James: I will try and do my best to assist with a summary of what Da Liu has to say on embryonic breathing. I think the best way to do this would simply be to quote from his book 'T'ai Chi Ch'uan and Meditation'. In Chapter 4 ('The Tao Of Breathing), Da Liu says:
'The concepts of prenatal and postnatal breathing occur in Taoist writings and are also represented in diagrams ... The underlying idea is as follows. Before birth, the embryo does not need to inhale and exhale, for the breath is circulated through its body from the mother. The oxygen-rich blood comes to it through the umbilical cord and enters its abdomen at the navel. Thus prenatal breathing is done through the abdomen. After birth, of course, this method of breathing is no longer available as the umbilical cord is severed. Thereafter, a person must rely on breathing through the lungs, which is called postnatal breathing. Most people only breathe with the throat and lungs, so the prenatal breath hides in the abdomen, never joining the postnatal breath again. This capability plays a role in the practice of meditation, however, and so meditation and T'ai Chi Chuan may be said to bring about a union of prenatal and postnatal breathing. That is, during inhalation, as the medidator is drawing the postnatal breath down into the lungs and down to the navel, the prenatal breath rises up from the lower abdomen, where it joins together with the postnatal breath. During exhalation, as the postnatal breath rises up out of the lungs, the postnatal breath sinks down again to the lower abdominal region ...'
In his instructions for 'Navel and Tan-T'ien Breathing', Da Liu says
'This technique can be practised in the sitting, standing, walking or sleeping posture. It can be done anywhere and as often as you wish. Inhale, using your mind to draw in oxygen and fetal breathing to the navel. Then use your mind to carry the chi down to the tan-t'ien. Hold it there for one minute or more. Then exhale. When you feel that your whole body is relaxed, inhale. Use your mind to bring the chi through the tan-t'ien (the lower abdomen to the back, then up to the top of the head and down to the mouth. (As saliva accumulates in your mouth, swallow it and send it to the abdomen). Then exhale again and continue to practice. After practicing this exercise for a short time, your whole body will feel relaxed and warm. You will also be able to hear the sound of gargling in your abdomen.'
Personally, I find the lying down position the best for this, lying on my right side with the right leg outstretched and the left foot placed just behind the calf of the right leg. The right hand is under the right cheek, and the left arm is extended down the left side and the wrist and hand are draped over the left hip. Once this breathing became natural enough that I didn't have to think about it, I was in a position to apply it in Form practice. It is very purifying.
As far as the chapter on T'ai Chi movements is concerned, Da Liu's postures are fairly similar to Cheng Man Ching's. I have to say, personally, I don't like the Cheng Man Ching form, though of course that is a matter of taste and I wouldn't want to be controversial on that subject. But of course, the postures are there as an indication only.
I hope this helps. I have tried to select the most relevant passages. To give a further idea of what is in this incredible book, I think I can do no better than give a list of the chapters, which are as follows:
1. The History of Meditation and Exercise in China.
2. T'ai Chi Tu: Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate.
3. Fundamentals of Chinese Physiology.
4. The Tao of Breathing (Ch'i).
5. The Waxing and Waning of Ch'ien and K'un.
6 Standing Meditation.
7. Sitting Meditation.
8. The Five Concentration Points.
9. Breathing Meditation for Health.
10. T'ai Chi Ch'uan Movements for Meditation.
11. Daily Life: Sitting, Standing, Walking, Sleeping.
12. Sexual Energy: Production, Retention, Transformation, and Circulation.
13. Prevention and Cure of Sickness.
14. Questions and Answers.
I would just like to refer briefly to the chapter on Sexual Energy. For men, Da Liu is very much of the Taoist school that semen retention should be practised. However, it is worth noting that there is another school of Taoist thought, which, as I understand it, suggests that in a loving sexual union between a couple, there is a Yin/Yang union in which semen discharge is an irrelevance and the act can produce a greater spiritual proximity to God/The Tao (whichever is your preference). It is also worth noting that Western medical research carried out in Australia has proved pretty conclusively that among men, masturbation as often as five time a week assists in reducing the likelihood of prostate cancer, probably because ejaculation clears the prostate of the relevant carcinogens. Oddly enough, the research also concluded that this didn't happen in sex with a partner.
As for your final question, without trying in any way to sound facetious, I have tried to say all I can on the subject with appropriate quotations from the Tao Te Ching, and I am afraid I can offer nothing further on that - but please accept that as a limitation on my part. Kind regards, T.