Breath is at the very essence of life. As our #1 input as humans breath has a huge effect in every moment of our lives, yet most of us don’t think much about our breathing, much less practice it. That is a pity, because improving our breathing is one of the most effective ways to improve quality and effectiveness of life. Breathing is one of our most fundamental activities, and thus if we improve our breathing everything else we do will improve.
The Taoist masters understood this all 2500 years ago, and put breathing practice first in all of their practices. All Chinese energy practices begin with breathing practice, and proper breathing is also a fundamental part of yoga, sports performance, and trumpet playing. Yet breathing is not just for martial artists and brass players. We can will benefit greatly from better breathing habits.
Some of the benefits of improving breathing include:
1) More energy as the flow of oxygen and qi is improved.
2) More self-awareness as becoming aware of the breath is one of the most effective gateways to deeper meditation practice.
3) Less physical tension and pain, as relaxed and slow breathing brings the relaxation response and a loosening of our bodies and minds.
4) Better mental calm and better reaction to stress as we learn to breathe calmly with relaxation even in challenging circumstances.
5) Better resistance to illness as the extra oxygen helps fight infection and better exhalation fully clears toxins from our lungs.
7) Better mental performance and willpower as we achieve a better brainwave state and better heart rate variability by breathing slowly and deeply.
7) Improved detoxification as the breathing gently massages our internal organs and helps move toxins out of our system.
8) A host of other benefits covering all of the human earthly experience, from sports performance to sex to creativity and connection to others.
When we are born we breathe perfectly. Watch a baby breathing and notice its belly effortlessly go in and out. That’s the way to breathe correctly and as a result babies have an enormous amount of energy for their size. However as we grow up we develop all sorts of tightness in our breathing, in our chests, backs, and most problematically in our abdomens. Most adults carry around a tremendous amount of tension that they may not even be aware of in their abdomens. As a result their breathing is high in the chest, quick, shallow and tight. That is a recipe for fatigue, illness, and a general feeling of ill-health. As only a small amount of oxygen is brought in with each breath, tensions enter with the breath, and stale toxin filled air sits perpetually at the bottom of the lungs.
A better model for breathing is: belly loose and rising and falling easily with each breath, slow, releasing tension with every exhale, shoulders loose, spine aligned, with a full exhale bringing the belly button in towards the bottom of spine. That is Taoist breathing, and it is a life changing difference from regular breathing once made a habit.
How to get there? Practice! With regular diligent practice we can start to see the benefits of improved breathing quite soon, usually within a few weeks. Just 20 minutes a day first thing in the morning will make a huge difference in how life feels the rest of our lives. With that I present (for Week 17 of the Creativity Challenge) this guided meditation for beginners to Taoist breathing. This is the first practice I do in the morning and I believe it has changed my life.
This technique and many of the ideas herein are best expressed by master Bruce Frantzis in many of his books. His Longevity Breathing practice is a life changer. He describes the process best in his excellent Qigong book Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body.
Also thanks again to Meditative Mind for providing the background chakra chants for this meditation royalty free.