(Qigong Breathing – 3)
Try to do less.
Tensions start to arise during the process of learning to breathe
When you start to consciously learn breathing what often happens is that during the practice you notice physical or/and mental tensions or different emotions arise.
Some of these tensions were already present but you haven’t noticed them until you’ve started to pay conscious attention to the breathing and you become able to sense your body better. At the advanced levels of Taoist practice you learn different techniques which help you to release or transform these tensions.
However this article is dedicated to the tensions of physical body and mind which are often caused by the approach of beginners when undertaking the process of learning breathing. I will mention in short the tensions caused by the posture during the practice of breathing. But I will mainly discuss about the tensions caused by the excessive work in the process of breathing, in the physical and mental sense.
Posture in the breathing practice and tensions
In Qigong you usually start practicing breathing in a sitting posture with crossed legs. You make yourself comfortable by using zafu or appropriate cushion. If at the moment you can’t sit in this posture or you feel too much strain you can sit on the chair or lay down.
In this sitting position you should feel comfortable. If you are not already used to this position, this “comfortable” sounds utopian. 😉 Don’t worry it is natural that your body will become tensed during first weeks or months of practice. It is a process in which you will learn to sit properly. Your body structure will strengthen and gradually you will be able to sit correctly and relaxed for a longer period of time.
The best advice that I can give in this regard is that you start with only few minutes of practice per time or that you find your current comfort zone. Gradually extend your time of practice. Exaggerating and using your will you will not advance faster, only your body will become tenser.
Much more useful will be to take some time before your practice of breathing and do some exercises to warm up and stretch your torso, legs, spine, leg’s joints, pelvis… This will slowly improve a lot your sitting practice and your Qigong practice in general.
Breathing and excessive work
Excessive work and body response
When we are in strain or we exceed our capabilities, our body has a natural tendency to respond and enter in alarm state, different hormones secretion is accelerated with the purpose to prepare the body to survive in this extreme situation. Our organism perceives any physical overstrain, stress or excessive emotional state as lesser or bigger trauma. If this happens very often it can become a constant body pattern. Our body is constantly tense. We know that a string which is tensed all the time 100 percent will not last long.
If instead we work always below the upper limit of our current capabilities, there is no strain and no stress. Our capability for example for practice is increased because there is no resistance in the body.
If our string is tensed a little bit lesser, its life span will be longer as it works under their upper limits. At the same time it will be flexible just right to have a nice sound.
Yes, I’m talking about the moderation.
“A taoist master dances through life, never to fight life or his own body.”
Taoists were using the principle of moderation for achieving and maintaining the balance in all areas of their life. It is said that they were using successfully the Seventy percent rule which means that you do everything with the seventy percent of your current capacity. If you are injured, ill or exhausted you lower your limits even more.
Taoist masters were using moderation in their lifes and also in their practice. You can use seventy percent rule in qigong but not only in breathing also when you’re doing stretchingand all other kind of movements (coiling, twists etc.), with the length of practice, when working with energy, when focusing… and also in mental activity, in food…
Excessive work in breathing
In breathing the excessive work can refer to the quantity of air that you breath in and out, to the excessive use of muscles which support breathing and also to be excessively mentally focused on breathing.
To learn moderation in breathing and avoid excessive work I recommend you to use Seventy percent rule which is used in Taoist Water Method Meditation.
Seventy percent rule and a quantity of air that you breathe in and out
Seventy percent breathing means that you breathe in seventy percent of air that you could (70 percent of your current capacity) and you breathe out seventy percent of air. First try to find your upper limit (your 100 percent) and then reduce your inhale and exhale to seventy percent. It doesn’t matter how long is your inhale and exhale, only few seconds or very long.
Following this rule you stay relaxed in your comfortable breathing zone. In this way you learn breathing much faster as you avoid the trap of “excessive work” which causes tensions in the body and in the process of breathing. You reduce stress, you release the nervous system and you keep your mind relaxed.
You don’t have to be afraid that you will not advance if you don’t transcend a current comfort zone. By “seventy percent” practice your hundred percent capability increases. The body is in a calm state and without forcing it slowly adapts and improves. In time your breathing will become smoother, lighter and deeper.
Excessive use of muscles which support breathing
Beginners often try to breathe the “best” they can and try to lengthen inhale and exhale. In this effort they can excessively expand their intercostal muscles or use too forcefully the thoracic diaphragm. This can result as delayed intercostal muscle soreness. Or in the case of diaphragm as tension in the area of diaphragm and stomach which can be still present few days or more after.
Remember: Less is more. Use the seventy percent rule also in this case and you will not experience described troubles. In time your muscles will stretch, strengthen and get used again to their real function. Instead of forcing things search for feeling of comfort , softness and relaxation in breathing.
Breathing and mind tension
When you start to learn something new, your mind is focused with all of its attention to this new task. If this focus is very sharp, you can feel how your mind starts to be tensed up. This tension in the head is increasing and it can spread to many different areas in the body.
Mental tensions hinder your mental and physical life force and also a capability of longer concentration. In qigong we prefer to use so called “soft awareness”. It means that we are focused on what we do but this is not a kind of focused laser beam. Our field of awareness is broader; we are only partly focused on what we do but simultaneously we have a role of observer. In this way we do things in a more relaxed way and in time we are able to allow things to happen by themselves.
So, try to use the rule of seventy percent also when your mind is focused on your breathing. If you start to feel tension in your head, know that you have already crossed your upper limit. Stop your practice and return to it next day or when you are more relaxed.
I hope that my tips will make a beginning of your breathing practice, or continuation more comfortable.
And for the end just some thoughts about the moderation in our everyday life.
Move out of your comfort zone?!
Nowadays people endeavor and endeavor, as they “have to” exceed their limits if they want to be noticed, worthy, loved, winners… It is a competition after competition with each other and with themselves. Usually their argument is that you have to move out of the comfort zone if you want to be better and if you want to move forward, to be promoted…
But I think that we have other choices. We can choose different reality without this crazy competition. My comfort zone is a creative work or practice etc. in which I put in as much energy that I still feel good, and I’m not stressed and exhausted. Tomorrow I will wake up fresh and with a desire to continue my work or start a new project, practice… Definitely I will not wake up with a thought that I have to endure until the end, or that one of “no pain, no gain” (and “earned” rest). I would never think about the sofa and a television as my comfort after coming home from my mission as a squeezed rag.
Find your real comfort zone, act inside it and you will be moving forward.
Less doing, more Being
Taoist wisdom of moderation is universally useful for all those who would like to slow down the pace of their life, stay healthy and creative until the end.
If you choose the path of moderation, you do things moderately, you don’t swing from one extreme to another and you maintain your balance regularly. You work less and you are more present and aware of your Being in this time-space-reality.
Thanks to all lemurs for joining us! 😀
May the Qi be with You!
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