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From the moment we are born and take our first inhale, our breathing process evolves. The diaphragm expands and contracts, filling the lungs before pushing that air through the larynx to create the sound of a baby's first cry.
The Body Ecology approach creates a fertile environment and balances the system through the food we eat. The air we breathe, however, is not addressed as often, especially in western cultures.
How we breathe is essential to the quality of our life.
From the moment of birth, the "breath" begins in the lower half of the torso. The urogenital diaphragm pushes downward, causing the Upper diaphragm to push upwards, filling the lungs. Over time, damage is done to the body by being exposed to toxins in the air or via bad habits, like smoking. The body must work harder to filter and clean the air we breathe. The body's core and the legs become weaker with age and the lower diaphragm moves less and less, and eventually begins to freeze in spasm. The whole lower pelvic floor becomes over taxed. Elimination begins to suffer, because there is much less movement in the hips and whole pelvic girdle, making a good diet less and less effective.
As we age, the breath rises, using only the upper diaphragm, putting pressure on the heart. The lower half of the body is too preoccupied with keeping us upright and balanced. Eventually, many older or sick people lose strength in their diaphragm and rely only on the use of their clavicle muscles to breath. In order to prevent this rising, one should spend a few moments a day focusing on keeping the "breath" in the lower half of the torso.
Breathing is something that most people take for granted, but given a chance to perform within its own natural intelligence, the "breath" can improve and accentuate eating, exercise, sex, and overall radiant health.
Do you too take breathing for granted? Yes, your body may know how to naturally regulate your breath, but by practicing Taoist breathing exercises each day, you can greatly improve your immune system, energy, mental alertness, mood, digestion, and overall health!
A very important thing to remember is that the body knows how and when to inhale and exhale. For example, when you begin to exercise, the body knows that it must increase the oxygen level in the body in order to maintain mental and muscle performance. If you are angry or stressed, the breath gets short and shallow. When you sleep, the breath knows to slow down and go deeper.
Traditionally, everything from meditation to martial arts uses its own form of breathing. Many people have become familiar with "pranayama" or the breathing done in Yoga. One of the traditional Taoist arts is known as Qigong (also spelled Chi Kung, Chi Gong), which simply translated means "breath work". Qigong makes a significant impact on daily life by generating and moving energy through the meridian systems and building core essence, known as jing. Jing encompasses your mental and sexual energy and dictates the length and quality of your life. The practice of qigong improves and regulates the immune system, energy, stamina, mental clarity, blood pressure, athletic performance, hormones, mood, digestion, absorption, and elimination.
Begin slowly. Find your "breath" first. It is amazing how many people are not aware of their breathing or more importantly, when they are holding their breath altogether. In Taoist breathing, the area about an inch and a half below the belly button (or the thickness of two fingers together) is called the Dantien (or Tantien). It can be translated as the "elixir field" and is a focal point for many meditative exercises. Try lying on your back, measure where your Dantien would be, and begin to notice where your inhale begins. Most people's "breath" begins somewhere just about the middle of the torso, right around the bottom of the rib cage. That is the diaphragm that most people are familiar with, the Upper Diaphragm. Now, with your hand over your Dantien, see if you can start your "breath" at the Dantien, the Lower Diaphragm. In order to know what the Lower Diaphragm muscles feel like when they expand, take 3 quick sniffs through your nose. You should feel the muscles under your hand expand and contract. They also expand and contract when we laugh. When those muscles expand, it begins to engage your Upper and Lower Diaphragm and air gets pulled into the body. The most important thing is not to force this process. When you take those 3 sniffs, air will rush in, and in much more significant amounts than if you are breathing with just the Upper Diaphragm. The Saturation Rate (a common clinical measurement similar to the heart rate and pulse) measures how well the body is absorbing the oxygen it is breathing in. When you use BOTH the Upper and Lower Diaphragms you breath deeper. The air is inside you longer, allowing the body to maximize the amount of oxygen with each breath. Notice the calming feeling that overtakes the body as it begins to balance.
Try this exercise for a few minutes every morning. You will build your awareness of your inhale and your exhale, and practiced with consistency, will improve your overall health and wellbeing. For those on the Body Ecology Diet, improving the functioning of the lower half of the body will help make all of your dietary choices much more effective.
by Tony Costa
4th Degree Black Belt BaguaZhang
The way that you breathe directly affects the quality of your life, and it may be something that you take for granted. However, your body works to naturally regulate your breathing processes, whether you are exercising, stressed, or asleep. Traditional practices like martial arts and meditation focus on their own methods of breathing, and you too can use simple Taoist breathing exercises to improve your daily breath functions. These are exercises that can be practiced each morning to build your awareness of your breath and dramatically improve your overall health and well-being, coupled with your nourishing Body Ecology Diet!
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