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Taoist Breathing Lesson #1 Tuning the Breath   Leave a comment

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. This exercise takes about 5 or 6 minutes to learn, and after a few times you can tune up in about 2 minutes.

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 just slightly around in front of you and allow them to hang with the hands in front of your thighs.  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 thighs, with the upper arms slightly against the side of 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.

Copyright Cory Williams 2011

Next, try here: Qigong Lesson #1