Aloha and Greetings from Maui.
Below is the first excerpt from an article I wrote entitled, “Zhan Zhuang Wisdom – The Breath of Life” which comes out in the winter issue of ‘Qi – The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health and Fitness.’
ZHAN ZHUANG BREATHING METHODS
It is often said in Zhan Zhuang that one’s breathing should be ‘natural.’ But what does this really mean? In one sense ‘natural’ breathing is however we happen to be breathing in each moment. Although there is truth in this, this type of natural breath often has embedded within it, various deficiencies due to injury, lifestyle or a lifetime of various habitual behaviors.
That brings us to the second interpretation, wherein the ‘natural’ breath means to return to ‘embryonic’ breathing – sometimes called ‘Back to Childhood’ or ‘Spherical’ breathing – enjoyed by every human being from the time they are born, through their early formative years. This type of breathing oxygenates every cell in the body, the efficacy of which is evidenced by the infant and young child’s healthy rapid growth.
In the old way of learning, breath was not taught to the novice until they were much further along in their training, usually about one to three years. The reason for this is that it was thought that as the beginner began to work out the ‘kinks’ in their body through daily practice, the breath would naturally adjust itself to the trainee’s current needs and state of consciousness. This was true for both Zhan Zhuang and Taijiquan. With Taiji, as the movements and postures opened up and were embedded with the various internal Nei Gong components, the breath would naturally regulate itself and become correct.
While this is true, it was also known that, that way of training could be a long road with many twists and turns, often leaving the dedicated practitioner bewildered and at a loss as to how to progress further. This mindset was thought to be a good way to test and weed out all but the most committed and persevering individuals.
Before a baby is born and is still within its mother’s Bao, the baby breathes through its umbilicus without using it’s lungs. This is actually its ‘Original Breath,’ which sustains and nourishes it for the nine months prior to birth. This is breathing from your Centerpoint. (An old Daoist tradition says that this incoming transmission occurs more from the left side of the navel than from the right.)
Our goal in Internal training regarding the breath is to eventually return to a similar state during our practices. This only becomes possible through deeper and deeper relaxation, when one begins to “Enter Into the Void” which can be likened to the state of Samhadi from the East Indian traditions. But before all that can happen, we will have to pass through a fair number of preliminary stages.
One such stage just prior to entering into the ‘Original breath’ is when we find ourselves inhaling and exhaling simultaneously. From there, the sense of breath can disappear altogether, and yet our brain and internal organs are still being nourished. In other words we don’t pass out or faint. On the contrary, our mind and higher senses seem to have an increased sense of clarity and focus.
This however, is generally only possible after we have mastered the Spherical Breath which contains and creates three-dimensionality, In other words, a horizontal, vertical and depth aspect, each of which is first learned separately and then joined in various combinations until a balanced sphericality is achieved.
By the way, when simultaneous inhalation and exhalation is done sharply and suddenly it can generate a powerful self-defense to absorb blows. This method harnesses the body’s Wei Qi – Defensive energy, (includes the immune system) and the Ying or Nutritive Qi and even the Organ Qi and focuses them at the point of interception or contact. This method harnesses all the body’s defensive energy in a single instant.