Thursday, May 13, 2010

Shallow breathing, belly breathing

Ithaca NY is a bumper sticker kind of town.

I am not a bumper sticker kind of person.

But in slow traffic, the barrage of bumper bumph is a mild distraction.

The most useful is the one that says simply, "breathe." It's a bit of a truism, but it's a nice reminder. Breathing is good for you. Of course, we all breathe all the time, but a great deal of our breathing is shallow. It is breathing using only the top part of the lungs. It gives us oxygen, but not in the most efficient way, not in a way that helps our internal organs.

Enter belly breathing. Sometimes it is said to be diaphragm breathing, but that's clumsy. Belly breathing sounds fun. It is. It is breathing that uses the whole of the lungs and moves the diaphragm. In doing so it gently massages the internal organs. It is deeper breathing and so more efficient. It is also closely linked with qi (see previous blog).

But how to do it. For some years now, I start every philosophy class with breathing meditation. Here's a simple exercise I suggest to students.

  • Don't force your breath, let it be natural.
  • Do focus on your breath. Be aware of it. Where it originates. How it makes your insides feel.
  • When you exhale, do so fully until you feel your tummy muscles tighten. That ensures you are pushing out all the air.
  • As you breath in, you will do so firstly from your belly, and then from the upper part of the lungs.
  • Breathe out fully again.
  • Repeat.

If you look at your self in a mirror (no clothes) you will see the way the breath moves your body. If it is all chest, you are breathing shallow. If you see your belly move, that's belly breathing.

Taiji is most importantly about breathing.

A great resource, as ever, is Mike Garofalo's web site. Check out his resources on Breathing Practices.


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