Breathe in, breathe out
In traditional East Asian medicine, it is understood that the breath powers the body. In ancient times, when a person could no longer breathe “fully” or deeply into the lower belly, the doctor knew that the patient’s prognosis was poor. In modern exercise and rehabilitation, including yoga and qigong, there is still strong emphasis on the breath. Why?
It’s all about yin and yang.
According to ancient philosophy, all things in the material world exist on a spectrum of yin versus yang. We see this as polarity, or duality. Hot versus cold. Male and female. Summer is the opposite of winter. North is opposite of South.
The theories of yin-yang are actually very complex the deeper you go into them. But ultimately, we can say that they are also very simple. As a human, you are a spirit (or yang) energy. Your body is your energy’s (or spirit’s) yin container. For you to be alive, your yang spirit must remain inside your yin body. Your yin body cannot survive without your yang spirit, and your yang spirit can no longer “effect things” in the material world without its yin container.
Therefore, we can say that life results when yin and yang “swirl” or move together. When yin and yang separate, that is death. The yin returns to the yin; the yang returns to the yang.
Breath turns the yin-yang wheel.
You’ve probably seen picture of the yin-yang symbol. It is not a religious symbol. It is a symbol explaining scientific observations of the natural world.
A correct depiction of yin-yang will show the “light” or “yang” half moving upwards. It will be larger at the top of the circle, with a dark dot like the eye of a fish, and smaller (like a tail) at the bottom. This shows how yang energy tends to rise or move upwards. Fire, for example, is a very yang element. Yin tends to move downward. Water, for example, is a very yin element.
In our human bodies, these elements also tend to move in these ways. We get “light-headed” when we don’t drink enough water. This is because the yang is not properly rooted. We “feel heavy” when we are water-logged.
For life to exist, the elements must move in ways contrary to their nature. What does this for us? Our breath. With our breath, we draw our energy downwards into our low bellies and low backs. We literally pull our yang spirit down into our yin. The yang then naturally moves the yin upwards, and the wheel turns, with yang being firmly nestled below yin with each breath.
In this way, we literally keep ourselves alive with each breath. When the breath stops, and yin and yang separate — when yang is free to go back up and leave the yin — we die.
Breath and Meditation
The benefits of meditation have been studied by researchers at Harvard and around the world. Meditation helps people think clearer, sleep better, and live optimally.
At Chiyu Center, we can teach you a non-denominational way of meditation that anyone can do, focused on improving the breath.
For those of you with “active minds” who cannot stand “watching your breath” or “observing your thoughts,” we recommend that you learn to do Reiki. Reiki is an active form of meditation. It is like a hybrid of prayer and meditation, and it is compatible with all faiths and religions, including atheism. Learn more about Reiki and our Reiki Attunements.
You can learn to breathe better.
If you have chronic or life-threatening illness, I’d be willing to wager that you aren’t breathing properly.
Let me be clear that it is not your fault. If yin and yang are starting to separate, then your breath is quite naturally not going deeply into your body. Not to alarm you, but your body is preparing to die. It is slowly releasing its hold on your yang. The mechanisms for keeping the yang within yin (ie, your breath), are slowly shutting down. It is natural.
When I was in the worst of my illness, I decided I needed to force myself to do a little qigong. I knew that doing qigong and opening my fascia, circulation, and energy flow would help me heal. But then something horrible happened: While doing qigong, I realized I could no longer breathe deeply into my lower back. Yet, before I had become sick, it had been easy! I knew what this meant. Yin and yang were separating. But, I couldn’t die! I couldn’t leave my baby! Distraught, I ran to the bathroom, filled the tub with hot water, and cried.
My partner came in and asked why I was crying. I explained that I couldn’t breathe into my back. Thinking I must have lost my mind, he replied that I wasn’t supposed to — “You’re supposed to breathe into your lungs.” My response? I told him to get out.
A short time later, he returned with a book he had borrowed from the library, a book by Wynn Hof, the breathing expert. He apologized, saying I was indeed correct.
I began the work of healing my breath. It was not easy. I had to very consciously reverse the natural process that was occurring within me. I had to choose to breathe deeply, even though it hurt. As time passed, I regained more and more of my breath. I chose to turn my breath wheel, to force my yang downwards and into my yin. I chose to live.
At Chiyu Center, breathwork consults are a routine part of our integrative healing packages. In my experience, the breath simply cannot be ignored. Reach out to schedule your appointment, and I’ll be happy to share all I know with you. You will find it enlightening, comforting, helpful… and healing. I will teach you very basic exercises to restore your breath dynamic. You can do it! I promise. And you must. Let me help you do it right.
I look forward to connecting with you!
Erika F. Marie,