Qigong and meditation are centralized on one key aspect – breathing. While most people are probably going to say, “Um, yea I think I know how to breathe at this point in my life,” this is not the type of breathing we are talking about. Most people do not realize this, but while busy with their everyday lives they breathe quickly and shallow into the chest area much like a dog. What Qigong and meditation teaches you to do is to breathe like a whale or a tortoise in a deep and slow manner, as longevity and quality of living are associated with deep breathing. Qigong teachers often say because whales and tortoises breathe long and slow they are able to live longer whereas dogs pant fast and have much shorter lifespans.
But what exactly is occurring that is so “magical” when deep breathing? In fact, all of this is quite scientific and should not be thought of as anything superstitious. When you breathe deep, the more oxygen you get into your lungs. More oxygen into the lungs means more oxygen into the blood, which enhances circulation and improves one’s sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. When a person gets stressed, the body’s heart rate increases, blood vessels constrict and blood pressure rises. Deep breathing directly affects the sympathetic nervous system by increasing circulation and energy, thus reducing stress. Many people experience this often without even knowing it on a daily basis, but by incorporating the effects of deep breathing you begin to decrease the effects and are more aware of when such events rise, thus taking note and using breath to calm yourself down.
Exhaling deeply and slowly meanwhile tells the parasympathetic nervous system to detoxify more deeply. This system serves to slow the rate and force of your heartbeat, decreases your blood pressure and enhances your digestion system. You can read more about the science of breaking and its effects in a great article found here.
When you practice Qigong and various forms of meditation, there is a concentrated effort to align the mind with the breath. Many schools of Qigong and meditation state that the highest level of practice is when the mind and Qi are fully connected at every breath, while being “enlightened” means to be aware of every breath. Simply put, the point of this is to be aware of the breath and amend it to its fullest potential in order to make full use of its health benefits for the body. Thus, when we practice Qigong, the movements are also centralized with breathing.
For example, when you do a practice such as Spring Forest Qigong’s Moving of Yin and Yang, the inhale breath correlates with one hand movement going down and then alternates on the exhale breath. This type of exercise brings about awareness and focus to one’s movements, and tunes the body to breath in accordance with what it is doing rather than letting the breath constantly go astray, much like how meditation focuses on observing thoughts and not letting them affect the mind.
As the breath becomes settled and focused both with the movements of the body and mind, the entire body begins to relax and sink into the present moment. Whether it is past or future events worrying us, causing us to overthink and stress out, or an injury of sorts that may hurt, you allow yourself to focus on the movement of Qi and breath. This is therapeutic both physically and emotionally. If you are doing Qigong specifically, you also allow the body’s energy flow to reactivate and flow more smoothly, much like how a car reacts when it gets the oil or tires changed. It’s almost like driving a new vehicle, and your body reacts in a very similar way, feeling a sense of euphoria and a sense of recovering.
Still don’t believe? We suggest you look into the various medical studies such as research done by Harvard University on mindfulness meditation as well as the Mayo Clinic’s thoughts on why meditation reduces stress. When it all comes down to it, the mind and breath are key, and it just so happens that Qigong and meditation are some of the quickest and more direct methods toward focusing one’s energy to overcoming the stress and afflictions put onto oneself.
If active Qigong exercises and meditation are too much for you to handle in the beginning, you can also consider some simple tapping exercises from the SFQ handbook mentioned up above. For example, cupping the top of the head where an energy point in Chinese called Baihui is located stimulates energy in the brain by releasing pressure and bringing excess energy down into you body. We also recommend you rotate your neck back and forth in a slow manner, which will help reduce stress in the head, neck and shoulders- key areas where stress remains physically from emotions produced.