Today, I did the first qi gong form, “Five Golden Coins.” And then I had to engage in a round of heavy breathwork to get my heart in line with my breathing. Wow. There was something about how I did Five Golden Coins — speed, forcefulness, not really sure? — that put my heart into overdrive. I had to pause and take about forty deep breaths, slowly and controlled, before it felt like my breathing had caught up with my heart.
Not that my heart had slowed down. It felt like it was beating incredibly hard and fast in my chest. Except, of course, it wasn’t. It was only my perception; a quick check of my pulse in the wrist and in the throat confirmed that I wasn’t dying, or experiencing heart arrhythmia. I was just… waking up. And that means I wasn’t awake when I brought my heels together and then stepped out into horse stance to begin the form. Then, when I did the form, my body woke up rapidly into wakeful heart awareness, and thought to itself, “Wow, we need a lot more oxygen!”
And the body provided, by shifting my breathing pattern appropriately. Without me doing a thing.
This is what made it so unnerving, of course. If you do tai chi every day, sooner or later this will happen: you will overextend your body’s capacity to work, and the body will shift into overdrive in some other fashion to catch up, and bring about equilibrium. The amount of oxygen required for doing a simple tai chi routine will be considerably larger than you have given your lungs with your fantasy attempt at careful, regulated breathing, and your body will respond by setting your chest heaving to put enough air into your lungs. And you will think, “Wow, I’m really out of shape. I need to work out more.” But then, when you work out, you will find (guess what?) that your body will continue to resist efforts to control your breathing patterns, if those breath patterns are out of whack compared with how much air your body actually needs.
This isn’t a thing you’re going to get under control. Your body needs oxygen, and it will override your mind to make sure it gets enough.
Let the body do its job. Learn to breathe effectively, by breathing naturally. Even if that means heaving like a bellows after your first tai chi routine of the day.