We all unconsciously express ourselves with our breath every day.
Sighing, panting, huffing, gasping, snorting and a thousand other ways, your instinctual feelings are expressed through breathing.
The practice of Breathwork goes back to the earliest Indigenous and Shamanic cultures in the world (See – A Brief History of Qi Gong). Refined in the monasteries of India and China over thousands of years, these potent healing and consciousness-expanding skills have recently become the focus of bio-hackers, healers, and contemporary scientific clicial research.
Shun Hu Xi
In Traditional Chinese medicine, watching someone breathe can be a very subtle and powerful sign of a person’s individual Physical (Jing), Emotional (Shen), and energetic health (Qi).
We all live in our own internal climate, which is a combination of stress, excitement, fatigue, rest, and a thousand other things. Your Inner Climate (Nei Hou<?>候 ),or your inner Qi of the Day, determines your experience of this moment, as well as how you look at the next moment, which can change how you experience your past. Or it can put you in contention with the future.
We all live with an Inner Landscape (Nei Tu) as well. This is a combination of your somatic, instinctual, intuitive and embodied state with your Inner Climate.
Qi Gong and Breathwork, if anything, are minimal effort maximum benefit approaches to feeling better, or to experiencing life consciously, and especially shifting your Inner Climate and Landscape. As your Qi Gong practice shifts your embodied and emotional state, you will have more ‘space on the inside’ to feel your Qi and breathe consciously and sensually. Natural Breathing is the best starting place for restoring and rejuvenating your aliveness and your innate capacity for cultivating Qi. It is beneficial to everyone, regardless of age, health, or Spiritual intentions.
This Breathwork practice is about making one important choice. To join and move with every aspect of your breath, simultaneously. Natural Breathing is an opportunity to restore an ancient and latent way of breathing that tells your nervous system you are getting all your immediate instinctual needs met. Which is a profoundly restful and open quality of experience.
Breathing is something we all do all of the time, most of us breathe around 10 to 15 respirations per minute. That works out to inhaling for only 2- 3 seconds and exhaling for 2-3 seconds. That is only 30% of your natural capacity. When you think of Qi as the ‘aliveness’ from your breath, the average person is living on less than half of their birthright for vitality and conscious presence.
In Daoist Natural Breathing (Shun Hu Xi), you are asked to maintain only five (six if needed) respirations per minute, which means that you must breathe evenly, deeply, and consistently, 5 -6 seconds per inhale and exhale. Give that a try.
Inhale – get comfortable, seated, standing, or lying down and fill your chest and belly. Focus on the timing first.
Exhale – relax your whole body, while slowly, and evenly breathing out all the way.
Feel into every inch of your sinus cavity as you breathe.
The term Shun 顺– means to follow, to move along with, or to experience favorable timing. As you breathe slowly and deeply, the focus will be on moving your body as naturally and instinctually as possible, while also making sure certain connections are moving together.
The best way to Shun, at first, is to focus on a complete sense of ease. In Natural Breathing, it is most common approach is to breathe in through the nose. You can breathe out of your nose to gather energy or out through your mouth to expel “confused” or “toxic” energy.
Just breathe in and out – deep, even, long, and slow.
Listen to your body and trust your intuition.
As you inhale, allow your lower abdomen to ‘fall’ outward and down. One part of this motion arises from the sensation of your breath filling your belly. Another part is the Shun 顺 – which is the moving together of your diaphragm and your abdominal wall – just below your navel.
If you place your palms together, embracing your lower abdomen, (pretend that your palms are holding in a full pregnant belly) it will help you feel that part of your abdomen fall open and pick itself back up.
Inhale – Let your belly fall into your hands. Feel the membrane-like elastic nature of your lower belly. Stretch it out a little. At the same time, feel the elasticity and stretch in your diaphragm.
Exhale – follow your belly back towards your spine with your hands, and follow your diaphragm from an active pulling state to a floating and at rest state with your breath.
There is something deeply instinctual and restorative that happens when you spend about 20 minutes, inhaling and exhaling while maintaining a constant and tangible connection between these two membranes.
The next subtle quality to Natural Breathing has two parts. First, you want to lead with your lower abdomen, a few inches below your navel, and draw on your diaphragm. The second part, and this will take some imagination, is to notice that there is a sense of vacuum between your abdomen and your diaphragm.
Allow your mind to imagine (and your instinctual body to remember) that a fetus breathes in through its umbilical cord in exactly this way.
Feel your abdominal wall, feel your diaphragm, feel them both constantly moving, interacting, and adjusting to each other, like they are dancing together.
Play with this for 20 minutes a day for 100 days and you will notice some very potent changes in your sense of distress and your quality of life and aliveness (Qi).
By creating some draw, or vacuum, between the lower belly expanding outward and your diaphragm slowly following, you are imitating how you fed yourself, eliminated waste, and breathed for a few months before you were born.
In Daoist practice, this often brings up an affirmation of embracing the Unborn and deeply instinctual, if not purely animal, aspects of how the body knows itself and feels itself.
Once you have begun to feel that space, that subtle vacuum in your belly behind your naval. Shift your focus to Vase Breathing for a while.
Inhale – feel your breath filling your lower abdomen like water fills a vase. Open your lower abdomen completely and receive your breath, front/back, left/right, from the bottom up. First, fill the bottom of your vase, then the middle as your breath/water fills, stretches, and then passes your diaphragm. Then feel your breath fill your chest and throat.
Exhale – feel the breath/water leaving, like air leaving a balloon that has a slow leak. Empty your throat, your chest, and then your diaphragm and belly. Follow with your awareness and your hands. Also, follow with your vase – the connection to your breath that wraps around your whole body.
Squeeze your breath out at the end with almost no force. Just follow your breath out with assertion.
Wait for a moment, feel where your breath originates, and inhale…
20 Minutes of Natural Breathing
Begin Seated comfortably, extend your spine upward while hanging from above, with a level pelvis and a centered ribcage. As you breathe, explore the elasticity, and Shun – move with and follow, find a place of instinctual, soothing, and restorative ease.
For your first few practice sessions, I recommend some kind of rhythm in the background. It could be soft music, a ticking clock, a metronome, or anything that sinks you into flow and rhythm. Personally, I use a recording of a heartbeat that counts time over the sound of the ocean waves. If I intend to go to sleep after my practice, I use a combination of a heartbeat and the sound of rainfall. There is a lot of research on these specific sounds and a measurably positive shift in brain activity and stress hormones.
You will know you have found the right combination when you consistently find that your state of relaxation and your rate of breathing keep settling into tangibly deeper places – on their own. Again, and again…
Take your time and just connect and follow your body and breath – Just Shun…
“You cannot flatten the ripples on a pond with your hand.”
Inhale – with your palms wrapped around your lower abdomen, draw your lower abdomen open, as you follow it with your diaphragm. Notice a feeling of vacuum between your abdominal wall and the center of your diaphragm. Fill your vase from the bottom up.
Exhale – follow your abdominal wall with your palms, drawing your lower abdomen inwards, as you move it towards your diaphragm. Notice a feeling of gathering and containment between your abdominal wall and the center of your diaphragm. Then empty your vase from the top, release through your middle, and end with a little squeeze throughout your lower abdomen and perennial floor.
This article is an excerpt from the soon-to-be-released ‘The Foundations of Qi Gong, Breathwork, and Meditation.’
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