Each breath we take, from the first to the last, is the very measure of our days.

We continuously exchange the air around us.” (Ledwab & Standefer).

Unlike other vital process (pumping heart, filtering kidneys) where our body unconsciously continues performing, breathing has both conscious and involuntary control. We can hold our breath under water, exhale to sing or inhale a pleasing aroma.

Neither the mind or body is in complete control with the balance always subject to negotiation.

We often ignore our breathing until we are sick or “out of breath.”

Zen & martial arts

In practicing both Zen and martial arts one studies the delicate relationship between mind and body control of our breathing as fundamental to training. Especially in Tai Chi and Qi Gong we must practice with careful attention to breathing in order to energize and efficiently use the body’s power.

Breathing Out
By consciously controlling our our exhalations “we can calm the mind and relax emotional responses.”

The air exchange in the thin vessels deep in the lungs (alveoli) as the molecules of oxygen and carbon dioxide enter and leave the bloodstream represents “the real capacity of breathing to energize, replenish and refresh the body as a whole.”

Learning to inhale and exhale in such a way to maximize gas exchange at the cellular level “gives great control over the mechanism of breathing that benefits technique, timing and the overall health and strength of the body.  Through abdominal breathing, muscles can be alternately contracted and relaxed to maximize breathing potential and provide anatomical support to the body.  Expand inthe mind’s ability to foocus and empty in the same way, is an additional benefit of the exercise of breathing.” 

Slow Exhalation

Emphasis placed on the slow exhalation promotes the full emptying of the lungs of waste by-products and prolongs the time that the boyd is in the exhalation mode.  Studies and practice have shown that one is stronger for pushing, pulling, striking, and moving when breathing out, especially if the breath can be controlled to assist in the timing of an event.

Kiai  (key eye)

Maintaining balance or absorbing a blow is aided by breath control.  Shouting or “kiai” is often used to maximumize strength or impact and focus timing and control.  Try shouting “hai” (ha iii) as you push something and see how much stronger you are.

Panic

When frightened or anxious we tend to inhale more rapidly, and holding the breath when startled is common.  Remember the body’s muscle strength drops rapidly when a breath is held and the consequent buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood and brain triggers more anxiety and fatigue.

Hyperventilation or uncontrolled shallow gasping for breath can completely short circuit the timing of the breathing mechanism, and bring about a response close to panic.

Practice breathing by extending the stomach and not the chest then exhaling as much of the air as you can.  Do it daily until effective stress relieving breathing becomes a habit.