Taoists use a skill called "Tu na" to tune their breath before doing qigong and meditation. Natural Breathing (Shun Hu Xi) is the best place to start.
Effective meditation and qigong both require good breathing skills; this lesson will give you a method that you can use every time you start your practice.
I should begin by saying to just breathe naturally, beware of complicated methods; they are not necessary and can even be harmful. In addition, know that generally Taoist breathing is subtle and you should not even hear yourself breathe. In this method make each inhalation and exhalation of equal duration and breathe in and out from your nose.
Like a fine musical instrument, no mater how well it is played, if you want to make beautiful music you need to tune it up first, until it is harmonious within itself it will not give quality results.
Begin by standing in Wuji Stance, now bring your arms around in front of your lower abdomen and allow them to hang with the hands in front of your pubic region. The first step in tuning the breath is to pay attention to each one of the points along the journey of the breath. Just like a guitar with six strings, a musician tunes one string and then the next in sequence tuning the instrument to a playable condition; I have identified six locations along the path of the breath to assist you in tuning your breath.
Once each location is dialed in we can follow the breath through each one sequentially as we breathe; just like strumming the six strings of a guitar chord. Then we will feel the body resonate; the whole body vibrates just like the body of a guitar. This vibration will float the arms and pull the legs straight as we feel the energy rising with each inhalation.
First we start with the nose, and then continue down to the back of the throat just behind the tongue and then moving further down we come to the trachea. The next step down from there are the actual lungs and then the diaphragm and finally the dantian.
All I want you to do initially is to stand still and breathe in and out your nose. Pay attention to the air going in and out of the nose and you may notice the nostrils flaring and the hairs inside the nose moving back and forth and even whatever scents are in the air coming in. Just take a few breaths to get comfortable noticing that part of your breath path, just breathe in and out…
Next, bring your awareness to the back of the mouth where the tongue starts its descent into the throat. Feel the air cascading over the back of the tongue and epiglottis, it may feel just a little raspy as the air goes over this area. Another sensation you might feel is saliva welling up in the heavenly pool beneath the tongue. Just like before, take a few breaths with your awareness on this location until you can feel the breath there.
The next location on the journey from the nose to the dantian is the trachea. With each breath you will feel the windpipe expanding and you may even notice slight pressures on the thyroid gland as the trachea expands. Feel the air moving through the larynx and the windpipe expanding slightly as the air reaches the lungs. Again, take a few breaths at this location until you are comfortably aware of these sensations.
Now you should feel the air entering the lungs and the top of the lungs expanding slightly. As the air enters your lungs feel the sternum rise and the rib cage expand slightly, keep your awareness here for a few breaths and pay attention to these sensations.
As the lungs fill with air, bring your awareness down slightly lower to the diaphragm muscle at the solar plexus. If you pay attention here you can feel the diaphragm muscle descending upon each breath just as the air starts to enter the lungs. Keep your awareness at this location until you are sure you can feel the diaphragm muscle moving down and up with each breath.
Beneath the diaphragm, bring your awareness to the dantian, now you are in the abdominal cavity. Notice the pressure the descending diaphragm puts on the internal organs. This gentle massaging motion causes your abdomen to move out slightly. Just keep awareness at this location until you can feel the diaphragm pushing on the internal organs and notice that your belly rises and falls with each breath.
Your awareness of each part of the breath is in now enhanced and you are almost all tuned. Like the individual strings of a guitar; one by one each area is in tune with the one next to it. Now bring your awareness back to the nose, this time, follow each breath as it goes through the nose, past the tongue at the back of the throat and moves down the throat and trachea into the lungs. Notice how the diaphragm moves down and up and the dantian moves out and in with each breath. Continue to follow the breath with your awareness as you do all of your various practices that follow.
Now that you have tuned each area and you have followed the path of the breath from top to bottom and from bottom to top you should notice a resonant frequency in your body. Remember your hands lying just in front of your tummy in this position, with the upper arms slightly against your chest? With each breath and subsequent expansion of your abdomen your arms will rise approximately 1 inch away from the dantian. Follow this rising feeling of each inhalation as you inhale and the chest expands, feel the chest rising and the hands floating upwards slightly. Simply let this rising feeling pull the legs slightly straight; remember you were standing in wuji stance with bent knees but now the expanding nature of the breath lifts the whole body up and the legs straighten slightly. When you exhale bend the legs slightly, just allow the hands and arms to float down from their elevated position as the air leaves your lungs and the rib cage returns back to its contracted position.
Each time you breathe you will feel the air come in the nose, past the throat, through the windpipe into the lungs the diaphragm moving downwards and the belly moving out and the hands and legs slowly rising as you fill with air. Each time you exhale as the abdomen contracts and the arms descend, bend your knees slowly back to the beginning position.
Congratulations, you have tuned your breath and you are now doing basic qigong. All you need to do now is continue to pay attention to the tuning of the breath and let the body move in a rhythmic fashion.
I suggest you tune your breath while standing before doing seated qigong and meditation as well. It is much easier to feel the expanding contracting nature of the breath and body while standing. Once the system is tuned and playing along harmoniously with the body moving rhythmically you may commence doing any qigong form that you wish. Simply breathe slower or move the arms and legs faster to keep the timing consistent and with a little practice to be able to do all the qigong you want while keeping the breath tuned continuously.
Whether moving or still, all qigong and meditation practices are more effective by tuning the breath before you proceed; remember, just keep breathing steadily.
The picture above shows the 100 Chinese characters for longevity. They are all the same character for longevity, but each one is written differently. A person in Beijing has spent over 40 years to collect the writing of the Chinese character for longevity. So far he has found over 15,000 ways to write the character for longevity. It is amazing that a Chinese character can be written in so many different ways artistically.
I was watching TV yesterday and there was a fascinating show on Discovery’s “Curiosity” about “could we live forever?” Now we all know that this has always been the holy grail of everything about life. Interestingly, this show was right after a documentary about Apple’s creator, Steve Jobs. In just the last few years of his life he came up with the I-phone, I-tunes and the I-pad, these inventions have touched hundreds of millions of people! Mr.Jobs was undeniably one of the greatest geniuses of human history and yet for all his knowledge and vision he died at fifty-six years of age. Maybe there is a lesson here: what if he had been focused on longevity instead of computers and entertainment? Perhaps a poignant observation that!
But I digress…. In the show about longevity, hosted by Mythbusters star Adam Savage, he undergoes a series of transformations as he ages and technology emerges at the same time: a very real possibility in this day and age. One of the first things that happens is he gets connected to a machine that filters all of his blood and removes all the “old cells”. The premise being that as cells replicate they mutate and acquire changes and toxins. This yet to be invented machine takes out all the mutated and contaminated cells.
Years later his brain starts to shrink as is known to happen as we age. Part of the problem is that his memory becomes full. In the show he gets an external memory device installed. But why do all that if he could just “delete” the old unneeded and harmful old junk that was clogging his brain? I could go on about all the things in this show but I’m just making a point here.
Everything about longevity science in this show has already been addressed by Taoists. All this “new technology” has roots in Taoist practice. The disappointing and truly sad thing about this show was its focus on “mechanical technology” and no mention of “human technology”. It was all about “what if” and “someday” instead telling people the truth about what is known and available NOW.
Today, after a neighbor showed some curiosity in my qigong practice, I was showing her how I can flow blood to my hands using my mind, and explaining how qigong leads to a longer happier life, she just sort of nodded and walked away. “Funny”, I thought that some people can be shown the elixir and walk away. As I was walking to my home I though…What would someone give for one more second when they are at the end of their lives…? I understand some people are suffering and death seems welcome to them, but what if they were not in pain?
Pardon my incredulity for pondering these things, yet we can filter our blood and we can regenerate youthful cells in our body, and we can delete old files in our brain and learn new skills. It is possible to age gracefully and maybe even painlessly. What then, what would you give for one more hour on this earth? Or one more day, month, year or decade? We all know it could be over in an instant or life could go on for many years. The technology (qigong and meditation) exists today to improve the quality of our lives and isn’t that alone like living longer? That same technology helps to extend the length of our lives; Taoists know that human life should be at least one hundred years long.
When will the world at large see the light and learn qigong and meditation? Rebuild your life from the raw materials of Heaven and Earth. It is never too late to start, and the sooner you do the sooner you will be adding time to your life. What might Steve Jobs have produced if he had lived for another forty-four years? Maybe it’s a good thing some people don’t go on living too long, like killers, but surely we all would want enlightened people to live longer… oh that’s right, enlightened people do live longer!
Start now and never stop, practice everyday. Don’t be limited by a false belief that you cannot feel and look younger or live better and longer. Have a positive attitude and follow the Way. Study the Way, there is a wealth of life-sustaining knowledge there. Walk the Way always and forever. Recreate yourself!
Dr. Lam with some of his students
Update January 2012:
I have just received my newest certification to teach the entire Tai Chi for Arthritis program fully sanctioned by the Arthritis Foundation of America
Millions of people have benefited from Taiji training and yet many have not been able or have not felt able to participate. Now almost anyone can participate in a Taiji program. For years, I have done classes at retirement homes like Roselani Place and Kalama Heights and I had found a way to bring Taiji to those that have a limited range of movement by simplifying the form. Many of my students cannot stand or walk and yet it has been possible for me to share these life-changing arts with them in this way.
Recently Dr. Paul Lam has designed a system specifically for students in this situation and I have received training from one his trainers. I feel this is an excellent program as it allows everyone to learn some Taiji and is fully accredited by the Arthritis Foundation and backed up with medical evidence as to its efficacy. Having this accreditation is important for application to people with “special needs”.
I am pleased to announce that I will be offering this program at Kaunoa in Sprecklesville starting immediately every Wednesday from 1:00 to 2:00 PM. For many new students this will be a boon, finally giving them an opportunity to benefit from Taiji. If you have been holding back because you have felt unable to join before, now is the time to check it out. In addition, for existing students, please tell your friends about this new program it is so simple they can even participate while sitting down.
This program uses a very simplified set of Qigong movements and Taiji form. Derived from the “Sun” (pronounced “soon”) Style it roughly follows the same structure as the Yang style and a beginner could easily learn this style and then segue into Yang Style later. Frankly, I enjoy doing this form as it is performed very slowly and with a minimal amount of stepping which gives it a feeling almost similar to zhan zhuang training. Proponents of zhan zhuang like Fong Ha and those of you that attended my workshop with him will understand what I am saying.
This program is not intended to replace any of my other training options. I feel Yang Style is still the best for most people and I would not recommend you give up on that practice. Still, my heart goes out to those that up until now have not been able to do my regular classes, and so, at last I have a sanctioned option for those people to discover the wonders of Taiji.
For more information about this program click: Tai Chi for Arthritis
Would you go?
What if you searched your whole life for something; what if you invested everyday and night, thousands of days, tens of thousands of hours, year after year in a quest towards a goal and when you finally did everything you were told and after years of waiting, and then, you found out, there was nothing?
What if someone suggested to you to dedicate your whole life, practice diligently and someday you would find nothing, and you knew that going into the journey; would you be interested in going then; doing all the practices, training endlessly and even though it was a blissful journey, only to find out that there was no end goal, would you still go?
What if you could grasp the concept that everything and nothing are made from the same thing…would you go then?
Tao unravels all the mysteries to truth, peace, contentedness and salvation and yet, in essence, there is nothing there. Everything is possible from nothing; nothing and everything define each other. The journey is all there is, the path to non-doing starts at doing.
Practice long and diligently, then you will find your qi….
Continued practice and dedication will guide you to your spirit…
Practice, practice and practice some more and eventually you will find nothing.
Jing, Qi, Shen is the Way to return to the source…Tao
The spirit dissolves into Tao, just as your practice dissolved your body into qi and then continued practice dissolved your qi into spirit…
A place where all things merge into nothing is waiting for you. After years of practice you will find the truth; eventually bringing you back to the source of all things.