A human being can go weeks without food, and days without water, but how long can one go without breathing?  The current world record for holding the breath goes to German free diver Tom Siestas of 22 minutes and 22 seconds, which is minuscule compared to how long people can go without the numerous other energies needed for sustenance.  I have heard of masters who have gone without food, but none who can go without air.  Through all my research I have found that the quickest and most natural way to changing one’s life (Mind, Body and Spirit) is first through conscious awareness of breath.  This focal point can allow you to access the various energies of your body and the infinite energies of prana/chi.  Our breath reacts to our emotions, to our environment and to stress, and knowing this naturally gives you a tool that you can apply to all aspects of your life.  If one masters the art of breathing, one simply stops reacting to life, and gains the ability to transmute experiences and emotions, growing exponentially.  Qigong focuses directly on the connection of breath to your whole body, directing energy through breath, movement, and intention to all the organs of the body for overall health and healing.

In meditation, our ability to be relaxed and centered directly correlates to the motions of our breathing patterns.  Qigong is a Chinese Meditation art that is truly holistic in the sense that it teaches techniques of not only how to control the mind, but how to open our bodies and train our breathing to allow the chi/energy to flow naturally.  Qigong also uses the Five Element Alchemical System and the philosophy of Yin and Yang to better tune our bodies to our environment to be in a more harmonious and natural state.  The core concepts, though, are posture, breath, and intention.  Posture relates to our ability to breathe; the straighter the path, the more efficient the flow.

Emotional imbalances can affect health in many ways, and an easy way to test one’s general state of balance can be observed through the breath. Just think about how a person reacts when grieving over a lost loved one; the breathing becomes shallow and almost trapped in the throat.  Or how about when one is angry?  In states of rage, one takes deep, yet quick breaths, which greatly stimulates their nervous system.

Qigong teaches two type of breathing, The Scholar’s Breath and The Warrior’s Breath.  The Scholar’s Breath is similar to yogic breathing with slow inhalations into the belly and slower exhales, which has a calming effect on the nervous system.  This is a great breathing method for dealing with anxiety and to help get into deeper levels of meditation.  The Warrior’s Breath consists of deep inhalations and faster and stronger exhalations.  This breathing exercise can excite the nervous system giving a tremendous feeling of energy that helps with depression, warms the body, and greatly increases physical strength.  Breathing exercises based on these core concepts are just some of the many variations of Qigong breathing that can help with healing, emotional balance, meditation, pain management, and so much more–but one must practice daily to really achieve a beneficial effect on life and make real changes.

Breathing exercises taught at a young age could theoretically make the modern day pharmaceutical treatments for mental and emotional disorders obsolete.  Life management skills were not necessarily taught in the schools I was attending when I was young, but Qigong and Yoga have given me the tools to balance my mind, body and spirit.  Just think about how many people suffer from depression and anxiety.  The word anxiety comes from the root word angst, which means “to narrow”.  This refers to the narrowing of the bronchial tubes.  We can even see this happen when people get anxious; they breathe shallowly and rapidly causing hyperventilation and panic.  Anxiety is caused when one is over-stressed and the adrenal glands stimulate one’s sympathetic nervous system, effectively putting the body into a state of fight or flight (as if one is in extreme danger).  Ancient cultures knew that breath connected us to our body and our environment simultaneously, overriding the mind.  Even the Navy Seals teach breathing as an important tool for dealing with pain and finding the energy to persevere through any level of stress.  Knowing how to control our nervous system, and being aware of our mental and physical states, one can effectively treat symptoms and truly heal.  We cannot always control our environment and our stressors, but we CAN have the tools to protect us and prepare us for the unknown.  In Qigong, the Lungs are associated with the Metal Element.  Metal represents our courage to stand full and proud in the world.  Are you ready to take charge of your breath and take the first movement to be Be the Change? Take a breath with me.

Odin Starr