There are two basic rules for the breath in Tai Chi:
– As you rise up you breathe in and as you sink breathe out
– As you expand breathe out and contract breathe in.
These rules are applied generally throughout the Tai Chi form, with an obvious sequence of breath, breathing out and in. There may be times in the form where there is a choice of breath, e.g. where you are both rising and expanding. The breath used here depends both on the sequence but more importantly on the intent of the movement.
The breath is co-ordinated with the movement, so that the pace and speed of the movement should reflect the length of breath. The breath is gently extended but never to the point where it becomes difficult. Overall the breath should be natural and not the focus of attention, although it is useful to sometimes go through the form with a focus on the breath. Do no use a sounding breath, let the breath settle and be natural. We should be aware that the breath and movement are co-ordinated but without the focus on the breath. In this way the co-ordination of movement and breath is a stage in the deepening of the form. It allows us to move away from the mechanics of the movement and leave it behind.
Once we know the form well, we discover it has a rhythm all of its own. A gentle progression through the form, continually moving from one posture to the next. Never stopping. The breath should be the same. The breath should flow, it should be almost impossible to spot a gap between the in breath and the out breath. The form flows and we can observe that flow. When don’t force the breath into the form, we do let the breath disturb or change the nature of the form. We simply allow the form and the breath to flow together. The form has tone and direction, just as our breath does. They travel together, in harmony.
Most people breathe by raising and opening the chest cavity. For most people this is how their breathing has developed in the years since birth. In Tai Chi breathing is different, we want to return to the powerful deep breathing we were born with in order to enhance the power of the chi. Abdominal breathing is centred on the Tan Tien. It produces slow powerful breath, which fully expands the lungs and helps to deliver power from the abdomen. Breathing from the TanTien refocuses your energy in the original centre of your body through which you were nourished before birth.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Rest your hands over the Tan Tien, one hand on top of the other. Slowly and quietly exhale through your nose and as you do draw in the abdomen as if squeezing out the air. Keep the breath smooth and slightly extended, never let it become rough or forced. When you start to breathe in allow your abdomen to expand outward, feeling the hands rise. Let this happen naturally, don’t force it. Let the air come and go without tension. If you can try to feel the diaphragm muscle drawing in the air as the abdomen expands and expelling the air as it contracts. Start to move with the breath. Rising as you breathe in and sinking as you breathe out, still feeling the expansion and contraction of the abdomen. This is the basis of the Tai Chi breath, practice so it becomes natural. Remember in the form that the breath should be natural, effortless, co-ordinated and subtle.