Regulation of breathing, also called inhaling and exhaling, breathing method, venting or taking in, is an important link in Qigong exercise. The ancients attached great importance to breathing exercises and described a great number of methods including: inhaling (Fu-Qi), eating (Shi-Qi), entering (Jin-Qi), swallowing (Yan-Qt), circulating (Xing-Qi), taking in (Cai-Qi), upper breathing (Shang-Xi), lower breathing (Xia-Xi), full breathing (Mun-Xi), blurted breathing (Chong-Xi), lasted breathing (Chi-Xi), long breathing (Chang-Xi), and deep breathing (Shen-Xi). The breathing methods described in the following sections are the ones most commonly used in Qigong practice.
Natural respiration is the ordinary breathing pattern that occurs under normal physical conditions. Because of the difference in physiology between male and female and the difference in the breathing habits of individuals, natural respiration can be further divided into natural thoracic respiration, natural abdominal respiration, and a combination of the two. Breathing techniques should be relaxed and performed naturally. Natural respiration is the most commonly used Qigong breathing method, especially for beginners.
Abdominal respiration also known as abdominal breathing is developed gradually under the guidance of the will until it occurs naturally. To train abdominal respiration, one uses the consciousness to relax the abdominal muscles so that the abdomen expands naturally during inspiration and contracts during exhalation. The contraction and relaxation of the abdominal muscles are intensified gradually and naturally through practice. Forced exertion must be avoided.
Reverse abdominal respiration is the main breathing method used in advanced Qigong exercises and during the emission of outgoing Qi. In this method, one uses the will to contract the abdominal muscles during inspiration and to relax them so that the abdomen expands during expiration. Although this method is initially awkward, it will become natural through proper training. When reverse abdominal respiration becomes more or less natural, it can be done in cooperation with contraction of the anus, which increases the physical and energetic force of the movement.
Apart from the methods mentioned above, there is also long inhaling and short exhaling, long exhaling and short inhaling, nasal expiration and nasal inspiration, nasal inspiration and oral expiration, and respiratory pause after expiration or inspiration. The selection of the breathing method is based on the goal of a particular Qigong exercise and the level of the practitioner. Each exercise in this book includes a clear description of its associated breathing strategy.
It is preferable to focus on developing correct posture when one begins practicing dynamic Qigong, Daoyin, or static Qigong. Training of respiration should begin after one is skilled and natural in posturing. Adverse effects, such as respiratory distress, emotional upset, chest stuffiness, and headache, may result when breathing techniques are used in conjunction with an improper Qigong posture. The final goal of respiration training is to achieve deep, long, even and fine respiration as the result of long-term practice. Forced movements with lengthened or oppressed breath should be avoided.
When practicing Daoyin exercises, the movement of the hands is often done in cooperation with the respiration. For example, pushing along the inner arm (Three Yin Channels of Hands) towards the fingertips is accompanied by expiration and pushing along the outer arm (Three Yang Channels of Hand) towards the shoulders and head is accompanied by inspiration. The direction of movement is often based on the way the Qi flows through the body.
Before starting respiration training, it is desirable to perform the following cleansing exercise. Open the mouth and imagine that turbid Qi and matter are being dredged from the obstructed parts of all the vessels and expelled from the body through expiration. Close the mouth and imagine that fresh air is filling the entire body during inhalation. Repeat the above exercise three times and then breathe naturally. Gradually adjust to the respiration requirements of the chosen Qigong exercise that will be practiced next.
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