Saturday, November 24, 2012

The right moment to learn abdominal breathing

Do you find it difficult to learn abdominal breathing?  Most people do initially, because as adults we have been trained to breath with opening our rib cage.  And most often we are doing the correct thing, because chest breathing is the speediest way to get oxygen, and we all have experience panting heavily after running for a distance to catch a train or catch up with a friend.   As with almost everything else with mind-body exercises (and Taoist related discipline in particular, tai-chi included), a practitioner should not follow the natural way,  In Taoist lingo: the natural way breeds humans, the reverse way breeds immortals (顺则成人,逆则成仙).

In doing tai-chi or any internal martial art (or Taoist meditation), very often we need to do reverse abdominal breathing (interested reader can refer to my Breathing page). Honestly speaking, I find it difficult to teach folks doing it, not until I find a method which proved to be useful to some students. The key is "Do it in the right moment", which actually is the key in overcoming many subtle milestones. The obstacle facing this Key is two folds: firstly, one cannot jump step (i.e. without previous foundation, a right moment has no meaning), and secondly, one must understand the right moment and learn how to grasp it with practice.

The foundation here is simple, one needs to have done some zhan zhuang, know (i.e. can feel) what is chi (at least at one's stretched hands), and have the slightest idea (i.e. can feel) that chi can flow with one's breathing (abdominal or otherwise). After setting the first platform, let's tackle the second issue.

As I explained in the first paragraph, we all have experience gasping for air. After doing some relatively heavy duty zhan zhuang (like doing the Golden Turtle/Tortoise), when one feels the need to do some heavier and quicker breathing, it is the right moment. When the right moment comes, do Embracing (a tree). Consciously slow down your breathing (which wanting to be quickened), close your eyes, focus intently on your abdomen AND finger tips. Breathing in by sucking in your abdomen (at lower dantian), consciously relax your sternum (in tai-chi lingo: slightly caved in your sternum 含胸 - the force is really a counter-force to prevent sternum from expanding, the result being relaxed and non-moving sternum) , and focus on & connecting it with your finger tips. Visualize: as if you're breathing in through your finger tips, pass your body to your abdomen and suck the air towards your spinal cord (as per explanation in my Breathing page). The intake will experience as sluggish (if not, you're not doing it right), and consequently, your breathing will slow down to a pace that your body naturally wants to hasten (the "natural" pace). Hold on, keep the slow pace and do the tasks as advised. After breathing in, breathing out by doing the reverse, i.e. finally breath out through your finger tips, and maintain the slow sluggish pace.

After a few breaths, you can tell me whether or not you've learned how to do reverse abdominal breathing.

Gasping for air


  1. Can you expand your instructions on how to exhale? It seems you are inhaling until the mingmen. Do you then reverse the flow in the opposite direction back to tantien and up the front? Or do you breathe up the spine, over the head and out to the fingertips? There are just not enough quality instructions on reverse breathing out there. Thanks

  2. Going over the head will be microcosmic, which is an application using reverse ab breathing. In general, in rab inhalation, direction = mingmen and up to the diaphragm (see my breathing page), chi sensation also felt along the spine. rab exhalation, sucking back from diaphragm to dantian (power base), then to fingers (in reverse). If you can do it the general way, you can use it in other applications, including the microcosmic.


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