Breathing Exercises for Tai Chi
The following will highlight some fundamental techniques required for nei gong. Nei gong is also known as internal gongfu. Internal gong focuses on regulating the body, breathing, mind, qi, and spirit. It is impossible to cover all of this training here, so if you are interested, please refer to the books The Root of Chinese Qigong, The Essence of Taiji Qigong, and Qigong Meditation–Embryonic Breathing, by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, published by YMAA Publication Center.
First, we will focus on exercises for regulating the breathing that allows you to build up the quantity of qi to an abundant level and subsequently circulate the accumulated qi. Practice these exercises in the order that they are presented. Become comfortable and proficient in one technique before moving on to the next.
Normal Abdominal Breathing (Zheng Fu Hu Xi)
Stand with both hands touching the lower dan tian lightly. (The dan tian is found slightly under and behind the navel.) This light touch can help you feel the movement of the abdominal muscles and thus increasing the communication level between your mind and the lower dan tian. The tip of your tongue should touch the palate of your month to connect the yin conception and yang governing vessels.
Inhale deeply through the nose while gently pushing your abdominal muscles out and huiyin down. As you exhale, draw your abdomen inward and pull the huiyin cavity upward gently. (The huiyin cavity is located between the genitals and anus.)
You should practice this method of breathing until your mind is able to control the abdominal muscles effectively and efficiently. Only then can this area remain relaxed and allow the qi to circulate freely. Allow a minimum of six months of training this type of breathing to allow the body to adjust to the conditioning; then proceed on to the next form of breathing exercises.
Reverse Abdominal Breathing (Fan Fu Hu Xi, Ni Fu Hu Xi)
Once again, stand with both hands touching the lower dan tian and the tongue touching the palate of the mouth. When you inhale, draw in your abdomen and pull up your huiyin cavity. When you exhale, push the abdomen out and huiyin cavity down gently. Practicing reverse abdominal breathing may cause some tension in the dan tian. If that happens, stop using this method of breathing and return to normal abdominal breathing. You may also gently massage the abdomen to relieve the tension. As long as abdominal area is relaxed, you should not have a problem.
Wuji Breathing (Wuji Hu Xi)
This breathing is also called “Embryonic Breathing” (Tai Xi). In this practice, you keep your mind at the center of gravity that is also recognized as the real lower dan tian (zhen xia dan tian). When you practice, use reverse abdominal breathing. The only difference is when you inhale, you are also pulling the muscles on the lower back inward, and when you exhale, you are pushing them out. This will help you locate the center of gravity. This breathing helps you lead the qi to the real dan tian and store it to a higher level. If you wish to know more about Embryonic Breathing, please refer to the book Qigong Meditation–Embryonic Breathing, published by YMAA Publication Center.
Yongquan Breathing (Yongquan Hu Xi)
Yongquan breathing is also called “sole breathing” (zhong xi). It was described in the book, Zhuang Zi, around the fourth century b.c. It is called yongquan xi (yongquan breathing) in Daoist society.
In this breathing exercise, stand with your legs open to about shoulder width apart. Again, the hands touch the abdominal area and the tongue touches the palate of mouth gently. First, inhale and lead the qi to the real lower dan tian. Next, exhale, squat down slightly and imagine you are pushing the feet downward. Through this image of pushing, you are using your mind to lead the qi down through the yongquan cavity. When you imagine pushing the feet downward, your mind should aim at least six inches under the feet so that qi does not get trapped. A variation of this exercise is to twist your torso to one side as you squat and exhale.
On the next breath, twist your torso to the opposite side. This will increase the stretching of the tendons and ligaments in the ankles, knees, and hips resulting in a strengthening of the joints. If you practice this correctly, you may feel the hot or warm feeling caused by qi accumulation at the bottom of your feet in just a few minutes. To remove the qi accumulated, simply raise your heels and then your toes, alternately, a couple times after you have finished practicing.
Laogong Breathing (Laogong Hu Xi)
In laogong breathing, use your mind to lead the qi to the laogong cavity located at the center of your palms. Again, stand with legs opened as wide as your shoulders. The hands touch the abdominal area and the tongue touches the palate of mouth gently. Use Embryonic Breathing. First, inhale and lead the qi to the real dan tian. Next, exhale and imagine you are pushing your hands downward without moving your hands. Through this pushing image, you are using your mind to lead qi through the laogong cavities. When you imagine you are pushing your hands downward, your mind should aim at least six inches beyond the palms. If you practice correctly, in just a few minutes you may feel some sensations, a tingling or static feeling at the palms.
Four Gates Breathing (Si Xin Hu Xi)
This breathing is a combination of yongquan and laogong breathing. The posture remains the same as in the previous two exercises. As you inhale, use your mind to lead qi to the real dan tian. As you exhale, gently squat downward and imagine you are pushing both your hands and feet downward.
Martial Grand Circulation Breathing (Wuxue Da Zhou Tian Hu Xi)
In this breathing technique you are leading the qi into the governing vessel through the mingmen cavity (located between the second and third lumbar vertebrae) in addition to the normal qi circulation path, which passes from the real dan tian to the conception vessel through the abdomen-yinjiao cavity (which resides about one and a half inches below the navel.) This will increase the supply of qi to the small circulation path and enhance the power of physical manifestation.
When you practice, stand with your legs opened about a shoulders’ width apart. Allow both arms to relax along the sides of the body. When you inhale, lead the qi from the real dan tian, downward through yinjiao, pass the huiyin, and then lead the qi upward. When the qi reaches the mingmen cavity, gently push back the lower back to open the mingmen cavity and lead the qi out to combine with the qi from the front. This qi is then led upward to dazhui (located on the posterior midline in the depression below the spinous process of the seventh cervical vertebra.)
When you exhale, lead the qi outward through the arms while also leading it from the real dan tian downward to the bottom of your feet. When you have reached a deeper level of taiji ball qigong training, use Martial Grand Circulation Breathing.
Taiji Ball Breathing (Taiji Qiu Hu Xi)
In this breathing, apply the Martial Grand Circulation Breathing into the taiji ball practice. In addition, hold both of your hands in front of your lower dan tian with palms facing each other. When you inhale, draw the abdomen inward, and the huiyin is moving upward (i.e., internal ball is condensing), while the palms spread apart (i.e., external ball is expanding.)
Then exhale to expand the internal ball while pressing your both palms toward each other.
After you have practiced for a few minutes, you may begin to feel an invisible qi ball forming between the palms. The longer you practice, the stronger the qi can be felt. This is a basic foundation of taiji ball internal gong training. Eventually, you will apply this kind of breathing through the entire taiji ball qigong practice.
Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, is a renowned author and teacher of Chinese martial arts and Qigong. Born in Taiwan, he has trained and taught Taijiquan, Qigong and Chinese martial arts for over forty-five years. He is the author of over thirty books, and was elected by Inside Kung Fu magazine as one of the 10 people who has "made the greatest impact on martial arts in the past 100 years." Dr. Yang lives in Northern California.
David W. Grantham has been training in martial arts for twenty-one years. He currently holds Certificates as Coach Instructor and Chin Na Instructor and teaches at the Hunterdon Wellness Center in Clinton, New Jersey. He offers privates, classes and seminars on Tai Chi Ball and Chin Na. David Grantham resides in Hunterdon County, New Jersey with his wife,and two children.