Written by David N e j a d i

BREATHING TRAINING FOR MARTIAL ARTISTS One of the most important aspects of martial arts training is proper breathing. However, for practitioners of hard styles, effective breathing methods are often left to the students to figure out on their own. The central principle of breathing is of internal cleansing, getting rid of that which is old, worn out, and stale, and exchanging it for what is new, fresh, and energized. During inhalation we are bringing in fresh oxygen, nutrients, and vital energy. During exhalation we are expelling carbon dioxide and other toxins and poisons that we produce or collect in our daily lives. There are a large number of breathing exercises. Some are simple and easy while others require years of practice. I will discuss the five I believe to be the most effective for the martial artists who are beginning to explore the potential of proper breathing. First, we will describe the two methods which are best suited for becoming aware of the body: Attention Breathing and Abdominal Breathing. We will then go on to the more advanced exercises of Reverse Abdominal Breathing and Nose Panting. Finally we will introduce The Complete Breath which is more challenging and requires increased concentration and practice. In practicing these breathing exercises it is important to concentrate on breathing through the nose, both during inhalation and exhalation. Of course when training in the martial arts, breathing strictly through the nose is unrealistic. In fact it is physically impossible since the body's demand for oxygen increases too fast for the nose to handle the flow. However, while doing these specific exercises it is important. Think of it as a closed circuit within the body, breathing in through the nose and out through the nose. If you open your mouth, you break the circuit and the energy dissipates. Attention Breathing It is important to realize that people breathe differently. Children tend to breathe with their abdomen, while middle-aged people breathe with their stomachs, and older people often breathe mainly with their upper chests. But the way people breathe is also affected by other factors, emotions, for instance, or ill health. Someone who is excited will breathe faster and shallower than someone who is sad. Someone who is calm will breathe slowly and deeply. Someone out of shape may be panting after a short walk or climbing some stairs. Attention breathing, as its name implies, is about focusing your awareness on the natural rhythm of your breath, not to control it but simply to observe it as a bodily function. Your awareness is the instrument which enables you to shift from unconscious breathing to conscious, or dynamic, breathing. This shift is accomplished by concentrating on the feeling of the body as it breathes. Feel the air as it enters your nostrils. Follow it as it flows into the lungs and notice how deeply it reaches into them. Maintain your full attention and follow it back up as you exhale. Feel the used air as it is expelled from the body. Gradually, as you become aware of the feeling of the breath it should become smoother and more relaxed. But don't try to change your breathing during Attention Breathing. Your aim is to observe your unconscious breathing habits so you will be able to feel the difference when you actually begin dynamic breathing. If you find your mind wandering, simply catch yourself and return to the breath. Try to perform Attention Breathing for five minutes each day at the same time of day, perhaps in the morning when you wake up or at night when you are about to go to bed. As you become used to it, see if you can focus on your breath at other times throughout the day. Eventually the awareness of

the breath and your breathing should become an integral part of your life.

Abdominal Breathing Once you become aware of your breathing, it is time to begin modifying your breathing habits. Abdominal breathing is by far the best breathing method for people beginning to study breathing exercises. Regular practice brings quick, tangible results. It is easy to learn and difficult to do incorrectly. In addition, Abdominal Breathing has the benefit of invigorating the abdominal muscles. Their constant movement massages the internal organs and increases blood circulation. The basic idea is simple: fill the lungs from the bottom up. Abdominal Breathing is about filling the lungs completely. Most people breathe using only their chests or the top half of their lungs. Abdominal Breathing seeks to expand lung capacity by starting from the lowest part of the lungs. The focus, therefore, is on the abdomen, an area roughly three finger widths below the navel. Known as the hypogastrium in Western medical terminology, this area is called the dan tien in Chinese and hara in Japanese. This point is the focal point of Abdominal Breathing. Start in whichever stance or posture you feel most comfortable. Inhale through the nose. Expand the abdomen gradually by lightly pushing out and down as the oxygen fills the lower lung cavity. Focus the mind on expanding the abdominal area. Don't be overanxious and forcefully protrude the abdominal wall. Instead, try to achieve a gentle and smooth expansion in time with the inhalation. When the abdomen is full, exhale through the nose and pull the abdomen gently back into the body, compressing the lungs from the bottom. With each inhalation the abdomen expands, with each exhalation the abdomen contracts. It is important to remember that you should not expand or contract your chest; instead, feel as if you are drawing the air deep into the lower part of your body. Repeat for ten cycles of inhalation and exhalation, filling to maximum capacity and emptying completely with each breath. Reverse Abdominal Breathing Reverse Abdominal Breathing is more difficult than Abdominal Breathing simply because it reverses the natural flow of the breath. Reverse Abdominal Breathing is a breathing method best suited for those who study the martial arts since it concentrates focus on the hara during exhalation. Regular practice strengthens the abdominal muscles and makes breathing naturally strong. Try blowing up a balloon while keeping one hand on your abdomen. As you blow out, your abdomen naturally expands instead of contracting. The same is true if you are trying to push a car that has run out of gas. In order to express the power you are putting into the act, you exhale while pushing out. Reverse Abdominal Breathing is a breathing method which tends to infuse the breather with power. Again, start in whichever stance or posture you feel most comfortable. Inhale through the nose. Slowly draw the abdomen in and up. The upper chest will naturally expand as oxygen fills your lungs. As you inhale, contract the muscles of your perineum. The perineum is the area between the anus and the lower edge of the pubis at the front of the pelvis. The central point of the perineum is called the huiyin in Chinese and is the focal point for Reverse Abdominal Breathing. By contracting and pulling up the huiyin you are able to concentrate on the abdominal area. Again, don't be overanxious and forcefully squeeze the abdomen. Instead, focus on keeping a smooth and relaxed motion. When the lungs are full, exhale through the nose, release the huiyin, and push the abdomen out and down. Repeat for ten cycles of inhalation and exhalation, filling the lungs to maximum capacity and emptying them out completely with each breath.

Nose Panting Breathing through the nose is of the utmost importance when practicing breathing exercises. The nose has a number of defense mechanisms that prevent impurities and extremely cold air from entering the body. First, a screen of nose hairs traps dust and other particles that could injure the lungs if we breathe through the mouth. Next, there is a long passage lined with mucus membranes, where excessively cool air is warmed and very fine dust particles that escaped the hair screen are caught. Finally, in the inner nose are glands which fight off any bacteria that may have slipped through the other defenses. The inner nose also contains the olfactory organ that gives us our sense of smell, which can detect poisonous fumes that could damage our health if we were to breathe them. The Nose Pant is a great exercise for charging yourself up with energy if you feel sleepy or for releasing stress any time during the day. Imagine that you are blowing a piece of dust out of your nose by sharply puffing out through the nostrils. This is immediately followed by an equally sharp intake of air through the nose. This in-and-out ventilation should be repeated in rapid succession ten times. As you become comfortable with the exercise, increase the number of repetitions. When beginning, just concentrate on the nose and upper chest when breathing, but as you progress try to focus on the abdomen. Abdominal Nose Panting consists of contracting the abdomen as you puff out. Reverse Abdominal Nose Panting expands the abdomen on the puff out. After completing a session of Nose Panting, always follow with a couple of deep slow breaths to calm the body down. The Complete Breath The Complete Breath is a dynamic breathing exercise that is both simple and complex. Regular practice expands lung capacity, which, in turn, slows down unconscious breathing and makes it smoother and more regular. In addition, The Complete Breath maximizes oxygen intake and enables oxygen-rich blood to flow to the extremities. It also cleans and invigorates the lungs. In the beginning it is best if The Complete Breath is practiced from a lying-down posture so maximum concentration can be placed on the exercise itself, which consists of four separate aspects: inhalation, retention, exhalation, and suspension. Inhalation Inhale through the nose. Expand the lower abdomen, pushing out and down, just as if you were starting Abdominal Breathing. Once the abdomen is full, continue inhaling and expand the chest, filling the upper lungs. Raise the collarbone and shoulders as you continue inhaling. Fill the throat and the nose. Stop. Retention Hold the breath in. Bring your attention to the fullness of the body. Feel the expansion circulating the oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. Continue to hold the breath in for a count of ten. Exhalation Exhale through the nose. Contract the lower abdomen pushing in and up. Continue to exhale by squeezing the air from the lungs and chest. Lower the collarbone and shoulders. Blow the air from your throat and nose. Empty it all out. Stop.

Suspension Hold the breath out. Bring your attention to the emptiness of the body. Feel your body like an empty balloon waiting to be filled. Continue to suspend breathing for a count of ten. Repeat On the next inhalation don't gasp for air. Calmly and smoothly inhale just as before. Feel the air reaching far beyond your abdomen, filling every corner of your body like an expanding balloon. Notice the sensation of your body as the new oxygen is brought in. Do the complete set five or ten times each day. The purpose of breathing exercises is to enable you to bring awareness to your breathing. When you are aware of your breathing you can use it to maximum effectiveness. The change from unconscious to conscious breathing is accomplished by thinking about your breathing and becoming aware of your own body. Most of our behavior is unconscious. We walk around in our bodies, rarely noticing how they feel unless there is pain. Seldom do we consciously think of the body as feeling good. Feeling good shouldn't be an absence of pain. It should be an invigorated, energetic state where you are comfortable and happy in your body. Becoming aware of your breath is a way to reach that feeling. Expanding your breathing ability is a way of extending that feeling. Try to become more aware of your breathing during training and at other times. Take deeper breaths. Do regular Abdominal Breathing. If you feel yourself getting tense or angry, do some Attention Breathing and notice how your feelings change. If you are bored or sleepy, do some Nose Panting to reenergize yourself. No matter what you are doing, breathe. Make conscious dynamic breathing a regular part of your life and you will find it naturally benefits your martial arts training.

Developmental Breathing Exercises: A Breath of Fresh Energy
There are only two ways to make more Qi (pronounced, “chee”) or life force energy in the body: by breathing and eating. There is so much confusion with this simple concept that even students who are training for a few years still sometimes get confused. Exercise doesn’t make energy, it spends energy. Qi Gong, which is more refined and meditative, will likely spend less than more physical cardiovascular types of activities, but it is still a form of exercise (therefore it spends energy). The energizing effect one feels is from the circulation produced by exercise. It is not new energy. It is utilizing what is available from food and air. Which is more important? Well, people have gone weeks, even over a month, without food. Just try to go more than four or five minutes without air! If there is a deficit, and we are spending more energy than we are taking in, then there is a third, less desirable source of energy known as our Essence, Original Qi, or Jing. I will save the subject of Jing for a future article, as my focus here is to teach our fundamental and

developmental breathing exercises as taught through the Ch’iang Shan Pa Kua Chang Association. Our lungs are divided into five sections, or lobes, three on the right and two on the left. Although we should use all of this, most people use only the top two lobes of their lungs and have a very shallow breathing pattern. X-rays of older people have been known to show great amounts of atrophy in the lower portions of the lungs due simply to non-use. Use it or lose it is a literal term for the body. If any joint or muscle in your body is neglected, the brain will stop sending energy there and it will shrink, stiffen up, and atrophy. Your body figures it isn’t needed and so sends its energy elsewhere. It is quite good at conserving energy. The inner surface of the lungs is filled with millions of finger-like sacs called alveoli where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place. Here is where oxygen (and other components of Qi) enters the bloodstream through inhalation and carbon dioxide and other waste materials leave the body through exhalation. Picture your open hand with the fingers spread compared to if your fingers were kept together. The difference in surface area exposed to this oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange is dramatic. The surface area inside the lungs is no different: if you don’t breathe to open up and reach throughout the surface of all five lobes, it will become less and less available for use as time goes on. With over 400 million alveoli within this surface area, doesn’t it make sense to want to use as much as possible? Do you think there may be a reason for having so many? The five lobes of the lungs can be compared to bowls filled with food. If you had to feed a hungry group of people it would be much easier and efficient with five bowls rather than just two. You could reach up to 2 1/2 times the number of people at a time. Thing is, most people only use the top two lobes of their lungs for respiration. Not very efficient. Getting Started During breathing and/or meditation practice, you can choose from a few comfortable positions, based on your preference and experience. Standing is doable, while placing both hands over the lower Dan Tian (just below the navel), but not optimal because there is effort involved in standing. It is not as relaxed as sitting. Lying down is doable, also with the hands on the lower Dan Tian or placed over the heart (if you want to bring energy there), however the lungs aren’t able to expand towards the back due to the pressure there. Also, most people will fall asleep in this position. Various sitting postures are best as you can be very comfortable, upright, and not fall asleep. Use of a proper cushion for your body is essential for comfort and to allow circulation into the legs. As a martial artist, the legs are considered that much more and so you do not want to constrict the circulation there. A kneeling posture or some form of crossed-leg posture will work well with the right size cushion for your body. Probably the most common position used in our style and also usually most comfortable for Americans is in a chair or bench that allows you to sit with your legs at approximately a 90 degree angle. With the chair or bench, sit toward the front third, away from leaning back. Place both feet flat on the floor, directly below your knees, and comfortably apart about shoulder width. The back is straight with the head gently lifted and the nose directly over the navel. The spine is straight but not stiff and the hands rest comfortably with palms down on the knees.

About the Exercises

The following three breathing exercises are generally taught to all beginners of Ch’iang Shan Pa Kua Chang and are essential to increase the vital capacity and breath control for more advanced levels of training. It is imperative to remain relaxed and comfortable through these exercises. Nothing is forced and if any discomfort or dizziness occurs back off, go back to normal breathing, and then try again. If it continues, try again either later in the day or wait until the next day. It just might not be a good time. The best time to practice breathing exercises is a half hour before sunrise until about 9am or so. The air is cleanest and most full of oxygen at this time and the energy is considered most balanced through the transition of night to day (yin changing to yang). Sunset is also a good time as it too is a balanced “day changing to night” occurrence (yang changing to yin). Generally, avoid the extremes of midday or midnight. Midday, especially in the summer months, is too yang, or hot in temperature, and active (making it more difficult to relax and focus). Midnight is too yin, or colder, and can have negative results on health. These extremes make it more difficult to relax and actually can cause more tension in the body, right down to the organs. Do these exercise at least once per day, preferably in the morning but any convenient time is always better than not at all. If you can get in three times per day, then some time around midday is a good time to take a break from your day to recharge. As discussed, this is not an optimal time, but is okay for extra practice and to recharge when necessary. The Cleansing Breath: Imagine a balloon filled with water but an air bubble remains. The water represents “good Qi”, “good energy”, or simply what you want. The air bubble represents the bad chemicals in the air, pollution, or simply what you don’t want. If you try to force the air bubble out quickly, it will likely get all mixed up with the water and both water and air will come out of the opening. However, if you allow the water to settle, and the air bubble to rise to the top, then you could easily let the air out without losing any water. You would get rid of what you don’t want and keep what you do. It is helpful to visualize something like this during the Cleansing Breath. Inhale through the nose, and allow your lungs to fill comfortably. It is natural for your body to move with this deep breathing. The chest, the back, even the top, bottom, and sides of the thoracic (chest) cavity will feel the expansion. Then smoothly exhale through the mouth, through a small part in the lips. The exhale is generally at least 50% longer than the inhale. If the inhale is 2 seconds, the exhale is about 3 seconds. If the inhale is 4 seconds, the exhale is about 6 seconds. This is a general guideline and comfort is always first. Nothing forced. The exhale should be as slow as is comfortable. Repeat 15x. (Note: You would want to do more of this exercise if you are exposed to excessive pollution or chemicals in the air based on your regular environment-i.e. metro areas and work related chemicals, etc.)

The Filling Breath: Imagine you are preparing for a party, and you open a brand new package of balloons. When you first attempt to blow up the balloon, you will notice a certain amount of resistance against your breath. However, if you were to fill it to capacity, let the air out, and then proceeded to blow it up again, you would notice that it is now much easier to fill that same balloon. The balloon has been stretched and is now more accommodating. This visualization is useful for the Filling Breath. If you routinely practice deep and full breathing, your lungs will get used to this and using all five lobes will become the norm. In effect, you will increase your vital capacity and your efficiency of respiration. You will have more energy available. This exercise is done as follows: Inhale through the nose and focus on filling all the space available in your lung. Imagine every little nook and cranny being reached by this breath. Your whole torso will feel as though it is full with this breath. Feel the front, back, top, bottom, and sides opening up. But do not force. It should be a comfortable stretch. It is not that different than the Cleansing Breath except that your focus is more on the stretching than it was on the cleaning out, and you exhale through the nose here, not the mouth. The same ratios apply: the exhale is about 50% longer than the inhale. Repeat 10-15x. The Prescription Breath: The Prescription Breath is as it is named: by prescription. Just as it’s been said, “One person’s medicine is another person’s poison,” so it is with certain breathing exercises. A student’s Prescription Breath should change over time with practice. As the student develops, the breathing exercise should be changed. This is similar to further challenging a muscle with heavier weights. Always using the same weight will become too easy for the muscles and they will no longer respond. Higher levels of breath control and development is determined by making the right changes to breathing exercises once the student is ready. The main reason for so much precaution is the issue of “forcing”, or when a student who is not experienced enough to know when they are doing harm before it is too late. Always allow for natural development, which takes time, as opposed to being in a hurry for results and hurting yourself in the process. If you pull on a sapling to rush it into becoming a tree, you will kill it. In Korea, one student of my teacher, Master Park, experienced dizziness and double vision for at least ten years after taking it upon himself to practice an exercise he overheard being taught to another student and then was specifically told not to practice it. The most common breathing exercise taught as the third breathing exercise to most healthy students of Ch’iang Shan Pa Kua Chang is the Holding Breath. A person with high blood pressure, or even a person who angers easily and is under a lot of stress (ready to “blow their top” so to speak) does not want to hold their breath and create more pressure. This could be counterproductive. A person with these challenges needs to be very careful with breathing exercises. There should be no break or holding of the breath until a more relaxed state of mind and body can be achieved through simpler breathing exercises and meditation. Only an experienced teacher should be your guide for prescription breathing. That said, the Holding Breath is very similar to the Filling Breath. Think of it as an extension of it. The only difference is after the inhale, you hold for a few seconds before slowly exhaling. How long you hold is determined by how comfortable it is. If the exhale is not slow and easily controlled,

you are holding too long. The Sequence It is not always easy to just sit down and start practicing breathing exercises or meditation. You come in from a stressful experience at home or at work and then you expect to be able to just sit and turn it off. Maybe if you practice regularly you can get there much easier, however, it is really never easy. If you plan to get serious with breathing and meditation, ideally, you would at least go through your 13 Exercises warm-up, and some Dou Zhang (basic palm exercise) to get the blood moving and loosen up the body which would help change your state of mind. You might even go through a whole physical practice first. Then, you would settle down and transition into your breathing exercises. (Settling down after a more physical practice can be done with some easy Qi Gong such as Fan Zhang). Once settled, take your preferred posture (based on comfort and environment) and begin with the Cleansing Breath (about 15x or more), followed by the Filling Breath (10-15x), and then go to your personal Prescription Breath (15x or more). The Cleansing Breath and Filling Breath are also designed as a “warm-up” for your Prescription Breath practice, as this is the one designed for your personal development. The breathing exercises will help to relax your mind further so after you complete these exercises is a good time to meditate. Breathing makes more energy and meditation further calms the mind and stores (or saves) the energy so now is a good time to do more Qi Gong to circulate that energy. This sequence is ideal and does require a longer block of time to complete. Doing what you can consistently is what gets results.

Observing the breath properly creates depth and subtlety in your meditation practice. There are several reasons that it's one of the fundamental tools for reaching a highly focused state of mind. Our state of mind is linked in many ways to our physiological processes. Our physiology is largely interconnected and breath control extends to several areas within the mind/body system. Much of this occurs due to the link between your breathing, the sympathetic nervous system, and the parasympathetic nervous system. Both systems are a division of the autonomic nervous system which functions primarily below the level of consciousness. The parasympathetic nervous system controls the "rest and digest" system. It operates opposite of the sympathetic nervous system which activates during times of stress, and is responsible for our "fight or flight" responses. These systems complement each other, and breathing exercises will help restore balance between the two. If you would like to confirm this for yourself, then simply notice your breathing when you are in different states of mind. When you are upset it's easy to notice that your breathing tends to be fast paced and shallow. Do you think it's possible to be angry if you're breathing deeply and calmly? Also, before you fall to sleep at night you can notice that tension within the body causes uneasy breathing, and will disrupt the process of relaxation before sleep.

Belly Breathing
One of my favorite techniques, because of it's simplicity and effectiveness, is called belly breathing. Belly breathing may also be called diaphragmatic breathing because it focuses on the proper use of the diaphragm muscle to control breathing. This technique can be used anywhere at anytime and is very useful for calming a restless mind and quickly dampening stress or anxiety. The action of focusing awareness on the breath aligns the intentions of the body and the mind. The basis of Belly breathing is to consciously focus on breathing deeply and smoothly rather than the shallow uneven breathing we may be used to. We do this by becoming aware of the muscles and movement within our body as we breath. Please take a moment to do this simple exercise and notice the difference. Take a deep breath in a way that you normally would. Did you notice how your upper body expands out and moves up? When we normally inhale we tend to do so by expanding our ribs and puffing up our chest. This method limits the air we intake and the area of our lungs which are used. It also causes tension to build in the shoulders and upper back because we are unaware that we are also using these muscles. Belly breathing draws breath deeper into the lungs, and utilizes the proper muscles to do so. This not only reduces tension in the upper torso, but also increases the amount of oxygen provided to the body. To do the belly breathing technique it is best to practice this for the first time while sitting. This way you can focus your thoughts on your breath while not worrying about balance. Please find a comfortable place to sit and follow these steps: 1. Sit up straight. Tuck your chin back and make sure the top of your head and neck are aligned with the spine. Imagine there is a beam of energy extending from the top of your head to the base of your spine that you want to keep straight. This will ensure that air flows freely through the trachea and also relaxes the throat and neck. 2. Relax the body. 3. Now place one hand on your chest, and the other at or just below the navel. (it doesn't matter which hand, use whatever is most comfortable to you) 4. Now, inhale through your nose and as you breath imagine that your stomach is a ballon or a basketball that you are trying to inflate. If that doesn't work then think of a string attached to your navel that is being pulled outward when you inhale. 5. Exhale slowly and fully through the nose. Your stomach should retract and empty almost all of the air from your lungs. 6. Notice where your breath is now going. It should be going deeper into your lungs and moving lower in your body. 7. Take note of how much you are still expanding your ribs and upper body. If you are still using them, then you should relax those muscles. They are not needed for this type of breath. 8. Repeat the breath until you feel your stomach expanding more than your chest and ribs.

As you become more comfortable with this technique you will find that it can be done lying down or standing up as well. It's good to focus on this type of breathing at least twice a day until it becomes your normal breathing technique. I would recommend at least ten breaths in the morning just after waking, and ten breaths in the evening before you go to sleep. If you would like to learn how to go about creating a smooth rhythm to your breathing then continue on to the next part in this article.

Breath with Mantra
The video below utilizes a mantra to produce a natural and rhythmic breathing pattern. This breathing technique will help relax, focus and energize the body and mind. I recommend utilizing the belly breathing technique (or diaphragmatic breathing) with this mantra to get the most out of the exercise. You will notice as you follow the mantra that you automatically fall into a very smooth breathing pattern. This natural flow will synchronize the mind and the body producing a hum of energy and positive vibrations. You may want to stick with this mantra for now, and adopt another one for your regular mantra mediation. I will cover mantras in another article, but for now this mantra will prove to be very helpful. As you breath with the mantra, repeat the sounds in your head. This will keep your mind from wandering and allow you to focus on your breath. This will also prepare you for future mantra meditation when you wish to repeat your chosen mantra internally. Breath in to the sound of "So", exhale to the sound of "Hum". Did you repeat the mantra in your head? It's easy to become distracted and think that the audio is going to do all the work for you. Gently remind yourself that you must retain focus on the mantra and breath. This concentration will bring your mind into the present moment, and help increase your awareness. These two breathing techniques will provide a good starting point for future breath work. Please follow along with the second part of this article to learn more highly effective breathing techniques. Please remember to use caution when working with these methods, and be sure to consult a health professional if you are having any difficulty with your breathing.

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