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Zhong Xin Dao (ZXD) Academic Approach

What is the Zhong Xin Dao (ZXD) Academic Approach?
Zhong Xin Dao (ZXD) is the heart of a contemplative, movement-based approach to neutral viewpoint, part of the training in I Liq Chuan: The Martial Art of Awareness (ILC). We have seen how ZXD/ILC can transform student learning and bring about changes in fixed mindset. Based on this, we constructed the Zhong Xin Dao (ZXD) Academic Approach—in two university settings over four semesters (two as undergraduate courses at Cabrini University and two as graduate seminars at the University of Pennsylvania). Now, our aim is to share the ZXD curriculum and approach more widely and with diverse populations of learners in varied contexts.

Many faculty, administrators, and staff in higher education have expressed a desire to find innovative ways to help students develop their academic potential, transition to college life, and address an array of social-emotional learning challenges. The movement-based awareness exercises of ZXD/ILC do just that: helping students through a metacognitive approach—also known as LEARNING HOW TO LEARN.

The exercises we use in the ZXD Academic Approach help shift mindset and guide students to develop clarity through the process of learning how to learn. The foundational viewpoint (it’s a Chinese internal art based on Zen Buddhism and Taoism as well as the science of biomechanics) rests on contemplative inquiry of direct experience: providing ongoing practice in how to develop a neutral viewpoint, both mentally and physically.

In ZXD’s Academic Approach, the context for learning the art is safe, cooperative and collaborative—a space for active learning about self and others through direct experience in a way that develops an ethos of care. By learning to understand one’s own body and mind, one learns to appreciate better how to interact with others with mutuality and respect—the very foundation of equity, civic engagement, community service, and social action. These are the kinds of philosophy, concepts and principles that inform the practice-based training.

WHY Should We Care?
Zhong Xin Dao helps students learn how to learn (“meta-cognition”). ZXD is not a style, it’s a process that:
• Gives students tools to recognize how to learn
• Provides the chance to get immediate and direct feedback through body-based interaction
• Orients us to what it means to be PRESENT in the moment
• Teaches awareness of ourselves and others
• Provides insight into different cultures’ traditions, practices, and viewpoints
• Helps cultivate the wisdom to be a better person.
The ZXD Academic Approach is both an approach to learning and a way to be in the world. We are all human bodies. We experience the world with our bodies. If we want to learn how to live more fully in the moment, we first need to become more aware of our bodies. But how can we teach students these feelings—physical, mental, emotional and social? In the Zhong Xin Dao Approach, feeling is sensing.

The Zhong Xin Dao (ZXD) Academic Approach provides tools for developing bodily awareness. Participants learn to sense the geographies of their bodies and minds through direct experience. ZXD helps students learn how to learn (“meta-cognition”) through learning how to move. It also gives teachers tools to design courses that equip students with this knowledge.

ZXD offers teachers an innovative process revolving around a neutral standpoint: a balanced mind and body. Through a combination of physical exercises and academic assignments, students learn to assess their own learning. By practicing a series of basic exercises and linking these with recursive lessons, the ZXD academic process can help learners recognize motivations, gain self-efficacy, and increase understanding of the diverse contexts.The ZXD Academic Approach uses a systematic, step-wise path to develop a neutral viewpoint, a balanced center. This takes practice. Over time, we train to “listen” to our bodies and to work cooperatively with others. Practicing Zhong Xin Dao philosophy, concepts, and principles is a way to recognize what it feels like to embody a growth mindset. We discover empathy and compassion by lessening bias, diminishing ego, and accepting others’ viewpoints. Using a rubric of concrete observables, students learn to assess their own learning. Training our awareness in this way teaches students to be more aware of conditions—the cause and effect—so we recognize how to realize, how to be, how to do.

What are the Benefits of the Zhong Xin Dao Path of Learning?

Through the integrative and interdisciplinary ZXD Academic Approach, students experience many benefits. Students will improve their skills in 10 key areas:

1. Seeing the big picture and open-mindedness (change with the change; change to maintain) – go through a process of training that allow one to centrally position one’s self to learn how be open to learning.

2. Learning how to place themselves at the center of growth and fixed mindset to gain a balance (school/study and life balance)-being at the neutral point between growth and fixed.

3. Cultivating cooperation while suspending assumptions and judgment.

4. Enabling authentic spontaneity and enjoyment - Students learn how to engage—how to get into that self-motivated spot—of wanting to learn.

5. Developing commitment to learning while recognizing bias and past references.

6. Getting introduced to meta-cognition (learning how to learn) through a fun, movement-based way of learning that ‘hooks’ their interest; the Martial Art of Awareness provides the immediacy of learning in the moment with the safety of cooperative partner exercises.

7. Working on deep listening and exploring what it means to be a ‘Reflective Receiver’.

8. Understanding a processual way of approaching something by observing, sensing, and feeling—without self judgment.

9. Becoming better at recognizing body sensations and mental blocks—recognizing the conditions of cause and effect in innovative ways based on realizing structure, alignment, balance, effortlessness and efficiency of movement.

10. Experiencing how to place themselves in the present moment so they can better express themselves from a neutral standpoint.

Why Does the Zhong Xin Dao Approach Matter?

While helping students build strong academic skills is a wonderful part of education, that’s only part of what makes a whole person. Researchers in many fields — education, health and wellness, neuroscience, exercise and sport science, anthropology of movement, liberal arts, and so on — have recognized the power of embodied and mindful learning. Educators are eager to introduce attitudes, knowledge, skills, and behaviors that can assist students in living life with more attention, purpose, and compassion. Health professionals, coaches, body-workers, choreographers, martial artists and others interested in studying movement will all appriciate the awareness training offered by the Academic Zhong Xin Dao Approach, guiding students in recognizing how we learn, about how we move, and about how we can use this knowledge in daily life.

• ZXD’s viewpoint helps teachers and students develop tools for training awareness—tools that will help with inner and outer transformation.

• ZXD’s curriculum and basic exercises help learners of all types and ages, in all sorts of educational contexts develop the ability to be more aware, mindful, and engaged both with personal challenges and worldwide struggles.

• ZXD offers effective training in various practices that can improve how we teach, how we learn, and how we participate in creating more compassionate, sustainable environments and just societies.

How Can You Get Started? Resources, Consulting, and Training in Professional Development and Instructional Design

Let us help you refine your awareness now. In ZXD, you are the instrument of your own knowing. Our instructional design and curricular development workshops help teachers make this understanding explicit. We can help you tailor a curriculum that fits your particular needs and academic context.

Interested in bringing the ZXD Academic Approach into your learning context, we provide a variety of professional development opportunities including workshops in instructional design, flexible seminars, and adaptable lessons for different learning contexts in K-16+ settings (i.e., 8-, 10- and 15-week modules, face-to-face and hybrid lessons); help tailoring to community-college, GED and adult ed. settings, youth- and after-school programs, etc.).

Contact Dr. Nancy Watterson and Lan Tran, co-directors of the ZXD Academic Approach for more information on:

• Creating a rationale for pitching an ZXD Academic course to administrators at your institution (provosts, deans, directors, principals, lead faculty, etc.)
• Reviewing our systematic rubric for assessing concrete observables
• Consulting on course design and assistance in developing effective academic modules for various length semesters and credit /contact hours: i.e., 1 credit, 3 credit, etc.; 6 week, 10 week, 15 week, intensive weekend seminar, hybrid offerings, and so on.
• Crafting effective assignments (scaffolded and sequenced in and across subject areas/disciplines) to teach, iterate, and underscore the viewpoint and learning process that are the hallmarks of ZXD.
• Integrating whole-person, whole body, whole mind learning; discussion of various belief traditions (Taoism, Buddhism, scientific method / biomechanics, etc) with attention to the value of compassion toward self and others: the bases of inter-personal ‘dialogue’ and cooperative partner training to prepare for civic engagement, community service, and social action.


Nancy L.Watterson, Ph.D.
p: 215.384.4596 Lan Tran
p: 215.868.0419