Saturday, June 20, 2009

15 Clever Things To Know About Your Breathing

I came across this article on Goodlife Zen, a website for practical inspiration by Carole Fogarty. It deals more with what I call, ego-side Zen applications than the deep wisdoming teachings of Zen Master Dr. Bonnici at the Meditation & Spiritual Life Practice Community . I do occasionally find very useful articles there from contributing writers that can help us reach our calm Center and experience our True Nature. Proper breathing is very important to achieving this natural state of Being so I hope these tips will help everyone to use their breath in a more beneficial manner. Be well!


15 Clever Things To Know About Your Breathing

~ Carole Fogarty, Editor of Rejuvenation Lounge

1. Your breathe is the first thing to respond in your body: Your breathe will respond and adjust according to what you are thinking, feeling, observing, hearing, tasting, touching, sensing or experiencing at the time. It is intimately connected to your physical, emotional and spiritual state.

2. Check the depth of your inhale: Does your normal inhale only reach the middle or upper area of your chest? Or is your normal inhale even shorter stopping around your shoulder, neck and throat area? This is a great place to start developing a greater understanding of your breath by focusing on the depth of your inhale. A full inhale should fill your lungs and expand your abdomen. Place your hands onto either side of your lower ribs … feel them expand with each inhale. Then place your hands onto your belly and feel it rise and fall with each breath.

3. Let it go and move on with a releasing exhale: An extended exhale in times of stress pushes any drama, confusion and upset away from you. Short, quick, shallow breathes will bring any stress and drama closer to you. By slowing and deepening your breath, you create a healthy distance between you and whatever is going on around you. A deep releasing exhale will support you letting it go and moving on. Yeah!

4. 70% of waste is eliminated through your lungs: I thought I knew quite allot about the basics of the human body. It wasn’t until I started reading the Tao Of Breathing by Dennis Lewis that I discovered something I did not know. 70% of our body’s waste products are eliminated via our lungs and the rest through the urine, skin and feces. When the efficiency of our lungs is reduced due to poor breathing less oxygen is available to our cells, it slows down the flow of blood which carries wastes from the kidneys and lungs. Our lymphatic system which fights off viral and bacterial invaders is weakened along with a slower digestive process.

5. Your breathing habits influence the flow of your day: Jerky, shallow, fast, constricted or tight breathing reflects that you live your days in a constant stressed out - push and pull state. You tend to overreact to that which is happening around you and waste your precious energy unnecessarily. Your days are rushed, and time is always an issue. You have forgotten how to relax, be still and receive. Reverse your breathing habits to experience a different flow to your day. If you find it tricky to slow down your breathing then download two free 5 minute meditations onto your MP3 player. One meditation is called rejuvenation and the other tranquility bay. Alternately pack some rejuvenation into your handbag, Rescue remedy is perfect for calming you down. When your breathing is calmer your day will flow calmer.

6. Quality breathing can release fear, anger and sadness: Your breath will become disturbed when experiencing stressful emotions. To prevent these unwanted emotions from being pushed down and trapped in your body, simply breathe into your organs. When I studied Qi Gong we were taught to breathe into our organs. This, I must say was a life changing moment for me. I received enormous benefits almost immediately. Breathe into your lungs to remove sadness and grief. Breathe into your kidneys to dissolve fear. Breathe into your liver to dissolve anger. Breathe into your heart to open yourself up to more loving experiences. Breath in gently and deeply (never forced) to invite healthy energy into your organs, now consciously feel the stressful emotion flow out of your body with each exhale.

7. Your nose is for breathing and the mouth for eating: Whether I’m doing yoga, tai chi or qi gong all my teachers have recommended to breathe in and out through my nose. After spending the past few months researching breath in greater depth I have not come across anyone suggesting otherwise. One important reason which many experts share is that nose breathing corrects the balance of oxygen and dioxide in our blood.

8. Your breath activates your nervous system: When the sympathetic nervous system is activated you are living life with the “accelerator” on full throttle all the time. You are in “fight or flight” mode and constantly releasing stress into your body. On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system is like putting the “brake on” to life. It helps slow your body down which in turn allows restoration and rejuvenation. The key to activating your parasympathetic nervous system is to place your full attention onto your breath. Close your eyes and allow your breath to slow down relax and become gentle. Let your whole body absorb your now gentle breath. Another great way to activate your parasympathetic nervous system is to practice a little hand yoga for rejuvenation or to prevent exhaustion for as little as 3 minutes for results.

9. Experience the pause after your exhale: Take time to marinate with your breath. Don’t force anything or rush straight into your next breath. Notice the very natural stillness and slight pause after each exhale. Infuse gentleness into your breathing. Marinate for a moment with its nourishing flow. Don’t push your next breath into the future, particularly if you haven’t even got there yourself. Become present, live in the now and experience the pause after your next exhale. There is a pocket of peace to be found in that pause.

10. Your body can’t relax if your mind and breath are racing: Your thoughts are directly linked to the quality of your breathing. Busy, overactive thinking often means short, shallow and quick breathes. By focusing on calming your mind you will automatically be calming your breath and in turn relaxing your body. Meditation is an awesome way to calm your mind. Another option is to turn your back to the world for a few minutes. This very simple yoga pose that forces your mind to surrender. Your breath and thoughts have no choice, but to slow down. Gosh, our bodies are clever, watch out mind.
Free Breathing Tests

11. A conscious exhale removes toxins from your body: Spending longer on your exhale through your nose will remove old, stuck or stagnant carbon dioxide from the very bottom of your lungs, along with toxic bi-products the body has produced. In addition, a deep sign (strong exhale) is often a release of worries and heavy thoughts. A good exhale can help you let it go emotionally and physically.

12. Experience a yogic breath: Anyone who practices yoga with be familiar with the 3 main stages of yogic breathing. Lying comfortably on your back or sitting up in a chair inhale. Firstly notice your collar bones and upper part of your chest expand, then follow the inhale down by placing a hand on either side of your ribs and feel them expand. Lastly place your hands gently on your belly/abdomen area and notice the rise and fall of your tummy

13. Pulling your stomach in reduces your oxygen intake: One of the main benefits of breathing of course is to invite loads of oxygen into your body. Restricting your oxygen intake comprises the health of your body. To invite oxygen deep into your abdomen, diaphragm area keep your belly soft, relaxed and open. Touch and massage it frequently as your belly is the very centre of your breath. Many ancient traditions such as Taoism believe we can accumulate and store energy in our belly area. It is often known as our seat of power.

14. Breathing is not just for your lungs its for your whole body : You can consciously choose to direct the flow of your breath into absolutely any part of your body, for whatever purpose. Improve energy flow, dissolve tension, release a build up of pressure in your head area, ground you, energize you, de-stress you or to simply send smiles into all your organs. I’m prone to being vague and spacey. To ground myself I often imagine my breathe flowing down into my legs, feet, toes and then into the ground. It helps me come back into my body.

15. Shallow breathing causes memory loss: The Taoists believe that loss of oxygen though shallow breathing ie. your inhale only goes as deep as your throat or top of your lungs, is the primary cause of memory loss in the elderly. Not sure how true this i, and I can’t even remember where I read it but, nevertheless I included it anyway as it certainly got me thinking. Worth exploring.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Relax and Be Powerful

We use the term 'relax' often in everyday conversation and see it referred to in print just as often but do you really understand what it means to relax? I mean really r-e-l-a-x! Well, I thought I did for many years until I was introduced to a state of real relaxation. I was a teenager just beginning my training in Kenpo. I was called to the mat by my Sensei and told to Kumite' with another student. I thought I knew how to throw powerful punches and kicks because, after all, I was a seasoned street fighter and had just finished training with a Green Beret. The fight had barely begun when my Sensei said, 'Mr. Langley, relax!!'. I did feel a little tension in my shoulders so I shook it out and dropped them. When the kumite' class was over, my Sensei pulled me over and explained to me why being really relaxed was extremely important if I was to ever understand the essence of Power. This started me on my journey toward the state of true relaxation. I remember before class he had us lie flat on our backs with the lights turned way down while he led us through a guided meditation that put us in such a state of relaxation that our bodies "disappeared". I was only Mind - a calm and relaxed Mind. It was amazing! I had never been so relaxed in my entire life. I felt I was well on my way to understanding the power of relaxation and then I got hurt - extreme trauma that forever changed my life.

I will not relive that event again here but if you missed my post that briefly explained it, then you should read 'A Most Unlikely Blessing'. In fact, if you have not read it, then I suggest you do. This is definitely linked to that Wisdom and the two together should give you a broader understanding of a very important key to our True Nature. The injury to my cervical spine literally cut my spinal cord about half way through on the right side and left me permanently disabled with an extremely rare form of quadriplegia called, 'Brown-Sequard Syndrome'. I explain this condition in the other post. Anyway, that injury effectively turned all of my muscles on at the same time with no 'off switch' and made relaxing next to impossible. This presented me with an incredible challenge which continues to test me every moment to this day. With my communication lines from my brain to the rest of my body all malfunctioning, I had to find a way to get the messages to the right places. After much trial and error, I finally realized that I had to re-conquer my mind first. I had to relearn to calm my mind as I had in my Kenpo training before I could ever get my body to settle down. Throughout the late 1970's and 1980's I sometimes consciously, other times subconsciously, just 'did it' but it was never easy. I was never really sure how I got it to happen either - it just happened. Having lost my calm Center, there were so many times that I was overcome with frustration and just had to regroup and try again....and again... During this time, I was completely unaware that a kind of training was going on subconsciously so I just went on doing my best with this strange new life. This training remained hidden until recently. In fact, it came to me in a moment of calmness and clarity in the Present as all epiphanies do. I also explain this in my earlier post, 'A Most Unlikely Blessing' so I will not cover that again here. In 1990, I saw an ad for an evening continuing education class in Tai Chi that would begin soon up at Southwest Texas State University (Now Texas State) and I spent the next eight months learning a simplified 24-Step Yang Style Tai Chi form. I actually took the class twice but that is just me - the perfectionist! I practiced and practiced twice a day for a long time until the moves became second nature. This is when the true study begins and the Power of an integrated "Body-Being" becomes known. I had already been working for years to calm my mind so everything critical for Body Integrity started coming together - posture or alignment, mindfulness, grounding, centering, visualization, and of course, relaxation.

I started reading everything I could find about Tai Chi or, actually, Tai Chi Chuan, Chi Kung (Chinese Chi exercises), Aikido (a relatively new Japanese internal art), Ki' (Japanese for Chi), and others like Cheng Hsin. There was one central theme throughout all of the books and emphasized in the strongest way - Relax! I do not mean the kind I had known in Kenpo but a much, much deeper state of being. I read the same part about relaxing the shoulders but now I needed to find my Center again, my tan-tien*. In Tai Chi they are referring to the lower tan-tien which is located about three fingers width below the navel. This is the actual center of your body and your center of gravity when standing properly erect. So now you relax and calm the mind which relaxes the body and then you sink your mind down into your tan-tien. This is not easy and can take a lifetime to master, but hey, it is the journey that is important, not the 'destination'. Over time, as with everything you practice, you will find yourself there in this moment or that moment until you understand what you are doing. This is when the real fun begins!

To gain more insight into this relaxed state of being, I turned to one of today's truly great martial artists, Peter Ralston*. Beginning at the age on nine while living in China and after many years of training in several martial arts*, he opened The Cheng Hsin* School of Internal Martial Arts and Center for Ontological Research in Oakland, CA in 1977. Then in 1978, he became the first and only non-Asian martial artist to ever win the World Championship Full-Contact Tournament in the Republic of China. He actually did this to get the public's attention to his mastery of mind and body so he would be taken seriously when teaching a Way of Being that is far beyond anything else taught today. It was during my studies of his martial art, Cheng Hsin, that I read about "Water-drop Energy". He was recounting his training with one of the great masters* of Tai Chi Chuan when he described this incredibly powerful state of Being that took relaxation to a level few can comprehend. Use your mind to imagine this because I can not draw you a picture here. Standing in a Tai Chi stance with knees slightly bent, your pelvic area thrust forward, and your head situated so that your entire spine is aligned with your tan-tien, relax your mind and body. Now, feel your mind settle into your tan-tien and your energy sink into the ground. Next, visualize being inside of a field of energy shaped like a water-drop with the rounded bottom continued around to form a perfect circle with the top of it going through the tan-tien. The upper part of the drop tapers inward from the top sides of the circle until the tip forms at the top of the head. Now, visualize a horizontal line through the center of the circle. This is the ground! The bottom half of the circle is below the ground and filled with your energy*. Anyone who can achieve this incredible level of relaxation and body-integrity, is literally immovable!! This Tai Chi master said that his punches felt like they came straight out of his tan-tien! With grounding being the main source of our Power and with the upper body relaxed to the point of weightlessness, the Power this master directed from his tan-tien to his punches, strikes, or whatever is beyond comprehension! The feeling had to be one of total energy and ecstasy!!

The Art of Relaxation, and this level of relaxing is truly an art, a mastery of one's Being, is a fascination of mine to this day and is a core element of my self-work as I travel my Path with Heart. This journey of learning how to relax deeper and deeper is in itself a path to great wisdom - the very wisdom of Self, Source, and True Nature that all Awakened individuals seek to gain. I can not overemphasize the importance of learning how to relax and sink your mind, your energy, into your tan-tien. We are supposed to be this relaxed, centered, aligned, and grounded for this is our natural state of Being. We are born this way but quickly lose sight of this natural way of Being, our True Nature. It is our task, our duty, to regain this natural state of Power and to rediscover this feeling of ecstasy again as we travel our respective Paths with Heart back home to our Source. Jesus said that we must become as children again. This is what he meant and is a large part of following "TheWay". R-E-L-A-X!


*The tan-tien is situated in the intersection of the vertical lines from the crown to the perineum and horizontal from the navel to the ´´ming-men´´ (life door, also understood as the door of life and death and that the other important point is situated at the lumbar zone where it is most curved. It is in the tan-tien where the pre-heaven ´´chi´´ is stored.

Note: I highly recommend that you click on the embedded link, "Peter Ralston", and read about this man's journey to martial arts mastery and beyond. It is a truly amazing story!

Note: His main teacher, grandmaster Wong Jack Man, was probably one of the greatest masters of modern times. Only after seeing how far Peter Ralston had progressed in developing his Art of Effortless Power, did he teach him Ch'uan Li ((intelligent fist). I have found very little about this art and it is doubtful that anyone in the West has any knowledge either besides Peter Ralston. What a gift!!

* This particular master may be Wong Jack Man also but Peter Ralston later studied and trained with grandmaster William Chen Chi Chen - possibly a member of the Chen family who developed the Chen Style of Tai Chi Chuan.

Cheng Hsin

* It is said in Taoist teachings that the Ancient Ones breathed through the soles of their feet.
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