(Qigong breathing – 5)
Gently, softly, gradually are the keys.
Two ways of abdominal breathing
In a Taoist Qigong and Nei Gong practice there are two ways of abdominal breathing. These are normal abdominal breathing and reverse abdominal breathing.
Normal abdominal breathing
The Taoist normal abdominal breathing was presented in the previous article. It is quite simple to learn its basics and if you practice regularly this way of breathing can soon become your natural way of breathing which your body use automatically not only during the practice of Qigong but all the time. Your finally goal is even, smooth, slow and deep breathing.
Reverse abdominal breathing
In this article you can find general information about reverse breathing, tips how to practice reverse breathing to avoid problems that can arise in the process of learning and also what are the benefits of this type of breathing.
The second way of breathing by using diaphragm which is used in Taoist Qigong and Nei Gong is reverse abdominal breathing. This breathing is sometimes called also “Pre-Heaven” breathing, it means from the time when you were still in the womb. At that time this abdominal movement enabled you to draw nourishment through the umbilical cord into your body.
When you inhale in the reverse abdominal breathing you slightly contract abdomen inward and your perineum (Huiyin) gently goes upward. When you exhale your abdomen is expanding outward and Huiyin is moving down.
Unconscious use of reverse abdominal breathing in everyday life
The reverse abdominal breathing is used by all people unconsciously in certain situations. This happens when they are experiencing strong emotions (crying, laughing…) and in the cases when they have the intent to do something and their mind is deeply involved. The example of this could be to blow up the balloon or to push some heavy object… In such moments they automatically use reverse breathing. But their reverse breathing is much more intensive then consciously learned reverse breathing in Qigong which should be softer and relaxed.
Different instructions for learning reverse breathing
You can find different instructions how to learn reverse abdominal breathing which are sometimes contradictory. Our teacher thought us the reverse abdominal breathing as interpreted and thought by Dr. Yang Jwing Ming. In this article I share also some information based on our experiences in learning and teaching reverse abdominal breathing. I hope you can use them in your own practice.
Don’t use force
The reverse abdominal breathing was a great challenge for me as at the beginning it didn’t go well at all. I have somehow ignored and misunderstood the warnings of my Qigong teacher who has accentuated that in Qigong we should always be looking for the right feeling and never forcing things. I was practicing a lot (a little bit too forcefully and intensively) and I was trying to rationally “understand” instead of listen to my body and feel it. My impatience didn’t lead to improvements but to more tensions. But as always the time was a remedy and when my mind became calmer and slowed down a bit, also my reverse breathing started to improve and got new dimensions and still does.
Gentle, soft and gradual learning is the key
My personal opinion is that reverse abdominal breathing used by Taoists is very efficient and useful especially in the process when you learn to lead Qi with the help of breathing. If you approach the process patiently and with the intentional softness, relaxation and gradual learning, you will learn in this process much more than only another way of breathing.
The practice of Reverse abdominal breathing
The general rules for reverse breathing are the same as for normal abdominal breathing. Your posture should be comfortable. You breathe through a nose. The tip of your tongue is on the palate. You breathe using a diaphragm. Your chest remains relaxed and it doesn’t expand and contract. When you inhale a diaphragm is moving down and more air is entering into your lungs. Chest is relaxed and “rounded”. When you breathe deeply through your nose imagine and feel the air going down through your throat and the central line of your body in the lower part of abdomen (the area between the navel and pubic bone) which is expanding.
Your palms are on your lower part of abdomen. This light contact helps you to feel the movement of your abdominal muscles and also to maintain a connection between your mind and the Lower Dantian.
The principle of reverse abdominal breathing
When you inhale gently contract/pull your abdomen inward from all four sides (from the front, left and right sides and from the back) in the direction of lower Dantian. At the same time you slightly move upward Huiyin point (Co-1, perineum).
When you exhale the diaphragm moves down, the abdomen expands outward in all four directions and Huiyin moves down.
Normal abdominal breathing as introduction to the practice of reverse breathing
Before you start with the practice of reverse abdominal breathing take some time and practice normal abdominal breathing to relax first. Then start with reverse breathing. At the last exhale of normal breathing gently keep your abdomen inward and start with the first reverse inhale which should be short. Continue reverse breathing using really small abdominal movements and try to co-ordinate them with the breathing. In time you will become able to do bigger movements but always pay attention to your feeling of relaxation.
Gradual co-ordination of muscles and breathing
As in the case of normal abdominal breathing you can learn reverse abdominal breathing gradually (see the article Normal abdominal breathing in Qigong). To summarize – you work first with the movement of the lower part of abdomen (Qihai point, False Lower Dantian) and after you proceed with Huiyin.
When you are able to work with these two in a relaxed way, you start to work on movements of abdominal muscles in the middle and upper part of the abdomen (area of the Middle Triple Burner). Later you work on side abdominal muscles and the muscles of the lower back.
Your final goal (after years of practice…) is to achieve the point when you are able to rotate abdominal muscles smoothly and softly as if you are rotating a ball.
From stillness to movement
At the beginning you start to practice reverse breathing while you are still; sitting and later standing. When you are capable of doing this you should start to practice reverse breathing in some stationary exercises, then in moving exercise and forms.
The duration of practice
Start to practice reverse breathing for only few minutes. As soon as you feel some tension, start to use a normal abdominal breathing. In accord with your inner feeling you decide if you want to practice few minutes more or to finish the practice. In time length of relaxed practice will increase. It is crucial that you listen to your feeling and that you stop each time before you feel uncomfortably tense.
To learn the basics of this breathing it takes approximately six months but usually even longer.
Problems which can arise when practicing reverse breathing and how to avoid them
In the process of learning reverse abdominal breathing the words “slightly, gently, relaxed, not using force” should be understand literally. Learning reverse abdominal breathing is much more difficult than learning relaxing normal abdominal breathing. This is the reason why I would like to talk more about the problems that can arise in the process of learning and I would like to offer you some tips how to avoid them.
First normal then reverse
Once again the most important tip: start to learn reverse abdominal breathing only after you have learned a normal abdominal breathing to the degree that it is relaxing and natural for you.
Tensions in the area of Middle Triple Burner (the stomach area)
When you inhale in the reverse breathing the movement of diaphragm downwards is made more difficult because the perineum is moving up and the abdomen contracts inward. In reverse breathing more energy is captured in the area of lower Dantian. If the beginners practice too forcefully, tensions can arise in the area of the stomach because of the stagnant Qi. You can feel tension also in your chest and your heart can start to beat faster. The Fire Qi increases and causes also your mind to become scattered. None of these things is beneficial for your Qigong practice.
You can avoid these tensions by the right approach to the training. Start to learn reverse breathing by using small abdominal movements. Observe if somewhere in abdominal area arise tensions. Be especially aware of the stomach area. Try to keep this area relaxed. If this area is tensed you would probably start to hold your breath and cause only more tensions.
In a reverse breathing you have to learn more subtle and refined muscle movements. You are looking for the way how to maintain relaxed state (of chest, abdomen…) and at the same time make breathing slow and deep. This is connected also with the calmness of your mind. In time a reverse breathing should also become relaxed and comfortable.
Tensions in the perineum area
Oftentimes happens that practitioners contract too much the area of perineum. I’ve heard about radical cases in which practitioners ended with hemorrhoid problem. They are clearly not connected with their body. Huiyin means “The Bottom of Sea”. This is a very sensitive area and should be treated gently and carefully. In fact you do not contract the area but it is more as you were gently and slowly vertically “pulling up (and then let it down) the becket of water” as my teacher said.
Benefits of abdominal breathing
The relaxed reverse breathing offers the same benefits as normal abdominal breathing. The movements of diaphragm and abdominal muscles massage your internal organs and improve the blood and qi circulation in organs and in their surroundings. Naturally also the strenght of abdominal muscles increases. Keeping the part of your awareness in the lower Dantian you are physically and energetically more grounded. You also increase the amount of Water Qi in your body.
Greater efficiency in leading Qi
Besides all these a reverse abdominal breathing is more efficient for leading Qi to the extremities and for exchanging the Qi with surroundings. When your intention is to expand or to collect your Qi or when you want to exchange the Qi with surroundings it is more natural that your abdomen moves in the opposite directions as when you breathe normally. When you inhale you absorb the Qi from surroundings and it is more natural for you to pull your abdomen inward. When you exhale you expand your Guardian Qi (Wei Qi) and at that point is more natural to move your abdomen outward.
The primary energy channels or meridians run through the area between bones and skin. When you use normal abdominal breathing the most energy runs to primary energy channels. When you use reverse breathing the majority of Qi go through the secondary energy channels to the skin or to the bones.
This is the reason why the reverse abdominal breathing is very important in the training of Taoist martial arts. Using this breathing is much easier to lead Qi into the extremities and also beyond the limits of your body (for example Yongquan, Laogong breathing, Five gates breathing, Skin breathing…).
Reverse breathing is useful also in internal practices as for example Marrow/Brain Washing Qigong (Xi Sui Jing) where is crucial to lead the Qi into the bones.
In all these practices is of course besides the breathing essential to cultivate and unite also your body, wisdom mind (Yi), and Qi.
May the Qi be with You!
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