A Breath Of Life

By Gaelen: Student:   “ What is the secret of longevity?”

Master:   “Breath, then keep doing it as long as you can.”

-Tai Chi Joke.

An unseen and unheard aspect of Tai Chi is breathing. An interesting thought is we can live for days, without food and water and no one can live for more than a few minutes without breathing air. So, let’s think about it…because we don’t, do we? We just do it.


As we move on in life and become more sedentary, we use less and less of our lungs.  The more elderly use less and less of the bottom part of the lungs. This can lead to fluid retention and the retained fluid can harbour unwanted or disease laden organisms.

Peter Wayne, writing in ‘The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi’, tells us that ‘epidemiological data supports the idea that less-restricted and higher-volume breathing may lead to a longer life.’

A mindful breath brings attention into the deepest, most intimate places within ourselves. It also brings good air and vibrant chi IN and sends bad air and bad chi OUT. The breath helps integrate the body with the mind, and with the key Tai Chi concept of relaxing. 


Tai Chi breathing is usually done in a good standing posture. It can also be performed seated. The main focus on posture is to keep the back straight and push the bottom of the spine gently down. The masters ask you to imagine that you are being dangled from heaven by a string of pearls coming from the crown of your head.

Breath slowly and gently in through the tip of your nose, take the flow of breath down the back of your throat and down the front of the spine past the kidneys and all the way down to the bottom of your trunk. Gently allow the new air to push out the belly keeping it relaxed. The top of the chest usually sinks slightly during this action. Keep on filling up the bottom of the trunk. As more air gently arrives, it fills up the trunk climbing higher. As it reaches the top of the trunk the upper chest lifts a little higher.

Imagine you are breathing into the shoulder muscles and the muscles at the top of the arms. Even up the neck and to the chin.

Where your mind is going is where you are taking the chi.

Imagine that you are a balloon gently self inflating.

You might become aware that there is a lot more space in your lungs than you have been using generally.

Think about it.

This is a long – slow – gentle -breath.

Now we have to think about breathing out.

YES… we still have to think about it.  

As your in-breath comes to an end, you may realise that although you have breathed in without tension, you may now feel there is some tension, as if the air wants to get out.


We generally spend a longer time breathing out than breathing in but there is no need to count. Just allow your natural body rhythm to settle into a cycle which will be individual to you.

Gently release the tension and allow the air to come up through the center of your body and out through the tip of your nose or through slightly parted lips.

Allow all the air that wants to come out – to come out, without trying to cram more in at the same time as breathing out. Breathing is a natural cycle so let one event come to an end before the next one starts.

Tai Chi is an internal art with its roots in, Traditional Chinese Medicine, as such there is a focus on internal energy rather than external. This health oriented, system places a great emphasis on the internal organs being an energy source. Heart lungs, spleen liver kidneys. Are encouraged to be actively revitalized with chi.  

The breathing exercise described here not only enhances this revitalization, but the breathing action actively and gently massages these internal organs.

Continue the mindful breathing at your pleasure. Most people find benefits from a five to ten minute session two or three times a day.


Love and Light,




Gaelen is an Advanced Instructor with The Tai Chi Union of Great Britain, and a Level One instructor with the Deyin Taijiquan Institute (GB).

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