THE breath is a fundamental requirement of life, yet most of us just take breathing for granted. Breathing correctly can make a lot of difference to our health.
Breathing brings in oxygen, which is the most critical ingredient needed by our cells to survive. Three minutes without oxygen can cause brain damage, and six minutes can already cause death. By contrast, some of us can survive a week without water, and a month without food.
During my talks, I discovered that most people do not know how they breathe, that is, either chest or abdominal breathing. I also discovered that most are actually chest-breathers.
The natural, efficient way to breathe is by diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing. This is how babies breathe. Unfortunately, most of us habitually do chest-breathing, which is what babies do only when they are stressed or when there is blockage to their airways.
The correct way to breathe (diaphragmatic breathing) is to bring air to the lower lungs first, by lowering the diaphragm, and letting the abdomen expand. As more air is breathed in, the upper lungs will be filled, and the chest will expand. This will allow more air to fill the lungs, and takes little extra effort when more air is needed. Chest breathing, however, limits the total air intake.
In chest breathing, the abdomen is drawn in as the chest is expanded. This will compress the lower lungs and limit the oxygen exchange to the upper lungs only. It also takes more effort to take a deep breath.
The posture during sitting or standing also influences how much the lungs can expand. Most of us slouch and compress our chests and abdomen, making breathing (by whichever method) less efficient. The correct posture (with the spine straight) will add at least 10% to the available lung volume.
If a change in breathing technique improves the air/oxygen intake by 10%, this becomes very significant if multiplied by the number of breaths taken over the years. For sick people, taking in 10% extra oxygen may even be lifesaving.
In qigong, the breath also brings in qi – the life-force healing energy. Qigong breathing also makes the cells use more oxygen, even though you breathe the same air as others. Qigong abdominal breathing is done in a relaxed manner, with a pause after each inspiration before allowing expiration to follow naturally. In certain exercises (including all stretching exercises), we switch to chest-breathing. Breathing is usually done through the nose, except for some instances.
We also do “targeted” breathing where we consciously direct the breath/qi to the different areas of the lungs, and even to the various organs. While the air that we breathe is limited by the anatomical confines of the lungs, the qi goes into the body’s energy channels (called meridians) to be distributed to the various organ systems.
The breath is also the source of our voice and vocal sounds. In qigong, various healing sounds, connected to the corresponding organs, are used to help heal the diseased organs.
The correct way of breathing can help you de-stress and relax, achieve better health, and done the qigong way, can heal diseases. (For more benefits of Qigong breathing, please refer to the previous article The Breath of Life at www.superqigong.com)
The art of relaxation
The art of relaxing begins with a clear mind. A de-stressed mind that is clear of worries, of clutter, and of work matters, will send signals to the heart to beat in an orderly manner, and to the muscles to relax and not be tensed. Stress hormones will be replaced by feel-good hormones (for example, endorphins) and all the organs will be working well and in harmony. When you are happy and relaxed, your organs are happy and do their work well!
It is amazing how so many people find it difficult to completely relax. Even when they try, they still end up with tensed muscles. Sometimes it becomes necessary to “talk” to your muscles to tell them to relax, while lightly stretching and moving the respective muscles to get their attention! The stretching and moving will improve the blood flow and help them relax.
Being totally relaxed is very important for qigong. The proper qigong exercise is done while being completely relaxed, floating like a puppet on a string, smiling all the way.
Stress and worry deprive you of living to the fullest. You don’t sleep well, become unhealthy, and age faster.
In qigong, the mind is focused on the breath or on the posture and movements. Advanced students and masters focus their minds on the qi itself, guiding the qi through the body’s energy meridians as it nourishes the organs.
Music is a good way to help you relax. Light and easy (or devotional) songs and music definitely will calm you while bringing peace and harmony to your mind and body. However, some loud and fast music/songs will not relax your mind or body, but will instead stress them up even though you may enjoy them. Good music, being happy, enjoying good jokes, and laughing are all stress-busters that make you relax.
Qigong is very enjoyable if done with soft music in the background. In fact Xiang Gong (fragrant Qigong) is done with music guiding each of the different exercises.
The art of visualisation
Children live in a fantasy world when they play with their toys. They are very good at imagination, and their make-believe world brings lots of happiness to them. Visualisation is an art we were all experts in when we were children. Unfortunately, most of us have lost this art. Visualisation is not just picturing something in your mind, but it is also “believing” in that picture, as if it is real.
This is a powerful tool as the mind and the body respond to what we believe, whether they are true or not. More importantly, the mind can “create” your own reality.
Imagining/visualising happy situations (or recalling actual past experiences) will help you relax and de-stress. Business and self-improvement motivators use creative visualisation techniques extensively as a tool to achieving success.
In qigong, visualisation is an important skill that is utilised to “communicate” with the life-force energy or qi. In the beginning, you can imagine qi to be a point of brilliant white light that moves in with your breath, and along energy channels in your body to nourish all the organs. The energy centres or “charkas” can be visualised as spinning wheels of energy. We play with “energy balls” and smile and talk to our organs.
After adequate practice, the visualisation becomes automatic and effortless, and the qi will respond to every command of your mind. This is how qigong masters are able to “play” with qi, and to send qi to other people, especially for healing.
Doing simple qigong exercises is an excellent way to de-stress, relax and improve your health at the same time. There are simple exercises that you can do while lying down, sitting, and standing. There are also stretching exercises that will make you feel fresh and relaxed (see previous articles). In short, qigong is enjoyable!
Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic medicine and has been teaching qi gong for more than 10 years. He is the former president of the Guolin Qi Gong Association, Malaysia. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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