The five major schools of breathing are medical, Confucian, Buddhist, Taoist and wushu or martial arts. Medical breathing techniques aim at strengthening one's overall health and are mainly preventive. The Confucian school of breathing deals with self-cultivation and temperament. Taoist breathing deals with one's moral character and longevity. The Buddhist breathing exercises are broken into two lines of thought and involve mainly the mind. The first Buddhist school is called 'Samadhi' and claims that everything in the world is illusionary. The other school is that of meditation which deals with the cultivation of the mind and the preservation of all forms of life on earth. The wushu method of breathing is for physical training and good health. All of these schools have one thing in common, that of training of the mind and development of the qi, or ch'i.
The breath is the most important part of the Chinese self-healing arts. There are certain ways to breathe while performing the various exercises described in this book.
The first and most important way to breathe is the natural way i.e. we try to get our breathing back to a more natural way, the way of the child. As we grow older and are affected by stress, the cause of 70% of all modern diseases, our breathing rises to the upper chest and we end up only using the top portion of our lungs. The lungs start just under the collarbone and end at the bottom of the rib cage. But the major part of the lungs is the part covered by the ribs on either side of the abdomen. This part, through tension and stress is sometimes not used, and so we are only receiving a small amount of oxygen. We try to compensate for this by breathing faster. One of the big faults in western posture is the 'pull the belly in and stick out the chest' syndrome supposed to look good on men and women. But in order to pull in the stomach and stick out the chest we have to tense certain muscles and this restricts our lung capacity.
The first thing to do is relax the upper chest and shoulders so that the breath is able to go deeper into the lungs and eventually fill up the whole lung again.
If you find it difficult to relax the chest while standing in a Qigong position, lie down and place your palms across your stomach. As you breathe in, feel the lower abdomen pushing outward and try to totally relax the chest. It may not look too cosmetic but it may just save your life. Feel your palms rise with each breath and lower with each exhalation. Try to not force the action, just breathe and it should happen naturally IF YOU ARE RELAXED. If you have access to a small child, see how it breathes and copy that. If you have been doing heavy exercise then the chest may rise a little more with the breath, but generally the chest should not stick right out.
Breathe with your nose; that's what it's for There are certain times when we breathe through the mouth and I'll cover these later. Try breathing naturally while doing the triple warmer exercise covered earlier — this tends to open the lungs more. And remember there is a natural wait from inhaling to exhaling unless violent exercise has been undertaken.
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