Saturday, December 13, 2014

The theory of full lungs breathing in tai chi

When your tai chi teacher asks you to breath "naturally" while doing tai chi form, he is, in a way, correct in doing so. Yet he is not telling the whole story, assuming that he knows the whole story in the first place. The trickiness of tai chi breathing is that on the one hand a student has to breath deeply and on the other hand he has to relax his sternum ("Depress the chest and raise the upper back" in 10 tai chi essentials [含胸拔背]). Worse, forcing oneself to "depress one's chest" in years of tai chi training can make one's back hunched! For safety reason, "natural breathing" seems to be the best bet for beginning students, if not for all students.

In the practice of chi kung, one needs at least two stretched or focused points to generate chi. When applying to tai chi's full lungs breathing, it is the muscles around our upper lungs and those around our lower lungs. Muscles around the lower lungs primarily refers to our diaphragm. Its execution in full lungs breathing is abdominal breathing which essentially is focus on Dantian to activate the diaphragm. The tricky part is on our upper lungs.

Chest breathing is an activation of muscles around the upper lungs. The problem is that it will normally involve raising our sternum which is in direct opposition to the requirement of "relaxing your sternum". Because of this dilemma, some tai chi teachers either train their student to breath "naturally" or to do abdominal breathing only (thereby forgetting about the whole idea of full lungs breathing). Those more "eager" teachers in doing the latter face the danger of making their students' back hunched (after years of practice) - a condition to be cured instead of to be trained!

How to solve this dilemma? The method is focus on the points immediately below the middle part of our clavicles. By focusing on these points on the top and the dantian on the bottom, we can visualize our lungs as a bellow. Opening up and down as full lungs breathing in, closing (controlled relaxation) up and down as full lungs breathing out. With this method our sternum can remain relaxed.

This is also the breathing method for Taoist deep meditation or Neidan. Our body is to be visualized as a bellow to start up a small fire, the seedling in jump-starting the practice of Neidan.

Use bellow to start a fire

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