“Take a breath!” is what we say when we or someone becomes worked up with emotion. Somehow we understand that the breath is linked with the nervous system. Here’s a little anatomy and physiology lesson for those of you who find “why” interesting.
Air is a form of nutrient in both biomedicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The exchange of gases occurs in the lungs, where oxygen (O2) is inhaled and carbon dioxide (CO2) is exhaled. Oxygen binds to hemoglobin and travels in the blood to each cell, where the mitochondria in the cells use it to create ATP. ATP is the energy molecule created in the Krebs cycle when the oxygen molecule is separated from it’s molecular partners.
Deeper breaths increase the amount of oxygen circulating in your body. The idea behind Taoist breathing is the potential to store greater reserves of energy for times of stress or illness, times when things aren’t going our way.
Here’s a simple Taoist breathing method:
1) Inhale through your nose, and follow the breath down your esophagus, into your chest, and down to your lower abdomen, allowing the muscles to relax and expand.
2) Exhale from the lower abdomen by contracting the muscles of the lower abs and core towards your spine.
As a general rule of thumb, never strain — instead, follow the 70% rule — taking breaths only as deeply as they come naturally to you. The benefits of deep breathing are increased energy, clearer thinking, a calmer nervous system, improved metabolic and organ function, and less toxic waste in the form of carbon dioxide circulating in the bloodstream.
Breathing deeply is very grounding and a little practice goes a long way. You can practice waiting at a red light, swimming laps in a pool, walking, watching a video, listening to music, and on and on. In qigong standing meditation, breathing is the key to settling into good alignment.
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