Breathing sustains life. Breathing in particular ways can enhance and even prolong life. In the Taoist arts there are different breathing techniques. There’s nostril breathing, mouth and nostril, mouth, natural abdominal, reverse abdominal, perineal, tortoise, fetal and entire body breathing. Dr. Eliott Kravitz a medical advisor to Master Moy once quipped to a small class, “Just don’t stop.” This last one is probably one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard about breathing.
During some movements like the Dan-yu, if you can breath in and out timed with each cycle of down and up the effects are amazing. One can continue practicing with ease and energy is circulated readily throughout the movement. Breathing can better connect the movements of our forms. There’s regulating the breathe which is breathing without conscious awareness allowing bodily movements to affect our breathing. This is perhaps one of the primary benefits of a well-timed internal martial art. When we move in a regular rhythmic manner our breathing follows. This regulated breathing over time has significant health benefits. On the other hand directed breathing is where we consciously manipulate our breath to control movement and the rate of our breathing. To achieve benefit from directed breathing it is wise to seek guidance from someone with experience. A beneficial approach but fairly benign is the directed breathing technique where you attempt to breath as deeply as you can slowly without stopping. In the middle of stressful situations, this directed breathing can help one relax and recover emotional balance.
What does this have to do with our daily affairs? Our breath is an indicator of our state of mind and body. Many people breath in shallow manners not taking in energy for various reasons like stress or emotional difficulties. This is restricting the exchange of energy with the environment. When we are injured in sparing or other physical activities we hold our breath. The thing is if we can breath deep and allow ourselves to relax, the injury and pain can more readily subside. The same holds true in our stressful lives. Simply being aware of our breathing when confronted with a difficult situation or person can significantly alter our perspective and interaction with our environment.
Breath is life. It is one of the primary ways we exchange energy with our environment. The first step in working with our breath is to be aware of it. Awareness of our breath can enhance our connection with ourselves and what’s happening around us. The second step is to allow our breath to follow the movements in our lives whether we are practicing Tai Chi, a hard form, exercising, having fun with our significant other or just going for a walk. We need not pursue this so directly. Simply being aware and loosening our body to allow our breathing to proceed naturally without interruption is the key to the second step. The third step is to explore how our breathing changes as our movement and emotions change. This is where guidance is beneficial.
No matter what you do, just don’t stop breathing.
For descriptions of different types of Taoist breathing techniques refer to The Shambala Guide to Taoism, A complete introduction to the history, philosophy, and practice of an ancient Chinese spiritual traditions by Eva Wong.
I recently discovered my manuscript I’m working on needed some contextual story or background to help readers connect with it. Having had a couple Tai Chi folk read it and not give feedback, I thought I should relate it to my background in the Taoist Arts. Thus, I’ve added some fictional characters to collaborate within a setting of a Tai Chi class with the result of writing a standard of living based on business called, “Managing the Business of You.” Some of the information from the manuscript is at http://www.bizofyou.com. Here’s an excerpt:
On one particular evening in class Emmet focused on using the same intention in every move. He first explained the acupuncture point called the “Bubbling Spring.” “It’s a point on the Kidney meridian on the center of the sole of the foot, at the base of the ball of the foot, between the pads. Although acupuncture calls it a point, it’s more of an area. When you place your weight in the area that’s one-third of the total foot length from the tip of your toes, the bubbling spring is stimulated.” Emmet went on to show how to use intention to place your weight in a specific area of the foot. He used the squatting type exercise where the practitioner opens the pelvis, bends the knees and lets the center of gravity drop in a straight line that points to a place between the feet. The line where the center of gravity drops can be adjusted. When the weight is spread throughout the feet, the practitioners feel their weight in the bubbling spring throughout the movement. Much of what Emmet showed was non-verbal. He showed it many times as each student sees different things and often has to see movement from many angles in order to learn what is expected of them.
Emmet had the class practice the exercise until most of the students had increased circulation evidenced by breathing deeply, flush faces or perspiration. Emmet is continually amazed at how simple movements can get energies moving. He let them take a break and started explaining how the same intention may be used in more than the 108 movements of the tai chi set. Starting with the bow before the movements he showed moving slowly allows one to focus their center so their weight spreads throughout the foot but remains localized around the bubbling springs. He allowed his spine to curve over like a fishing pole keeping his knees unbending. His hips had to move back as his spine went forward to counterbalance one another all the while keeping the weight centered in the foot. After his hands touched the floor, he reversed the process to return to a standing position. He turned his feet to start the first move of the set while keeping his weight centered appropriately in each foot. He kept going in the second move allowing his spine to stretch easily out. His weight moved from one foot to another as he stepped between moves. With any contact with the floor, his weight was centered around the bubbling spring. He repeated the movements a few times and explained a few key and critical points along the way like dropping the tail bone and maintaining balance between the push from the feet and the expression out through the spine, arms and hand movements.
The intent of the fictional story is to relate the principles of tai chi to our daily activities and principles of managing the business of you. It’s a work in progress so who knows how it will end up after the agents, editors and publisher get a hold of it.