by Grandmaster William CC Chen

Breathing is life. Our first breath begins when we are born, our last breath occurs when we die. It is essential. Without exhalation there is no inhalation. Without inhalation there is no exhalation. Exhaling removes carbon dioxide from our lungs. Inhale receives oxygen for our body needs. We cannot live one without the other.

Deep diaphragmatic breathing coordinates with the unhurried movements of Tai Chi Chuan, giving us additional time to exhale all the way and create more room in the lungs to inhale oxygen. When carbon dioxide accumulates in the lungs it is a major obstacle to the oxygenation process. Fully removing carbon dioxide and replacing it with oxygen is important. This enhances brain, heart, liver and nervous system function, and also improves immunity to disease.

The more oxygen in our body, the stronger we are. More oxygen in our bloodstream increases our immune system efficiency and makes it easier for our body to detoxify. Oxygen helps raise our awareness of brain functioning, and elevates the feeling in the body to lift the energy flow. Reinforcing the energy surge throughout the organs improves the circulation of blood and energy.

Removing carbon dioxide from the lungs is like removing bad air from a house and replacing it with fresh air; it becomes a healthy house in which to live. Similarly, it is healthier for us to remove carbon dioxide from our lungs and replace it with oxygen. An effective inhalation is preceded by a full exhalation. This will enrich the cells in the body.

Adequate oxygen in our body is extremely important. Our billions of cells depend upon oxygen to survive. This is especially true for the brain. Inadequate oxygen supply may result in brain damage or death within a few minutes. Oxygen entering through the lungs into the bloodstream arrives at brain cells in a few seconds.

However, in a full inhalation, our lungs receive 78% nitrogen but only 21% oxygen at full lung capacity. If we inhale a small amount of air, our lungs will receive only a small amount of the oxygen. But if we inhale a larger amount of air, we will obtain a larger amount of that 21% oxygen.

The gentle, deep and full inhalations in the Tai Chi Chuan movements, will allow us to receive a greater volume of the 21% oxygen into the lungs. With an adequate oxygen supply in our system, we produce more energy. oxygen is essential to our life.

Oxygen is everything. A gasoline-engine powered car is not able to run without oxygen. We cannot survive without oxygen. Given a larger amount of air with 21% oxygen that we receive into our system from the full inhalation in Tai Chi Chuan, we will produce more energy. This enables us to deal with our daily activities, to fight diseases, repair tissues and remove cancerous cells.

We are constantly thinking or worrying from living in a disorderly, unpredictable and very stressful world. It is almost inevitable that our mind will become restless. Constant mental activities interrupt our exhalations and cause our inhalations to spike up. In our daily breathing, exhalations are always short-changed by inhalations.

We inhale whether we are at home or in the office, when we answer the phone, or when we reach to pick up a pen or a piece of paper from the table. While we should continue with an exhalation to clear the lungs first, the inhalation always overrides the exhalation on a daily, hourly, even moment-by-moment basis. Our daily inhalations and exhalations are out of balance.

Practicing the peaceful Tai Chi movements puts us into meditation in motion. This helps us eliminate any obstruction to the full exchange of breathing. This involves slowly moving in and out of a posture in a balanced manner. As we form a posture, we inhale; when we release a posture, we exhale. This leads us to a perfectly balanced breathing.

The mind, breathing, and slow motion are naturally synchronized together. When we inhale, the awareness increases, it escalates the energy flow for mental and physical action. As we say “Yes” we inhale and as we say “No” we exhale; at the moment we feel “Good” we inhale; at the moment we feel “Bad” we exhale.

As oxygen flows into lungs it increases mental awareness and catalyzes physical activity. When oxygen diminishes in the lungs, our awareness is decreased and our physical activity is declined. Inhalation is help inflating the energy flow for an action; exhalation is deflating the energy for no action. This is the natural changes of “Yin and Yang” in the slow movements.

When we raise the fingers to do something, we inhale; when we serve a cup coffee, we inhale. I found that the motion of serving coffee is one–third (1/3) of a foot per second. The slow motion of Tai Chi Chuan is slower than (1/3) of a foot per second. This is the natural slow motion breathing: we inhale to form a posture; we exhale to release the posture. It is the way of breathing in the slow motion of Tai Chi Chuan.

This is different from the powerful quick action in sports. When a tennis player strikes the ball, or a martial artist delivers a powerful punch, we often hear a loud explosive vocalization. The noise is coming from part of an explosive force of energy pushing through the constricted vocal chords. The more explosive the power executed, the more energy bursts through the vocal chords, and the louder the noise will be. This burst of noise is not considered to be an exhalation. The natural exhalation is to keep the vocal chords wide open to release as much air out from the lungs as possible and is almost noiseless.

Carefully examined, during the moment of a quick, rapid and powerful action, there is no time for an inhale or exhale. But first there is an exhalation to loosen up muscles and joints that help to wind up for an action. The action is followed by another exhalation to release the waste from the lungs; then the inhalation is able to take place.

Therefore, in a continuous action the exhalation is exceeded by inhalation, which is caused by the lack of time to inhale oxygen. After many actions without a break the person will run out of oxygen. This is called being “out of breath”, which is different from the well balanced breathing of the slow easygoing motion of Tai Chi Chuan.

The system of breathing with the diaphragm is of great significance in the movements of Tai Chi Chuan. In the gentle relaxing movements we keep the air passage wide open, which maximizes the airflow out and in from the throat. When the diaphragm moves up, we exhale; this pushes the carbon dioxide out from the lungs. When the diaphragm pulls down, we inhale; this helps the lungs draw in oxygen.

This natural intuitive diaphragm breathing corresponds to the slow motion of Tai Chi Chuan. That gives us enough time to fully exhale prior to maximum inhalation. This complete cycle exchange between carbon dioxide and oxygen in our lungs keeps us in good health. The effortless flowing of the movements with peaceful breathing tranquilizes our mind and body into the designation of serenity.

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