Breathing Techniques for Tai Chi Exercises

Breathing techniques for T'ai Chi are the same as they are for Qigong: you are trying to breathe diaphragmatically, without holding or forcing the breath. One way to remember the proper breathing is to think of the martial meaning of the movements. So, when you are Warding Off, or pushing someone away, you are exerting yourself and need to exhale. When you are beginning to step and are drawing your feet together, or are coiling your arm across your body, you are in a defensive mode, so you would then inhale.

Or think of lifting a heavy bag of groceries out of your car's trunk. Before you lift the bag, you get your hands into position underneath it, place your feet directly under your body, and inhale. Then when you actually start lifting, you exhale, straightening up your back and bringing the bag of groceries close to your body to maintain your center of gravity. If you were to reverse this breathing cycle, you would find that you are not as comfortable with the weight being lifted, or that you could not lift it at all. This follows the basic breathing principles of weight lifting: you inhale before you put forth your effort, and then exhale as you lift. The exhale tightens your stomach muscles and, in T'ai Chi at least, allows the Qi to flow through the body, aiding the lifting process.

Remember to keep a little reserve in your breathing. Don't force all of the air out of your lungs when you exhale; rather, keep 10 percent or so in reserve. Do the same when you inhale; don't inhale to the bursting point, but leave a little space left over. This keeps the body from straining and tensing up, a core principle of T'ai Chi. Not that we hold our breath in T'ai Chi (you should NEVER hold it) but it has been proven that you can hold your breath longer if you follow this rule than if you go for 100-percent capacity.

So whether you are Warding Off, Holding a Ball, or Pushing With Both Hands, you should exhale on the actual application or performance of the move, and inhale during the transitions or "in-between" times.

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