Natural Breathing – the Art of Cultivating Calm
Natural breathing is a key for cultivating calm and achieving peace of mind. When I first started learning Yuan Qigong, it became apparent to me that I wasn’t achieving the calm states that the other students appeared to reach. Where were the calming benefits I’d heard so much about?
My Qigong movements were good so I assumed I was doing everything correctly. If my movements were correct, then what was the problem?
What is Natural Breathing
A key part of Qigong is proper breathing, or what is called “natural breathing”. Natural breathing is like the breathing pattern of infants. When you observe them, their inhalation makes their abdomens expand as if inflated by a balloon. However, I tended to breathe in my upper chest most of the time and sometimes with my mouth open. As I later found out, that’s guaranteed to keep one in an anxious state. Both of those habits induce anxiety and a slide toward poor health the longer they are used. Who knew?
Without the natural breath in the lower abdomen, it’s hard to maintain good health because the autonomic nervous system becomes stuck in sympathetic dominance, or what is often referred to as the fight or flight response. To reach a calm state it is necessary to reset the body in para-sympathetic dominance which facilitates rest and repair. How would you know if you are sympathetic dominant? Simple – like me in my early practice, you find it hard to relax, are anxious, have a racing mind, sigh often, and are bedeviled by health challenges.
Natural Breathing techniques
Would you like to try natural breathing? You can try these simple exercises right now.
- Sit comfortably with your spine straight and your feet flat on the floor. Or, if you are standing, place your feet shoulder width apart.
- Breathe through your nose.
- Your mouth should be shut with your tongue tip at the spot where your front teeth meet your gums.
- Go slowly and lengthen your breath as much as possible.
- To ensure your diaphragm is involved, place your hands on your lower two ribs.
- Breathe so that you feel those ribs move slightly to the side.
- As your ribs move, you should also feel your belly expanding.
- Adjust your posture bit by bit until you notice a similar movement in your lower back as you inhale.
- Your spine will need to be quite straight in order for you to experience this.
- Once you are comfortable with natural breathing, you can move your hands to a more comfortable position and just enjoy the relaxing effect.
Dantian Breathing or Chakra Breathing exercise
To take it a step further, I invite you to try Dantian (Chakra) breathing. It utilizes natural breathing with a visualization or focus on one of the Qi storage centers in the body. Part of the brilliance of Yuan Qigong is the emphasis on natural breathing and Dantian breathing. It is one of the reasons it has so many health benefits. If we can get out of our own way, our bodies will take care of the rest.
Dantian breathing is the essence of the second Yuan Qigong method Nourishing Qi, where the breath is used to store Qi (energy) in each of the three energy centers called Dantians or Chakras, as they are called in Yoga practices (in the area of the solar plexus, the heart and the head). Here are the words of the beautiful poetic instructions to that practice inviting us to enjoy its many benefits:
“Natural breathing inside Dantian. . .observe yourself in a calm state. . .enjoy the wondrous changes within. . .body relaxed, filled with uplifting Qi. . .joy opening the heart naturally. . .heart radiant and Qi rising. . .body and mind light and free.”
Breathing techniques to expand consciousness
I invite you to try it – especially if you are a seeker who has attended many classes in self-improvement and consciousness expansion, have absorbed it all like a dry sponge, yet remain anxious or stuck in the same place. Simply utilizing natural breathing or even better, Dantian breathing, in a consistent way will dramatically change your life – it did for me. Like navigating a ship where a seemingly small correction of 1 degree can over time bring you to a dramatically different destination, the use of natural breathing can lead you to a state of calm and open the doors to expanded consciousness.