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Shaolin breathing control: before/after an effort
Use breathing to manage fatigue and to focus
Many Kung Fu forms (especially the Shaolin ones), start and / or end with a specific controlled breathing that is accompanied by a movement of 1 or 2 hands.
Note - This article has been asked by one of our Core Course practitioners on Patreon (see how to attend our home study classes here Learn Kung Fu online: a beginner-to-expert course).
This is not a mere aesthetic gesture and in our school (as in most of the others), it has:
A practical application
A profound meaning
A note by Master Kongling - It is important to stress that, as always, we talk about our Kung Fu, we do not pretend to speak officially for Kung Fu in general or for other schools.
In 6 Dragons Kung Fu, when performed at the beginning, the meaning is:
"I am separating myself from the daily world"
"I am entering in a detached dimension of peace"
"Nothing that happens outside can influence my mind"
"Despite the external manifestation of power my mind is calm and clear like a mountain lake"
"I am preparing myself to experess my maximum performance"
When performed at the end:
"I am leaving my external expression of aggressivity behind me"
"I freed all that was negative in me and now I am positive"
"I am returning in a normal state of mind"
"I'm not tired more or less than my body tells me"
The practical application
In addition to the (extremely important) mental process of separation from daily life, this controlled breathing has a practical function:
To relax the mind and therefore the hearth rate and therefore to control heavy breathing
The more we impose ourselves when and how we have to breath, the more we learn to manage our energies
In the long run this self-discipline will make us feel less and less fatigue (mentally and physically)
How to perform this controlled breathing
Let's see how it works:
The idea is that we want to "guide" our air intake, speed and breath duration (read also [restrict]The different breathing types[/restrict]) with the movement of our hand
The final goal is to learn to indirectly "control" our diaphragm (read Diaphragmatic breathing)
We can use 1 or 2 hands (depending on the level of effort (or to work more or less with a specific lung)
We have to relax our entire body and especially the shoulders
We have to position our hands at the height of the navel
The hands should be open naturally (relaxed but not too much and "parallel" to the ground)
The palms must be facing upward (the fingers should not be clenched)
The fingers of one hand look toward the ones of the other
The hands should be at a confortable distance from our abdomen (not in contact)
It is not necessary to be in a specific combat stance but we must have a correct posture (the ideal would be Ma Bu, the practical version described in The correct position of the rider (Ma Bu))
This breathing can be executed also seated
The movement of respiration:
Let's close our eyes
Let's inhale (with the nose only) as slow as we can (but without exaggerating)
Let's "force" only the constancy of speed
While we inhale our hands slowly move upward (their function is to guide the execution, helping us to maintain the correct pace)
With the hands we must imagine to raise something (simulating a certain resistance)
We start to inhale when the hands start to move and we end when they stop
We have to move vertically until reaching the chest
Reached the chest we can optionally make a small apnea (of a duration that must be extremely far from being a fatigue, 1-2 seconds are perfect)
Ended the apnea we have to rotate the palms of the hands downwards and retrace the ascending path (until stretching our arms at 120°, well after the navel)
Again making a resistance (smaller than the last one) as to push something down
While we move downward we slowly exhale (always with the nose)
At the end the arms remain an instant in position and then gently fall (relaxed) at the sides
The thorax slightly swells while we inhale and the abdomen while we exhale
The slower we go the better it is
The more constant we go the better it is
The more air we can inhale, the better it is but only if this is not an effort (otherwise the entire work becomes useless)
The longer is the pause, the better it is but only if this is not an effort (otherwise the entire work becomes useless)
Normally this sequence should be repeated by mutiples of 3 (typically 3-6 times)
If we have done everything correctly, at the end of these breaths we will no longer need to breathe in a broken way (out of breath)
If we have even slight dizziness sensations or we hardly reach the chest or (worst) the navel, we have asked our body too much (we have to make things easier to improve gradually)
At a more advanced level:
We can slightly rotate circularly the torso while moving up and down
We could choose, instead of raising symmetrically our hands, to make an ascending (inhalation) and then descending (exhalation) undulatory movement (to the right and to the left, cyclically)
We can use nose and mouth in sync
When should we execute this breathing?
This controlled breathing can (must) be executed:
Before and after each exercise of our training sessions
Before and after a big effort
To recover calm
In the morning as soon as we wake up
A few conclusive thoughts:
This breathing may appear an easy task but it is not at all, to reach the results we mentioned we will need at least 1 year of daily practice
The version we have described here it is rather advanced, not always there is the need to be so precise on the details and slow on the execution (eg. at each exercise); a good practitioner must be able to evaluate the level of execution in relation to the context
A note by Master Kongling - For the Core Course practitioners, we do not teach this breathing method immediately for a specific reason, to do not make it a meaningless gesture; real Kung Fu is not something that can be shown or explained, it is more personal research guided by a teacher (read also Online learning and martial arts: is it possible?).
In the next article of this series, we will deepen other breathing methods.
In-depth video courses
Breathing methods and exercises - How to execute all the core breathing methods of 6 Dragons Kung Fu
Meditation: how to start - A step by step path toward meditation and its benefits
Correct breathing - What does it mean to breathe correctly in daily life?
Breathe Yoga: the warrior's breathing - One of the most important brfeathing methods for martial arts
Reply in the comments and share your experience:
How do you feel executing this breathing?