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The concept of Embryonic Breathing (Tai Xi or T’ai

Hsi) is probably well-known to most practitioners of

QiGong or Daoism, yet the technique is widely
misunderstood and mistaken for many things related
or even unrelated. This three-part article is meant to
clear up some of the confusion through dispelling
myths, and introducing solid, down-to-earth
explanations and techniques to follow, in order to
understand the true meaning of breath. Part 1:
Abdominal Breathing – The Four Corners of Breath
aims teach a basic method, which would enable the
western practitioner to start learning a simple
practice, leading to what might be regarded as
called embryonic breathing, enabling them to
advance their QiGong practice to the next level.
Embryonic breathing might appear as mysterious as
any of the philosophies of the orient, when studied
from the west. According to the book Tai Xi Jing
(Respiration of the Embryo) all life originates form
one breath, and the moment the embryo is brought
to the world, its respiration begins. Regardless if we
consider this to be a moment of conception, or the
moment of birth, the observation is correct:
As the embryo grows, its cells begin the gas
exchange called internal respiration in western
medical terms, that is taking up oxygen and getting
rid of the accumulating carbon-dioxide. At this
stage, the embryo is connected to the mother’s
bloodstream through the umbilical cord, its
respiration essentially being a part of the mother’s
own breathing. (This accounts for the often used
alternative name, umbilical breathing).
At the moment of birth, when the child first cries out,
the external respiration begins through the use of
the lungs. An interesting phenomenon that can be
observed from the very first breath drawn, is that the
new-born’s abdominal wall would be moving right
“against” its natural way, being withdrawn with every
inhale, protruding at the exhales, quite the opposite
of “normal” abdominal breathing. (This will be further
discussed in Part 2 of this article)
The confusion starts when people today, especially
those of western origin, try to make sense of the
ancient texts, forgetting that to decipher an ancient
culture’s full symbolism, regarding many millennia’s
worth of observations of anatomical processes, one
needs more than having read so many books on the
subject, even though one may be the most devoted
Daoist in the west. To fully understand a text like the
Tai Xi Jing, a lifetime of study might not be
sufficient. The symbolism of such books have been
conceived in a different age, when observation-
based anatomical knowledge have been very much
mixed up with mysticism and philosophy, requiring
one to be an expert in all of the above, truly
understand the oriental mind and speech, way of
life, motives, emotions, et al.
People who attempt to transmit such traditions
without grasping their meaning in full, tend to repeat
well rehearsed phrases, losing themselves in the
wast forest of names and explanations, grasping
onto these like so many straws. The best one can
do as a westerner, having been brought up in a so
different environment of speech, thinking and
symbolism, is to follow what is most natural: The
western way of thinking and reasoning, trying to
make sense of the oriental teaching in a way more
efficient than mimicking oriental thoughts would
mean, even though it may appear somewhat more
To make some sense of it all, it is probably best to
abandon the though of mysticism and high
philosophy for the time being. Without insinuating
that the understanding of such would be beyond
your ability, allow me to offer a different approach to
understanding this concept of breath, apparently so
mystical. To truly make sense of it for the western
mind, I invite you for a little experiment, through the
leaning of certain breathing techniques. If you are
persistent, you might find yourself capable of
“breathing without breathing”, an experience that
can and will become essential in the process of truly
understanding the tradition of Tai Xi.
Some scholars claim, that Tai Xi breathing may
mean the apparent lack of breathing at all, that one
may tap into the universal energies and stop using
their lungs completely, their respiration resembling
that of the embryo in its mothers womb. They claim,
that if a feather is held up to such person’s nose, the
exhalations would not disturb the feather the least,
apparently an evidence of all external respirations to
be subsided.
Such phenomenon is of course possible, and by all
means of western medicine it could be even
accounted for. It is not at all unique to Chinese or
Daoist tradition at all. Think of the yogi of India,
who, by the way of what might be called
diaphragmatic breathing, might appear to have
stopped breathing at all. Some western “magicians”
have been famous to claim they can be buried
underground for a great stretch of time, with little air
present, a trick learned from the fakir of the east,
the means of accomplishment being the same
principal as that of Tai Xi.
By the end of Part 3, a full account and explanation
of such phenomena will be given, but for now, let us
start with a short anatomical introduction to
breathing and learning a technique that will prove
rather useful in our journey to come.
Before we start, it is really important to understand
what really happens when you breath. Without
diving too deep into human anatomy, let me
introduce these few basic, albeit essential facts
about the way you breathe:
 When you inhale, you draw air into your lungs, for the
sole purpose of nourishing your body with oxygen,
which, from your lungs enters into your bloodstream.
When you exhale, all you do is rid yourself of the
carbon-dioxide, which accumulates in your lungs,
coming form your bloodstream.
 This process of gas exchange between your lungs and the
environment is called external respiration in western
 The fresh oxygen travels, by way of your blood, to every
cell in your body. The cells will then take up this oxygen
supply and use it in the process of making energy to
continue to function. They do not only take up oxygen,
but exchange it for carbon-dioxide, that is a by product of
the cell’s activity, having used up the oxygen supplied
previously. This CO2 now enters the bloodstream, to be
transported back to the lungs, so that it can leave the
 This process if internal gas exchange is also called
internal respiration in western medicine.
 The lungs themselves cannot “breathe”, the only expand
and collapse like a sponge, through the aid of muscles
that actively force them to change their size and shape.
The most important such muscles are the diaphragm, a
large, dome-shaped muscle underneath your lungs, and
the intercostals, those being small helper muscles, that sit
between your ribs.
 With each inhale, your diaphragm contracts and flattens,
pulling your lungs down. At the same time, the small
muscles between the ribs also contract, lifting up the
ribcage. This two-way pull ensures that the lungs will
expand, initiating an inhale. When you exhale, the
diaphragm and the intercostals all relax at once. The rib
cage collapses, and the diaphragm returns to its original
dome-shape, forcing your lungs to shrink, pressing the air
out of them, initiating an exhalation. (An interesting fact
is, that in Chinese medicine, the diaphragm is regarded
the barrier between upper and lower body, as this is how
far oxygen may enter the body by the means of external
respiration, and without the aid of the blood stream.)

Of course, the diaphragm is strong enough to

perform the duty of breathing without the aid of
other muscles, while you are at rest. The reasons
that most people will continue to use their chests
are many fold, but mainly connected to poor life-
style choices, such as sitting , bad posture, tight
clothing, the lack of adequate exercise, etc.
Correcting this bad habit of breathing into the chest
will be the first step towards understanding real
embryonic breathing.
Although described and taught as a basic technique,
simple abdominal breathing is the way you should
breathe naturally, this is the way you are meant to
breathe by nature.
Re-learning proper abdominal breathing does in fact
reduce stress levels without any further effort, while
learning meditation obviously adds much greater
benefits to simply breathing good. Learning
abdominal breathing can be somewhat challenging
at the beginning, but in reality it is much easier than
many would believe, as re-learning something is a
lot easier than learning a new skill.
 To correct your breathing put one hand over your chest,
another over your belly. Sit or stand with a straight spine,
but comfortably.
 Now, start breathing consciously. Watch your hands rise
and fall. Try to inhale into your belly, pushing out your
belly to an extreme with every inhale, and pulling it in,
as much as you can, with every exhale. Do this
consciously, only minding the movement of your
abdominal wall.
 Practise for a few breaths. When you are fairly
comfortable with it, and it does feel more natural than it
did at first, you can start doing it with less effort: do not
push your belly out that far and do not draw it all the way
in with each breath.
 Now start watching the hand on your chest. This hand
should barely move, or not move at all. This will
probably be much more challenging than the first part,
you would most likely need some effort to compress your
chest as you inhale, preventing it from moving upwards
and outwards. It might even help to apply some gentle
pressure with your hand, to prevent this movement, yet
the effort should really originate from inside, but never
force anything.

Do not worry, it will become effortless in no time.

This non-movement of your chest is only essential
for the learning phase. Once you learn to use
abdominal breathing naturally, some movement of
your chest will still be present, but a lot less
articulated or observable than when you are mainly
using your chest to breathe. Your breathing should
be relaxed for most of your practice. The movement
of your abdomen would still be noticeable, but not
very much articulated, while your chest would move
very little, or not at all.
Practise until you feel you need. Practise every day,
at least once a day, always in a rested position.
Remember, the exaggerated belly movement was
only for the beginning for you to feel how your
abdomen should move, you must not produce the
same belly movement for your entire practice. You
can use a couple of deeper breaths, with greater
navel movement every time you practice, to start off
with a better feel of it, then just return to breathing
normally. Another point to consider is, at least when
you are consciously practising abdominal breathing,
that you should not attempt to “suck in the air
through your nose”. Just move your belly in and out,
open your nose and your throat and let the air
stream in effortlessly, without doing anything else in
order to inhale.
 After several days of practice, when you are confident
and the correct breathing does not require a great effort
anymore, you can incorporate this practice into your
everyday activities. During the day, whenever you
remember it, start watching your breathing and if you
catch yourself breathing into your chest, switch
immediately to abdominal breathing. Do not penalise
yourself or feel bad about still breathing into your chest.
This is normal, you have probably been breathing like
that for so many years, your body needs time to re-adjust
and come back to its natural ways.
It will take some time, but you will notice how you
need to adjust your breathing less and less, and
eventually you will find that you always breathe the
right way, without any particular effort. How long it
takes, will vary from person to person. Do not try to
rush it, let it happen at its own pace. Chances are,
the process will take a lot shorter time than you
would expect, as your body has an amazing ability
of adaptation. If it takes longer than you thought,
there is nothing you are doing wrong, you only need
more patience. With time and practice the change
will eventually occur.
While the above described method is generally
regarded as ‘The’ abdominal breathing, there are
some, slightly more advanced abdominal breathing
methods, that should be learned in order to
successfully complete this experiment. There is a
difference between the simple abdominal breathing
you would observe in your everyday life and such
advanced techniques. You will not have to have
learned to automatically breath correctly in your
everyday life, in order to proceed, but in the long
therm it would of course have its distinct benefit on
your health to do so.
This advanced technique will not differ very much
form the simple abdominal breathing. One minor
difference will be, that apart from breathing into your
belly, you will maintain the conscious effort of the
movement of your abdominal wall, just like when
you were first learning it. With every inhale, you
should consciously expand your belly and with the
exhales you should withdraw it, although not to an
extreme. You can observe how your sides are also
moving along with the abdominal wall. As your belly
expands, your whole abdominal region would also
expand sideways, and as you withdraw your belly
your sides should tighten up like a belt around your
waist. This is a natural movement of some lesser
known abdominal muscles, often called the
The real difference comes from a little discussed
way of withdrawing and releasing your buttocks
during breathing, meaning mostly the squeezing and
relaxing the muscles around the anus and the
gluteal cleft. Some may prefer to omit this detail, as
it is not considered ‘proper’ to talk about such
topics. You should let go of any associations this
might invoke. You will use some muscles to aid your
breathing practice and nothing more.
 With the exhale, as you withdraw your abdominal wall,
you should withdraw (somewhat squeeze) your buttocks.
Neither your belly nor the bottom should be squeezed
strongly and it should not require an effort to do so, these
are all gentle movements. This will greatly enhance the
feeling of how your sides also tighten up.
 When you inhale, as you are expanding your belly, you
should relax your gluteal cleft and the muscles around it.
Again, do not attempt to totally push outwards either
your belly or your bottom, just relax it as much as it feels
natural, making sure you are doing it consciously.
This will provide a gentle massage for your internal
organs, as with each exhale you are compressing
them from two directions and each inhale the will be
relaxed once again. Also, this helps maintaining the
mindfulness and focus on your breath. When
breathing like this, your focus will gradually shift
from the abdominal wall to the inside of your
abdominal cavity, deepening your meditation
To learn advanced abdominal breathing, you should
set some time aside to practise it daily, always as
long as it feels comfortable. You will notice, that
unlike with simple abdominal breathing, a greater
amount of air will have been exchanged during this
time. This is due to the more pronounced movement
of your abdomen, resulting in deeper, more
conscious breaths, which can feel quite refreshing,
both physically and mentally.
As you practise, you will feel that you need less
effort to maintain such breathing technique with
time. While at first it might feel unnatural and
forceful, it should eventually become easy and
effortless. When this effortlessness occurs, you will
know that you have truly mastered this technique.
You must not wait for this to occur to proceed, yet it
would be most beneficial in the long term, if you
mean to practice regularly.
The full abdominal breathing further extends the
practice of advanced abdominal breathing through
introducing the lower back and the diaphragm itself.
 Once you are ready to proceed to the next level, you will
extend your focus from the belly and the buttocks to the
lower back. You should be aware of some perceived
movement of the lower back, although probably not
visible for the external observer, but it should be fairly
obvious for yourself, as you start paying attention. When
you inhale as your belly extends forward and your
bottom relaxes, your lower back will also relax, as if
your spine would be moving away from your centre.
 With each exhale as your belly will be drawn inwards
and your buttocks drawn upwards, you will also attempt
to draw your lower back inwards, as if your spine would
be moving towards your centre. While there may be no
actual movement of the spine, it would certainly feel like
the back is moving together with the belly, outwards as
you inhale and inwards as you exhale. This will feel like
an extension of the movement of your sides,
complementing of the feeling of tightening belt around
the waist. You should focus your attention to all three
points at the same time, belly buttock and lumbar spine.

With time you should be able to only observe such

apparent movement, without attempting to
consciously initiate it. As a result of your effort to
withdraw the abdominal wall, the muscles around
your lower back will naturally contract. This is the
sensation that you are looking for. Such perceived
movement comes from the natural contraction and
relaxation of the muscles around your lower spine
as a result of drawing in and relaxing your
abdominal muscles. This will probably prove
challenging, and you will need to practice until it
becomes fairly easy and straight-forward. This will
not happen at the first time you sit down to practise.
It can take anywhere between a few days and a few
weeks of committed practice. Being persistent is
very important.
Do not try to isolate the muscles of your back and
contract them consciously, it is more important to
feel it happen than to make it happen. Keep
practising this way, until you feel able to comfortably
maintain such breathing for some time without a
great effort. Eventually you may realise, it is in fact
the whole muscular belt around your waist
contracting and relaxing simultaneously, but for
now, it is most important to keep your attention at
these distinct points.
 The last corner of focus will be your diaphragm. You
will keep your attention focused on the three corners:
belly, buttocks and lower back, as you start focusing on
your diaphragmatic movement. This will be a lot more
challenging than the previous three points of focus, as
your diaphragm does not relax with each inhalation, but
it in fact contracts.
This fourth corner, the diaphragm, will not follow the
pattern of the other three, as they move away from
the centre at the inhale phase, but the diaphragm
will rather be moving towards it. As you exhale, the
first three corners will move towards your centre,
and the diaphragm will move away from it.
This means, when you inhale, your belly relaxes and
protrudes outwards, your buttocks relax downwards,
your lower back relaxes outwards as well, while your
diaphragm contracts and moves downwards.
Similarly, with each exhale, your belly contracts and
withdraws inwards, your buttocks squeeze
and contract inwards, your lower back squeezes and
contracts inwards as well, while your
diaphragm relaxes and moves upwards, returning to
its dome shape. Although the direction is similar (i.e.
moving up, or in; and down, or out at the same
time), the action of contraction or relaxation will be

Contrary to what you will see in Part 2, when you

will be introduced to the idea of inverted breathing,
where the four corners are moving in synchrony at
once away from the centre (exhalation) or towards
the centre (inhalation), through the full abdominal
breathing the diaphragm is pushing down, and the
three other corners are making room for the
contents of the abdominal cavity as they shift
downwards. Similarly, the diaphragm essentially
makes room for everything moving up, as the
muscles contract and squeeze the intestines and
the contents of the abdominal cavity. This way the
full abdominal breathing provides a way of
massaging your digestive tract, not through squeeze
and release, but rather a downward-upwards shift.
This movement of your organs (mostly your
digestive tract) is present even while you practise
the most basic abdominal breathing, the only real
difference being that you now have a greater
awareness of it.
You have now been introduced to some very basic
and some rather advanced breathing techniques
alike, giving you sufficient material to practise. until
next week, when Part 2 of this article will be
published. Come back and read the instructions
marked by bullet points every day and make sure
you set aside a few minutes to practise daily, until
that time. In Understanding Embryonic Breathing, Part
2: Finding Your Lower DanTien – An Abdominal
Dynamo, you will be taken a step further, and be
introduced an even more advanced technique, that
will be your next step in understanding true
embryonic breathing through experience. Read Part 2
If you wish not miss the next part, make sure you
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Happy practising!
The concept of Embryonic Breathing (Tai Xi or T’ai
Hsi) is probably well-known to most practitioners of
QiGong or Daoism, yet the technique is widely
misunderstood and mistaken for many things related
or even unrelated. This three-part article is meant to
clear up some of the confusion through dispelling
myths, and introducing solid, down-to-earth
explanations and techniques to follow, in order to
understand the true meaning of breath. Part 2:
Finding Your Lower DanTien – An Abdominal
Dynamo takes the breathing technique learned in
Part 1 a step further, introducing a technique of
inverted breathing, through which you can re-
energise your body and spirit, taking you one step
closer to experiencing Embryonic Breathing, if you
have the persistence and tenacity to learn and
practice. Building on the technique taught in Part 1,
learning proper inverted breathing will add some
more complexity to your practice, by inverting the
movement of your abdominal wall.
According to some authors, watching a newborn
child breathe could lead to a better understanding of
what we all should be doing, as a baby is yet un-
spoiled, breathing the most natural way possible.
This is only partly true, as a child’s breath is yet far
from perfect, their body tissues (including those of
the lungs) and muscles (including their diaphragm
and abdominal wall) are still in development. Yet
when you watch long enough, you may be aware of
an interesting phenomenon: the baby’s belly will at
times move right “against” the breath.
As you have learned with abdominal breathing, you
should expand your belly, when inhaling and
withdraw it when exhaling, following the movement
of the diaphragm. Inverting the breath consciously,
when practising martial arts, yoga or QiGong, will
have some benefits, as well pronounced, as the
exaggerated movement of the abdominal wall
seems during practice.
When a newborn child breathes with the abdominal
movement so apparent, she does so, because her
diaphragm is less developed. This “help” is much
needed for her respiration and has the additional
effect of strengthening the abdominal wall and the
muscles around the waist. For an adult, who has
spent a lifetime breathing ineffectively, moving too
little and sitting too much, both the diaphragm and
the abdominal muscles are likely to be “out of
shape”, by means of strength and development.
Muscles need stimulation to grow and stay strong,
yet our lifestyle in the west almost ensures such
development will never happen to its full potential.
When you follow the breathing technique taught
in Part 1, you will consciously move many muscles
around the abdominal cavity, which in addition to
massaging your internal organs gently, will have a
definitive strengthening effect on the musculature,
especially of practised regularly and consciously. To
take it a step further you will now invert the
movement of the abdominal wall, apparently going
right “against” your natural breath pattern.
The following technique is often also referred to as
“reversed breathing” or even “embryonic breathing”.
The ambiguity of nomenclature rises from its English
name. Observations of a newborn’s inverted
breathing will make some authors call such
technique “embryonic breathing”, as this is among
the first external respiratory patterns after the
embryo is born. If you remember form part one,
even the Chinese tradition of Tai Xi Jing was not
quite unambiguous about when respiration begins.
The terms “when the embryo is brought to the world”
might mean birth, or conception. That way, the
breathing may start with internal respiration inside
the mother’s womb, or with the external respiration,
as you hear the baby cry out for the first time in her
life. To call inverted breathing “embryonic breathing”
is quite well in line with even the ancient texts. The
discussion of which term is “correct” seems
therefore so meaningless that even your humble
author often uses them interchangeably. For this
series of articles, the technique introduced below
would be called “inverted breathing”, simply
because a different approach of “embryonic
berthing” will be offered later in Part 3.
People often use inverted breathing, most of the
times subconsciously, usually right before
attempting to undertake some heavy physical effort,
as a way of preparation, such as heavy lifting or
otherwise moving a heavy object. Weight-lifters use
a method called ‘power breathing’, that is very
similar in principle to embryonic breathing. Proper
inverted breathing will result in a surge of energy
accumulating in your abdominal region. The
accumulation of such energy is caused by the
pressure and stimulation on and around the cavity
below your diaphragm, originating from the opposite
movement of the abdominal wall.
In QiGong, this is called the accumulation of Qi,
caused by the technique itself. The concept of Qi is
much misunderstood in the west, as the concept is
much broader than just some mystical internal life
force. Such romanticised notions of internal energy
come mainly from not understanding, or being less
well versed in oriental traditions and the
fundamental differences between how eastern and
western medicine sees the human body. While an
in-depth explanation of the concept would probably
require an article in itself, the short explanation of
the concept of Qi would be that it includes all energy
systems of the body (aerobic and anaerobic),
internal and external respiration, blood and lymph
circulation, nervous impulses, bioimpedence
and every other bodily system at once, those making
up this not so mysterious life-force. The confusion
probably originates from the fact, that western mind
and western medicine regards the body as a sum
total of parts (organs, limbs, etc.), wile the oriental
medicine views it as a whole, a system, which it
truly is, Thus life force would not be something that
is only partly responsible for life, instead it
is everything that makes an organism live.
Before going into detail about the effects of inverted
breathing on the system, and your breathing in
general, you should try the technique for yourself. It
will be much easier to understand anything in
regards of it, once you have experienced it first
hand. If you chose to continue the experiment in
Part 3 (when it will be published), you should
consider learning this technique as well as the one
taught in Part 1, practise it regularly and master it, as
best you can.
 Start with practising conscious abdominal breathing. It is
useful to be familiar with the full abdominal breathing
method as inverted breathing will share some of its
characteristics, while offering an even greater
complexity. For now, it is enough to observe it in its
most simple form.
 Once your mind has quieted somewhat, start inverting
your breaths. This will most possibly feel strange and
even uncomfortable at first, but you will quickly get used
to it. Concentrate on your belly, about one or two inches
below your belly button.
 As you inhale, squeeze and withdraw your belly as you
would normally do with an exhale. When you exhale,
relax your abdominal wall, and push your belly out. Keep
practising this way, continuing to concentrate on your
belly. Observe your breathing and the abdominal wall, as
it moves.
 You can incorporate counting your breaths, similarly to
what you would do in Zen meditation, once the inverted
breathing becomes natural. Although this is not required,
it can aid your concentration if you feel it is necessary.

Some would regard this simple technique as ‘the’

inverted breathing, yet there is some more to it to be
learned. Of course, you can comfortably practice at
this level as long as you feel necessary. Always
follow your intuition, when making decisions about
your practice. If something doesn’t feel right, do not
ever force it. To proceed further it would help to
have some experience as a meditator, with a strong
and undivided focus.
 Once you feel ready to proceed further, it is time to turn
your attention to your lower back. While continuing to
focus on your on your belly, start paying attention to
your lower back at the same time.
 As you breathe, your belly would come inwards with
each inhale, while pushing out on the exhale. You should
be able to observe a similar movement on your lower
back. Although it would probably not be noticeable for
the eye, you would definitely be able to feel it. The point,
that feels like the centre of such barely noticeable
movement should be in the centre of your attention.
Although probably not immediately obvious, this
inward-outward movement of the lower spine will
become much more perceptible with practice. As
your belly withdraws while you inhale, so should
your lower back. Similarly, they would both relax
and move outwards with the exhale. This is very
similar to what you have experienced with the full
abdominal breathing practice, only the pattern of
movement differs.
 Keep focusing on both your belly and your lower back
simultaneously. Instead of trying to split your attention
two ways, try to connect the two and focus on them at the
same time. It will not be easy and you definitely should
not rush it. Some time and devoted practice will be
necessary, but you will get there if you are willing to put
in the effort. Take as much time as you need. It may be
days, it may be weeks, or longer.
The sensation is most akin to that of your lower
back moving in and out, yet in reality this is just the
contraction and relaxation of the muscles around the
spine. Even though it may prove useful to
consciously contract and relax these muscles, for
many people it could prove difficult to isolate the
proper muscles and use only those necessary, thus
is it advisable to only concentrate on the movement,
or rather the sensation of it, as it happens, rather
than trying to consciously initiate it.
 When you are able to focus on the front and the back at
the same time, the next step would be to connect the
diaphragm into your practice. Continue with the practice
as usual, but direct your focus onto the top of your
abdominal cavity as well as the front and back.
 Feel your diaphragm pushing down on this cavity, as it
contracts, while your belly and lower back are drawing
inwards with each inhale. Through the exhale, everything
relaxes outwardly. Your belly protrudes and your lower
back relaxes, as your diaphragm returns to its dome
Mental imagery might help to deepen your focus,
while going with how it feels would certainly be
enough for most of the time. See, or feel your
diaphragm pushing down into your abdominal cavity
with each inhale, further compressing your organs
as both your belly and your lower back draw
inwards, then see or feel how it relaxes at each
exhale, relaxing this compression, as your belly and
your lower back also return to a relaxed position.
Practice meticulously, until it becomes easy, almost
natural. Take your time, practise as many days or
weeks as you need.
 The last step of the basics of this method will be to
include the buttocks (mainly the anus and the gluteal
cleft). This will not at all differ from the previous
experiences, or that of the full abdominal breathing. With
an inhale it will draw upwards, while at the same time
your diaphragm comes downwards and your belly and
lower back inwards, then, with the exhale, everything
relaxes and returns to the previous position.

You should now be able to focus on these four

points, or four corners simultaneously, eventually
realising that you are, in reality, focusing on the
whole of the abdominal cavity and what happens to
it through practising this breathing technique. It
takes considerable effort to be able to maintain such
focus, but it will naturally become easier with time. It
takes considerable effort to be able to maintain such
focus, but it will naturally become easier with time.
While breathing this way may seem “unnatural” at
first, in a way, you are using your musculature more
intuitively, then you would with full abdominal
breathing. If you consider the technique you’ve
learned in Part 1, not all muscles have the same
action: As you inhale, your belly, your lower back
and gluteal cleft are moving away from your centre,
all being relaxed, while your diaphragm moves
towards it, being contracted. As you exhale, your
diaphragm relaxes and moves away from the centre,
while the other three corners contract and move
towards it.
With inverted breathing, all four corners act in union.
As you inhale, all four corners, the abdominal wall,
the lower back, the gluteal cleft and the diaphragm
are contracting, and moving towards the centre. As
you exhale, all of them will relax and move away
from the centre.
As you may have seen form your own experience,
inverted breathing can be quite challenging and
difficult at first. It requires considerable involvement,
concentration, and even muscular activity. The most
immediate effect of this will be the massaging of
your internal organs. Unlike with abdominal
breathing, where your organs have shifted up and
down along with the movement of your belly and
diaphragm, now your abdominal cavity gets
compressed from all sides at once, as you inhale,
being released with each exhale. Such compression
and release creates a dynamo effect. It stimulates
your digestive tract greatly, aiding the absorption of
nutrients. Stored blood glycogen is secreted from
your liver into your bloodstream and some fat stores
around your bowels may get turned into even more
energy. This translates into an energy rush in your
abdominal region, also known as the accumulation
of Qi.
A longer term effect of this form of breathing, if
practised regularly, is the strengthening of the
abdominal muscles and even the diaphragm. As
both your belly and your diaphragm now move
against resistance, it will become decidedly more
difficult to breathe, requiring a greater effort,
resulting in greater stimulation of all muscles
involved, which in the long term translates into
strengthening these muscles , meaning a deeper
and more effective breath.
Of course there are many more, quite specific
applications of the technique. Martial artists find it
usually quite useful as it allows the muscles of the
abdomen to act as a more effective deflector of
incoming impact. When you lift weights, the
increased internal pressure and the tightening
muscular “belt” around your waist means greater
stability of the torso and the mush sought after
protection of the lower spine (of course this requires
a somewhat modified technique of breathing, that is
far beyond the scope of this article, yet the principle
is most similar).
Practising inverted breathing could also take your
meditation practice to the next level. The strong
focus required to maintain this technique will aid
your meditation efforts, especially if your focus is in
or around your abdominal region. As you continue
practising and become more comfortable with
moving the four corners in synchrony, your focus
would gradually shift from the four separate corners
to the inside of the abdominal cavity, that is being
pumped, or squeezed and released, much the same
as your lungs are.
Focus your attention at this area, when it is at its
“smallest”, meaning during the inhale phase, when
you compress it from all sides. This area you feel
being compressed is your lower DanTien, the field
of elixir, or garden of energy. The name DanTien
literally means “cinnabar field”, as cinnabar
(mercury-sulfide) was used to make medical “elixir”,
by the ancient Daoists. Because your DanTien has
the ability to produce energy, and as the guts’ health
is also closely connected to the health of the
immune system, the area is called this way, as it
has the capability to stimulate your “internal elixir”,
that being Qi, all too vital for your health.
Finding, and focusing on your lower DanTien is
essential for many meditation practices and will be
required to proceed with the exercises described in
Part 3, published next week.
You have now been introduced to a more advanced
breathing technique, giving you sufficient material to
practise until next week, when Part 3 of this article
will be published. Come back and read the
instructions marked by bullet points every day and
make sure you set aside a few minutes to practise
daily, until that time. In Part 3, you will be given a
demystified explanation of Tai Xi, or Embryonic
Breathing and taught the final steps to be able to
experience it for yourself. Read Part 3 here
If you wish not miss the next part, make sure you
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Happy practising!
Tai Xi Jing (Respiration of the Embryo), the original
document describing embryonic breathing is, by all
appearances mystical and its instructions hard to
understand or carry out. Apart from the obvious
Daoist mysticism and symbolism the text employs, a
closer look reveals that some earthly, even
anatomical facts, closely related to the phenomenon
known as Tai Xi are hidden between the lines.
As discussed earlier, there are two types of
respiration, internal and external, both essentially
meaning the exchange of gases oxygen and carbon
dioxide, one with the environment through the lungs
(external respiration) and the other between the
cells of the body and the bloodstream (internal
respiration). Both require a constant supply of
The embryo, inside the mother’s womb is really only
partaking in internal respiration of its own, drawing
the oxygen supply from the mother’s bloodstream
through the umbilical cord. As we have seen in Part
1, according to Tai Xi Jing, “…the ebmbryo being
brought into existence, the breath begins to move in
respiration”. Symbolism aside (that of the breath in
Daoist tradition and its connection to the spirit), the
question remains, what is the moment, when the
embryo is brought into existence? It might be the
moment of conception. Thereafter its cells could be
thought of as an entity quite separate from the
mother’s body, its (internal) respiration being its
own. The term “brought into existence” may
however quite as well mean the moment of birth,
when the external respiration of the newborn begins.
The breath of the newborn is imperfect and often
irregular. The anatomy is still undeveloped,
breathing like a newborn would be in no way
advantageous for an adult practitioner, therefore we
must assume, the Embryonic Breathing described
by the text must be that of the unborn embryo. Of
course, depending on an external supply of oxygen
and without an umbilical chord, this seems to be
unattainable. Some explanations of the
phenomenon would go down the mystical route and
claim that the practitioner would be in such a
physical and spiritual state, that they would tap right
into the energy of the universe, the original “Breath”
and cease breathing altogether, being nourished
only by a constant flow of universal energy through
their bodies. Once such “ideal circumstances” are
present, one would be able to put a feather under
the nose of the practitioner and the feather would
not move: A proof of the cessation of all breathing
Such explanations make two mistakes. One is,
interpreting symbolism quite literally (an explanation
of which is no intention of this article , the other is
not fully understanding human anatomy. The former
is a rather common problem, especially when
interpreting ancient texts, while the latter is quite
understandable, given that such explanations often
originate from times, the knowledge of how the
human body functions was wanting. Yet, even Tai Xi
Jing gives us a clue, why one should not cease
breathing: “The entrance of breath into the body is life;
the departure of the spirit from the external form is
death”.Regardless of how we might interpret the
symbols of breath and spirit (usually meant as “will”
in the text), the message seems clear: One who has
stopped breathing, is usually dead.
This of course does not mean, we should dismiss
the claims of the interpretations of Tai Xi Jing. A
state in which one would have ceased breathing to
all appearances is certainly attainable, and
anatomically possible. It does not mean of course,
that the practitioner would have stopped breathing,
but the external respiration becomes so shallow,
that for the external observer it would definitely look
as if it has ceased completely. Of course, the
circumstances must be ideal for this to happen, and
this corresponds to the common “knowledge” about
what is, rather symbolically, called The Breathing of
The Embryo.
Tai Xi Jing makes only one statement regarding the
cessation of breath: “When the spirit moves the breath
moves; when spirit is still the breath is still“. The spirit
is usually regarded to symbolise the will in this
context. When the will is still, the breath is still. (At
this point we can be sure, the Chinese sage wording
this text, have not been aware of how silly “will is
still” would sound in English, so many centuries
later.) This, coupled with observations of
practitioners capable of attaining the breathing of
the embryo, the conclusions were drawn: one must
cease breathing. Now we now it is not the case, but
to appear so, is not only possible, but it gives us the
final clue as to how to interpret the true Tai Xi.
There is another oriental, although unrelated
tradition, that of yoga, that focuses on breathing in
near scientific depths. Among the numerous
breathing exercises of the yogi, there is one,
obtainable though long practice and only by
reaching superb relaxation of the body and mind,
that has a very similar effect for the outside
observer: the diaphragm will move so little drawing
in an amount of air so minimal, that is only just
enough to maintain basic life functions. From the
outside, the yogi would look as if he has ceased
breathing, his breath not observable even though
the movements of a feather put under his nostrils.
Both traditions make use of the same anatomical
observations: The body is capable of shutting down
the functions of non-vital internal organs, in order to
save oxygen. The phenomenon is known to western
medicine and those with an interest in sports
science may have heard of it. When undertaking
rigorous exercise, such as running a marathon, the
body will redirect the blood-flow towards the skeletal
muscles, and away from non-vital organs, such as
the digestive system, that takes up considerable
amount of energy and oxygen to function. By
shutting off digestion, there will be more nutrients
available for the muscles, so that one may run
The oriental approach is only different in the way
oxygen is restricted: Not by being used up by the
muscles, but by reducing respiratory rates through a
conscious control over one’s breath. As the oxygen
levels drop, the body reacts. The heart-rate will
reach its lowest, the non-vital organs will reduce
their function, and may eventually shut off, the
biggest oxygen and nutrient consumer, the brain
goes into a deep resting state, so that it does not
require much energy. When the ideal circumstances
are present, the breathing reduces to a level, that
resembles the lack of external respiration. The
minimal movement of the diaphragm may only be
monitored by medical equipment, for the casual
observer the practitioner will seem to have stopped
Of course Tai Xi Jing gives us some anatomical
clues, and therefore proof, that the author was
better versed in human anatomy than many who
came after, trying to make sense of the text: “If the
heart is perfectly devoid of thoughts—neither going nor
coming, issuing nor entering—it will dwell permanently
within of its own accord”. This might mean the heart
itself, associated with emotions and desire, and the
state of “thoughtlessness”, a result of deep
meditation, that is necessary for the brain to stop
consuming so much energy.
If it seems plausible, yet near-impossible to put into
practice, you are almost right. It is not something
one would sit own and do right away, yet learning
proper Tai Xi is possible for almost anyone. All you
need is determination and lots of time and patience.
As is written in the aforementioned text: “Be diligent
in pursuing this course; for it is the true road to take” .
It does, of course, help to have a way to go about
achieving it, an action plan perhaps, some clues as
what and how to do, otherwise even the greatest
diligence would only lead to disappointment. The
below advice is meant to point out the direction you
may take. It will be up to you to go through with it
and, if you are really interested and have the
patience and determination, eventually experience
Tai Xi for yourself.
(If you have skipped the above text and came directly
here, I must advise you, that you will never succeed in
learning Tai Xi. This is simply because you are
impatient. As explained above, it requires diligence and
lost of practice. It will not happen immediately, probably
not even this week. For some it may take months or even
years of determined practice to get there, the “get
everything fast, get them now” marketing (scam) scheme
does not apply when it comes to breathing. If you still
feel like you are up for it, the steps below will be your
You will not need any external props or equipment,
but you will need a considerable experience in
breathing techniques, at the absolute minimum
those two taught in Parts 1 and 2. It will not be
sufficient to have tried them once or twice and have
a general idea of their workings. You must be well
experienced, if you mean to get anywhere and that
will take time.
To be experienced in meditation will be of even
greater advantage. While not absolutely necessary,
the ability of quieting your thoughts will benefit your
quest towards Tai Xi. You will be able to achieve it,
without having previously learned meditation, but it
would certainly take much longer. (If you are
interested in learning meditation, you can find
reliable resources on this website.)
As you see, it will be necessary to count your
breaths for a while. Wherever you find such
instructions, you should count them like this: 1 –
Inhale, 2 – Exhale, 3 – Inhale, 4 – Exhale, 5 –
Inhale, 6 – Exhale, 7 – Inhale, 8 – Exhale, 9 –
Inhale, 10 – Exhale. then start again form 1. If you
are experienced in such breath counting for
example by having learned Zen meditation and you
are comfortable with it, you can count this way: 1 –
Inhale and Exhale, 2 – Inhale and Exhale, etc. up
to 10.
 You should wear loose fitting clothing, with no tight
parts anywhere.
 It is important that you should not have drank or eaten
anything for at least two hours before you start
practising, and even then, only a light meal. You will
have been in the rest room as well, so that nothing will
disturb you. Yo will also have sufficient time at hand, to
truly experience Tai Xi, it could take several hours on
each occasion.
 If you know Shavasana or Corpse Pose of Yoga, and are
able to enter into its most advanced state, that is the way
you should proceed. If you stay in Corpse Pose long
enough, TaiXi breathing will eventually happen.
 If you are not familiar with Shavasana, or prefer taking a
different, or more targeted route, you should start by
sitting comfortably. Only sit cross-legged only if you are
confident that you can maintain such position for a a very
long time. This would require flexibility quite unusual in
the west, but if you have been practising for many years,
you may as well proceed. If you cannot sit cross-legged,
make sure you sit with a back as straight as possible, so
that you would not inhibit your breathing. You can use a
back-rest, as long as you can sit without compressing
your chest or abdominal region.
 Laying down is also an option and probably preferable,
as the level of bodily relaxation necessary for Tai Xi will
be very difficult to achieve while sitting.
 When you have found your preferred position, and made
sure there are no obstructions from your clothing and
your body position that would inhibit your breathing, or
force you to tense your body, start practising the full
inverted breathing technique you have learned in Part 2.
 When you are fully aware of all four corners of your
breath, most importantly the movements of your
diaphragm, and you have done at least five times ten
inhales and exhales with inverted breathing, change your
breathing pattern and start breathing with full abdominal
breathing, maintaining a strong focus on all four corners.
You will feel a relief of removing the pressure if inhales
from your DanTien.
 Breathe like this for another five times ten inhales and
exhales. After one hundred breaths, your body and mind
would have been somewhat quieted. Now, change your
breathing pattern again, but instead of reverting to a
simple abdominal breathing, you will direct your focus
inside your body, onto the movement of your diaphragm.
 For five time ten inhales and exhales, just watch the
movements of your diaphragm, as closely as you can.
Feel every inhale, as it presses down on your internal
cavity and as you exhale it relaxes.
 Now you are half way there. Chances are, your breath
have quieted down already, quite considerably. If you are
still aware of a pronounced abdominal movement, or that
of breathing deeply, start altering your breathing pattern
and have longer exhales than inhales (although not much
longer). Practice this way, until you feel your breaths
quiet down. It helps to continue counting your breaths.
 Now turn your attention towards your thoughts. The
intense focus these breathing exercises require would
have had the potential to quiet down the inner noise
sufficiently, but c you might still have some disturbing
thoughts coming. It would be most beneficial now, if
you’ve learned some meditation technique previously,
and most preferably not the westernised and often over-
simplified “mindfulness meditation”, a simplification of
the traditional Vipassana meditation method. (If you do
practice traditional Vipassana Meditation, it may be
useful, although practices such as Zazen might prove a
more resourceful practice for this singular purpose,
having the goal of quieting down your mind now, as
opposed to just being present.)
 If you do not know a meditation technique, you should
continue counting your breaths until your thoughts quiet
down. You will notice, that so many disturbing mental
images and thoughts occur. You should acknowledge
them and not try to suppress them, but do not dwell on
them either. “Letting go” of your thoughts is an abstract
idea, in practice it means coming back to your focus (in
meditation), which is, for now, your breathing. Do not
penalise yourself for having thoughts, this is natural. Do
not try to suppress your thoughts, or willfully “not think”
about anything, this is forceful and almost impossible.
The goal is to have your thoughts cease naturally.
 Make sure, you don’t just count. You must be constantly
mindful of the movement of the diaphragm. Never for a
moment lose its sensation. This is your key to getting to
Tai Xi.
Now, that you have sufficiently prepared, you have
arrived to the hardest part: Staying here. You will
continue your meditation practice, or counting your
breath, until you are free of disturbing thought
and/or images. It is not impossible, but of course
very difficult and it will not happen for the first time,
neither any time soon. Practising long enough, you
will eventually arrive to a state of quietness, where
your mind becomes perfectly still. By such time, you
will have stopped counting, your awareness of your
breath becomes effortless. You will probably feel
like having no body, but being just a breath yourself.
“When the spirit moves the breath moves; when spirit is
still the breath is still”. In other words, as soon as
your will (your mind) quieted down, your breath will
follow. At this stage, it will not be difficult to stay,
you will find it all effortless, nothing will worry you,
nothing would even occur to you, you would simply
breathe, unseen, motionless, as if all was happening
only inside you, nothing to do with the outside world.
If you stay long enough, you will eventually
experience the true breath of the embryo, or Tai Xi,
as it is written about in Tai Xi Jing.
Careful now, it is thought to be the essence of
immortality: “That which is metaphorically called the
Respiration of the Embryo is truly called the Inner Elixir.
It not only cures diseases, but confers immortality. He
who continuously pursues this practice will have his
name inscribed upon the Register of the Immortals.”
If you experience immortality, after having achieved
true Tai Xi, though creating the perfect inner
environment, please share your experience in the
comments below. :)
If you would like others to become immortal too, or
just want to share the immense health benefits of
this most perfect form of relaxation of bod and mind,
don’t forget to share this article.
Happy practising!