Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Find Your Vertical Line

This is a favorite instruction from one of my martial arts teachers. As we move through different postures and exercises, he often reminds us, “Where is your vertical line?” or “Find your vertical line.”

This vertical line runs from the crown of our head straight through our body to the perineum, right between our legs. It goes by several names – central channel, central axis, central equilibrium, or in Chinese zhong ding. The Chinese characters for zhong ding are   meaning center or middle, and     定 meaning to settle. The bottom part of the second character means upright or correct. So zhong ding means to settle or align in the central upright position. If you are a Star Trek fan, imagine the warp core, the energy source of the space ship, usually pictured as a vertical cylinder pulsing with light (as in the photo above).

When our zhong ding is properly aligned and cleared of any blockages, a channel is open between heaven and earth, pulsing light and energy. We are in balance, grounded, moving freely and effortlessly.

As with many aspects of martial arts, this concept works just as well in daily life as it does in the dojo. Going through some unsettling shifts in recent months, I have felt confused, off balance, and out of sync. Anxiety takes our energy upwards into our heads, and we lose our connection to our body and our emotional ground or center. We sometimes try to avoid sadness, escape discomfort, or control things outside ourselves. In our struggle, we increase the suffering of suffering.

This is where we practice, isn’t it? On the razor’s edge. Not where we are all comfortable and kumbaya. No, we practice for these times when we are caught off guard, knocked off balance, at the edge of our comfort zone, in pain, afraid. In other words, we practice in life, in real life, as it is.

So I hear my teacher’s words. Where is my vertical line? Find my vertical line.

I find it first in my body. When I sense my zhong ding aligned and open, then my body leads my emotions and my mind into balance. Energy pulses through the open channel. Yes, sadness is still there, but in equilibrium with all other emotions. Fear is soothed with stillness. Everything moves freely and in harmony.

Until it doesn’t.

And then I hear another teacher’s favorite instruction.


14 thoughts on “Find Your Vertical Line”

  1. Finding our vertical line . . . Again! Galen, this makes perfect sense to me, and is something we do need to practice in the peaceful times so we can access it in the chaotic ones.
    Blessings, my friend!

  2. "Fear is soothed with stillness." I find that I quell my fear with motion first. Doing something physical gets me out of my head; it stills my mind. OK – fear is soothed with stillness.

  3. Yes, getting out of our heads — that's the key, Mona. In the Chinese five element system, fear and stillness are paired in the kidneys. I thought that was interesting because we often think of courage as paired with fear. But courage is paired with sadness in the lungs. Interesting! And yes, shifting our attention into our bodies in motion often helps us soften or soothe the frantic urges of fear. Thanks for your comment.

  4. In yoga class we used a dowel, lining it up so that the back of our head, shoulders, and sacrum all touched as we bent forward, feeling what happens when we move. I noticed that my head wanted to come away, and when I concentrated on that, my sacrum wanted to change position. It was instructive to find my vertical line. Thanks for the fine post explaining it even better. Very synchronous for me. 🙂

  5. 'When our zhong ding is properly aligned and cleared of any blockages, a channel is open between heaven and earth, pulsing light and energy. We are in balance, grounded, moving freely and effortlessly..'

    This is the ideal condition while living in a mortal body. We get a glimpse of heaven while still very much anchored to earth. Perhaps this is what the Jesus character meant when he said the kingdom of heaven is found within. Or maybe he was saying heaven can be experienced here now. You refer to it as a pulsating energy coming into us when we have allowed an open channel, through our center. Interesting post! Galen.

  6. My martial arts teacher has sometimes used the same tool for us to check our alignment. Glad you could relate this to your yoga practice. Thanks for commenting.

  7. The Tao Te Ching refers to humanity as the link between heaven and earth. The concept of zhong ding seems consistent with this. Other qigong and Taoist healing practices pull energy from the heaven and the earth to store in the dan tian (lower abdomen) or move around the body as needed. Thanks for commenting, Brian.

  8. That's interesting Galen' Tao Te Ching refers to humanity as the link between heaven and earth.' Hu is a name for God in Sufism and also in Egyptian mythology. I have often thought of Human as a hybrid between Hu (god) and a species before homo-sapiens. Homo-sapiens is believed to have arrived about 200,000 years ago according to scientist Greg Braden with its DNA permanently altered, in his book 'human by design'. The Human is indeed a mystery, it is the link between the divine and the earth based biological body and spirit mind. The divine energy can flow in us and through us. This science or art of centering through the vertical line may be the under tapped conduit for direct connection with the divine realm of heaven. Exciting !

  9. Yes, it is. I'm reading a book about a tai chi posture called "cloud hands." The author focuses much of his discussion on the alignment and power of the zhong ding. And of course the Tao Te Ching is all about mystery, humans included!

  10. I just completed a week of many stress filled activities. When I read this I could feel the vibes of what you were writing.
    I tend to find my peace in the midst of the storm on my knees in prayer and I always find the peace I seek if I have the channel opened. That's when I have my face turned towards the Savior knowing he is there for me whenever I need him. At times that can be every hour. How grateful I am for that peace and how it comes to me.
    I feel again that your thoughts do connect in someway to mine in a different context.
    Blessings and hugs for you as always!

  11. Interesting! I once began saying to myself a few years ago when I was stirred up by conflicts and negativity – 'I don't like this, I want to be centred in myself',but I was unsure of what this meant, except that I'd know it when I felt it. Now a straight line through the body is surely a way of saying the same thing, centred, rather than off balance. Centred so the flow flows freely. Thankfully I did discover what it felt like later on, but of course things change, and we change with them, so we have to keep practising, as you say, getting that balance back. And to fully feel painful emotions rather than trying to push them away is vital to regaining that equilibrium. Wise words, as always!

  12. Sorry for the delay in responding to your comment, LeAnn. I've been away from the computer for a few days.

    I read a great passage in a book once where the author described being knocked to her knees over and over by life circumstances. She said she finally figured out that maybe she should stay on her knees! I thought of that when I read your comment.

  13. Sorry for the delay in responding to your comment Lynne. I was away from the computer for a few days.

    As my newest post reveals, I am having to find my zhong ding repeatedly these days! As you said, it is a feeling, not so much a thought, an experience of alignment and energy flowing freely. Yeah, those painful emotions…. Agggaaaiiinnn!

    Thanks for commenting.

Comments are closed.