If you have taken classes in yoga or if you practice meditation, then you are familiar with different types of breathing. Ancient practitioners knew well what we are just re-discovering today: the synchronization of breathing practices with mind power or intention is one of the most potent methods of healing you can practice.
When you are not familiar with these practices, it sounds funny to say that there are many methods of breathing, but it's true! Among the most popular and most practiced breathing methods are belly breathing, breath counting, breath pausing or holding, and alternate nostril breathing. These are very powerful practices and should not be undertaken without the advice or at least ongoing consultation with someone who has practiced for a while and knows what to expect and how to guide you along.
Qigong has its own series of breathing practices that follow a path of graduated steps from the easy to the challenging, each level requiring greater degrees of visualization and mind control. (Always remember that qigong is a mind/body practice; if you aren't using your mind to control and direct qi/energy through your body and energy channels as you practice, you may be exercising, but you aren't doing qigong!
There are six types of breath-regulating practices associated with qigong as outlined by Yang Jwing-Ming, founder of Yang's Martial Arts Association (YMAA) in
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The following breathing and mind practices are listed from relatively easy to more difficult. If you are able to catch the knack of each one, you may be able to experience all of them in about three years. Be patient and learn each one before going on to the next one in the list. Only then will you be able to profoundly comprehend the theory.
a. Chest Breathing (
First you should learn how to regulate your normal chest breathing, inhaling and exhaling smoothly with the lungs relaxed. The mind must concentrate on the practice until it is neutral, calm, and peaceful. Then you will find that the breathing can be long and deep and the body can remain relaxed. When you have done this, the heart beat will slow down. You may practice in any comfortable position. Practice ten minutes each morning and evening until one day you notice that your mind does not have to pay attention to the chest. Then you may concentrate your mind on feeling the result of the training. The result can be that when you exhale you feel the pores on the skin open, and when you inhale the pores close. It seems that all of the pores are breathing with you. This is a low level of skin or body breathing. The feeling is very comfortable, even sensational. When you can do this comfortably and automatically, you have achieved the goal of regulating your Chest Breathing.
b. Buddhist Breathing
After you have completed the above training, you then learn how to control your abdominal muscles and coordinate them with the breathing. When you inhale, it expands, and when you exhale, it withdraws. You should practice until the entire process becomes smooth and the entire body remains relaxed. Naturally, your mind must first concentrate on your abdomen in order to control the abdominal muscles. After practicing for some time, you will find the entire breathing process becoming natural and smooth. This means that you are now ready to build up Chi at the Lower Dan Tien.
Once you have reached this level, you should then coordinate your breathing with the movements of your Huiyin and anus. [The Huiyin acupuncture point is located in the perineal region, at the mdipoint between the anus and the posterior border of the scrotum in males and the posterior labial commissure in females.] When you inhale, relax the Huiyin and anus, and when you exhale hold them up. Remember, you are gently holding up the Huiyin and anus, not tightening them. When you hold them up they can remain relaxed, but if you tighten them you will impede the Chi circulation. When you tense them you also cause tension in the abdomen and stomach, which can generate other problems. In the beginning, you will seem to need to use your muscles to do this, but after you have practiced for a time, you will find that the mind is more important than the movement of the muscles. When you have reached this stage, you will feel a wonderful and comfortable feeling in the area of the Huiyin and anus. You will also feel that the Chi is led more strongly to the skin then when you did Chest Breathing. It will feel like your entire body is breathing with you.
c. Taoist Breathing
After you have mastered Buddhist Breathing, you should then start Taoist breathing, which is also called Reverse Breathing. It is called this because the movement of the abdomen is the reverse of Buddhist Breathing, in other words, the abdomen withdraws when you inhale and expands when you exhale.
When you are leaning Taoist Breathing, you should first stop your huiyin and anus coordination until you can do the Reverse Breathing smoothly and naturally. Then resume the Huiyin and anus coordination, only now when you inhale you hold up your Huiyin cavity and anus, and when you exhale, you relax them.
After you have practiced for a while, you may discover that you can now lead the Chi to the skin more efficiently when you exhale than with the Buddhist method.
d. Shen [Spirit] Breathing
When you have accomplished Taoist Breathing, you must then train to combine your Shen and breathing. When you inhale, pay attention to your Upper Dan Tien and when you exhale, relax your concentration. Remember, you should not use force to achieve the concentration. Simply pay attention while your physical body and mind stay relaxed. One day you will realize that your Shen and Breathing have become one. This is the stage of Shen Breathing.
When you are able to do Shen breathing, you Shen can be raised so that it will be able to govern the Chi very efficiently. When you have reached this level, you have already built up a firm foundation for Yi Gin Ching and Shii Soei Ching Chi Kung.
e. Five Gates Breathing.
After you have reached the level of Shen Breathing, you then learn how to regulate the Chi circulating to the five gates, or centers: the head (including the Upper Dan Tien and Baihui). The two Laogong cavities on the palms, and the two Yongquan cavities on the bottoms of the feet. Beginners use the Baihui gate on the head because it is easier for them to communicate with the surrounding Chi. Later, once it is opened, the Upper Dan Tien will be used instead.
[Baihui, Laogong, and Yongquan diagrams from the interactive charts at acuxo.com]
In this training, when you inhale the Chi is led from the five gates to the Lower Dan Tien, and when you exhale the Chi is led to the gates, where it exchanges with the surrounding Chi. (Figure 4-3).
f. Body Breathing
Body breathing is sometimes called "skin breathing." Actually, body breathing involves breathing with the entire body, not just the skin. When you exhale you lead the Chi to the muscles and the skin, and when you inhale you lead the Chi to the marrow and the internal organs. It should feel that your entire body is transparent to the Chi.
When you train this, the mind and the Shen are most important. When you inhale you draw Chi into your body from outside, and lead it to the Lower Dan Tien. When you are doing this, you should also feel that the Chi is being led inward to the internal organs and marrow. When you exhale, you lead this Chi from the Lower Dan Tien outward to your muscles, tendons, skin, and even beyond the skin. Again, the coordination of your Huiyin and anus remains the main key to successful training. When you breathe this way you will feel inflated like a beach ball. When you inhale the ball gets smaller, and when you exhale it gets larger (Figure 4-4). Inside the ball, the Chi flow is smooth, abundant, and natural. It seems that your entire body is transparent to the Chi. When you inhale you will feel light, and when you exhale you will feel heavier.
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As you can see, there is a lot more to breathing than meets the eye!
If the whole course as outlined above doesn't interest you, try practicing the first three styles of breathing, Chest Breathing, Buddhist Breathing, and Taoist Breathing, can bring you a great deal of benefit in both stress relief, and mental and physical health and wellness.