What is Abdominal Breathing?
It is safe to say that the majority of people are all familiar with the respiratory activity known as breathing. However, most carry it out constantly at less than perfect efficiency, leaving those that don’t know about enhanced ways of breathing, inhaling and exhaling at a considerably diminished capacity. Abdominal Breathing is actually not a new thing for your body. You’ve done it before; while you were still in the womb and for the early part of your childhood. The stomach would pump in and out to facilitate the exchange of blood and nutrients through the umbilical cord, as the lungs were still in development and also could not respire for lack of air. After you were born, the abdomen was largely instrumental in the breathing process, but later the chest took over, and breathing became shallow. Thus, Abdominal Breathing is also referred to as “Return to Childhood Breathing” as well as “Deep Breathing.” (Deep breathing can be done with the chest as well, however, a key difference is in the unique effects of abdominal breathing on the body, which I will discuss in the following post). It may seem counter-intuitive to most, for we know that the ribs and the chest in general are made to expand and contract with each inhalation and exhalation. However, for deep, fulfilling breathing to take place, the diaphragm must be brought into the equation.
A child is quite literally, fresh and vibrant, as one can witness through observing the amount of energy they have. As time goes on, the body grows and changes, and the breathing, in particular, changes as well. Returning to this childhood way of breathing can greatly increase the vitality and energy level of the body, just like when you were a child. The cells of the body get more oxygen, and the organs in the abdomen receive stimulation from the movement of the abdominal muscles, causing an increased flow of blood, which can assist with keeping the gastrointestinal tract healthy and free flowing. It is a virtual massage regimen for the intestines. The abdomen is also the location of what has been coined as the “Second Brain.” (What some may not know is that the intestines have been found to be just like a brain — minus the ability to think and reason, and command the senses — hence the name “Second Brain”.) The intestines are arranged in relation with adipose tissue into a capacitor/battery type configuration. The muscles conduct electricity very well, whereas fat does not. When there is a good conductor sandwiched with a poor conductor, it produces the capacity to store energy. That is why in Chinese medicine, what is referred to as the Dan Tian, “Elixir Field,” is located in the abdomen, a little ways below the navel, and set deep inside. This is what we will be training with Abdominal Breathing — building up storage capacity in the Dan Tian, so that it can be utilized for maintaining the overall health of the body. When the qi (or chi, bio-electricity) is built up in the abdomen, the sensation felt can range from warming to tingling, and in most cases the muscles in the area will twitch. Once this begins, it is called Qi Huo in Chinese, or “Rise of the Fire” or “Birth of Fire”. From here there are methods for circulating the accumulated energy throughout the body in what is known as “The Microcosmic Orbit” and finally “The Macrocosmic Orbit”, but these are outside the scope of this introductory post. For now, the main focus is on rudimentary principles of Abdominal Breathing for those who are curious, and for those who are looking to expand a little bit on what they may already know. If you are simply looking for a way to relax, Abdominal Breathing can do that as well, minus the training for increasing energy flow. Simply focus on the breath and the body will respond, in essence, lessening the implications of the Sympathetic nervous system, and allowing the Para-sympathetic nervous system to take over, calming the body at a cellular level.
For this post, as I mentioned earlier, we will only cover the rudimentary processes of Abdominal Breathing. Further development in this practice when it comes to manipulating energy levels in the body should be reserved for the guidance of proficient master. A point of note: for women who are pregnant or in the middle of a menstrual cycle, Abdominal Breathing should be avoided, as concentrating on the abdomen causes an increase in stimulation and blood flow in that area.
1. We shall begin by finding a nice quiet and well ventilated place to practice. An environment free from distractions is always the best condition, especially when you are trying to relax. It is alright to have some mood music playing in the background, if you find that this will help you to release. A good time to practice is in the morning right after waking, but is not a requirement.
2. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, initially with your hands at your sides (you can also lay down in bed or on the floor, or sit). Just stand for a minute or two. You may also want to close your eyes. This may help with allowing the body to relax, and it also enables one to visualize better.
3. Next, in order to assist one in the beginner phase of the exercise, place your hands on your abdomen, a little ways below your belly button to help feel the motion of the muscles. (see figure 1).
4. Breathe in, but instead of expanding the chest, allow the lower abdomen to expand while the chest remains motionless (see demonstration clip below). Imagine inflating a balloon in your abdomen. All the while, gently bring your mind’s attention to your abdomen as it moves in and out in conjunction with your inhalations and exhalations. A good rhythm to aim for is four beats in, pause for a beat, and then four beats out. Pause again, then repeat, each complete cycle counting as one breath. At the same time, as the abdomen moves out, the point known as hui yin (meet yin, see figure 2) located mid-way between the penis/vagina and the anus, pushes out as the abdomen expands, and in as it contracts.
To start with, do ten breaths, which in the above fashion described should last around 2 minutes (five breaths for one minute). On the inhale, count: 1-2-3-4-1; exhale, count: 1-2-3-4-1; in: 1-2-3-4-2; out: 1-2-3-4-2 and so on. The number after the 4 is both the number breath you are on as well as the pause before the next exhale or inhale. There is no holding of the breath, just gentle pauses in the motions.
5. Conclude the exercise by slowly bringing you hand back down to you sides, and stand motionless for a few moments. Allow things to readjust to the cessation of the increased amount of focus placed on the lower abdomen. Next, if your eyes were closed during your practice, rub your hands together to warm them, then place them over your eyes, rubbing slowly as you gently open them. You might also want to take a slow walk around. Thus concludes your abdominal breathing session.
It is important to note that abdominal breathing and any other form of exercise that deals with manipulation of bio-electric energy, or qi, should be done in a deliberate and gradual fashion. This exercise is good for you, but rushed, it will cause adverse effects, as the increased amount of stimulation becomes too much for the internal organs to handle if they are not ready for it. It is like operating an appliance with the wrong amount of electrical current. It will cause the circuit to malfunction.
As I mentioned before, you will know things are going on inside you as a result of the new exercise, as you will likely begin to feel new sensations in your abdomen, and other places as well. Muscles may twitch, there may be tingling, sweating, itching etc., all of which are just reactions to increased activity inside. Don’t be afraid of it, and don’t try to make it stop, just stay relaxed and focused on what you are doing. Additionally, due to the fact that abdominal breathing increases blood flow and stimulates the lower body, it is a common occurrence for the sexual organs to become aroused (one of the reasons why this form of breathing is used extensively in various sexual practices, but we won’t be covering that here 😉 ).
It is important to enjoy your practice. Be sure to remain relaxed, and clear the mind of any extraneous thoughts that might distract you from concentrating effectively. Any additional questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section.