Most young people and adults breathe by raising and opening the chest cavity. Many people who do conventional fitness exercises and take part in strenuous sports breathe from the chest as well. This is how their breathing has developed in the years since birth. Our goal is different, however. We want to return to the powerful, deep breathing we were born with, in order to enhance the power of our vitality.
Natural breathing is centred on the Tan Tien inside your abdomen (see below). This way of breathing is very different from the shallow, quick action that is common in people who breathe only with the chest. Breathing from the Tan Tien refocuses your energy in the original centre of your body through which you were nourished before birth.
Unlike many other systems, Zhan Zhuang does not insist on special breathing: the emphasis in Zhan Zhuang training is placed on the power of the mind to control the body. If you find that trying the abdominal breathing described below distracts you from standing calmly, return to your normal breathing.
Stand with your feet a shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward. Fold your hands over your abdomen, putting your right thumb over your navel and resting your left hand on top of your right hand. Keep your mouth gently closed: do not clench vour teeth.
Tlx Tan Tien lies 3cm (1.25in) below your navel, one-third of the way into your body. It is in line with the suspension point at the top of your head, when you are standing in anyone of the Zhan Zhuang positions.
IIINTS FOR BEGINNERS As a beginner, you can use your hands to help establish the correct belly movement. Press in slightly as you breathe out. As you breathe in. feel your belly filling up under your hand. You can practise Tan Tien breathing with your eyes open or closed, but avoid staring with your eyes fixed open as this will generate tension. If you have trouble relaxing, place a glass of water on a table a few feet in front of you and look at it while you stand.
Quietly and slowly breathe out through your nose. As you exhale, draw your belly in so that you feel you are squeezing the air out of your torso from the bottom up. Breathe out smoothly and soundlessly, until you feel you have emptied your lungs.
When you are ready to breathe in, inhale through your nose and allow your belly to expand outward as if the incoming air is filling your abdomen. Allow this to happen naturally: don't force your belly out. fust let the air filter in smoothly and steadily without tension.
REFINING THE TECHNIQUE Once Tan Tien breathing becomes a habit, and you incorporate it into your Zhan Zhuang training, only concentrate on breathing out. If you concentrate on breathing in, you will tend to tense up. If you concentrate on your outgoing breath it will help you relax and your inward breath will automatically have a natural, full flow.
The Zhan Zhuang system works on the mind in two ways-, some of the exercises calm the mind; others aim to strengthen the power of the mind. You cannot accomplish the second without having achieved the first. Therefore, anyone starting Zhan Zhuang training must first work on calming the mind. Ultimately, you need to develop your mental control to the point where your mind can make your body relax precisely at the moment that your whole system is subjected to the greatest possible stress on it. This makes Zhan Zhuang one of the most personally demanding exercise systems ever developed. It requires an extraordinarily high level of synchronization between the mind and body. To begin this, direct your mind through your body, by following the instructions below.
To begin the mental exercise, start at the top of your body. Once you have adopted one of the first two Zhan Zhuang positions, think of your face. Think of smiling and then feel your facial muscles relax as a gentle smile begins to form. Feel your eyes, cheek muscles, and lips lose their tension as you begin to smile.
Then make sure you are breathing from the Tan Tien (see p. 42). Make sure you are paying attention to your outgoing breath only, and then allowing yourself to inhale effortlessly. Once this becomes automatic, you should ignore your breathing altogether.
Having relaxed your face and checked your breathing, use your mind to travel through your body from top to toe, relaxing every joint and sinew. Begin at the very top of your head and work down from your skull to your neck, to your right and left shoulders, to your elbows, wrists, and fingers. Then continue down through your ribs and backbone to your pelvic girdle and then through your thighs and knees to your ankles and toes. As your mind makes its slow journey downward, search for tension and tell each muscle group to relax. You can talk silently to yourself: "Now I am reaching my left shoulder... I want it to relax... Now it is relaxed... I can move on... " and so forth, following the route of your entire skeleton.
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