After one has successfully completed an introductory breathing practice like Following the Breath, it is time to explore more advanced Taoist breathing methods. The next practice to move on to is regular abdominal breathing. This is really the start of qigong practices. There are various stages in learning this method on the way to mastery. The stages are as follows:
1. You learn how to coordinate and control the abdominal muscles with the breath. The belly expands when the breath comes in and contracts when you exhale. The diaphragm drops on the inhale and goes up during exhalation. The goal of this stage is to make the breath smooth, with even exhalation and inhalation cycles. The mind and intention relax and the process occurs without conscious intervention.
2. In the second stage, with the breathing occurring naturally smooth and even, you focus part of your attention on the perineum (between the genitals and anus). The Huiyin acupuncture point is located here, where the yin governing vessel meets the yang conception vessel. When exhaling, gently bring up the perineum, and during the exhale, allow it to relax. There should be no tension in the perineum or abdomen. You will have to use the mind initially.
3. In the next stage, you will realize that it is not necessary to have your attention placed at the Huiyin. The movement will occur naturally. You cannot hurry this process, you will just have to practice until this happens. At this point, you will feel differently, noticing qi sensations during the movement of the breath in the perineum.
4. Finally, as the qi accumulates in the dantien, you will notice a sensation of whole body breathing accompanied with a stronger sense of qi being outward from the dantien during the inhalation.
Once you have completed these stages of regular abdominal breathing, you can advance to the practice known as reverse breathing. That practice will be discussed later. But for now, if you don’t know regular abdominal breathing and have not progressed through these four stages, you aren’t ready to move on. Remember that you can’t rush this process. You do the practice until it becomes automatic, doing without doing. Stay with your practice.
Someone asked recently, “Is Yoga a Good Way to Relax?”. On the surface one would say yes, however I have been to some classes where strenuous effort makes relaxing seem to be the most unlikely event possible. I recently went to a yoga session where the instructor was very advanced, and she was teaching beginners. The problems included the following: (1) she was introducing postures that were beyond the capacity of the students to do, and many were straining to achieve them, and (2) there was little or inadequate one-on-one instruction for corrections and adjustments that were needed.
This is where I think qigong instruction can go wrong as well. We need correction along the way. And if we don’t follow the 70% rule, observing our limitations and not going beyond 70% of these limitations (regarding movements, postures and breath), we can facilitate both progress in our practice and healing. Sometimes we forget to take it easy and let healing occur, and see the achieving of unrealistic goals as a necessary task. Don’t do your practice that way. Allow yourself to become more flexible and breath better through regular practice, you will improve your health faster and have more fun in the process.
There are basically two schools of Taoist meditation, one that is called the “fire” school and another that is called the “water” school. The approaches in meditation differ considerably. The water school is derived from the original teachings of Lao Tze in the Tao Te Ching. Cultivation of the “valley spirit” figures heavily in the approach of this type of meditation. In contrast, there is the fire school, where one uses effort to make progress. You could say that force is a valid way of describing the fire method approach. It is an outer method of development.
The water method is a means of allowing things to change, but presenting yourself with a consistent practice that helps foster that change. It is an approach of letting go. During the process, because of the regular practice, an increase in compassion for yourself (it is inner development, by the way) and others. Forgiveness, acceptance, detachment and tranquility become more common in your life.
I was reading a review of a recent book by Pema Chodron by a Brigham University student the other day. The review was interesting from the perspective of the author. His perception was that Buddhist meditation was a means of beating a type of consciousness into your being so that you were transformed into a more enlightened being. There are fire forms of Buddhist meditation that require visualization and verbalization as a part of the meditation progress, but as I remember Pema Chodron’s work, compassion and the water method are the primary routes for meditation progress.
I can understand the viewpoint of the reviewer of the book, since I have had many years of indoctrination into the principles of the Protestant Christian Church. The moralistic approach of many of the churches within that tradition can be a hindrance to inner development, and consist of more of a pasting-on of a proper socially acceptable mask on the practitioners. The development may, and frequently does, take on the path of what is called “prosperity theology” or Christian materialism.
The Taoist method of water meditation takes on many forms. An introductory practice is following of the breath. This method is especially good for beginners because it helps cultivate intention (Yi) that can be used in more advanced practices. If you are new to this concept, see the blog entry