Respiration during Standing Qigong

During the practice of the Standing Pole Exercises the hands and elbows are raised to differing levels. This means that the muscles of the shoulders, back and upper chest are needed to support them, creating tension across the upper torso. This, combined with relaxation of the abdomen, induces the onset of abdominal respiration without deliberately forcing it. As one progresses, the chest muscles will gradually relax, thus allowing thoracic expansion to join in. In this way, once a high degree of overall relaxation has been reached, a very deep and perfectly natural breathing results. During simple sitting and lying forms, there is no rise in pulse rate, oxygen and energy consumption dropping due to the high degree of mental and physical relaxation. As a result, breathing deepens and becomes very slow. Standing postures see a rise in the pulse rate and a marked increase in oxygen consumption and metabolic activity. It is thus essential to allow the breathing to respond naturally to these demands as it adjusts itself to the needs of the metabolism. Deliberately slowing it down could prove very harmful. In the early stages, the respiration rate may increase quite considerably. But as relaxation develops, the rate will decrease as the breathing deepens and lung capacity increases. Accompanying this development in lung capacity will be a beneficial increase in the permeability of the pulmonary alveolus wall and expansion of the lungs’ capiallries. Further, greater chest expansion during inhalation increases pressure in the thorax, helping to draw blood out from the veins into the heart. Likewise, exhalation releases the pressure, helping the heart to push out blood. Not enough is yet clear concerning the effects of respiration vibrating through the nervous system. Clearly, the rhythm of deep, regular breathing is a beneficial stimulus in helping the body and mind to relax, and it is often used as a focus of concentration. Certainly, inhalation causes “tension” while exhalation causes “relaxation,” a phenomenon utilized by many of the calisthenics types of qigong exercises and martial arts techniques. Lastly, there is the beneficial massage effect of deep respiration on the internal organs. When inhaling, the diaphragm muscles sink down and the mediastinurn expands, while when exhaling the mediastinum contracts and the diaphragm muscles rise up. This expansion and contraction has the effect of slightly stretching the heart and revolving the heart and large blood vessels. At the same time, it prevents ossification of the ribcage, whilst increasing blood flow, helping to prevent hardening of the arteries. Relaxation of the abdomen allows the abdominal organs to settle, while the movement of abdominal respiration coupled with pressure changes in the thorax creates a massaging motion on them. Investigations have shown that such a massaging action on the liver causes an increase in choleresis, aiding digestion, prevents stasis of the bile system and expands the blood capillaries in the liver. Such massage also helps to prevent stasis in the stomach and intestinal system, working against the development of ulcers, gastroenteritis, constipation and other abdominal disorders.

Shaolin Qigong