Breathing and Energy Flow
by Lynn Hill
Over the last several years, many forms of yoga and eastern practices have been adopted into our culture. There is much more awareness about the benefits of meditation, maintaining good posture, and conscious breathing in our practice. Breathing is one of the few bodily functions that can be controlled both consciously and unconsciously. Conscious attention to breathing is common in many forms of meditation, specifically, Anapana, which focuses on the "mindfulness of breathing." The purpose of this practice is to concentrate on bodily phenomena as both a mental discipline, and as a prerequisite to developing liberating insight. Practicing this form of meditation is part of the Eight-Fold Path that leads to the removal of all defilements and finally toward the attainment of nirvana or enlightenment.
Several years ago while living in France, I took a Chi Quong seminar from a Chinese Chi Quong master (Depending on the Chinese translation, it is spelled either, Chi Qigong, or Chi Kung). Similar to the practice of Tai Chi, these exercises are done in a slow, controlled manner while respecting a specific breathing pattern. This practice has origins in maintaining health, vitality, and connecting with one's Chi (or Qi, believed to be part of every living thing that exists, as a kind of "life force" or "spiritual energy." It is frequently translated as "energy flow," or literally as "air" or "breath." In Mandarin Chinese it is pronounced something like "chee" in English, but the tongue position is different).
One person named, MaryAnn, wrote a brief story about her experiences as a cancer patient and discovering the power of Chi through the practice of Chi Quong. After her second chemo treatment, she began her Chi Quong practice and by her third treatment she had a miraculous response to her therapy! She wrote, "Do you believe that I was what my stem cell doc called the earliest engrafter (my counts rebounded more quickly than any one before)? I believe that Chi is the spirit, it is the life force."
When I practiced Chi Quong, I concentrated on breathing in on the way up and out on the way down. We practiced each exercise while facing a particular direction depending on the season of the year. But regardless of the season, each exercise was done with respect to all directions: North, South, East, West, up, and down. My intent in this practice was to coordinate my breathing along with the perfect execution of each movement. Finding the perfect balance point throughout every movement is the kind of one-pointed focus I maintain while climbing.
In the process of climbing, the only time I am conscious of my breathing is when I'm trying to recover in a rest position, or sometimes when making a particularly powerful move. I found that it's helpful to exhale forcefully or make an audible grunt just before making a powerful, dynamic move. Conversely, when making a long, controlled reach, I found that it's better to inhale a quick breath of air, which expands my chest and seems to allow me to levitate those few extra centimeters to reach the next hold. In any case, breathing plays a fundamental role in sustaining life and perhaps also serves as a vehicle in accessing the body's energetic and spiritual equilibrium.