The key characteristics of Tai Chi breathing are depth, softness and slowness.
Tai Chi breathing is one of the subtle aspects of the art that positively impacts your health in all sorts of ways. Tai Chi is infused with many different Taoist health practices, designed to maximise our physical and mental health and efficiency.
One of the first things emphasised is correct breathing patterns. The Taoists spent huge amounts of time observing nature and trying to find the common themes that underly harmonious and healthy functioning. A lot of breathing patterns were related to the long living tortoise.
In the practice of the majority of Tai Chi exercises, we don’t direct the breathing, we simply seek to relax the abdomen, the mind and the body and breath using the nose. using the nose rather than the mouth encourages the natural expansion of the diaphragm downwards, as opposed to mouth breathing which encourages chest breathing.
By adhering to these simple rules your breathing patterns will start to become deeper, longer and softer/quieter.
In one of the neigong exercises ‘Old man puts mind and spirit in unity’, there are two breathing drills where we specifically spend time following the breath, guiding it in a gently unforced way to the ‘lower dantien’, which is the lowest part of the abdomen. The breath is trained to become almost imperceptibly soft and quiet. It also slows considerably.
Deep Tai Chi breathing relaxes and enhances your body and mind
Tai Chi’s deep breathing practices activate the parasympathetic nervous system, bringing us into a relaxed state. This helps to improve your concentration, focus and general sense of wellbeing. It will also bring your hormonal system into balance.
When you’re under stress or in an uncomfortable environment, or experiencing emotions such as anger, the body tightens up, muscles contract and breathing becomes shallow. Tai Chi breathing is an excellent general counter to this, helping to keep emotional states more balanced.
The quality of your breath can help improve your memory, heighten your focus and ability to learn, concentrate and memorise. Your brain functions far better when it’s provided greater levels of oxygen, which leads to greater clarity. A properly oxygenated brain also helps reduce feeling of anxiety, stress, depression and helps people break out of negative though patterns. Proper breathing can also help to enhance and ignite natural creativity, which is useful and enjoyable in all endevours.
Your lymphatic system is helped by prolonged deeper breathing practices
Your lymphatic system plays a crucial role in keeping you functioning optimally, protecting you from bacteria, viruses and other threats to your health. This system depends heavily on gravity, movement of your muscles and the action of the breath to keep it flowing so that your body can be cleansed. By improving your breathing patterns you are going a long way to helping this crucial aspect of your bodies’ defences.
Tai Chi deep breathing can help prevent heart attacks and improve cardiovascular health.
Deep diaphragmatic breathing tones, massages and increases circulation to the heart, liver, brain and reproductive organs. In one study of heart attack patients, 100% of the patients were chest breathers whose breathing involved very little diaphragm or belly expansion. Another study found that patients who survived a heart attack and who adopted an exercise regime and breath training afterward experienced a 50% reduction in their risk factor of another heart attack over the following 5 years.
A recent study of some heart attack patients found that 100% of them were shallow chest breathers. They showed very little healthy downward expansion of their diaphragms. Another similar study discovered that by taking patients who had survived a heart attack, and teaching them deep breathing techniques, they experienced a 50% reduction in their risk factor for heart attack. The breathing action of Tai Chi encourages your diaphragm to expand downwards, which massages and improves the circulation for the heart, liver, brain and reproductive organs.
Tai Chi breathing improves your stomach functions
By practicing Tai Chi and getting the improved diaphragmatic action and deep belly breathing you will be bringing increases in blood flow to your digestive tract. this will encourage intestinal action, improve your digestion and alleviate symptoms of things like irritable bowel syndrome.
Science has proved Tai Chi keeps you looking young!
The Tai Chi classics state that beyond combat skills the deeper meaning of Tai Chi is to maintain a long life and youthful appearance. The youthful appearance part is now backed up by modern science, via the study of telomeres.
People who practice mind/body exercises such as breath or movement awareness practices have been found by the Harvard Medical school to have longer telomeres. Telomeres are the protective caps found on the end of chromosomes. This is done by the secretion of anti-ageing hormones as a result of practice. Short telomeres are linked to premature cellular ageing. Long ones the opposite.
So the evidence is clear, one simple aspect of Tai Chi practice, it’s breathing methods, can provide numerous life enhancing beneifts.