Oxygen plays a vital role in the circulatory & respiratory systems. As we breathe, oxygen that is inhaled purifies our blood by removing poisonous waste products circulating throughout our blood systems. Irregular breathing will hamper this purification process and cause waste products to remain in circulation. Digestion will then become irregular, leaving tissues & organs undernourished. Consequently, improper oxygen consumption will ultimately lead to fatigue and heightened anxiety states. The irregular breathing elicited during stressful situations not only makes the situations hard to cope with but also contributes to a general deterioration of health. By the careful control of our breathing pattern, we may not only rejuvenate our systems but also counter the unhealthy effects of stress.

Breathing is one of the things we do everyday without thinking, but Taiji & Qigong are different ways of moving & breathing, and it is one of the most difficult things for students to get right. With Taiji one movement feeds off of another, and breathing is a huge part of it. All of my teachers have said not to worry about the correct in & out of it in the beginning of learning & practice because, in reality, moving AND breathing at the same time, all while being aware of both, is quite a challenge. My teachers were right in that eventually it will all come together. In other words, if it feels good just don't think about it that much and keep doing the movements until the magic of it all comes together!

Taiji & Qigong breathing is NOT the chest breathing that you are used to doing. When we were born we were breathing from our Dantien (belly) but as we grew older that changed to chest breathing. Nobody knows why it happens - it just is what it is! The DANTIEN (pronounced “dahn-tee-en”) is the Center of ALL of our Energy so it’s only natural, since Taiji & Qigong are energy-gathering exercises, that our breathing reflects that.
The area about 3 finger-breadths below the navel and 2-3” into the body is considered to be a sacred center of energy. You may have noticed the feeling that you get in your belly when you are under a lot of stress, or at least the beginnings of it. Since all energies originate in the belly, stress can seriously affect our internal organs, our breath, our energy, and overall health & well-being. We feel it in our belly and it goes from there. This is addressed extensively with that being focused in Qigong practice.

The following exercise will help you to work with Dantien (belly) breathing in order to open your belly and allow your diaphragm to move deeper down into your abdomen on inhalation and farther up to squeeze your lungs and support your heart on exhalation. This will have a powerful influence on your respiration and in the way you breathe during many stressful (and not so stressful) times in your life. It will help to relax your nervous system, harmonize and quiet your thoughts & emotions, and help create a sense of inner stillness & peace.

It’s best to begin practicing by lying down on your back. After you get used to this way of breathing you will be able to do it like this all of the time, whether standing, sitting, or lying down. As you practice you will be able to begin to become more aware of it which can make it easier to use it in general, but also when practicing your Tai Chi, Qigong, or any other of the martial arts. But, remember - ”Patience, Grasshopper!”
  • Lie down on your back on a comfortable surface such as a bed, carpeted floor, or a yoga mat. Position yourself with your feet flat on the floor & your knees bent (pointing upward). Simply follow and BE AWARE of your normal breathing for a few minutes, and try to sense which parts of your body your breath touches.
  • Continue to follow your breathing as you rub your palms together until they are very warm.
  • Put your hands (one on top of the other) on your belly, with the center of your lower hand touching your navel. Watch how your breathing responds.
  • You may notice that your belly wants to expand as you inhale & retract as you exhale. Let this happen and don’t try to force it.
  • If your belly seems tight, rub your hands together again until they are warm and then massage your belly, especially right around the outside edge of your belly button. Notice how your belly begins to soften & relax.
  • Now rub your hands together again until they are warm and put them on your belly again. Notice how this influences your breath. Do not try to do anything. Simply watch & enjoy as your belly begins to come to life, expanding as you inhale & retracting as you exhale.
  • If your belly still seems overly tight and does not want to move as you breathe, press down with your hands on your belly as you exhale. Then as you inhale, gradually release the tension. Try this several times. Notice how your belly begins to open more on inhalation.
When you are ready to stop, be sure to sense your entire abdominal area, noting any special sensations of warmth, comfort, and energy. Spend a few minutes allowing these sensations to spread into all the cells of your belly all the way back to your spine.

The belly expands
(relaxes & protrudes)
The belly retracts
(compresses & withdraws)

Deep breathing can have a powerful influence on our health. When our breathing is full & deep, 1) the diaphragm moves through its entire range downward to massage the liver, stomach, and other organs & tissues below it, and upward to massage the heart; and 2) the belly, lower ribcage, & lower back all expand on inhalation, thus drawing the diaphragm down deeper into the abdomen, and retracts on exhalation, allowing the diaphragm to move fully upward toward the heart.

In deep abdominal breathing, the downward & upward movements of the diaphragm, combined with the outward & inward movements of the belly, ribcage, & lower back, help to massage & detoxify our inner organs, promote blood flow & peristalsis, and pump the lymph more efficiently through our lymphatic system. The lymphatic system, which is an important part of our immune system, has no pump other than muscular movements, including the movements of breathing.

Meditation and controlled breathing go hand-in-hand, but it can be done without the necessary setting for meditation. You can do controlled breathing at any time, while waiting, walking, sitting, watching television, or just before you close your eyes to sleep. You just have to remember to practice during times of opportunity. If you practice this regularly, your normal breathing can be trained to be much slower & deeper, and you will feel more relaxed. Another benefit is that you might notice that your thinking is clearer as well because all of that good oxygen is circulating around your brain!

Breathe ~ You are alive!