I’ve written a lot about deep breathing techniques and offered several guided breathing practice sessions because we do it all day, every day. Learning how to breathe well therefore gives you the power to shift your state of mind and reinvigorate your body’s systems whenever you choose.
However, breathing well can go far beyond a little relaxation and peace of mind, and take health and well-being to the next level by boosting the results of any exercise programme. Starting with a few minutes of rhythmic, smooth and measured breathing can warm up the body and oxygenate the cells that comprise your muscles. While ending an exercise session by bringing your focus back to deep breathing can help you cool down and transit into your daily activities with a calm state of mind. Maintaining deep, diaphragm breathing throughout exercise helps generate relaxed power and stamina.
Breathing Is the Master
The primary concern when combining deep breathing with any physical motion is to keep it relaxed and free from strain. To achieve this, you can think of your breath cycle as the master and the physical motion as the slave. So, for example, as the in- or out-breath tappers off, so too does the physical motion.
This synchronisation between your breathing and movement allows:
- Your breathing pattern to remain relaxed and free from strain of any kind.
- Your movement to be influenced by your breathing instead of the movement influencing your breathing into some erratic pattern that can strain the nerves and cause.
If you watch a professional sprinter breathe in and out in slow motion, you can see that their movement is coordinated to the diaphragm moving up and down, sucking and pushing air in and out of the lungs. This not only allows oxygen to penetrate the cells, but keeps the runner relaxed for the duration of the exercise. In fact, lack of oxygen delivery to the muscles is precisely what causes fatigue and takes you out of the game before you’re ready.
In Tao movements arts like qi gong, tai chi and bagua, you’re looking to achieve relaxed motion that lulls the nerves into a state of let go. So focusing on deep, diaphragm breathing can become an effective portal for boosting the release of toxins and maintaining your stamina throughout your training session.
How-to Supercharge Exercise Results with Deep Breathing
Next, guide your breathing in a way that allows the whole sphere to be engaged. If you do not know this methodology, read my blog on how to create a spherical breath.
Once you feel the sphere is active, with the smoothest exchange between the in- and out-breaths and when the out- and in-breaths are even in length, stand up and assume the hug-a-tree qi gong posture (see image above). The transition from sitting or lying down may cause you to lose the flow you had to some degree, so just relax, continue to breathe and try to get back to the rhythmic flow you established initially.
Let your next in-breath expand the “ring” of your arms physically. On the out-breath, let your arms return to the beginning position. Play with this for a few breaths, watching your breathing pattern and making sure you don’t force or strain at any point in the exercise–in mind or body. If you find you have a tendency to push at any point, then back off a little and don’t try to breathe so deeply. The flexibility of your diaphragm and lung capacity will grow in time with patience and dedicated, consistent practice.
Then, put your attention on your spine. On the in-breath, the tailbone drops, the neck rises and the spine expands back slightly. On the out-breath, everything returns to the beginning position (you’re still in the hug-a-tree qi gong posture). Continue this motion for several breaths.
You are simply leading with your breathing while attempting to balance the spherical opening of both the breath and the physical motion of your body. Your movement will start out being very small. Slowly and incrementally increase the range of physical motion while keeping all motion connected to and driven by the breath.
If you feel the movement disconnect from or move ahead of your breathing–however slightly–then reduce your physical range of motion and reconnect to your breathing without a bunch of negative self-talk.
Relaxed Breathing in Qi gong, Tai Chi + Bagua for tao Arts Students
You might practice this breathing exercise in the hug-a-tree qi gong posture for some weeks, then move on to simple nei gong exercises, such as Cloud Hands from the Energy Gates Qi Gong system or Circling Hands Qi Gong (follow along to a guided practice session). Once you feel you have stabilised your breathing as the leader in each incremental increase of difficulty in physical exercise, then, ultimately, you will want to apply this to your qi gong, tai chi and/or bagua training.
Whatever you do, do NOT use the range of physical motion to increase the size or length of your breathing cycle. Breathing is always the leader. Otherwise, you can can put far too much strain on the breath, which will cause the nerves to shut down and elicit a stress response in the body–the opposite of the results you’re looking to achieve with deep breathing techniques.
Most anything in life worth accomplishing takes time, dedication, patience and persistence to develop. Be kind to your body and take it easy. A little consistent practice will yield faster and more effective results than a lot of practice intermittently.