Some of the work I do, I don’t know the breath process. All the tai chi forms, at least in theory, have specific breath patterns you’re supposed to adopt while doing the work, so that A) you remember to breathe, and B) so that you get extra benefits to your heart and lungs from extra oxygen during the work. I rarely know if I’m breathing correctly from one day to the next during the form, because I never internalized that knowledge when I was learning Five Golden Coins, or Eight Pieces of Silk. I do know roughly how it’s supposed to go, though — breathe in on the expansive movement for the start, and breathe out on the contraction. That’s the approximation for the qi gong routines.
For the form, it’s different. Because it’s a martial set of movements, the rough process is supposed to be reversed — the expansion of the lungs happens on the contractive movements, and the expulsion of breath happens during the contractive movements. In theory, this means that there is more force behind the punches and pushes… but I’ve never had reason to test that in combat. (As I showed a friend of mine the other day, the most effective martial arts maneuver I know is a smile, a proffered handshake, and a “Hi, my name is Andrew.” People have a hard time attacking friendly people, especially if it’s backed up with a little bit of an energy push.
In any case, there’s a rough outline of how to breathe on the various forms, but there are exceptions, and it’s the exceptions to the general rule that I don’t know. On the other hand, there are days like today when I discover one of these exceptions by accident, and there’s a sudden energetic rush I wasn’t expecting, because I have found a breathing pattern that works for this particular part of the form. Yummy.
The trick, of course, is doing it again.
Update: This entry is #201, not 202 as originally indicated.