Art of Breathing
The Art of breathing is practice belonging to the Highest Clarity tradition. Its purpose is to assimilate the energy received and generated by the body.
Breathing exercises hold special place in Daoist alchemy. On one hand, breathing is treated as a particular practice, offering different methods of breathing; on the other hand, it would be more correct to understand breathing not in terms of exercises but, rather, as certain abilities which the body develops in order to purify breathing. This makes of breathing art of energetical distillation, nurturing and cleansing of the body.
Energetical distillation is the ability to regulate the flows of qi internally through the activation of the internal diaphragms of the body.
Body nurturing is the ability to lead and assimilate energy from the outside.
Body cleansing suggests the ability to increase the influence over the ‘contained energetical formations’ (endocrine system) and the Pomegranate body (cardiovascular system).
Classification of breathing in Daoist Alchemy
Daoist study defines three basic concepts of breathing:
- Absence of Breathing
This type f breathing obeys the laws Qian (Heaven) and Kun (Earth), resulting with full energetical unification when the diaphragms of the body are in complete rest. It is considered that the Absence of Breathing phenomenon obeys the Causes of Heaven and Earth.
Causes of Heaven and Earth
- Cause of Earth: ability to keep the Dragon Cave (the abdomen) in order. This suggests the ability to properly relax the abdomen (which, in turn, serves as basis for the Breathing of the Turtle).
- Cause of Heaven: keeping the mind empty, thus maintaining maximal circulation in the micro- and macrocosmic orbits (Breathing of the Phoenix).
- External breathing
External breathing is determined by three external causes: Fire (Li), Lake (Dui) and Wind (Xun).
Three external causes
- Cause of Fire: breathing depends on the quality of concentration – the ability to ‘see’ the breath. To ‘see’ the breath means to maintain control over it.
- Cause of Lake: ability to form saliva and nurture the breath with it (thus changing it). To ‘nurture’ the breath means to activate the contained energetical formations (glands) of the face.
- Cause of Wind: ability to control breath in motion without distorting the work of the diaphragms.
- Internal breathing
Internal breathing is determined by three internal causes: Water (Kan), Mountain (Gen) and Thunder (Zheng).
Three internal causes
- Cause of Water: ability to ‘listen’ to the breath. To ‘listen’ to the breath means to be able to fill the body. The Cause of Water is also understood as art of listening to the breath through the Black Warrior (the back).
- Cause of Mountain: ability to control the Jade necklace (the arms) and the Hidden foundation (the shoulders).
- Cause of Thunder: ability to control the foundation – the Vital force vessel (the feet).
Eight winds of Breathing
The Art of breathing is not a single function and none of the above listed eight types of breathing is merely physiological.
Breathing is a process determined by the Eight winds.
- Wind of the diaphragm defines the redistribution of breath energy.
- Wind of the lungs defines the circulation of breath energy.
- Wind of the heart is rhythm responsible for the frequency of breathing.
- Wind of the feet represents a foundation which controls the conditions of breathing.
- Wind of the kidneys sets the initial conditions that determine the initial breathing.
- Wind of the abdomen defines the extent and quality of energetical fulfillment.
- Wind of the head is concentration responsible for the correspondence between the external and the internal aspects of breathing.
- Wind of the orbits relates to distillation – the conditions which allow to transform the external into internal.
In this way, the Eight winds determine the vital force which is accumulated through proper breathing and lost through improper breathing. It has to be understood that it is one thing to view breathing as physiological activity and another – as process of energetical circulation initiated by the Eight types of breathing.
Eight types of breathing effects
Nine types of Breathing
The first written records on breathing as separate practice are found in the recently excavated Mawangdong texts (IV-III BC). Twelve jade steles describe different ways of breath work, processes of breath-holding, extraction of qi and its distillation. However, the history of the methods of breath regulation (tiaoxi fa) goes back into an earlier period when breathing was understood more as energetical process rather than physiological. It could, therefore, be concluded that the teaching of the Nine types of breathing occurred somewhere at the time of Huang Di (The Yellow Emperor).
- Yin breathing
- internal breathing through qi
- internal breathing through jing
- internal breathing through shen
- Yang breathing
- external breathing through qi
- external breathing through jing
- external breathing through shen
- Breathing of the Turtle
- internal-external breathing through qi
- internal-external breathing through jing
- internal-external breathing through shen
Art of attaining breathing through interconnection
- internal interconnection
- interconnection in movement
- external interconnection (place, time, circumstances, trees, symbols, water etc.)
Interconnection allows to understand the different types of natural qi.
Ten characteristics of transitional qi, determined by the natural characteristics of the body:
- ability for qi to enter through the seven orifices
- ability for qi to exit through the seven orifices
- preservation of natural qi through the alchemical body
- extracting qi from the qi of water and grain
- proper movement and extraction of qi from it
- ability to interconnect energy
- control over internal effort
- maintaining connection with the energetical body during sleep
- nurturing of the body with energy by the contained energetical formations (the glands)
- keeping harmful qi away from the body
Embryonic breathing (taixi)
The main purpose of the study of different breathing processes is to master the embryonic breathing.
- Unified embryonic breathing: unity of inhalation and exhalation; this breathing is preceded by the unity between external and internal qi (Breathing of the Turtle).
- Reversive embryonic breathing: when breathing takes place through the Unified center. Also called reversive breathing, reuniting with the Prenatal Heaven.
- True embryonic breathing: when the qi of inhalation and exhalation remain in the body. This can happen only when the organs and the vessels are prepared to absorb the qi. True qi should move from the abdomen to the kidneys, from the kidneys to the liver, from the liver to the heart, from the heart to the spleen, from the spleen to the lungs, from the lungs to the chest and so on.
- Originating embryonic breathing starts in the kidneys and ends in top of the head. This is warranted by an effort on behalf of the Unified Center which creates the “sacred spring” (xuan ji) that connects all in one.
Five levels of study of the art of breathing
Creating conditions for natural assimilation of the qi of air by the body.
Ability to preserve externally sourced energy in the body.
Ability to interconnect external and internal energy.
Regulation of breathing through the cinnabar field.
Regulation only of internal breathing independently of external.