In Tai Chi Chuan we do not do things out of coincidence, everythning is something – whether we see it or not.
In Tai Chi Chuan we breath through the nose. No matter if we practice Forms, San Shou, Nei Kung, or Tui Shou, my teacher always said -” breath through the nose”. The breathing should be deep and quiet. There are practical reasons for it, such as not breaking your teeth or biting your tounge off if you get punched when fighting. Anyone taking the Nei Kung jump from 2 meters or recieved flying kicks against the torso knows that control over the breath is quite vital.
And although we should not be obsessed about it, there is a lot more to this than most people think.
Lately even modern science seems to be catching up with reality, backing up traditional ideas of training.
To me – and i guess to most western people – the best translation and the way to understand the idea of Qi – is through the breathing. And although there are many types of Qi (derived from food or genetic heredety) the main idea is “breath” or “vital energy”.
This is not strange at all since oxygen is the smallest denominator in all metabolic processes. True – it is of importance what we eat. But the catalyst is oxygen. Other stuff we can survive without for a while. Not oxygen.
On a cellular level, the actual result from sufficient oxygen together with sugar and/or fat is ATP – energy.
The more the merrier?
Popular belief holds that the more o2 we have and the less co2 is optimal. This is not true. It is all about balance. To make use of the available oxygen in your blood our inner systems require a certain amount of co2. And without that you can as a matter of fact get too much oxygen, which is what happens during hyperventilation in anxeity/panic attacks. The remedy in such a situation is breathing in a paper bag. Why? Too increase levels of co2.
Alot of asthmatic problems are not primarily problems of oxygen. They are problems of carbondioxide intolerance.
Nose breathing makes this intricate balance between o2 and co2 easier to sustain.
Among the things i do in my professional life, besides teaching Tai Chi Chuan, is helping athletes from different sports with injuries and optimazation of performance. We have noticed some quite remarkable facts during the last three years. When changing breathing pattern – from mouth breathing (which everyone does when things get tough) to nose breathing. We can notice a significant decrease in working pulse with sustained tempo or working load. The rate of training related injuries went down as did the cases of flu or common cold which impliates a better functioning immune system.
There are some known facts when it comes down to nose breathing;
- Enhanced motoric function of diaphragm (Vagus innervation which means enhanced parasympathetic response, even under stress)
- Enables and sustains aerobic ability and alkaline environment in tissues, which of course is the opposite of having an acidic environment. Chronic inflammation always takes place in acidic environments.
- Parasympathic “tone” is crucial for recovery. In my experience this is one of the weak areas of the modern man. Constant stimuli, be it physical or mental, disturbs our recovery abilities. And the one who recover quick will be fit for fight faster and with better recources than others. Be it in training, competition or everyday life.
- In the nose cavities, nitric oxide (NO) is released and enters the air inhaled.
Nitric oxide causes vaso-dilitation (enhances the gas exchange between the lunges and the blood).
- In a quite remarkable study two years ago it was shown the lunges is not only for “huffing and puffing”. They actually play an active role in the production of blood.
- Filters and warms the air entering the lunges.
- Anxiousness, anxiety, depression, asthma, chronic allergies, snoring and poor sleep patterns all have one things in common. Alot of mouth breathing.
- It seems nasal breathing (by nitric oxide) has effect on mitocondrial biogenesis. This is the process by which cells increase their individual mitocondrial mass and copy number to increase the production of ATP as a response to greater energy expenditure.
For many people it seems difficult to believe that changing breathing patterns can have such significant impact on mental and physical health. Not to mention performance and recovery.
It is the lowest hangning fruit and very few poeple are picking it. Instead many are looking for complicated methods or become dependent of pharmaceuticals.
In Tai Chi Chuan we combine this kind of deep, smooth breathing with a certain way of moving our body and carrying out actions. This combination – when done properly – can truly work miracles (which actually is basic physiology and bio-chemistry).
Mitochondrial Biogenesis in Mammals: The Role of Endogenous Nitric Oxide
There are also interesting scientific results of tounge position in relation to physical performance that resonates 100% with what we are doing in our style. In body-mind systems like Feldenkrais they have been working with this kind of relationship for a long long time.
But that is another discussion.
As with myo-fascial function, knowledge of neurological processes really can shed a light on certain aspects of our training. Very much of what we do are aimed at re-programming our autonomous neurological responses to external stimuli or stress.
And vice versa.
With that said – first and foremost – you should FEEL what it does to you.
That is what matters – regardless the latest scientific studies.