“You cannot do it,” explained the master,” because you do not breathe right.”
~ E Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery
Have you ever watched a baby breathe?
The abdominal breath moves with each cycle as part of the whole deep process of life. It rises and falls according to its needs. Each cycle very deeply filling the internal with external; emptiness, then fullness, repeated for as long as the baby shall live.
This is done without thought or effort. In our quest for natural movement, it is always wise to watch a child.
But our breath does change and not for the better. As we age, we begin to breathe shallower, more in the chest and less in the stomach, not as deep, not as life fulfilling, but as surviving. Our breath becomes separated within our bodies. And so does our thoughts.
This begins to happen at quite a young age. Watch a teenager (or what we often call, youth). Their breathing becomes shallow and erratic. Posture begins to collapse and internal strife begins to grow for many.
This can go on as they age until either health or injury or mental breakdown forces a re-evaluation of their physical and mental well being.
Unfortunately, we do not turn to our breath to help us.
We often think that just working on our muscles and following almost impossible diet plans will be sufficient for recovering from health problems. We take up exercise plans that most people do not stick with and spend huge amounts of money doing something that does have benefits but is almost guaranteed to fail in the long term.
We try diet plans based on the latest ads that are impossible to stick to. And yet the answers are as close as the breath of a loved one. Breathing costs no money, is done everywhere, whether you like it or not, and with just a little attention can give so much back.
Good breathing can impact the way you feel. It can calm the troubled mind, help deal with anger and depression, deepen your thoughts and improve your health.
Incorrect breathing can increase your health risks, fuel anger and increases stress.
Martial arts place a great degree of emphasis on natural breathing. Each martial art has common points but also each varies depending on the circumstances.
How it is also taught can vary greatly. Some rely on the training to teach breathing while others practise very specific breathing techniques separate from the training. Some teach breathing on the movement and breathing out on the impact, or focused part of the technique.
There is abdominal breathing, reverse breathing and movement without breathing at all.
This is just a sample of various approaches and I shall delve deeper into this topic in future columns.
In the end, there are many ways to teach and practise breathing. Almost all will benefit us whether we practise a martial art or not.
Just remember: better health is only a breath away.
Todd Hardy has studied and taught a variety of martial arts over 38 years and trained with many people from around the world. Would you like to comment on what you read here? Contact him at [email protected]