T'ai Chi For Dummies
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Breath is life. Breath is energy. You can live for weeks without food and for days without water, but only for minutes without breathing the air in and out of your body. Breathing not only keeps you alive, but it also gives you more energy and more calm so you can face what life brings you. That’s why breathing is so vital.

The problem is that most people don’t pay attention to their breathing. What? As if you have to pay attention to your breath? Breathing isn’t like driving a car, where you have to think about putting your foot on the brake to stop. Or so you think, right?

Breathing just happens. But does good, healthful, and mindful breathing just happen? The answer, in most cases, is no. For most of us, the involuntary, subconscious breathing we do is shallow, weak, and not necessarily timed to anything except our bodies demand to suck in more air to survive.

Conscious breathing, as needed here, is a breath that comes with particular movements, or in particular moments, and is deeper and more energizing.

Keeping the breath going in and out

The first part of breathing is the simple process of keeping air going in and out of your system for more success, safety, and comfort.

If you’ve ever taken a group exercise class, you probably remember the instructor constantly saying, “Breathe!” Perhaps you’ve heard it so much that you tune it out. Now’s the time not only to tune in that voice, but to make it your own. One simple, focused, well-timed breath can mean success in many movements, not to mention in daily life.

Fully tapping into the energy and calm of the breath

The next part of breathing is conscious breathing: Using the breath for the successful management and direction of energy in your body. But this means a full and deep breath, not a little, shallow, tight wheeze.

A full inhalation (that’s when you breathe in) moves all the way down your abdomen and inflates your belly a little without causing your chest or shoulders to move upward much at all. If you’re like many people, the breaths you take make your chest and ribs puff upward and then just stop without moving down into the belly. Try inhaling again, letting the inhalation move your belly out.

Attentive breathing is a remarkably effective way to clear and relax your mind. Tune into yourself whenever you start to feel a little stressed or tense.

Practicing the right way to breathe

For now, remember that breathing with movement helps you with movement — even if the movement is just standing up from your chair! Usually, you exhale — or breathe out — when you are exerting energy during a movement like pushing your hand forward, and you inhale — or breathe in — when you are relaxing or retreating, such as pulling a hand back.

Note the contrast to how breath is used in daily life: One big exhale is often considered relaxing, but that’s usually when you aren’t doing anything.

The three main concepts about breathing pretty darn simple:

  • Breathe consciously.

  • Breathe fully.

  • Breathe with the movement.

About This Article

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Geraldine Woods is the author of more than 40 books, including the popular English Grammar For Dummies. She has taught high school and middle school English for over 25 years.

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