Almost every eastern technique of meditation, healing and even martial arts make a heavy emphasize on correct breathing. Over the time I have come across a large amount of different breathing styles, exercises and tips.

The benefits of breathing exercises vary from plain relaxation to collection of energy and healing. Breathing can help in meditation to bring the mind into a deeply relaxed state. Correct breathing can resupply the body with revitalizing energy. Breathing is also used to control Chi energy flow within the body.

I happened to read a lot of breathing exercises in different styles and I tried to find what are the important points. The most common point which almost every text I’ve read stresses is the importance of abdominal breathing. Most adults breath very shallow only slightly lifting the breast during regular breathing. This is in contrast with how little babies breath. If you have the opportunity to see how a little child is breathing, you’ll notice that their belly is moving out and in during their breathing and not their chest.

This style if breathing is the basic technique upon which many variations grow. It allows you to breath in more air, using the lower part of the lungs and not only the top. In chinese philosophy, in the abdomen, below the navel, lies the dantien point, which is the main storage place for the Chi in body.

Breathing styles have also some common structure. For convenience, I’ll use the form i:p1:o:p2 to describe the timing of breathing:

  • i – Time to breath in
  • p1 – Time to hold the breath after breathing in
  • o – Time to breath out
  • p2 – Time to hold the breath after breathing out

For example, 4:2:4:2 means:

  1. take a breath for 4 seconds
  2. Hold breath for 2 seconds
  3. Breath out for 4 seconds
  4. Wait for 2 seconds and start over

This is a very common form of representation. Sometimes, the second pause is non existent. In this case it will be written as i:p:o. Also, sometimes the numbers represent not actual seconds but a ratio between the stages. So, 2:1:4 will mean: breath in, hold for half the time and breath out for two times as long as breathing in.

What seems odd to me is that the different exercise have different timings. But maybe it is just different schools and there’s no one ‘right’ way to do it.

In the following posts I will present several of the breathing exercises I’ve learned. Stay tuned.