Tai chi breathing for health, peace and comfort – a simple practice

Tai chi breathing for health, peace and comfort – a simple practice

It’s been a strange summer – the Olympics and Brexit, long sunny days and driving rain. With even more change around us than usual, it’s time for some deep, comfortable breathing!

Actually, it’s nearly always time for some deep comfortable breathing. We are a culture of chronic shallow breathing and holding our breath. Once you start to pay attention to your own breathing, you might notice you’re holding your breath more than you realised.

Many people, for example, hold their breath when they’re thinking hard, or when something unexpected happens, when they get up from a deep chair, turn over in bed and so on…

Does it matter?

Well, yes. For one thing, you have more reserves of strength and stamina than you probably realise, and breathing fully can help you access them when you need them – climbing a steep hill, getting through a busy day, or dealing with a sudden emergency.

Deep rhythmic breathing oxygenates your blood better, so that even if your circulation isn’t great, your tissues get more of the oxygen they need for operation, growth and repair.

It opens your lungs. (Did you know that the bottoms of your lungs can actually get ‘stagnant’ if badly underused? That makes disease and damage more likely, and who wants to have lungs like a pond anyway?)

It massages your abdominal organs, rhythmically pressing and releasing (you see your belly pushing out and in), helping them in their work, and keeping everything easy and free-moving. Great for the digestion!

Best of all, perhaps, deep comfortable breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system – the opposite of the stress-response, flight or fight system. This is where the feelings of peace and comfort come from. As your mind calms and relaxes, your body can get on with resting, digesting, healing and repair.

So I hope you’re convinced enough to do some easy, enjoyable practice! I’d suggest spending 2-5 minutes a day on the simple process below to start with.

As you settle into it, try extending your time, or doing a couple of short sessions. It’s a lovely way to start and end your day, particularly if combined with some gentle tai chi movements.

As ever with these tai chi-related things, taking it easy and staying well within your comfort zone will give you great benefits.
A Simple Breathing Practice

Think of a baby lying on its back fast asleep.

As you watch from the side, its belly rises and falls a surprising amount, in a gentle natural rhythm – that’s what we’re aiming for for ourselves.

If you have time and inclination, you can do what is now being done in some primary schools – the children lie down and put a stuffed toy on their tummies. Then they simply breathe so that Teddy moves up and down comfortably. Schools doing this for a few minutes a day report that the children are calmer and happier – and the teachers probably are too!

Our basic tai chi breathing practice is simply an adult version of this – although no lying on the floor or teddy is required.

The Tripod

Sit towards the front of a firm chair, with your knees apart and centred over your feet. Check that you can feel your ‘sitting bones’ resting comfortably against the chair seat. (Which means that your buttocks are mostly behind you rather than under you – much better for your back!)

Let your spine ‘grow’ comfortably up towards the sky – feel a very gentle stretch as the golden cord from heaven attaches to the crown of your head and suspends it. The tops of your ears are now reaching up gently to heaven, while your shoulders are comfortably heavy, descending towards the earth.

This is the ‘tripod’ position, which makes an excellent foundation for breathing practices, seated tai chi and sitting generally.

If your lower back is currently weak, you may find that it is tiring to do after a short time. Keep practising (with the breathing) in odd moments, and you’ll find your back strengthening too. This makes everything – standing, sitting, bending – easier!

Breathe:

1. Let yourself become aware of your breathing. Don’t change anything, just breathe and notice how you’re breathing, and how it feels.
2. Continue breathing, letting yourself start to slow down, relaxing your lower ribs and belly, and feeling how that changes things. (You might find yourself sighing or yawning. This is fine whenever it happens.)
3. Continue breathing, relaxing more and more, letting the relaxation spread to your whole body. It’s common for your hands, feet and face to feel heavy and ‘quiet’ – it’s all good.
4. Let yourself enjoy ‘feeling into’ your body. We spend a lot of time dealing with what’s outside us. This is a time to enjoy simply being a quiet relaxing body, breathing gently and increasingly slowly and deeply.
5. When you’re ready, open your eyes, and take a moment to re-orient yourself before leaping up and getting on with your day!

Frequently-asked questions

Should my eyes be open or closed?         Either is fine. Just check that the little muscles around them and your mouth and jaw are soft and relaxed.

My mind keeps racing.         That’s absolutely normal. No need to worry or berate yourself. (Some people do!). Just gently bring your thoughts back to what you are actually feeling, now, in your body. It can help to say, inside, “in…” and “out…” or somesuch as you breathe – as long as you say it in a warm, relaxed, sleepy sort of internal voice.

Like many good things, this skill takes a little practice – but it’s worth it. After a while, you can find your peaceful breath even under stressful circumstances.

Start with a little, and feel free to do it as often as you feel like it. Noticing and simply deepening your breathing can be done anytime and anywhere – but taking time a couple of times a day to deliberately notice, slow and deepen your breath is a great refresher and stress reliever.

Let me know how you get on!

Advance notice: The Secrets of Pain – a short talk on pain, how it works and how to control it with hypnosis

To be held on Tuesday 3 June, 7.15 – 8.15, Methodist Church Hall, Kineton
I’m giving a free short public talk next week on pain and how to control it. You are invited!

(Almost) everyone experiences pain in one way or another. Yet pain is widely misunderstood.

It’s vital for our survival, and yet unwanted and chronic pain is a huge and increasing problem for us as individuals, for society and for the economy.

Now scientific research and practical experiments are giving new insights. They’re also explaining fascinating facts from the past and present:

 

  • In the 1840’s, Dr James Esdaile learned how to mesmerise his patients into feeling no pain as he amputated gangrenous limbs… What’s more, his patients also healed faster than his colleagues’ and thrived better…
  • In the Thaipusam Festival of Malaysia, devotees of the Tamil god Murugan hook weights into the flesh of their backs and chests, and skewer their cheeks and tongues… without pain or bleeding…
  • How the highly successful use of dental and medical hypnosis for pain control in the 50s and 60s came to be overshadowed by our current heavy use of pharmaceutical painkillers…
  • How stress and anxiety worsen our experience of pain, and how we can change it, just using our minds – you’ll have an opportunity to try this out (no pain required if you’re lucky enough not to have any).

 

I hope this talk will be entertaining and enlightening about this important subject. I also hope you’ll find it useful, whether you have an occasional headache, or are subject to chronic and highly distressing pain.

Please invite your friends and come yourself. We’re offering refreshments (including the famous Dragon Well Chinese green tea), and a warm welcome! For more information, or a copy of the poster, please contact me at this email address or on one of the numbers below:

07786 242949 or 01926 641075