Introduction: In an earlier article “Meditation: An Often Neglected Component of Taiji Practice”, it stated that there are three major components of Taiji practice: Forms, Push Hands, and Meditation. Essentially all Taiji practitioners practice Forms, and those who are interested in Taiji as a martial art most likely would also practice or have practiced Push Hands. The article gave several reasons why many Taiji practitioners may have never practiced Meditation, even though it is an important component of Taiji practice and Taiji is often known as Moving Meditation. That article also mentioned that Meditation is a set of techniques that focus on getting the body and mind to relax and into a deeper level of “quietness.” In that introductory Meditation article, it wrote “initially, while doing Meditation, the practitioner can breath naturally, i.e., breathe normally. With experience, more sophisticated breathing techniques could be incorporated.”
This current article discusses some of the more sophisticated breathing techniques in Meditation that make Meditation an important part of Taiji from both the health and martial arts perspectives.
Qigong: In another earlier article “What Is Qigong?”, we discuss that Qigong is a set of stretching, breathing, and meditation exercises that is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Qigong is something that advanced Taiji practitioners should practice to get as much benefits out of Taiji from both the health and martial arts perspectives. TCM believes that good health and illnesses are very much related to the proper level and circulation of Qi within the body. with Qi being some sort of bio-electric energy, or life force. Even though currently there is not a universal scientific definition of Qi that is generally accepted by scientists, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Qi doesn’t exist. To the many people in this world who have practiced Qigong for an extended period and on a regular basis, Qi is as real to them as their breath, their heartbeat, their conscious mind. They can feel Qi in their body. They can guide Qi to circulate to different parts of their body. They can feel sensations in their body, e.g., tingling sensations in their fingers, when they are practicing Qigong. We now discuss why the more sophisticated breathing techniques used in Meditation can make your body healthier and stronger.
Purpose of Meditation: The purpose of Meditation is to relax your body and mind as much as possible, and at the same time increase the intake and circulation of oxygen throughout the whole body. Meditation can be done standing up, sitting down, or lying down. A key component of Meditation is the breathing technique. Normally when we breathe, we use “Upper Chest Breathing,” i.e, we expand and contract our upper chest to get the oxygen into our lungs. When we do Meditation, we use “Lower Abdominal Breathing,” also called “Diaphragmatic Breathing”, i.e., we move our diaphragm up and down and expand and contract our lower abdomen. There are also two types of Lower Abdominal Breathing or Diaphragmatic Breathing. One is called “Natural Lower Abdominal Breathing” or “Natural Diaphragmatic Breathing,” and the other is called “Reverse Lower Abdominal Breathing” or “Reverse Diaphragmatic Breathing.”
Natural Lower Abdominal Breathing: We will first discuss the first type, “Natural Lower Abdominal Breathing” or “Natural Diaphragmatic Breathing.” With this method, when we inhale, the diaphragm moves downward and the lower abdomen (or tummy) expands outward both toward the front of the body and the back of the body. When we exhale, the diaphragm moves upward and the lower abdomen contracts both in the front and in the back. There are two advantages of Lower Abdominal Breathing over the usual Upper Chest Breathing. One advantage is that with the diaphragm moving downward when we inhale, we expand the upper chest area or the lungs, so that more oxygen can be taken in. With the diaphragm moving upward when we exhale, it helps to push the carbon dioxide out of the lungs. The second advantage is that with the diaphragm moving up and down and the lower abdomen expanding and contracting, it is like massaging the internal organs that reside in the abdomen. This is similar to exercising our internal organs when we are breathing in and breathing out. Just like exercising our muscles and limbs can strengthen them, exercising our internal organs can also strengthen them.
In Meditation, we also try to relax our body and mind, so that we can engage in slower and deeper breaths. When we slow down and take deeper breaths, we can intake more oxygen and facilitate the circulation of the oxygen, and the blood that carries the oxygen, into various parts of the body. This means that we are bringing more nutrients into various parts of our body, thus making our body healthier and stronger. In addition, when our body and mind are relaxed, various bodily functions can also work more efficiently, again making our body healthier and stronger.
This is why long distance runners, singers such as opera singers, and stage performers also practice “Diaphragmatic Breathing” in order to relax and to intake more oxygen, lower the heart rate, sing a longer note, project a stronger voice in a large auditorium. Because of its health benefits. many yoga exercises also teach and practice “Diaphragmatic Breathing.”
As we mentioned earlier, it is very important to relax not only the body, but also the mind. This is not easy to achieve especially when our modern life is often multi-faceted. So it is very easy for the mind to wander, and think about all the tasks that you need to finish on that day or all the problems related to school, work, or family that you need to solve. When that happens, don’t get upset, just acknowledge it and come back to focus on your breathing and relaxation. One way to keep your mind from wandering off is to repeat a mantra, i.e., choose a simple word (like peace, harmony, love, hope, relax) and repeat that word over and over. Once or twice during your meditation, you may want to identify a certain part of your body and ask yourself whether you can relax that part of your body even more. After you finish with one part of the body, just go on to the parts of your body.
The practice of Meditation can improve the ability to relax your body and mind and the ability to breathe more deeply and more slowly so that you can take in more oxygen and improve its circulation throughout the body, and at the same time exercise your internal organs inside your lower abdomen. This is why Meditation can make your body healthier and stronger.
Reverse Lower Abdominal Breathing: We now discuss the second type, “Reverse Lower Abdominal Breathing” or “Reverse Diaphragmatic Breathing.” Although not as widely practiced as the “Natural Lower Abdominal Breathing,” the “Reverse Lower Abdominal Breathing” is another breathing method that is used by a lot of people, especially by more advanced martial arts practitioners. With this method, when you inhale, the diaphragm is still lowered, and when you exhale, the diaphragm is still raised. However, the movement of the lower abdomen is just the opposite of the movement in the “Natural Lower Abdominal Breathing.” When you inhale, the lower abdomen contracts from both the front and the back of the abdomen. When you exhale, the lower abdomen expands from both the front and the back of the abdomen. Although it may seem to be unusual to contract the abdomen when inhaling, and expand the abdomen when exhaling, it is not, because this is consistent with what you do when you blow up a balloon. When you are blowing up a balloon, you are exhaling and the front of your abdomen expands outward.  Similarly, when you push a big, heavy object, you take a deep breath and exhale and push, you will find that your abdomen is expanding outward. In martial arts, when you are attacking an opponent, it is like pushing an object, and therefore you exhale and expand your abdomen, i.e., Reverse Lower Abdominal Breathing. Thus, “Reverse Lower Abdominal Breathing” is often used by advanced martial artists. “Natural Lower Abdominal Breathing” is sometimes known as ‘Buddhist Breathing,” and “Reverse Lower Abdominal Breathing” is sometimes known as “Taoist Breathing.”
Summary: The essence of Meditation is (1) to relax the body and mind, (2) to increase the intake of oxygen and enhance the circulation of oxygen (and blood) throughout the body, and at the same time (3) to massage the internal organs inside your abdomen. It achieves this by using “Lower Abdominal Breathing.” Because all three functions mentioned in the previous sentence can make your body healthier and stronger, Meditation is a very important component of Taiji and Qigong. There are two types of “Lower Abdominal Breathing.” “Natural Lower Abdominal Breathing” is more commonly used, and the “Reverse Lower Abdominal Breathing” is used often by advanced martial artists.
I want to end this article with the following quote “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
 This is an exercise we can all do. Place one hand on your abdomen and blow out air as though you are blowing up a balloon, you will find that your lower abdomen is expanding and pushing your hand outward.