while practicing physical yoga.
I have been lucky in having numerous and some very deep experiences with chi from many many years of meditation practice. Further, I have gained some control of these experiences as I describe in the previous blog and other blogs and essays. I just have to sit in meditation for a couple of hours and I can feel my body fill up with chi. With several of days of meditation I am overcome by a childlike giddiness and joy with moments of pure bliss as I feel chi function.
Chi should not be thought of as magical but rather the vital energy of our bodies. In the West we tend to have a mechanical view of our bodies. The lower body is a machine ruled by a brain in the head. The energy on which it functions comes from food in combination with the oxygen we breath, the organs function in this and that way, etc. But here are some other ways we can think of the body.
The body is a colony of trillions of individual living beings we call cells. It is a civilization. Chi can be thought of on a cellular level. Each cell, each being, is an individual life that has it's own vital energy. Each cell is like a rechargeable battery. Individually cells can be tired or energized and this is true of even those cells that are not part of functioning muscles. But also each cell is in community with it's neighbors maybe even with a sort of community energy or vitality.
The nervous system is also composed of individually living cells that can be tired or energized. They are not just conduits for nervous system signals. They function as individual beings that can be tired or energized and the signals they pass along may be slow or quick, weak or strong depending on how tired or energized the individual cells are.
The vitality of the individual cells in our nervous system and maybe the in rest of the body is reflected in the experience of chi. We normally experience chi as the functioning of the nervous system with thought, emotion, and sensation. When our nervous system becomes profoundly rested as in deep meditation we become open to some unusual and deep chi experiences, sharpened sensation, strong emotions, and deep insights, as well unusual feelings as chi accumulates and moves throughout the body.
There is a relationship between mind and body that manifests in the activity of chi. Certainly the mind has conscious control over the movement of the body activating muscles, but on a more subtle level chi is moved around the body by the act of conscious attention. There is the documented demonstration ( I read about this many many years ago) that some Indian Yogis can increase the temperature of a part of the body by conscious attention. I have a friend who works with therapeutic touch and does this trick for a living. I personally once demonstrated to an EMT that I could lower my heart rate through conscious attention. Of course we practitioners of meditation are yogi's. This is the principle on which the Chinese exercise system of Chi Gong works. By the slow conscious movement of the body and the movement of conscious attention throughout the body the body becomes energised with chi. On this same principle while meditating we bring conscious attention to the lower stomach because the lower stomach is a place that is an important spot for the storage of chi.
I have read that there is a fairly large ganglia of nerves in the lower stomach area. Maybe this is the physiologic reason for the tanden. Of course the stomach being such an important region, doing a complex job, it must have lots of wiring (nerves). So when I write about energizing the tanden or storing chi in the tanden what it might mean physiologically is that the nerve cells in the tanden area become energized and to a nerve cell this probably means that the cells have lots of extra of the chemicals we call neurotransmitters. These chemicals pass signals from nerve cell to nerve cell by crossing the boundary between nerves. And maybe the very reason why conscious attention can bring chi to a region of the body is because this process moves neurotransmitters to that region. Maybe the tanden as a region where chi is stored is a repository of neurotransmitters. This is just speculative. I have a friend who has studied physiology who says it is probably much more complicated
The central trunk of our body filled with all our organs has several locations in which we can strongly feel chi, as the manifestation of emotion and desire. Starting at pelvic base where we fee sexual stimulation through the stomach chest and throat where we feel various emotions. In this civilization we call the human body, emotion might be thought of as how the cells of the body get their vote.
The largest collection of nerve cells is in the brain. Our brains always functioning, rarely resting are constantly using a very large percentage of the chi in our body. Yes when we sleep the brain rests and the brain can recharge with chi as well as the rest of the body but also in deep meditation where we actually slow down or turn off the inner dialogue, our obsessive thoughts and emotions, chi can build up not only in the brain but also in the rest of the body. Maybe this is partially because as meditation deepens concentration strengthens thereby strengthening conscious attention to the tanden region and the activity of breathing. Maybe this moves chi that is normally used by the brain into the body. My experience in meditation is that increasing concentration happens in concert with the feeling of increasing chi. And that when meditation enters what we call samadhi where the inner dialogue stops then chi increases very quickly sometimes even feeling like it is flooding the body.
When I sit in meditation for long periods it feels like chi is filling my body from the tanden up through the solar plexus then the upper chest, the neck, and finally the head, I feel the chi in these areas (chakras) as a slight pressure. When I am filled up like this I also feel a slight pressure on the skin of the head which gives the feeling of tautness like a balloon filled with air. On the head there is the spot between the eyebrows which is easily activated but when I am really full I get a prickly feeling at the top of the head. The inner vision of this is of a fountain of light from the top of the head, though I am probably just feeling the thousands of hair follicles but I understand why this chakra is called the the thousand petalled lotus. When filled up like this the chi seems to be unstable and it might only take a little prodding, a thought or some words from your teacher, anything and there can be a deep emotional or intellectual experience as the chi expends itself. These experiences use a lot of chi and when they are over I definitely feel a depletion of chi.
I think that generally chi as energy is produced in large portion through our energy production system of eating and breathing but there are also other ways that energy enters our system. Certainly the heat in the environment is an important energy source When I sit in meditation it often feels like chi enters the body directly through the sense organs. I think this is quite possible since contact with sense organs is nothing more than exterior energy impinging on and stimulating our surface nerves. Light entering our eyes is the energy of photons entering and stimulating our retinal nerves.
I think one of the most fascinating aspects of this chi thing is the relationship between consciousness and the feeling of chi in the body. There must be a map within our brain of our body but our consciousness doesn't follow the nerve pathways which wander all over the place like roads crisscrossing and meandering over this planet. But like the way we read maps by setting up a grid to find locations our internal map of the body is probably also set up on a grid of some sort, so that our consciousness of our bodies is that of a left right symmetric body. Maybe this is why acupuncture points (which are all about chi) do not generally correspond to nerve pathways but are generally place on a grid. Just think how this grid must simplify our body consciousness.
I will leave you now to think about chi and through your practice to deepen your experience of the phenomena of chi.