Deep Breathing Techniques, Lesson 4 of 6
Deep, internal breathing has many dimensions and benefits as I discuss in my feature article on Tao diaphragm breathing, which I recommend reading before moving on to these more advanced breathing techniques that target the kidneys and upper back. Everything you have learned so far remains in the programme: the diaphragm, belly and sides of the body are active, and now we’ll add a nice massage for the kidneys and back of the heart. The exercises that follow will not only help relax and calm any anxieties but, when practised over time, can also contribute to a healthy mind and body.
Image © iStockphoto.com/Eraxion
Physiology of the Breathing Cycle
The lungs and the heart comprise the bulk of the thoracic cavity with the lungs sitting directly on top of and moulding to the shape of the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that drops down at the back. Under the back of the diaphragm sits the kidneys, or what the ancient Chinese referred to as the “doorways to your life-force energy”. So if you can create a light and gentle downward pressure at the back of your diaphragm, you can directly cause a massaging pressure into the kidneys. As you fill the back of your lungs with air, a massaging pressure will also transfer to the heart, which sits between your lungs.
In nearly two decades of teaching, I’ve noticed that the space between the shoulder blades (behind the heart) is closed down and dormant in most people and this trend is only increasing with each passing year! The area between the shoulder blades can negatively impact the heart when tense and closed down, so it’s well worth the effort to open it up and release any bound tension you might be holding. (Fact: Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Europe, causing 4 million deaths and nearly two million deaths. See http://www.ehnheart.org/cvd-statistics.html.)
Breathing Techniques for the Kidneys
In order to postively affect your kidneys, you need to start by waking them up. Once engaged, you can shift your focus to the back of your heart.
Lie down on a relatively hard and flat surface, such as a carpeted floor, yoga mat or outside on the grass. Soft or yielding surfaces, such as mattresses or sofa cushions, won’t work because they don’t give you the feedback you’ll need in the next step. Put a thin cushion or pillow under your head and your feet flat on the ground with your knees up.
Now warm up by allowing a smooth, circular and relaxed breathing pattern to evolve. Then, progressively introduce the two stages of breathing that should precede deep breathing techniques for the heart and kidneys.
- Diaphragm breathing–click on the link to review my blog explaining how to implement this technique.
- Deep breathing to engage the ribcage–click on the link to review my blog explaining how to implement this technique.
Practise these techniques for a few minutes, or as long as you like, before moving on.
Next, use your intent to guide your breath deep into the back of your diaphragm to directly pressurise the area surrounding and encompassing your kidneys. You know you’ve got it when you feel your lower back pressing into the ground a little.
Take your time and repeat the exercise several times.
Don’t force your breath or try to achieve any markers of “success”, especially in reference to any previous practice sessions. Just stay in the moment and be mindful of your progress. If you find yourself straining or forcing, back off immediately as this is counterproductive and can actually cause more harm than good. There’s just no point to practising breathing with a push and “win” mentality.
Breathing Techniques for the Heart
Once you have a feeling for the kidneys moving, relax your effort and let the pressure build slowly and gently. When you can easily gain access to your kidneys via your breathing—which might take several days or even weeks to solidify—you can add breathing into the back of the lungs to directly massage the heart. This technique will go in deeper than only breathing with the sides.
The exercise starts the same: Lie down on a firm surface and initiate all the breathing techniques you have learned so far—diaphragm, belly, sides and kidney breathing. Then, add the expansion of the back of the lungs. When the chest rises, it neutralises your ability to open the area behind the heart, so make sure your chest remains down and the pressure from the in-breath goes back towards your spine.
Use your intent to focus your breathing into the back of your lungs and relax your nerves. You don’t want to go to the point where you feel you’re fighting your body. Respect the time your body needs to open and let go—however long it takes. And, know that applying any force of will only add to the time it takes.
Deep Breathing Practice Points
When you’re sure you have the deep breathing technique down pat, i.e. on your in-breath, you feel your whole back pressing into the floor, you can do this breathing while lying in bed, sitting, standing or moving around (hopefully doing some qi gong, tai chi or bagua training)! A little breathing practice each day will yield better results than doing a lot infrequently.
Be patient and let the depth and pressure build slowly over time. Deep, internal breathing can release toxins and bound energies from your system. It’s a good thing, but in small doses. So let any bound places unlock and residual toxins exit the system smoothly and easily. You don’t want to suddenly release a lot of gunk and shock or disorientate yourself as it’ll simply create more stress in your system.