Breath is the link between the universal life force and our physical existence. It is thought of in ancient traditions as our link to the divine. The rhythm of the breath mimics the primal rhythm of the universe, the natural ebb and flow, the yin and yang. It is one of the most important tools we have in life and Autumn is the perfect season to tap into this sacred power.
Autumn is the season of the metal element which highlights the important functions of the Lung and its TCM counterpart, the Large Intestine. The Metal element is about refinement and elimination, taking in what the earth gives us, refining it and then releasing what is not needed. Breath is a perfect example of this as we inhale the air and purify it for use in the body. We then exhale carbon dioxide and other waste gases, which will in turn be used by the environment. The large intestine has a similar role in that it separates the fluid from processed food waste, and recycles that fluid back into the body while eliminating the leftover impurities.
In Chinese Medicine, the lungs open into the nose, where the refinement of air begins. Cells in our nose trap debris to prevent it from entering the lungs. Further purification of the air we breathe happens in the lungs as the oxygen is separated out, transferred to the blood and converted to the qi that the body uses for all activity.
Mystics of many traditions talk about the practice of controlling your breath in order to become a master of your qi/prana/life-force. Through the power of breathwork, you can dissolve impurities, awaken the spirit, and experience radiant health. And it all starts with the practice of simply noticing the breath in order to develop a conscious awareness of our breathing patterns. This practice of breath observation in qi gong (energy cultivation) is called normal breathing. Once we have learned how to calmly pay attention we can try what’s called abdominal breathing or “breathing like a buddha”.
First of all, posture is important in breathwork, so as you’ve noticed the pattern of breath while simply observing yourself, you may have also noticed your posture. Now is the time to make slight body adjustments to open up your own internal flow. It’s a good idea to gently stretch your whole body: legs, neck and back with special attention to your arms as the lung meridian runs along the inside of your arms.
You may have also noticed that normally your breath is shallow. Most adults tend to breathe from their chest. The purpose of abdominal breathing is to allow for a full breath, bringing more oxygen into the body to nourish the tissues and organs. It also slows the heart rate and calms the mind. This helps to bring the whole body/mind/spirit complex into harmony.
Now sit or stand up in a comfortable but not hunched position and start with some slow breathing. Place your right hand on your lower belly (called the lower dantian in qi gong) and your left hand on your chest. Relax any tension in the body, and listen to the sound of your breathing. Inhale deeply from your diaphragm, while expanding your belly to allow air to sink down, allowing your chest and ribs to expand. Relax your abdomen while you do this, and gently, without force, breathe through your nose while lips are lightly touching, and the tongue rests against upper teeth and palate. Exhale completely through the mouth. Continue this slow breathing for at least 9 inhales and 9 exhales.
Qi gong offers more breathing techniques such as reverse breathing, complete breathing, and alternate nostril breathing but abdominal breathing is a great place to start to support your metal element during the Autumn season and throughout the year.