A Discussion on Breath Adjustment in Health Qigong and Hypoxic Training
An article titled Deep Breathing Jeopardizes People’s Health was published on the newspaper Troudof the former Soviet Union on November 14, 1984. The reason for this opinion lies in that hyperventilation causes disproportion between oxygen and carbon dioxide in blood. The remarkable decrease of carbon dioxide will incur or aggravate various spastic diseases, for instance: brochial asthma, angina pectoris, angioneurotic headache, gastrointestinal disorders, etc. According to TCM syndrome differentiation, most of these diseases are caused by exuberance of liver yang. The function is oxygen is similar to that of yang qi in TCM and the function of carbon dioxide is similar to that of yin qi in TCM. According to the Yin-Yang Theory of TCM, oxygen and carbon dioxide are of equivalent importance. In Modern Physiology, on average, such important viscera as brain, heart, kidney, etc. need 7% of carbon dioxide and 2% of oxygen. While the fact is that there is less than 1% of carbon dioxide in the air. In contrast, the content of oxygen is ten times of that of carbon dioxide. Therefore, the experts of the former Soviet Union proposed holding breath as long as possible after normal breathing (it is best when holding breath for more than one minute). Otherwise, it suggests that the adaptability of oxygen deficiency of the body is very poor. This is quite similar to breath adjustment in Health Qigong. So, it is apparent that adjusting breath is conductive to adjustment of yin-yang balance in human body. It is not simply for the purpose of exhaling the old and inhaling the new, inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. The professors from the Health Institute for Mothers and Children of the former Soviet Union also invented “low-oxygen therapy”. The symptoms of patients that received the therapy were improved: not only severe pain was eliminated or alleviated, but also their sleep was improved; their pulse and blood pressure also became normal. They also did experiments on animals. The little white mice that have undergone “low-oxygen therapy” show strong enduring ability towards harmful stimulations. For example: applying bloodletting and radioactive rays to them, the survival rate remains 8%. In contrast, all the untrained white mice died. It is said that one method of training athletes in China is to bring them to Tibetan Plateau. There, in low-oxygen environment, their adaptability and endurance is cultivated. The physical quality and competition results for those athletes can be improved significantly. If people apply the method of regulating breath in Health Qigong appropriately to create low-oxygen environment, not only the training cost is saved, but also the risk of plateau disease is reduced. The methods of regulating breath in Health Qigong are diverse. The commonest one is the method of holding breathing in inner health-cultivation Qigong (which was popular in 1950s), i.e., holding breathing for several seconds after each exhaling or inhaling. As is well-known among Qigong amateurs, this is actually practicing the “fetal breathing” of ancient times. However, in ancient books concerning Qigong, “fetal breathing” is depicted as considerably mysterious. Many misunderstandings exist there. Practicing “fetal breathing” unscientifically and blindly indeed may incur such risk as plateau disease. As the name suggests, “fetal breathing” is one method of regulating breathing by imitating inner breathing of fetus. As a matter of fact, it is not breathing without using mouth or nose. Instead, it refers to reminding oneself of breathing with pores, navel or cinnabar field, in the way like breathing without using mouth or nose. It is upgraded exercise of breath holding training. As is pointed out in the book Three Key Points in Health Cultivation written by Yuan Liaofan of Ming Dynasty, “holding breath and inhaling it is called fetal breathing”, “however, knowing holding breath without getting exposed to fetal breathing is futile”. Twenty-nine rhymed knacks of fetal breathing are recorded inRhymed Knacks for Fetal Breathing by True Saints of Volume 18 of the Daoist Cannon, for instance: rhymed knacks for fetal breathing of Master Haichan, Master Xuanhu, Yuan Tiangang, Xu Shengong, Master Yu, Baopuzi, Kangcangzi, Huangdi (Yellow Emperor), etc. Ge Hong, famous doctor of the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD), said in Baopuzi · Explanations on Difficult Points: For breathing, “the fundamental gist lies in fetal breathing.” Those who can perform fetal breathing can take a breath without using their mouths or noses. They breathe the way the fetus does. At this spot, their vitality is cultivated. ” It is also said: “For those beginners that just start to practice breathing, they shall conduct breath from the nose, block it there, and hold it until counting in one’s mind from one to one hundred and twenty. Then, they exhale it slowly and inhale again, trying not to make noise in all the exhaling and inhaling. Generally, it is advised to inhale more and exhale less. It is advised to cover the mouth and nose with a goose feather fan. It is better when the feather is not forced to move during exhalation. Gradually, the number counted in one’s mind can be increased to one thousand or even more day by day”. Sun Simiao, the King of Medicine of Tang Dynasty, said in Qianjin Yaofang (Golden Major Prescriptions)· Method of Regulating Breath: “In terms of delighting mind and guiding qi, it is advised to prepare a closed dry and clean living room with a comfortable bed and a two-cun high headrest. Then, lie on one’s back, close eyes, hold breath in the chest and diaphragm, cover the nose with a goose feather fan, make sure the fan does not move, keep exhaling and inhaling for two hundred times, with ears hearing nothing, eye seeing nothing and mind thinking nothing.” This is a description on “fetal breathing” which occurs naturally when one is deeply immersed in tranquility. Therefore, “fetal breathing” is, by no means, fantastic. It is never a inner breathing status without using mouth or nose. In fact, this is a breathing status that is extremely long and faint in appearance. Thus, it is hard to distinguish. It can be compared with that fetus does. Otherwise, it can never be called “counting in one’s mind one hundred and twenty”, even three hundred breaths or one thousand breaths, since an exhalation and an inhalation make one breath. It is proved through many experiments and clinical facts that, people’s metabolism decreases sharply when they are highly immersed in tranquility while practicing quiet course. It is discovered in five cases and seven tests that their metabolism rate is 19% lower than average basic metabolism. In the most obvious case, metabolism is 37% lower than the average level. Some data suggests, practicing relaxation exercise makes oxygen consumption drop significantly and even the content of lactic acid decrease remarkably too. All of these are associated with decrease of metabolism level. Under such Qigong state, people can absolutely resist oxygen deficiency. Historical records and current fact of Qigong exercise suggest that human beings can imitate the hibernation of such animals as tortoises, snakes, toads, etc. Thus, both “fetal breathing” and “abstaining from grains” are necessary and possible. Gradual transition from the exercise of regulating breath in Qigong to the state of fetal breathing, is actually a kind of hypoxic training, or called “low-oxygen therapy”. “Low-oxygen therapy” can enhance animals’ ability of resisting adverse environment. According to Qianjin Prescriptions: “Fetal breathing” and “catching breath” can make people’s skin soft and smooth, complexion shining with luster, hearing and vision clear, appetite good and body strong, free from all the disease. Not only “thousands of diseases and minor disorders are cured”, but also “coldness and heat cannot injure them, nor can thousands of harmful insects (various poisonous insects) do harm to them”. These are not empty talks. Seeing from the phenomenon that residents in mountainous areas live long, it is estimated that the low-oxygen state caused by fetal breathing may be conductive to health and longevity. Embryologists have already confirmed that, during the whole development process, the fetuses are in low-oxygen state which is similar to that of oxygen deficiency environment in plateaus with altitude reaching 5,000 ~ 5,800m. Therefore, it is quite appropriate to generalize this special method of regulating breath and Qigong state with the word “fetal breathing”. We can only understand this analogy at this level. It is not allowed to depict fetal breathing as breathing without using mouth or nose. Otherwise, misunderstanding will arise. People will think that it is possible for them to stop breathing like that they do in postnatal period and return to natal inner breathing. This might mislead the beginners of Qigong and incur many adverse consequences. The medical journal of 1950s once reported some “Qigong diseases” such as oppression in the chest, suffocation, pain in the chest and diaphragm, dizzy head and headache, illusions, mental disorders, impotence, etc. The cause of such diseases lies in that strong anxiety of success and excessive control of breathing caused emergency oxygen deficiency. Under the condition when quiescence is poor and metabolism does not yet decrease, oxygen deficiency will injure many important organs such as brain, heart, kidney, etc., damage the normal functions of them and incur a series of serious disastrous consequences. Therefore, it is advised to notice this point at the same time of affirming the exercise method of fetal breathing. Only by evaluating it comprehensively, can we avoid deviation when practicing Qigong and also avoid detours. The main method for avoiding deviation is to follow its natural rule and proceed step by step. In case of low-oxygen environment, the physiological functions of human body shall adapt to it gradually. Otherwise, similar to the case that those residents living in low-altitude region suddenly arrive in Tibetan Plateau, they are prone to manifest plateau reaction and contract high altitude heart disease. The reason that Tibetan residents can adapt to oxygen deficiency environment in the Plateau lies in that the content of red blood cell and hemachrome in their blood is higher than that of the residents from the inland. As a result, their oxygen-carry ability is strong. Long time of Qigong exercise can also stimulate the function of hematopoietic system and increase the quantity of hemachrome and red blood cells. Therefore, those people that practice Qigong for long time often have rosy cheek. What’s more, higher quiescence protects such important organs as brain, etc. Thus, no pathological change due to oxygen deficiency occurs. Based on this knowledge, the exercisers are required to be not too anxious about the results. Instead, they shall do the exercise step by step, starting from natural breathing, and gradually reducing the times of breathing in one minute as the quiescence level rises. When one no longer feels suffocated when he breathes once in a minute, the state of fetal breathing occurs naturally. This rightly coincides with the sayings “persistent efforts result in success” and “Rome was not built in one day”. Only the “fetal breathing” occurred after long period of exercise is conductive to health and a long life. Definitely, it also manifests positive influence in training mountain climbers, submariners, astronauts, workers engaging in field investigation and tourists against plateau reaction, and plateau diseases, etc.