I have been teaching and studying T’ai Chi for over thirty years and as well as benefitting from the health-giving movements myself, I have also witnessed them help people in many ways too.
One of the most apparent improvements to people’s health as they start practising LFA T’ai Chi is the improvement in their breathing. Students who suffered with COPD, asthma and other breathing aliments report improvements to their health and a reduction in their symptoms, although this is in varying levels of success dependent on how frequently the student does the exercises. I reiterate that the way to good health is guided by correct breathing and a healthy natural diet.
At the beginning of all our classes we teach and practice a breathing exercise called Four Directional Breathing. I always explain to people who join the class for the first time that Four Directional Breathing is one of the most important exercises we use in our classes. This is because it utilises the whole of the lungs, ensuring that they are fully inflated. The exercise also combines physical movements with acupressure points for the lungs all of which improve the respiratory system and reduce breathing difficulties.
The Four Directional Breathing Exercise may be practised from a standing or a seated position. The starting point is to ensure that as you breathe in through the nose you expand your stomach. This moves your stomach out of the way of the lower part of the lungs so that they can fully inflate.
Then you breathe out through your mouth, gently pulling the stomach in, squeezing out the stale air that can accumulate in the bottom of the lungs. This also helps to ensure that toxins are not allowed to build up in this area. We all started life breathing like this but somewhere along the way we changed. I personally remember being told at school to pull everything in when breathing in, it was only in my adult life and through the study of T’ai Chi that I became aware of how unnatural and detrimental this could be. If you watch a baby breath their tummy automatically expands when they breathe in and when they breathe out it flattens. This is nature at its best, a natural way of breathing.
When practising any of our breathing exercises we always breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. In this exercise however, as well as breathing in this way, when we breathe out through the mouth we make ‘sssssss’ or sussing sound by placing the tongue behind the teeth and forcing the breath out through the teeth. The ‘ssssss’ sound is the healing sound of the lungs and it creates an internal vibration detox as you practice the exercise.
Next, we incorporate the hand and arm movements. The index fingers and thumbs of both hands point upwards but should not be rigid, there shouldn’t be any tension in the hands, the remaining three fingers bend inwards so that the pads of the fingertips align with the palm directly under the base of the fingers. The hands then move in towards the shoulders and out away from the body in the four directions, forwards, then sideways, upwards and lastly down in time with the in and out breath. This is a simple explanation of the mechanics involved in the exercise, I have provided a video tutorial to enable you to learn the exercises fully if you so wish.
The combination of movement and breath and the concentration required to harmonise the two also makes the exercise an excellent moving meditation which relaxes the mind and eases stress and anxiety.
In addition to improving the respiratory system and calming the mind, I have also found the exercise to be an excellent way to develop my own internal energy called Chi. Developing this natural energy also helps strengthen the body’s immune system which again leads to improvements in personal health. So many benefits from something so simple.
T’ai Chi is not about forcing any part of the mind or the body, it is a gentle progression which will unfold at a pace that is right for you. Simply decide that you want to improve your health and start to practice ‘The longest journey begins with the first step.’
Practise little and often, be diligent in your practise. T’ai is not a magic wand, but if you practice regularly you will start to notice a difference. Start with the Four Directional Breathing, practise in the comfort of your own home with the help of our books, DVD’s, YouTube tutorials or online classes or join a Lee Family Arts T’ai Chi class in your area.
When you are ready, think about learning more of our wonderful health-giving movements, you may like to try our Taoist Yoga, the T’ai Chi Form or one of the disciplines such as the Sword, Stick, Dance or Silk. There are many ways to utilise your body, to move without straining the joints, and to obtain greater mobility and flexibility. We are here to guide you all the way.
Scientific research has shown that in a regulated trial, T’ai Chi proved to be beneficial to people with COPD. I personally get excited each time scientific research authenticates the health benefits that are woven into our gentle movements. We work along-side Western Medicine, teaching people how to help themselves to achieve long lasting good health.
Results of scientific research carried out with COPD patients appeared in Respiratory Care November 2010.
Scientific Research, carried out http://rc.rcjournal.com/content/55/11/1475.short
Gloria Y Yeh, David H Roberts, Peter M Wayne, Roger B Davis, Mary T Quilty and Russell S Phillips
Respiratory Care November 2010, 55 (11) 1475-1482;