Our bodies can get “clogged up” if we do not practice breathing and coordinate our body movements. We all need to be kissed and caressed. Practicing breathing is a caress which allows the body to generate the kind of energy it needs for the task we want to perform.
For many centuries in oriental countries breathing drills have been used not only in the martial arts but likewise to alleviate pain. Stress and tension are the “culprits” not only for many diseases, but also strongly influence our ability to do creative acts. Painters, writers, dancers, actors and singers need to empty their minds and bodies of tension before they engage upon a creative activity. It sounds like a contradiction but the emptier the mind the more creative we can become.
The following list of breathing drills may be of great help either for those involved in creative activities or those who suffer physical maladies. There are many more, but they illustrate the basic intention. Do them slowly, almost in slow motion, while you allow images to float in your mind. Do not try to control your breathing; just allow it to find its way as a river finds its way to the sea. Although they can be done in any sequence, you may find one that suits you best. However, it is best to do your “routine” at the same time and place—with as little outside disturbance as possible. You may like to add soft music as you do them.
1) Lie on your back, on the floor or a hard surface. Try to push the small of your back against the surface. Spread your legs and arms at 90° angles, your finger tips and toes spread out. Imagine breathing in from your left toes and sending the air across your body to your right finger tips. Do the same with the right toes and left finger tips. Then take in the air from your right toes and finger tips and expulse it through your left toes and finger tips. Reverse the action. Take air in from your head and expulse it from your sexual organ. Reverse the action. It is important to breathe slowly, as if you were smelling your favorite perfume or dish. Also, you might want to do this exercise with some soft background music.
2) Sit on a chair. Be careful not to use the back of the chair. Align your back column in a straight but not stiff way. Allow your arms to fall to your sides naturally and weightlessly. Take in the air gently from your abdomen—actually from the “chi” the center of your body, an inch above your belly button. Close your eyes and regulate your breathing as you fix your mind on an image such as a flower. Remember in all of these drills it is important to expulse all of the air you have inside your body.
3) A variation of the previous exercise: drop your jaw at the back in a soft, relaxed way. Place the tip of your tongue just behind the upper teeth as you inhale. Now drop your tongue and curl it behind your lower teeth as you exhale. Remember to do this exercise slowly so as to produce pleasure. You may imagine a candle: put out the flame as you expulse your breath.
4) Stand on the floor with your feet slightly spread at about 45° and your knees just a little bit bent. Check the alignment of your back column: straight but not stiff. Raise your arms as if you were holding a ball, at shoulder length. Spread your fingers and point each one at its neighbor on the right or left side. Send the air from the “chi” up your right side, to your shoulder and across the empty space to the fingers of your left hand.
5) A variation: using the same position as in 4, do an inventory of all of the bones in your body. Start, for instance, from your left toes, then go to your arch…your shin…your hip bone, etc. Then reverse the action.
6) Assume the same position as in 4. Imagine that you are stacking a pile of books as you take in air. Remove them from the pile as you exhale. Do the exercise softly and with your eyes closed. You can imagine also the color and weight of the books. Remember to try to remove all of the air when you exhale.
7) Stand with your feet aligned with your shoulders, your knees slightly bent. Allow your chin to fall upon your chest. Keeping it in that position, inhale gently through your nose (taking the air from the “chi”). Then inhale it slowly as you raise your neck and stretch it to the limit (without forcing it!). Repeat several times.
8) Using the same basic posture, raise both hands high above your head as you inhale; bring them down softly as you exhale. Remember to always inhale through the nose; you may exhale through the mouth.
9) A variation: use the same starting position. Point the tips of your fingers at each other. Turn your torso to the right as you take in air and form a bow and arrow with your arms, swinging your body as far back as possible without moving your feet. Try to fix your eyes on a fixed point. As you return to the starting position expulse the air and rest in the initial position. Repeat the same movement, but to your left. Each time you twist your torso your eyes should fix on a point slightly further to the left or the right—according to the sequence you have chosen.
10) Again using the same starting position, bring your heels together. Raise them simultaneously as you inhale. Hold your breath for a count of four; then bring them down slowly to the floor as you expulse the air.
11) Back in the starting position, bring the air in through your nose in short bursts, removing it likewise in short bursts but being careful to push all of the air out of your body. You can do this with counts: two rapid intakes, two rapid expulsions prolonging the last. Then try with 4, 6, 8, 10…
12) In the initial standing position, and with your knees bent, place both of your hands to the left and the right of the “chi” filling lungs and abdomen with fresh air. Then let your arms fly in both directions in an explosive burst as you send all of the air out of your body. The explosion should take all of the air out in a volcanic burst accompanied by the sound of the air passing rapidly. Before initiating the explosion, be sure the tip of your tongue is touching the inside of your upper teeth. Do that several times. That is the low breathing area—the chi, the abdomen, adequate for creative activity. Returning to the same position place your hands on your lower ribs, right and left, and also explode. This position is also good for singing and projecting your voice. Finally, place your hands on your chest and do the same. This position is not suggested for creative activity because it puts pressure on the vocal coils.
13) Return to the standing position but place a ball or a stick (it could be a broom stick) in your hands. Rotate your body right as you inhale, allowing the torso to do the turning rather than your shoulders. Return to the center position expulsing your breath. Repeat to the left.
14) Place both hands on the stick and put it near your butt. Inhale as you raise the stick as far as you can. Keep it there for a count of four; then return as you exhale.
15) With your feet separated at shoulder length, raise the stick far above your head as you inhale. Hold your breath and remain in that position on a count of four. Then bring the stick down to your toes, keeping your knees straight but not locked. Then relax, swinging your body and the stick to the right and to the left. Repeat.