Monday, June 14, 2010

Qigong Breathing and Internal Awareness

Qigong breathing practice begins with a simple method called Following the Breath. This practice introduces you to internal awareness and training of the mind to stay focused in a relaxed manner. Once you have practiced this for a couple of months, you can advance to abdominal breathing.

When you first start abdominal breathing, you may not notice any movement in your dantien area. If that is the case, keep visualizing a ball of energy in the center of your body in your lower dantien. Visualize the ball massaging the sides of your lower torso and lower back as you are inhaling and exhaling.  Over time the perineum area will also expand and contract.  Don't use force, instead, allow the breathing to open up areas that are tight or without feeling. Over time, perhaps a period of several weeks or a couple of months, the energy ball in the dantien will grow and will open up your lower back and the sides of the abdomen and you will feel the physical sensation of expansion as well as the energy.

You may also encounter blockages on the way down to the dantien.  Let the breath do the work, just following it as it goes in and out.  Let go and release tension and energy blockages on the exhalation,  Doing without doing will facilitate your advancement in your practice.  For a detailed manual on advanced practices in qigong breathing, read the book by Yang Jwing-Ming on Embryonic Breathing.

Another resource for beginners to consider is a guided meditation CD by Bruce Frantzis, a Taoist Lineage Master.  This meditation, called the TAO of Letting Go: Meditation for Modern Living. Frantzis guides listeners in meditations that allow feeling contractions and other types of blockages within the body. As the CD progresses, he also teaches the methods to dissolve physical as well as emotional blockages that are encountered. Frantzis also has published another CD called Taoist Breathing for Tai Chi and Meditation: Twenty-Four Exercises to Reduce Stress, Build Mental Stamina, and Improve Your Health, which has 24 qigong breathing exercises for increasing internal awareness.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Qigong Healing Through Breath Exercises

A fundamental reason why qigong healing occurs is abdominal breathing. Just from a mechanical perspective, when you breathe using your diaphragm fully, this natural breathing method that we are borne with allows a massage of your organs in your abdominal area. And, because the pericardium is attached to the diaphragm, there is also a massage of the heart. If you can breathe deeply without forced effort and allow the diaphragm to drop and relax when you inhale, then it is also an indication that you are relaxed. Chest breathing, on the other hand, implies that there is restricted movement of the diaphragm and that you are using intercostal (between the rib) muscles to help you breathe. Those who can only do this type of breathing, breathe with more tension and are more prone to upper body muscular aches and pains.

You can check in with yourself to see if you are doing abdominal breathing by placing one hand on the upper chest and one on the belly.  As you inhale, the belly should move out due to the diaphragm movement.  The chest should be still.  If it isn't, you will need to relax the muscles of the ribcage and allow it to drop downward. Once the chest muscles are relaxed, the diaphragm can do its natural work.

Initially, it is easiest to lie down to learn this practice.  Some people even put books on the abdomen to help keep them aware of the movement of the belly during respiration.  Once this breathing method is mastered lying down, you can progress to a seated posture.  When seated, it is important to maintain an erect posture and to sit on the edge of a chair or on a meditation cushion.  Later, if you do standing meditation, you can extend your practice in that posture.  The goal is to master this type of breathing through all of your Taoist exercises, whether it be qigong, Tai Chi or Ba Gua.  Integrating this natural, Taoist breathing method is part of the Way towards practicing the totally in the Tao.  For a short article outlining further qigong breathing methods, read Yang Jwing-Ming's book on Embryonic Breathing.