Sinking The Qi
by Eric Borreson
Sinking the qi is a common term in taiji, but many people find it very confusing. Sinking the qi simply refers to using your breath to help relax and calm the mind and body. A big part of sinking is developing song (松), or relax and loosen; and jing (精), or mental quietness, in your practice. Following the principle of song means to relax your body, without going limp, and loosening up the muscles, tendons, and joints. Tight muscles and joints block the flow of energy. Jing means to focus your mind on your forms and avoid distractions. Proper breathing helps with both of these principles.
In this sense of the word sink, it means to relax the hips and waist, lower the pelvis bones, and allow your body to settle. Let your shoulders sink away from your neck. Use your intention to lower your elbows to relax the shoulders. Avoid overextending your arms. Keep them slightly bent and hold them in a curve, with your armpits slightly open. Allow your skeleton to support your body. This allows your weight and energy to sink from the upper body toward the lower abdomen.
Taiji movements generally alternate between gathering (storing) energy and delivering that energy. Every form in taiji has an associated inhale and exhale. In general, inhale during movements that are up and in (opening movements) and movements that store energy. Inhale during movements that expand your chest, such as with the open hands movement in Sun style. Also, inhale during movements that create an insubstantial (unweighted) movement, such as when doing a roll back. Inhaling during opening stores the energy, like drawing a bow, and brings in the qi.
Breathing In Taiji
Exhale during movements that are down and out (closing movements) and movement that deliver energy. Exhale during movements that compress your chest, such as with the close hands movement in Sun style. Also exhale during movements that create a substantial (weighted) movement, such as when doing a push or press. Exhaling during closing delivers the energy and sends the qi.
As you exhale, allow your body to sink. As you step, allow your weight to settle down onto your substantial leg. Visualize that your spine is stretching and the qi is flowing through your leg down into the earth. This helps improve your balance and strengthen your legs. Stronger muscles strengthen the joints and tendons and improve your joint health.
Abdominal breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, uses your diaphragm to expand your lungs. For abdominal breathing, take several long slow deep breaths. Allow your mind to relax so you can begin to focus on your mind-body connection. Concentrate on the abdomen area below the diaphragm. This technique adds an additional focus on your perineum, the area between your anus and your genitals.
Place one hand on your upper abdomen, above your belly button. Place your other hand on your lower abdomen, below your belly button. During both inhales and exhales, try to keep your top hand from moving. When you inhale, visualize that the air fills your lungs, bypasses your upper abdomen, and fills your lower abdomen and gently expands it like a balloon. Gently relax the pelvic floor muscles at the bai hui (CV-1) point at the center of the perineum. Keep your chest relatively still.
When you exhale, gently contract the pelvic floor muscles at the bai hui point and in the lower abdomen. Use this to contract your lower abdomen as if the air is leaving the balloon. When you inhale, expand your abdomen. Again, keep your chest relatively still. In other words, exhale by contracting your abdomen. Inhale by expanding your abdomen. If you get tired, just relax and go back to breathing naturally.
Continue to practice abdominal breathing during meditation or while practicing taiji. Keep your attention on your lower abdomen in the area around your dan tian. With enough practice, it will become natural and comfortable.
Eric Borreson – a student and teacher, finds teaching taiji, qigong, and meditation to be a path to a more meaningful life. Eric is the founder and director of Meditation in Motion, specializing in teaching about living healthier and happier lives. He teaches taiji, qigong, and meditation at the prestigious Heartland Spa, a top 10 destination spa, located in Gilman, IL. In addition, he teaches taiji (Yang 24, Sun-style taiji, and Dr. Lam’s Taiji for Arthritis and Taiji for Diabetes) at other venues. He conducts workshops and teaches private lessons on request. He writes a weekly wellness column at http://eric-taichi.blogspot.com.