Greetings. Summer continues here in the Pacific Northwest. Dry and lots of sun. We seek out the shade in the Park instead of the sun. Great to have visitors from out of state. Chi Kung exercises benefit from Fire (Sun), Earth (Park setting), Air (so pure here), and Water (right in front of us). We count our blessings.
I get more questions about breathing than any other aspect of Tai Chi practice. People want to have mystical experiences. They believe that breathing holds the key to making the impossible become real. My answer to them is simple breathe naturally!
Now, most people want to think otherwise – especially the ones who view Tai Chi and Chinese practices as mystical. Once again I tell you that I have been studying and practicing psycho/physical practices for over 50 years, and have never experienced what I consider beyond reason. I figure if the best known Masters of Tai Chi and Chi Kung cannot demonstrate to me their ability to do something supra-natural, I will not accept written accounts of this ability.
Just think about it. If you watch the world’s best athletes compete, and focus on their breathing, you will notice they all breathe out when exerting energy. Try hitting a ball and inhale as you do it. Try throwing a punch, throwing a football, anything, and see how you breathe. It is only natural to exhale when releasing, or the breath can get caught in the diaphragm and cause serious problems. Think about the yells of the hard martial artist just an exhale, releasing breath.
There are esoteric breathing exercises in Chi Kung, Yoga, and other studies designed to enable the student to take conscious control of natural body functions, but they are really designed to help the mind take control. I studied and practiced reverse breathing (Taoist), thrusting Kundalini breathing (Hindu), regular belly breathing (Buddhist), and of course, the circulatory breathing Microcosmic and Macrocosmic of the Tai Chi meditation. They all have the same goal to get the mind to take control of the breath and focus it into a finer and finer dot of attention. Breath is the taking in of air (possibly some finer elements called ethers) and combining it with the bodies own internal energy (think nutrients from food), and causing reactions that the body can use to do work.
If we use the analogy of a car, the gas is the food we consume. It is placed in the car’s gas tank (the body), then this gas is mixed with air (air intake valve), then forced into the valve where a spark (pre birth chi) ignites it, and an explosion forces the valve to move, finally resulting in the car moving.
There are several ways we can increase the performance. Increase the octane or purity of the gas (better nutrition); add more air (turbo charge) by breathing more efficiently; increase the size of the engine (train the body with exercise to make the heart muscle stronger), or make all the parts of the car move more effortlessly (that’s why we practice Tai Chi).
So the bottom line is practice breathing exercises of all sorts, use Tai Chi as a Chi Kung exercise by combining it with different breathing patterns, but for the greatest benefit for most people, just use belly breathing, relax and focus the mind on what you want the movement to accomplish. The intention is the master key. The greater the intention, the greater the result. When gathering – inhale, when releasing exhale. Simple. But you must know what each movement is doing so you know if you should be gathering or releasing. If you don’t know, ask your instructor. If the instructor doesn’t know, research it. There are no secrets in Tai Chi.