Sunday, May 20, 2012

Breathing and joint opening

This is a follow up article on my previous one Breathing and chakras opening. I can't stress more the primary importance of breathing in our internal disciplines like tai-chi, chi-kung and Zen/Buddhist or Taoist meditation.  Without it, our practice loses its definitive substance.  But how can so physical an act as joint opening be related to breathing, and not to mention affected by it?

Wu-style tai-chi guru, the late master Wu TuNan (吳圖南) had been known for putting a lot of emphasis in a subject/technique called SongGong (松功), the art of joint-loosening, as mentioned in a Chinese book Wu's Tai-chi Nei Gung (吳圖南太極功) put down in text by his lineage student master Ma YouQing (馬有清).  As far as I know, few people took much interest or even notice on this particular section of his book.  The reason is that Wu simply taught us to raise up our arm(s) and then allow it to drop down under its own weight; in various directions and routines.  More recently a famous contemporary Wu-style master Zhu DaTong (祝大彤) also wrote about this art of joint-loosening offering a simplified form - after written chapter after chapter of how beneficial and important the art is!  It seems that Wu didn't write anything internal and Zhu wrote a lot on internal but in a less than sound communicative way.  Anyway, I will give all these masters the benefit of doubt.  Afterall, as I said previously this is the age of the responsible student!

So what is this art of joint-opening all about?  It is about breathing!

Wu did give us a clue, not that he tried to hide or he didn't know about it, as I believe it to be so, because he did mention that it is more important to focus on raising up the arm than to focus on letting it to fall down under its own weight.

When a practitioner raises up his arm he should inhale. When his arm is fully raised, he should close his eyes and focus.  He can continue to do breathing with his arm raised if his mind is not focused enough.  After his mind is steady (which will take no time for a seasoned practitioner), he should mentally choose a point of most resistance in his shoulder joint.  His arm's downward fall should always be on the exhale.  Now the most important bit: between his inhalation and exhalation he will have a moment (or a second) of stop-breathing (natural rather than enforced).  And the key point is to make use of this moment to allow his joint to be fixed into the point/route of most resistance.  This will allow the effect to be maximally felt.

This natural moment is the key to everything, including our spiritual pursuit.  Spirituality is everywhere, enlightenment can come anytime, as is breathing!

Wu's Tai chi nei gong


  1. Sort of applying Cook Ding's knife to oneself.

  2. Exactly! "Void entering the almost seamless" (以無厚入有間). The moment between (containing) inhalation and exhalation, yin and yang, life and death....In short the right moment to enter the spiritual (for the brave spiritual seekers), to seek the profound (for the daring philosophers), and to accomplish almost impossible physical changes (for the learned chi-kung and tai-chi practitioners).


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