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.