One could write a dissertation on this subject but here in Part 2 we’ll limit our concerns to just a few more basic parameters that will serve to set the tone for the more extensive exploration you will of course do in your own private practice.
3. Breathing. I’m not sure exactly why but sooner or later everyone wants to ask about breathing. To a Taoist breath is one of several vehicles to move energy in your body. I think they would rather you learn the other more challenging vehicles first and then come to the easier one. Still, they’ve explored it in as much detail as anyone has, and we can sketch the outlines easily.
In keeping with the primary principle of Relaxing/Dissolving you want your breath to be very soft and quiet. You want it to help open and expand your body without any force or strain. In your torso the expansion is obvious and you could spend a lot of time relaxing your abdominal muscles, rib cage and spine. You’ll be more successful if you continuously scan for tight areas and direct the air pressure there.
You can take this deeper by directing your breath into your organs and the connective structures that hold them in place. Your internal parts are like your externals in that they can all develop constrictions that are in need of unraveling. Clearly this calls for a higher level of awareness and skill but the payoff is higher because your overall health is more a function your organ metabolism than your muscle tone. The principle is still the same, viz. pliability and openness make everything vibrant while tension and constriction make everything sluggish.
Opening up your head, arms and legs is less obvious than your torso because there it’s not the air pressure that does it but the liquid pressures of your blood and synovial fluid. We’ll get to that later.
The other main Taoist breathing thing is inhaling and exhaling not just air but energy itself. The idea is to create a feedback loop where you flood your system with energy which then opens up your body which then makes it easier for energy to flow.
There are a few ways to approach this. One is to just imagine that fresh air and fresh energy are identical and that it all enters your nose and lungs and penetrates your body as you inhale. On the exhale the path reverses and you expel the stale unusable stuff.
Next, as you breath air with your lungs imagine breathing energy with your skin. This is a way to discern their different natures by using separate paths. You can’t willingly pass air through your skin but you can do so with energy. How are they different on a felt, kinesthetic level? This is subtle stuff, yes, but with practice humans are capable of perceiving surprisingly fine distinctions.
Once you have some idea of the feel of energy itself you can bring it in and out your skin independently of your breathing, using only your mind. Remember the main idea is to make you open and relaxed, so make sure you’re doing that consciously. If one part of you is especially constricted, say a shoulder, make that your focus. Ultimately you want to be able to move energy anywhere in your body at will.
4. Using Energy to Move Fluid. Now we’re into it about as deeply as we can get. A. There is a Taoist truism, “The Mind moves the Chi, the Chi moves the Blood.” There are two general methods for how you pull that off, Yin and Yang. We’ve already discussed the Yin which is essentially relaxing to the point of opening so that the blood flows naturally. Besides that very general instruction there is one little trick.
Can you feel your heart beating? Good. Can you feel it beating elsewhere in your body? Even better. (If not, try a position that will accentuate it like a forward bend.) This will give you a clear indicator of how well you’re able to open up and let the blood flow. Try to relax further with every surge. You could spend all your time in a stretch monitoring only that.
From here it’s a very short step to Yang. You slightly amplify every surge with a little nudge. You just give the arterial blood flow a small push. What is doing the push? It can’t be muscle (unless you can control your heart.) It’s your mind, your intention that moves the chi that moves the blood.
Gradually, without strain (that’s important) you can amp it up a fair amount, to the point that your skin gets red and warm. Your flesh may feel full, wet, saturated. We sometimes call this Flooding. It’s the Yang expression of the Water element.
Pumping large volumes of blood into your tissues is considered excellent for your health, so long as it comes back, of course. So what you push out you can pull back in. Just how you activate the return is something like how you drink through a straw. The vacuum motor does not have an exact location but a common starting point is the energy center in your belly, the lower dantien. It might make even more sense to start from your heart center, the middle dantien. And again, it’s your intention that initiates the action, whether it’s inward or outward.
B. If your head hasn’t exploded yet, there is another fluid whose flow you can influence and that is the thick synovial fluid in your joints. Your joints expand and contract all the time but it’s such a short distance that most of us are unaware of it, so we’re not talking any significant change in physical stretch. Rather it’s an energetic opening which can then transfer to other stretchable tissue. Taoist theory says that the first place your energy gets locked up is the joints so that’s the first place to unlock it.
You’re using your mind here to feel inside a joint, detect its natural rhythm and amplify its range. Its rhythm is 4-5 seconds per phase, about the same time as 4-5 heartbeats. We call this Joint Pulsing. It was my first Qigong/Chi Gung lesson ever and I’ve spent many a worthwhile hour exploring the permutations of this simple but complex exercise. Here is another description of Pulsing
If you put in the time you will eventually discover many mysterious things about Pulsing, for example that your stretches can increase just as much from contraction as from expansion.
Finally, you can experiment with various ways to combine these four or five techniques, in two and threes, with the goal of eventually doing them all well at the same time. At this high level of the game it hardly matters if you call it Qigong or Yoga.