While I have been running around being busy and not blogging for the past month, there is one thing that I have tried to remember to do, and that’s breathe.
When we are stressed, concentrating, absorbed, and so on, sometimes the first thing to go is breathing. I remember last year, after performing with others at World Tai Chi Day, a bunch of us went out for lunch. Our teacher asked one of her senior students, who had been sitting in the audience, to offer a critique of what she noticed. Her comment about me was that during my weapon performances, I would hold my breath. Really? I hadn’t realized I was doing that. So afterwards, I began paying more attention to my breath, and sure enough, she was right. The more I concentrated on what I was doing, the less I breathed.
So for starters, there are different ways to breathe, depending on what you’re doing. Sometimes there is a rhythm to breathing when exercising, say, when running or doing stomach crunches or reps with weights at the gym. Yoga, external martial arts, and other disciplines also have their own prescribed methods for how and when to inhale and exhale. All these different methods help to facilitate the type of exercise you’re doing.
For tai chi, the emphasis is on breathing naturally. There is no rhythm that you must follow; you don’t need to coordinate your breathing with your movements. Breathe naturally while practicing tai chi and never force or hold your breath. Keep the mouth closed, and inhale and exhale through the nose while resting the tongue gently on the roof of the mouth. As you inhale, breathe all the way down into the abdomen, expanding the abdomen. As you exhale, contract the abdomen.
If you have only been inhaling into your chest (where the chest expands and the abdomen contracts), breathing into your abdomen may feel very unnatural at first. You may even feel like your abdomen is not expanding at all. A good way to get accustomed to this way of breathing is to lie down and place a light object on your stomach. As you inhale into your abdomen, you can see the object rise. As you exhale, you can see it fall.
As you breathe naturally and fully, your body becomes calm. When you are calm, your chi (life force or universal energy) sinks to your center. As your chi sinks, your lower body becomes solid and strong, enabling your upper body to be light.
This method of breathing is great not just for tai chi, but also in every day life. How many times have you been busy, stressed, or concentrating and had to take a giant breath or sigh heavily? We breathe automatically to live, but we need to remember to breathe to reduce stress.