‘How should I breathe when I do Tai Chi?’ is one of the first questions asked by the beginner when they learn the Tai Chi form, an exercise sequence that looks like an effortless slow-motion dance. The instructor’s answer ‘breathe naturally’ often comes as a surprise to the student who may feel that breathing should be taught as in most modern western exercise systems.
However, most of the time breathing is an unconscious activity, although it can be brought under conscious control, such as when lifting heavy weights. In Tai Chi the body is moved through space and there is no need to consciously control the breath. Instead, the concentration is on the movement of the Tai Chi form to which breathing is intricately linked. For example, when we lift our arms up and away from the centre of the body the diaphragm contracts and the ribcage expands drawing air into our lungs. Conversely, when we lower our arms and bring them in towards the centre of our body the diaphragm relaxes, and the ribcage is compressed expelling air out of our lungs. In each posture of the Tai Chi form the arms are alternately lifted and lowered for one complete breathing cycle. The relaxed, slow, meditative movement practised in Tai Chi reduces the breathing rate, deepens the breath, and encourages a more efficient breathing pattern. Just another reason to try Tai Chi!
A lovely visualisation to to practise a few times:
Imagine that there is a lighted candle ~ 2” (5cm) away from your nose. Breathe in and out through your nose gently so that the flame does not flicker.