Effortless Tai Chi Breathing: Step by Step Guide, Exercises & TechniquesJun 01, 2023
Proper breathing technique not only makes for more enjoyable Tai Chi practice, it can help you through stress, fatigue and challenging emotions. An awareness of the breath connects us to the body and helps return us to balance.
In this guide, we’ll walk through step-by-step how you can breathe effortlessly during your tai chi practice and in everyday life. We’ll explore wisdom from traditional Chinese medicine, Taoist philosophy and, later on, a special video from Master Gu.
Qi: the breath of life
Inhale. Exhale. The fundamental yin yang rhythm with us from birth to death.
Wisdom traditions from around the world consider breath to be the fundamental energy of life. In the Bible, God breathed into Earth to create the first human. In Hawaii, the most powerful healers are known as Kahuna Ha, “Masters of the Breath.”
Ancient China’s great healers and philosophers use the word “Qi” as the term for both “breath” and “life energy”. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are three main sources of human qi: breath, food, and our inherited biological energy.
Therefore understanding how to breathe well is one of the basic ways to increase our life energy, enabling us to live well for many years to come.
The power of belly breathing: the Dan Tian
"The breathing of the true man comes from his heels, while men generally breathe only from their throats”.— Zhuangzi 300BC, Taoist Philosopher
On the inhalation, the diaphragm moves downwards, pushing the abdomen out. This increases the volume of the lungs, creating a partial vacuum and sucking air in. During exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes upwards, the abdomen releases inwards, pushing the air out.
Inhalation: abdomen expands. Exhalation: abdomen contracts
Visualise your breath travelling down towards the Dan Tian. This practice will not only give you more oxygen for each breath, it releases tension and the diaphragm gives your internal organs a gentle massage. Not bad for simple breathing!
Should you breathe through the nose or mouth?
Allow, don't force
Other times, you can focus specifically on your Dan Tian breathing.
As you cycle between conscious attention and relaxed flow, over time your body will learn how to breathe effortlessly from the Dan Tian; less and less, conscious intention will be needed.
Let’s try it out: standing breathing exercise
Master Gu and I doing Zhan Zhuang (tree trunk standing meditation)
Your body is upright and relaxed. Shoulders gently down, drop the elbows. Hands together in front of you around your Dan Tian.
Settle into this position. Get comfortable. Enjoy this time of presence!
When you are ready, close your eyes and start to follow your breath.
Where is it travelling to and from?
There is no judgement here, no correction or adjustment. Just observation.
Bring your attention to the Dan Tian. Visualise it. The place from which life arises, our vital energy centre. Try to perceive it. Feel its energy radiating from just below your navel. You can use your imagination.
Now bring your attention back to your breath and, without forcing it, observe as the breathing fills your belly, connects with the Dan Tian and then flows out.
Do not try to inflate your belly or force the stomach out. Instead, be curious and find that with time you can bring your breath deep into your belly.
You will probably notice thoughts about other things. When this happens, just observe the thought, without judgement, and let it go. Return your attention to your breathing.
Do this for 5-10 minutes and feel that your body begins to breathe this way without intention.
When you are ready, come out of the meditation by gently opening your eyes. Shake your body. Bounce up and down. Wake your body up. Let out a belly laugh! You are a Tai Chi practitioner on a beautiful exploration of your being.
How do you breathe during Tai Chi?
Re-connect with the magic of breathing
Techniques aside, just your intention to work with your breath is powerful by itself. It’s easy to take breathing for granted. Through the stresses of everyday life, many don’t stop to think about their breath; the magical energy that works through our body, keeping us alive, with no expectation of reward. The generosity of nature breathes through us. Paying attention to the breath can be a simple gratitude practice. Grounding us in the body and the world.
Have fun exploring these ideas. Breathe easy!
More Tai Chi breathing learning from the Academy
A powerful morning meridian adjustment standing meditation.
“Tu Na” expelling the old and inhaling the new.
How to stand strong like a tree.
Immortal’s Waterfall breathing technique
The principles of powerful, peaceful and beautiful Tai Chi
Step-by-step tuition of Wudang Tai Chi forms
Step-by-step tuition of Qi Gong forms