Friday, June 8, 2012

Tai Chi Breathing


Many of my students have asked about breathing during their tai chi forms. I always tell them that the first thing to keep in mind is that they must breathe. Slow, gentle breaths are best. However, many students press for more information. First, I tell them about storing and delivering energy. Later, I tell them about abdominal breathing.

Storing and Delivering Energy
Tai chi forms contain parts where energy is stored and parts where energy is delivered. In general, the storing energy parts are when your hands are moving up or in. The delivering energy parts are when your hands are moving out or down. All styles of tai chi have some kind of commencement form. It often contains a beginning part where the hands move up and an ending part where the hands move down. I ask the students to inhale some time during the storing energy parts and exhale during the delivering energy part.

Abdominal Breathing
I next discuss abdominal breathing with my students. (Read more here.) This uses your diaphragm to open up your lungs and improve overall fitness. It helps you focus your mind by creating a calming effect that helps you minimize the mental chatter that is always going on.
To learn how to breathe with this method, place one hand over your upper abdomen, above your belly button. Place your other hand over your lower abdomen, below your belly button. When you inhale, imagine that the air fills your lungs, bypasses your upper abdomen, and fills your lower abdomen and gently expands it like a balloon. Gently relax the pelvic floor muscles at the bai hui point, in the middle of the perineum. When you exhale, gently contract your lower abdomen as if the air is leaving the balloon. During both inhales and exhales, try to keep your top hand from moving.
This technique adds an extra focus on your perineum, the area between your anus and your genitals. Use your yi, or focused attention, to gently contract the muscles of the pelvic floor located at the midpoint of the perineum. Visualize that you are contracting those muscles toward your belly button as you inhale. Allow those muscles to relax as you exhale. If you get tired, just relax and go back to breathing naturally.
Dr. Paul Lam uses the term "dan tian breathing" for this technique. He describes it like this:
“This breathing method is created based on traditional qigong and modern medical research into the deep stabilizer muscles. It is effective to facilitate sinking qi to the dan tian and to enhance qi power, in turn improving internal energy. It can be incorporated into all your qigong and tai chi movements.
Use abdominal breathing while opening and closing your hands. (Read more here.) Dan tian breathing can be practiced during the open and close hands form of Sun style tai chi. After the student starts to become comfortable with this breathing technique, it can be extended to other forms. It takes great concentration to do this kind of breathing while moving through your forms. Don't overdo it. Practice it when you can. If you have difficulty at any time, let it go and resume your normal breathing.
© 2012 Eric Borreson