The breathing process is essential to understand in order to promote healing. Proper breathing organizes the posture and functioning of the entire body.
When you breathe in the diaphragm pulls downward. This inflates the lungs. When we practice Tai-chi, this pulling down of the diaphragm towards the feet not only aligns the body, but also provides some of the power of the movements. Breathing in requires relaxation of the abdominal muscles, which then promotes the relaxation and sinking of the entire upper body. As the neck and shoulders relax, the head can sit comfortably in its position. Breathing becomes easy and full.
The downward pull of the diaphragm also coincides with the broadening of the bottom of the foot through relaxation. As the foot relaxes and the diaphragm presses down, this creates a pressure that connects the feet to the ground. This and the general relaxation of each joint and muscle create the “root” that makes your stance solid yet your body loose and flexible.
Each in-breath creates a pulse of downward pressure into the root, which creates a wave of energy through the body upward. It is important to maintain the downward pressure even while the wave of energy moves upwards or else the wave will pull you out of your own root.
As your diaphragm pulls down, the lungs fill up from the bottom first, and only towards the end of the breathing in do the upper lungs fill. If you fill up the upper lungs too early you stop the downward pressure and the whole process of generating the wave of energy.
Imagine that your lower abdomen is a clamshell and that as you breathe in the lower part of the clamshell opens downward and presses into the ground. The breath then flows forward (as you are still breathing in) out of the opening in the clamshell.
Advanced Tai-chi students learn to breathe precisely so that the way the diaphragm presses down varies in order to create certain effects in posture and movement. In this way the form and push hands are really controlled from the abdominal area downward with the upper body just responding to the dynamics of that area. The result is that an intricate complex of “waves of energy” are created to give the form more substance and to make the push hands more effective.
Unfortunately most of our attention is in our heads and it is difficult for us to work with the dynamics in the lower area of our bodies because that area is “so far away”. So we say that you have to “live in your legs and pelvic area”. This means that your attention is not stuck in your head but can fill the lower area and operate from that area. The lower area of your body becomes the “home” of the attention just as much as your head is its home now.
For most people the attention is stuck in one location like a king sitting on a throne. In order to achieve the high level of health and awareness required in Tai-chi, the attention has to be able to move and flow just as the body moves and flows. The attention must be like water, not like a king on a throne. Achieving this change can be frightening. We are so used to the attention being frozen in place that we usually cannot even imagine it moving. Yes, we can pay attention to one thing and then to another, but the “seat” of the attention remains frozen.
This frozen attention then freezes the entire body down to the organ and cellular level and inhibits the activity on those levels. When we practice Tai-chi the fluidity of the body influences the fluidity of the mind and the fluidity of the mind releases the body.
It all starts with understanding Tai-chi breathing (natural breathing) and its role in “melting” the frozen mind and body. This can only be accomplished by working with a competent teacher. Make sure that your teacher understands these principles so that your Tai-chi practice will be truly a healing experience.