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Breathing - Qi-gong Introduction

©Devin Starlanyl, MD 1996

Proper breathing is the first requirement for Qi-gong, as well as for optimum health. Sadly, most of us develop bad breathing habits when we are young. Breathing is an automatic function, so we take it for granted. Healthy little children breath well, but as we grow, we "unlearn" (not forget) how to breathe. You are breathing well enough to stay alive, but that doesn't mean you are breathing for optimal health. Most adults use only a small portion of their lung capacity.

Take a moment to consider your breathing. Is it deep, rhythmic and relaxed? If it is shallow, jerky or constricted, you need to learn better breathing habits. You need to get the most out of exercise, and out of life.

One of the first things that happens when you are frightened or angry is a change in the breathing rhythm. Your body tenses for the "fight or flight" stress reaction. With FMS/MPS, we are stuck in that stress reaction much of the time. Breath and stress are tied together. We have to help our bodies to relearn to relax. Breathing awareness is the key to this.

Unfortunately, in this society, we pay more attention-and currency--for the way things are packaged than for the contents. We want to "look good", and we are taught how society defines "good". We are told to keep our bellies firm and pulled in, and breathe through our chest. We unlearn how to breathe.

This kind of breathing is called "paradoxical breathing", and it worsens myofascial trigger points (TrPs). You can't break the laws of nature without paying--you develop a hunger for air that can cause you to gasp for breath at the slightest exertion. When you breathe through your mouth, your breath is shallow and rapid. This causes your body to struggle even harder for adequate oxygen. Many of us mouth-breathe at times and don't even know it.

Breathing Correctly

When we breathe in, we must first fill the belly, then the middle chest, and at last fill the upper chest. Sometimes it is easier to start proper breathing when you are lying down. Lie down on your back, in a comfortable position. Try it. Place your hand on your belly, right below your navel, so you can tell what is happening. Take a deep breath through your nose and hold the breath in a few moments. If you have constricting garments, you may have to loosen them to take a really deep breath. This act alone will show you why constricting clothing can be detrimental to your body. You must allow the breath to flow free.

Let your breath out slowly. When you think all of the stale air is out, open your mouth and breathe the rest of it out.

Chances are there was quite a bit of stagnant air that was not being exchanged. Most of us fail to use the diaphragm muscle--the main muscle in our body devoted to the breathing process. This causes tension in our body, as well as shallow breathing. You have seen this muscle in the grocery store, or at least the bovine equivalent. The diaphragm muscle is the original "London broil".

It forms the base of the chest area, and moves up and down with the breath. If our breath is shallow, we don't use this muscle, and we keep some stagnant air in our lungs. Breathing "from the belly", using the diaphragm, gives our body more oxygen.

In Qi gong, (pronounced "gee gung") called chi gung in the US, there is the Qi--the normal breath, and the "true Qi". True Qi(called "ki" in Japan) is like "the Force" in Star Wars. True Qi is tangible--once you become adept, you can move it, and feel it moving in you and around you. It is an energy flow, and most of us are oblivious to it. Qi gongfu, called kung fu in the US, embodies time and quality of Qi gong exercise.

Breathing correctly will help rid your body of waste gases. Utilized with Qi gung, it also massages some of your organs, and can improve your mental clarity and focus. By breathing mindfully, and consciously slowing and deepening your breath, you can relax and ease anxiety and stress.

Did you try the deep breathing, or did you just read about it? If you were only reading, go back to the start of "Breathing Correctly", and try it for a few breaths. How did it feel?

Strange? That should tell you something. It is time to pay attention when your body talks.

Qi gung will improve your balance, and give greater elasticity to the myofascia--even in cases of severe FMS/MPS. It is safe even form those with hypermobile joints.

It is important that the Qi gong be learned slowly and gradually. You cannot rush this. Contraction--and myofascial hardening, lumps and ropy bands prevent the free flow of Qi. Qi gong is over 3000 years old, and there are hundreds of Qi gong methods.

The methods you learn here are safe methods. Most exercises can be modified to do from a seating position, if that is all that you can do. You must not push, or try to force your body. It is important to first be able to sense and feel the Qi. This is not mental visualization, but an internal feeling.

When Qi flows freely, there is no sensation. If you feel sensation, such as strength, electricity, or temperature changes, that is an indication of blockage. It is often said that the stronger the feel of strength, the weaker the Qi. Blockage causes sensation. Once you learn the correct body posture and correct mind posture for a Qi gong exercise, everything comes together.

When the postures are correct, the chi will flow, and you will experience a connection with the Qi force. When you are "connected", you are in a meditative state, and will experience relaxed power. This will take time. It will come. Do not rush. You cannot force electricity through blocked circuits until the circuits are prepared to relay the force. So it is with Qi. When you are ready, it will flow.

As Qi flows, the body will open up in layers. You may have experienced similar openings during craniosacral release or similar body/mind therapy. With the loosening of the body, emotional release comes also, and this is a good sign.

Qi gong is not a religion, nor a cult, nor is it just an exercise. It is a process of tranquility. It is a way understanding life, a bridge for the body, mind and spirit to connect with the universal life force. Go with it, and the "force" will always be with you.

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