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Internal Chi Kung breathing: Chi Kung master Michael Winn shares the magic of Taoist internal alchemy.

There thousands of breathing techniques in the different healing and spiritual traditions of the world. There are books galore telling you how to breathe and what to do with your breath. Breath has been used for everything from stress management to psychological self-therapy to rebirthing your divine self.

The Taoist chi kung (also spelled "qigong") approach to breathing is distinctly different from many other eastern methods of breathing. In India, most of the methods fall into the broad category of pranayama, which I practiced for many years until I discovered the Taoist approach. The yogic schools involve the mind controlling the breath. The Taoist approach to breath is very different: there is no counting or setting a certain rhythm or telling the intelligence of the lungs how it should breathe. The idea of the Taoist approach is to cultivate the intelligence and the natural spontaneous abilities of the intelligence of the body and of the "spirit of the lungs." The fundamental term "chi" (or qi) means "subtle breath." If you study what I call Chi Kung Fundamentals, you first learn "the five animals do the six healing sounds." That's one form of breathing. It gets each vital organ to open up and start to breathe. You immediately learn that breathing is not limited to the lungs. The liver, heart, spleen and kidneys each have their own subtle breath, marked by different physical and energetic pulsation rates. This method of chi breathing focuses on the out-breath, which is releasing for cleansing, letting go.

Taoist chi kung often uses various movement techniques to activate natural whole body breathing. When we do something with movement, our body remembers it. It learns it much more deeply. Since we are moving all the time, our whole body is always pulsing and moving, the whole body is breathing as one. This unity of body is the prerequisite for unity of the ego fragments of consciousness. The great weakness of much Western psychological work is that it doesn't understand the intelligence of the body and how this can integrate the ego.

When we say breathing, we must distinguish between internal and external breathing. External breathing is the physical level of oxygen going in and out of our lungs. Behind that movement of air in and out of the body is the question: who or what controls the breathing process? Something is causing our lungs to move. Calling it "the autonomic nervous system" doesn't answer the question. It buries it under mechanistic language.

There is a certain intelligence in breathing. How does the body know when to breathe and how to breathe? This gets into many different subtle energetic and spiritual questions. Profound answers can be found in the study of chi kung (qigong) and neidan kung (neidangong), or Taoist inner alchemy. In my opinion, the Taoist method of Internal Chi Breathing is the most powerful of the many breathing methods that I tested from different traditions. That's because it is the most in tune with the complete functioning of the life force. All Chi Kung is essentially a method of cultivating your relationship with the life force, with the pulsating field of chi that exists all around you, infinitely, in all directions. The inner chi field extends within yourself, infinitely in all internal directions and all internal dimensions. Chi Kung cultivates this relationship between the inner and outer chi fields, using internal Nei Kung "mind breathing" coordinated with movement involving physical breathing.

The life force, or chi field, functions or "breathes" through three main currents known traditionally in China as yin, yang, and yuan. These terms are impossible to translate into English, but they imply negative, positive, and neutral. Yuan also means "Original Chi" or Original Breath. In terms of breathing, the yin chi is energy of chi moving in, it's inhaling and contracting. Yang chi is breathing out, it's expanding by exhaling. The third type of energy, yuan, the original or neutral chi, would be equated roughly with the pause between the inhalation and exhalation.

Each of us is practicing our relationship with the life force every moment because we are breathing in, we are breathing out, and there is some pause or some turn around between those two, however brief. Our very nature, the way we are actually built to breathe, reflects the structure of the life force. Internal Chi Breathing is not doing anything new. It just


"Ocean Breathing" Chi Kung

One of my favorite breathing chi kung methods I call "Ocean Breathing." You Create a rhythmic resonance between your physical breathing and the wave movement of the ocean. It becomes a form of "internal chi breathing" because your mind focuses the wave movement deep inside the core energy channels of the body.

1. Stand comfortably, feet shoulder width apart. Relax your breathing, smile and focus in on the center of your body at navel level.

2. Start to rock back and forth gently, inhaling as you rock forward onto balls of feet, exhaling as you rock backward onto heels.

3. As you inhale, lift your relaxed arms to the sides, as if they were waves. As you exhale, let your arms float down. Hands, never touch, but you can imagine they are pulsing around an imaginary ball of energy emanating from your navel.

4. As the wave pulsing feeling grows, feel it penetrating deeper inside your body, into inner dimensions, and then pulsing back out again. Feel the outer wave expanding beyond your body into the room and as far as you are able to feel it. Practice for as long as you feel comfortable. You will get both relaxed and energized by the process.

5. Afterwards, cover your navel with both hands, and focus inside on any subtle feelings of vibration, warmth, or pulsation. teaches us to actually understand and experience deeply what it is that we are already doing with each breath.

What is "internal chi breathing?" This involves understanding the relationship between physical breathing and our energy body breathing. Our energy body is just the sum total of all energy channels and all the body-mind's subtle energy functions that underlie our personality traits. Most people are not aware of this relationship because they are looking at the world as a solid physical world full of solid objects. They are not seeing everything as an energetic process. The deeper you get into the Chi Kung way of living, the more you begin to embody and experience the world as changing energy fields. Your own body and breath is no different. There is a relationship between an energy field and a physical process. The pattern in that energy field is what determines the pattern in your physical breathing; it is not the other way around. You can change your physical breathing pattern. In order to do that, you have already made a shift energetically. The energy field shift always precedes the shifting pattern of physical breathing.

When we focus on internal chi breathing, what we are doing is acknowledging that there is something subtler than just the air going in and out. You can call that chi field your mind, the matrix of your mind, or whatever you like. It is pulsating, it is vibrating, and breathing like everything else in this living universe. It has to move. If it stops moving, it's dead. If it stops pulsating, it's dead.

This doesn't mean that if you have very light physical breathing that you are about to die. It is possible to have very shallow physical breath but very deep chi breath. This is not the case for most people. Usually those that have very shallow breathing also have very shallow movement of energy. This is not a healthy condition. Organ intelligences start to feel starved for breath and all kinds of problems start to come up. Internal Chi Breathing cures those problems at the deepest level where they begin by unifying the physical breath and the subtle breath.
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Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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