Discussion on Breathing Method in Primary Exercises of Ba Duan Jin
Health Qigong pursues the “combination of body adjustment, breath adjustment and mind adjustment”. Ba Duan Jin is no exception. Though the exercise method of Ba Duan Jin is simple, skillful mastering the “combination of body adjustment, breath adjustment and mind adjustment” requires exercises over some time. In another word, it is required to firstly “adjust the body”; then, it is advised to “adjust the breath” on this basis, that is, add breathing into the exercise. When the postures of the movements are masterfully grasped and the breathing also lives up to the requirements, it is advised to gradually add ideation into the exercise, i.e., “mind adjustment”. In this process, does the so-called “breath adjustment” with breathing added sounds no longer simple? This article aims at discussing the optimal breathing method in primary exercises of Ba Duan Jin by analyzing the breathing characteristics in breathing movement and Ba Duan Jin exercises.
Basic Methods of Breathing Movement
Breathing, in a general sense, refers to external respiration, i.e., the whole process of air exchange between the origanism and external environment. External respiration is realized by rhythmical enlargement and contraction of the chest, and the consequent passive inflation (inhaltion), contraction (exhalation) and rest of lung. Breathing movement can improve the respiratory function, promote blood circulation and alleviate the burden of the heart. Common breathing methods include thoracic breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, paradixic breathing.
It can be seen from the breathing movement that breathing movement is mainly realized by the joint work of such respiratory muscles as diaphragm, external intercostals muscles, internal intercostals muscles, abdominal wall muscle, etc. In case of quiet breathing, the inspiration is realized through the contraction of the respiratory muscles (i.e., diaphragm and external intercostals muscles). Located between the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity, the diaphragm forms the bottom of the chest cavity. As it is still, it bulges upwards, like a bell; when it contracts, the bulged center descends. Thus, the vertical diameter of the chest cavity increases. External intercostals muscle starts from the lower margin of the upper rib, extend forwards in a tilting angle and ends at the upper margin of the next rib. Since the position of the spine is fixed and the sternum can move vertically, thus, the rib and sternum ascend when the external intercostals muscle contracts and meanwhile, the lower margin of the rib deviate outwards to enlarge the anteroposterior diameter and transverse diameter of the chest cavity. Increases in vertical diameter, anteroposterior diameter and transverse diameter of the chest cavity result in increase in enlarged capacity of the chest cavity and the lung and the intrapulmonary pressure is lower than atmospheric pressure. In this way, outside air enters the lung. This is the process of inspiration. In case of expiration, the diaphragm and external intercostals muscle become loose, the rib and the sternum return to their original positions due to gravity and elasticity. As a result, the chest contracts, the lung also contracts accordingly, forming the passive expiration, which is reflected from the heaving and falling of the chest and the abdomen. Thoracic breathing is a respiration process in which thesystaltic movements of intercostal muscle force the ribs and the sternum to move vertically, which results in increase in anteroposterior diameter and transverse diameter of the chest. It seems to us it is dominated by movements of the chest and the abdomen is relatively still. Diaphragatic breathing can be further divided into favorable breathing and reverse breathing. In case of favorable breathing, during inspiration, the diaphragm contracts, the diaphragm dome descends, the abdominal muscle relaxes, the viscera of upper abdomen such as the liver, the spleen, etc. descend accordingly and abdominal front wall protrudes outwards; during expiration, the abdominal muscle contracts, the diaphragm expands, the diaphragm dome ascends, the viscera of the upper abdomen ascends accordingly, abdominal front wall becomes hollow. The process of reverse breathing is opposite to that of favorable breathing.
Generally speaking, mammals tend to adopt diaphragmatic breathing. Its advantages lie in that it can bring the function of heart and lung cells into full play, increase vital capacity, strengthen cardiac functions, improve the vitality of the digestive system and further strengthen and activiate its function, which is conductive to discharging the toxics accumulated in the intestines. Most of the animals with long life adopt diaphragmatic breathing, for example: tortoises and snakes. Human beings mainly adopt diaphragmatic breathing when they are still fetus or infants. Since the time when they were still toddlers, they change their breathing method into partial thoracic breathing. Due to the change in breathing method, most of the lung lobe cells are idle for long time and consequently lose their activity. As a result, the vital capacity decreases, people’s longevity and the function of their potential are affected. Why is diaphragmatic breathing so closely related to life? Because the abdominal cavity accommodates all viscera(excluding heart, brain, lung), it includes the digestive system, urinary system, genital system, endocrine system and one part of the lymphatic system and have a large number of vascular nerves. In diaphragmatic breathing, thanks to the change in pressure of the abdominal cavity, the capacity of the chest is increased, the negative pressure of the chest cavity increases, the venous pressure of upper and lower cavities decreases, the reflow of blood is accelerated, the blood circulation is promoted and the metabolism of the viscera is strengthened. However, since the time when human beings began to walk upright, they have been breathed via thoracic breathing, the diaphragmatic breathing degenerates accordingly. Thus, abdominal movements also decrease, blood is likely to get stagnated and waste is more likely to accumulate in the abdominal viscera. In serious cases, the function of abdominal viscera and even the normal life activity are affected. Therefore, strengthening diaphragmatic breathing and promoting abdominal movements are of vital importance.
Basic Characteristics of Breathing Movement
Breathing methods of Ba Duan Jin include three methods, namely: thoracic breathing, diaphragmatic breathing and paradixic breathing. It emphasizes deep, long and slow breathing with the nasal cavity cooperated with meditation. In this way, stillness is combined with movement, each promoting and benefiting the other one. It also enhances the efficiency for the brain to getting into quietness, eases the body and mind, alleviates pressure and stress, and adjusts the mentality. Deep breathing led by ideation can not only discharge morbid air, absorb clear air, improve the alveolar ventilation volume and air updating rate but also massages the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity and promotes cardiovascular function, digestion and adsorption. Counter-abdominal respiration is often adopted in Ba Duan Jin exercises. This is because Ba Duan Jin is composed of a series of movements like lifting, stretching the body and descending. If these movements such as lifting, descending and stretching are cooperated with thoracic breathing, orthodromic abdominal respiration or other breathing method, the body will never be pulled, lifted, lowered or stretched. Instead, the body will be made sink or float. Specifically speaking, in Routine 1 of Ba Duan Jin, “Holding the Hands High with Palms up to Regulate the Internal Organs”, it is required to inhale and draw in the abdomen while raising both hands upwards; and exhale and relax the abdomen while lowering the hands; in Routine 2 “Posing as an Archer Shooting Both Left-and-Right-Handed”, it is required to inhale draw in the abdomen while taking the first stride; exhale relax the abdomen while having fingers crossed; inhale and draw in the abdomen while performing the movement of drawing a bow; and exhale and relax the abdomen while returning to the original position; in Routine 3 “Holding One Arm Aloft to Regulate the Functions of the Spleen and Stomach”, it is required to inhale and draw in the abdomen while raising the hands upwards; and exhale and relax the abdomen while lowering the hands; in Routine 4 “Looking Backwards to Prevent Sickness and Strain”, it is required to inhale and draw in the abdomen while rotating both arms outwards with palm face outward; and exhale and relax the abdomen while rotating the arms inwards with palm face downward; in Routine 5 “Swinging the Head and Lowering the Body to Relieve Stress”, it is required to inhale and draw in the abdomen while taking the first stride to prepare horse stance; exhale and relax the abdomen while squatting; and inhale and draw in the abdomen while turning the body to one side; exhale and relax the abdomen while turning the body around; in Routine 6 “Moving the Hands down the Back and Legs and Touching the Feet to Strengthen the Kidneys”, it is required to inhale and draw in the abdomen while taking up and raising both hands upwards; exhale and relax the abdomen while lowering the hands; inhale and draw in the abdomen while both hands caressing backwards from the armpits; and exhale and relax the abdomen while using both hands to touch the feet; in Routine 7 “Thrusting the Fists and Making the Eyes Glare to Enhance Strength”, it is required to inhale and draw in the abdomen while clenching the fist; and exhale and relax the abdomen while punching; in Routine 8 “Raising and Lowering the Heels to Cure Diseases”, it is required to inhale and draw in the abdomen while lifting the heel; and exhale and relax the abdomen while lowering the heel. Besides, in Ba Duan Jin exercises, some movements shall be alternated with some pausing-closing respiration consciously when the lifting attains a limit. For example: in “Holding the Hands High with Palms up to Regulate the Internal Organs”, when both hands are held to the vertex, in regulating the spleen and stomach, exercisers are required to hold the breath temporarily when one hand is lifted and the other hand is pressed downwards” in this way, the movement can be better and the circulation of qi and blood can be more smooth.
Breathing in Ba Duan Jin shall, in general, comply with the breathing principle of inhalation while ascending & exhalation while descending, inhalation while opening & exhalation while closing, inhalation while accumulation & exhalation while discharge. The key points include: inhale and exhale with the nose, and keep the breathing soft, slow and long; inhale slowly while lifting the hands upwards, exhale slowly and long while lowering the hands, inhale when the stretched hands approaching the body, exhale when the hands extend outwards; inhale while stretching the body, exhale while bending the body. It is advised to hold the breath in the transition point of different movements after the movement can be finished skillfully and reach a comparatively high level.
Breathing Method in Primary Exercises
Counter-abdominal respiration method is often adopted in Ba Duan Jin exercises. This breathing method requires exercisers to have obtained some Qigong foundations and reach a certain level. In case some Ba Duan Jin amateurs insist on adopting counter-abdominal respiration method or even adopting the pausing-closing respiration method at the very beginning of the exercise, most of the cases, they are likely to manifest such bad symptoms as sickness, discomfort, dizziness, mental confusion and being short of breath due to non-standard movements and lack of coordination. Therefore, the author holds that the exercisers shall maintain the natural breathing method and comply with the respiration transition before masterfully grasping the movements at the early stage of learning and practicing Ba Duan Jin. They shall not deliberately pursue the slow, even, deep and long breath; neither shall they deliberately pursue the coordination of breathing and movements. They shall not make breathing become a psychological burden. Instead, different people fall into to different cases. Exercisers shall practice the exercise with their own health status and constitution taken into consideration. The coordination between the movements and the breathing shall be natural. Each period of exercises shall be provided with a specific breathing method. For example: in case of the movement of “Holding the Hands High with Palms up to Regulate the Internal Organs”, i.e., the movement of stretching the trunk by lifting both hands, with a purpose of regulating the internal organs. In this movement, when both hands rest at lower energizer in the initial stage, the human body is in naturally relaxed standing posture, the breathing method can be mainly the common thoracic breathing and orthodromic abdominal respiration. When both hands move to the middle energizer, as the upper limbs are lifted to both sides of the trunk, the ribs and diaphragm dome also begin to ascend, the respiration method at this stage can be changed from the former thoracic breathing and orthodromic abdominal respiration method to counter-abdominal respiration method, that is paradixic breathing. When both hands reach the vertex from the upper energizer, since the chest is completely lifted and unable to descend, thoracic breathing is restricted. In this stage, the breathing is dominated by counter-abdominal respiration method. When both hands descend from the upper energizer of the vertex, to the middle energizer, the lower energizer and then the original position, the breathing method manifest a change opposite to that of the former one, i.e., change from being dominated by counter-abdominal respiration method, to being dominated by paradixic breathing, and then to being dominated by thoracic breathing and diaphragmatic breathing.
As a kind of traditional health preservation Qigong in China, Ba Duan Jin emphasizes the combination of “body, breath and mind”. Ba Duan Jin exercises, cooperated with reasonable breathing method, will enable exercisers to have plenty of qi and blood and perform proper movements, and obtain better effect by only putting in half efforts. In the opinion of the author, in the very beginning of practicing Ba Duan Jin, exercisers shall abide by the principle of following a progressive procedure. At the same time of maintaining standard movements and postures and insisting on correct methods, exercisers shall also, according to their own health status, adapt natural, reasonable and appropriate breathing method when learning the movements. It is advised to practice different breathing methods slowly and consciously in accordance with the ascending and descending, opening and closing after the movements can be skillfully performed, so as to gradually change consciousness in specific breathing in “breath adjustment” into sub-consciousness and eventually reach the state of “automatic adjustment without conscious adjustment”.