Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 277
The Breathing Box
There is something I’m sure we can all agree upon – breath is life. There are perhaps hundreds, if not thousands, of qigong or breathing exercises connected to our Tai Chi practice. When students asked Master Choy about the matching of breath and movement, he would say, “Breathe naturally”. It was too simple, we wanted more. He did have a few qigong exercises, but nothing to match with the form.
I generally still agree with Master Choy. Just focus on the form. I do, sometimes, for my own practice, match breath and movement, but usually don’t do matching in classes. Students can work on this themselves. I prefer to emphasize the idea of gather and release, as we have been discussing lately on the Tips. In any case, here is a very easy way to make the breath fuller and to use as a stand alone qigong exercise.
When I was on the bus to Afghanistan, for hundreds of hours, I would practice breathing exercises, and this was one of my favorites. It is called “The Breathing Box”. Besides sitting in a car or bus, this can be practiced lying down, or standing. Try it in the various positions and see which is more comfortable and relaxed.
The image is that you have a box in your torso. It has a top and bottom, front and back, and two sides. We will then let the breath expand and contract these surfaces in various combinations to facilitate complete breathing. Let’s use sitting first since you are probably sitting at your computer reading this. I think standing is actually easier. Here we go.
Note: This sequence uses “natural breathing”. We will discuss “reverse breathing” in another post.
Focus on the bottom of the box. As you inhale, the bottom of the box moves downward. As you exhale the bottom moves back up. Nice and smooth and easy. Start with about 5 breaths (it actually can be any number). When done, just relax for a moment and feel how you feel.
Next, as you inhale, the top of the box moves upward. Exhale, the top moves back downward. 5 breaths.
Next, as you inhale, the top moves up, and the bottom moves down at the same time. Be aware that the rest of the box does not move at this time. 5 breaths. Feel how you feel.
I think you can figure out the rest of the sequence. Repeat but with the front, then the back, then both. Expand with the inhale, contract with the exhale.
Next, repeat the sequence with the sides. One side then the other, then both.
Next, expand the whole box on the inhale – top and bottom, front and back, two sides, all at the same time. Then contract everything back in. 5 breaths.
Finally, have a bit of creative fun. Try different combinations, like top and right side, front and left side, etc. You’ll be amazed how interesting and meditatively energizing this exercise will be. When you go back to the form, just observe how your body puts this all together.
Note: Next week we will explore some other aspects of the Breathing Box, like reverse breathing and the yin and yang of the Box. Stay tuned.