Thursday, March 18, 2010

Qigong Basics: The Breath & Calming the Mind

By Eric Aufdencamp, D.O.M.

Qi is the vital life force that animates all living things. In Chinese medicine, the breath is one aspect that allows us to create Qi.

Qi from a Chinese Medicine perspective:

1. Provides warmth
2. Keeps blood in the vessels and organs in their proper place
3. Acts as the catalyst for the production of blood
4. Protects the body from external influences (i.e. bacterial and viral influences)
5. Provides movement for the fluids in the body

Qigong means to acquire benefit through being in harmony with one's life energy, or Qi. Exercise and relaxation techniques are ways you can regulate the flow of Qi in your body. If you tend to be tense and always on the go, then relaxation practices are very important. If you tend to have a sedentary lifestyle, movement practices such as tai chi, yoga, swimming, and other low-impact exercises, are important.

Regardless of your activity level, quieting the mind is an essential practice for better health.
  • To begin your practice, first sit and simply observe your breath. Is it shallow, rapid, slow, or constricted? Do you breathe only in your chest or do you breathe deeply into both your chest and abdomen?
  • Next, breathe through your nose with your mouth closed and the tip of your tongue gently resting on the border of your upper teeth and palate. This creates a circuit in the body that assists the movement of Qi. Breathe from your diaphragm, or from the area around the middle of your torso. As you fill up the area of the diaphragm, your chest may slowly rise as a natural consequence.
  • It is best to breathe from deep in the belly, because chest breathing may cause you to feel anxious or lightheaded. When inhaling, breathe deep in order to fill up the entire cavity in a 360-degree radius. Feel as if there were a balloon in the center that is being filled up in all directions. Remember that breathing should always be gentle and not forced.
Over time, your breathing will become slower and deeper without effort. Eventually, you can let go of the focus on your breath and just notice the sensations in your body and the sounds surrounding you.

It is ideal to not shut out sounds, but instead make them a part of your practice. It is a practice of accepting or surrendering to what is both in our bodies and our minds. This practice is excellent for reducing anxiety, promoting restful sleep and slowing down our thoughts.