1. What is Iron Shirt Chi Kung?
Iron Shirt Chi Kung is one of the martial arts aspects of the Universal Healing Tao© System that develops inner strength and a well-conditioned body. Through simple techniques, CHI is built and stored. Regular Iron Shirt practice builds a body that is relaxed and open, strong, healthy and structurally connected to the forces of Heaven and Earth. 'Opening' the Joints.
Iron Shirt techniques help root us to the earth while keeping the body centered and balanced. Iron Shirt Chi Kung provides a tool for perfecting our inner self and allows us to reach higher spiritual levels.
In Iron Shirt Chi Kung we use the breath to “pack” the organs, glands, muscles, and bones with enough chi to keep them healthy, strong and resistant to premature aging and disease. Likewise, it also releases long-lasting tension.
The actual effect of Iron Shirt Chi Kung is to prepare the body to receive higher spiritual energies and also to store them permanently. Similar to the fiery, sexual energy, which is quickly excited; but just as quickly dissipates.
The core of Iron Shirt Chi Kung training consists of condensing the breathing process and the Iron Shirt postures.
2. The 3 Tan Tien
Physically, several Tan Tien are distinguished. The traditionally most important are the upper Tan Tien (Shang) above the root of the nose, in the middle between the eyebrows (3rd eye Yin Tang), the middle Tan Tien (Zhong) in the middle of the chest at about the level of the breast buds. The lower Tan Tien (Xia) about 5 cm below the navel.
Healing, according to tradition, is to be done by working with the CHI, which is to be brought back into flow and nurtured to restore one's balance. All three Tan Tiens are more than a point on a meridian, they are understood as a space, a zone, located in the center of the body rather than on its surface. When speaking of the Tan Tien, the Lower Xia Tan Tien is usually meant.
The Upper Tan Tien is located in the brain, approximately in the center of the head. When it is full of energy, the brain's capacity increases. This is where we store our spiritual intelligence.
The Heart Center, or Middle Tan Tien is located about halfway between the nipples. This is where the original spirit (SHEN) is collected.
The Lower Tan Tien is located around the lower abdomen in the navel area. It is also called the Ocean of CHI because it is our largest reservoir of energy.
3. Iron Shirt - breathing
Breathing, which is the act of gathering energy from the environment, is one of the most important bodily functions. It is used in Iron Shirt to strengthen the internal organs and glands by increasing the Chi energy pressure (pounds per square inch) around them and in the Tan Tien and the spine.
Iron Shirt breathing techniques provide a longer, deeper, more relaxing breath cycle and sufficient oxygen to cleanse the body of waste materials, sediment, and toxins that have accumulated in the organs. The increase in circulation also provides enhanced nourishment for the organs. The circulatory, lymphatic, nervous, and endocrine gland systems are all activated, and blood, spinal fluid, and hormones flow more easily to reduce the work of the heart. Sexual (creative) energy, another source of life-force, is also used in this process to enhance the body and produce spiritual energy.
Packing breathing is the most important breathing technique in iron shirt practice. It is used in all postures belonging to the Iron Shirt. Packing compresses energy in each and every part of the body to increase chi pressure, especially in the abdomen, glands, organs, and fascia around the organs. The chi pressure helps the organs hold their shape and place them in their “ancestral” position, allowing energy to flow more easily.
The principle of compressed breathing is to compress the abdomen from all four sides: above from the lowered diaphragm, below from the upward pull of the perineum/sex organs, in front of the abdominal wall, and behind from the spine and back muscles.
When the surrounding fascia layers are filled with chi, they charge the organs with energy. Increased chi pressure causes chi to flow into the fascia layers of the abdomen and flow to the abdominal cavity. This protects the organs and facilitates the flow of chi. When the abdominal cavity is filled with chi, the chi begins to flow from the inside out into the three fascial layers, creating a triple air cushion for all organs, glands, and muscles.
4. Iron Shirt Postures
The Iron Shirt Chi Kung consists of five standing postures. There are many standing Chi Kung postures. Master Chia has taken the essence of all these postures and distilled them into five postures. Every posture teaches:
a. To align one’s muscular skeletal structure with the gravity of the earth and with the forces of heaven. Each posture presents a slightly different energetic variation and teaches a new alignment skill.
b. The packing breathing in different postures to increase the Chi pressure, especially in the abdomen, organs, glands, and spine and to improve the rooting.
c. How to test the structure and the rooting in the different positions. The Embrace the Tree position is the most important position, because it teaches the basic alignment of every standing position and of Tai Chi Chi Kung.
Horse Stance & Embracing the Tree
- Stand shoulder width and the feet parallel
- Distribute the weight of the body evenly over all the Nine Points of the feet
- Claw the ground by gripping the earth with the toes
- The inner foundation of Iron Shirt is the life force, the outer foundation the feet
- Relax the soles of the feet and turn the big toes slightly inwards and root the feet
- Align the Ankle and the Knee Joints
- Open the Kua. Align the hip joints and the sacrum and sink from the Kua
- Activate the Chi Belt
- Aligning and elongating the spine, aligning the arms with the scapulae and the spine
- Connecting the whole body in one structural alignment
The Golden Urn (Yin & Yang position)
The second Iron Shirt exercise, "Holding the Golden Urn," includes a yang and a yin position. The goals of this exercise include strengthening the thumb and little finger and to activate the muscle-tendon meridians between the thumb and the big toe and between the little finger and the little toe.
The little fingers and toes are connected by a muscle-tendon pathway that runs down the arms and neck to the head, circles the ears, and then runs back down the sides of the body and legs to the little toes (yang position).
The thumb-muscle-tendon pathway is activated by connecting to the big toes through the arms, chest, navel, and legs (yin position). The thumbs are connected to the lungs and to the tendons that run on the torso and the front of the legs to the big toes. These two energy pathways connect muscles, tendons, and skeleton into one, strengthen the front and flanks of the body, and improve rooting on the front of the body.
Golden Turtle (Yang Position) & Water Buffalo (Yin Position)
The Golden Turtle dives into the water and the Water Buffalo rises out of the water, the third Iron Shirt exercise.
This exercise charges the toes and their tendons and the fascia in the legs with chi. It strengthens the fascia of the back, the spine, the kidneys and adrenals, the neck and the head. Because the back is filled with chi like an inflated balloon, this position is called turtle back.
In this pose, the body is stressed just as much as in the headstand, but chi, not blood, flows to the head, making it easier to direct the increased blood flow downward. If you have weak thighs or stiff hips, the turtle or water buffalo pose will be extremely strenuous for you at first, even if you don't go very low. In this case, place your forearms on a chair. This allows you to gradually get used to this position without straining yourself. It is
very important to keep your back straight and parallel to the floor. It is difficult at first, but occasional practice in front of a mirror can help. The trembling of the thigh muscles is the applause of the body.
Iron Bridge (Yin & Yang position)
This exercise is designed to strengthen the fascia on the front and back of the body. Stretching the fascia from the pelvis to the neck and on the sides of the chest stimulates the flow of chi between the layers of fascia and strengthens the muscles.
Bending the spine back leads to strengthening its lower part, especially the lumbar region. Stretching the upper back in a direction opposite to the normal curvature also reduces the often overly forward curvature of the upper back, loosens the shoulder joints and opens the chest area. When you lean backward, make sure it is from the upper back and not from the hips.
Golden Phoenix Washes Its Feathers
In the Phoenix position, both sides of the body - from the armpits to the hips - are strengthened and the chi pressure in all the main organs is increased. On the left side of the body
the following organs are filled with chi and enveloped: the left kidney, spleen, left lung and heart; on the right side, these are the right kidney, liver and right lung. The phoenix exercise also trains the fingers and toes, the tongue and all the tendons. The little fingers are weak, but with their help numerous tendons can be activated, especially on the sides of the body.
a. Begin with recharge breathing in the rider's stance.
b. Bring the arms in front of the body with the backs of the hands turned toward each other. Then open the arms to the side, bending the wrists inward so that the fingertips point toward the ribs.
c. Inhale, pull up the anus and perineum, and compress chi in the fascia of the sides of the body and in the kidneys.
d. Inhale, pull the hands a little higher, and fill and envelop the liver and spleen with chi.
e. Inhale again, pull the hands further up, and fill and envelop the lungs and heart with chi.
f. Maintaining tension in the anus and perineum, exhale on the lung sound <SSSSS)>, stretching the arms forward at shoulder level. The hands are erect, palms facing forward.
g. Inhale, and draw S\e up the anus and sexual organs. Form beaks with the fingers, and pull them back slightly toward the shoulders.
h. Repeat inhaling and pulling back the beaks two more times.
i. Exhale on the kidney sound <chowwww>, and release the tension in the perineum and sexual organs while extending the arms downward and locking the elbows and knees. The palms of the hands point downward.
j. Turn the hands outward, spread the fingers and toes, stick out the tongue, and pull up the anus w1d the sexual organs.
k. Bone Breathing.
l. Collect chi in the Tan Tien.
Excerpts from publications by Mantak Chia
A complete 2-days workshop video instruction from Mantak Chia himself you can find under: Iron Shirt Rooting practice