How Tai Chi Breathing

In Tai Chi, the principle is to overcome hardness with softness and to use intention rather than force. The essence of Tai Chi is relaxation and softness; without them, it cannot be considered an internal martial art. All schools of Tai Chi emphasize relaxation. It is said that one must practice the art of relaxation for three years in Tai Chi. In truth, achieving ultimate softness is a long-term pursuit—the more relaxed and soft you are, the higher the quality of your internal strength. The better your relaxation skills, the more profound your Tai Chi, and this is directly proportional. Thus, each Tai Chi school has mastered the secrets of relaxation and accumulated a wealth of experience.

Regarding relaxation techniques, each school provides detailed descriptions, generally approaching it from two aspects. The first is “mental relaxation,” which involves relaxing the mind to achieve tranquility. This encompasses clearing the mind of distractions and maintaining a state of calm and detachment, as described in the ancient text “Huangdi Neijing” which speaks of a state of serene emptiness and natural simplicity.

The second aspect is “physical relaxation.” This requires relaxing all major and minor joints of the body. Every movement should be light and soft, harmonizing naturally with the body’s movements. The actions should be as graceful as a ballet dancer’s and as smooth as a fish swimming in water.

The breathing techniques in Tai Chi are subtle and less frequently discussed, not because they are deemed unimportant, but because inappropriate application can be counterproductive. The basic rule for combining Tai Chi movements with breathing is to inhale when changing postures and to exhale when pushing forward with the palm or fist, a principle known as “rising inhales, falling exhales.” Initially, practitioners are advised to breathe naturally, allowing the depth of breath to increase gradually over time. As proficiency increases, breathing becomes more abdominal, with the abdomen retracting on inhalation and bulging on exhalation, known as “reverse breathing” or “Dantian breathing.”

In Tai Chi, breathing should be natural and abdominal. Initially, one should not forcefully synchronize movements with breathing; natural breathing is preferable. However, as one gains a foundation in the practice, achieving flexibility through controlled breathing becomes essential. The sophisticated interplay of movement and breathing in Tai Chi is both simple and complex. Zhao Bao Tai Chi, for instance, uses the groin to guide the hands, a method where movements throughout the body are driven by the motion of the groin. This not only drives the limbs’ movements but also influences the rhythmic rise and fall of the Dantian through the circular motion of the groin. This natural rhythm between breathing and movement ensures a smooth flow of energy without conscious effort or fatigue.

In performance arts like opera, breath control is crucial for projecting the voice. Similarly, in Tai Chi, the correct application of breathing according to the intensity and speed of movements is essential for harmonizing form and energy. The source of movement in Tai Chi is the groin area; mastering its motion leads to a seamless integration of movement and breath. By mastering “groin movement,” all actions become automatic, embodying the principle that with every movement, the whole body responds, and in stillness, the whole body calms, revealing the profound secrets of active and passive states in Tai Chi.

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