The Importance of kung fu breathing meditation in martial arts channel our Qi (Chi) for maximal effect, with proper breathing our movements do not become stilted, ineffective, and we do not become tired.
Breathing and meditation form a vital part in kung fu training.
“Breathing control gives man strength, vitality, inspiration, and magic powers.” – Chuang Tzu
It is estimated that an average adult will breathe between 17000-29000 breaths per day. We all know how to breathe but we rarely think about how to improve the process. By learning to control our breathing we can begin to control other parts of our body and well-being.
Breathing not only helps deliver oxygen to our body but also helps to rid the body of CO2, toxins and wastes.
Even though breathing is automatic, our lifestyle often compromises the way we breathe. We tend to live in a society where we try and fit as much as possible into each and every day, our body then mimics this – including our breathing habits. All this leads us to breathe less deeply and more quickly, therefore only using a small percentage of our lung capacity.
In our kung fu training we don’t just learn how to kick, punch, and perform forms, etc – we also get instructed how and when to breathe. A simple example of what correct breathing can achieve is to compare how much power you get when punching a punching bag – first holding your breath and then exhaling as you punch!
Breathing is the first step in training because it is during breathing that we adjust and balance our body for our movements. When inhaling we are adjusting our body, becoming ready for the next movement whether it’s a punch or a kick. When executing the movement we exhale.
In essence we are breathing in such as way so as to channel our Qi/Chi for maximal effect. Without proper breathing our movements become stilted, ineffective, or we become tired.
When we don’t breathe correctly – our body doesn’t receive as much oxygen – the end result is mental slugginess, tiredness and lethargy.
In our daily life we tend to do “Western breathing” – clavicular breathing. This is the most shallow and worst type possible. The shoulders and clavicle are raised while the abdomen is contracted during inhalation. This leaves the bottom portion unused which means we don’t use our lung capacity to its full potential.
With this type of breathing a single breath is only drawing in 500-700mls of air. If we were to use abdominal breathing (mentioned later) a typical breath draws in 2500-3000 mls of air.
If you breathe properly, you can get more done and your body will get more out of kung fu.
Proper breathing is more than simply breathe-in, breathe-out. It involves the abdomen and has four distinct stages:
- Inhalation – aim to take breathe-in over a count up to 4
- Retention – holding for 3-4 seconds
- Exhalation – exhale over a count up to at least 6
- Pause – wait a few seconds before taking next breath
As practice improves – extend the in and the out – count of 6 in up to a count of 24-30 on exhalation.
Abdominal breathing is one method among many which can be used as a breathing exercise. It is thought to invigorate the abdominal muscles, massage the internal organs, promoting blood circulation.
In simple terms it can be described as filling the lungs from the bottom up, that is, utilising the whole lungs completely. The focus of breathing is on the abdomen, in particular the dan tian (tien), which is roughly 3 fingerbreadths below the umbilicus.
1) Start in whichever stance/posture you feel comfortable in
2) Inhale through the nose
3) Expand abdomen gradually by pushing out and down the oxygen as it fills the lower chest
4) Focus on expanding the abdominal area – do this gently and gradually
5) When the abdomen is full then exhale through the nose and pull the abdomen gently back into the body, compressing the lungs from the bottom
6) Repeat 10 times
Benefits of Kung Fu Breathing
- Psychological – keeps mind calm and grounded, reduces stress
- Improves oxygen delivery to vital organs, muscles, etc which helps with performance during activities, increases endurance
- Lowers centre of gravity – due to keeping the breath low in the abdomen
- Keeps mind focused
Regardless of your activity, remember to breathe. Be aware of how you are breathing and focus on a slow deep relaxed breath.
Kung Fu Meditation in Martial Arts
“To sink in thought”
“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” ~ Bruce Lee
It can be used to develop focus, mental clarity.
Kung fu training has two components which is to “Train both Internal and External. External training includes the hands, the eyes, the body and stances. Internal training includes the heart, the spirit, the mind, breathing and strength.”
Most of us have heard of the concept of Chi/Qi energy. It refers to the natural energy of the Universe, which permeates everything. It is the vital force of life. It is the source of every existing thing.
Kung Fu Meditation is done to concentrate the mind for the purposes of:
– Moving the Chi for circulation to direct strength to any part of the body
– Moving the Chi through any diseased organ to recover from illness
– Concentrating the mind , to reach spiritual enlightenment
The Dan Tian – three fingerbreadths below the navel and a couple of inches back inside the body, it is where deep breathing is directed. It is often referred to the “centre of being”.
There are actually 3 dan tian areas:
- Upper – middle of the forehead above the eyebrows and below the hairline, “third eye”, relates to the consciousness or intent, spirit and brain
- Middle – centre of the torso near the bottom of the sternum, deals with respiration and health of internal organs
- Lower – located below the navel, “belly”
Qigong (Chi Kung) – Energy Work. These are exercises designed to coordinate, develop and/or increase Chi. Many Kung fu Styles have their own unique form of qigong.
Breathing and meditation are a big part of martial arts. Through these you are able to control and connect your body and mind.
In learning to meditate it is important to set up a regular practice, utilising good breathing techniques, such as abdominal breathing.
“The mind is the master of the body. If we train and discipline our minds, the body will follow. Once the body and mind become focused and in tune, you will see that your whole life will seem to flow, like you are on the right path. In other words you will not be fighting with yourself and good things will just seem to happen”
1) Oxygen consumption drops by 10-20 percent
2) The only activity that reduce blood lactate, a marker of stress and anxiety
3) Decreases cortisol, a stress hormone
In summary the aim of kung fu meditation has 5 components:
• The purpose of which is to develop a strong mind
• The purpose of that strong mind is to develop concentration
• The purpose of concentration is for control
• The purpose of control is to develop discipline
• The end result being that the purpose of discipline is self discipline or mastery and knowledge of the self or inner being.
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Many thanks to Golden Lion student Paul Ah Tye for this article.