Is That Air You’re Breathing?
Have you ever thought, “I wish I had more endurance, more strength, more mental focus or less stress?” Have you ever considered that you could be breathing wrong?
What if I told you that with a few breathing techniques and fixes you could tap further into your inner potential and boost your endurance, strength, recovery and mental focus at the same time? By understanding your breathing and how to incorporate your abdominals into it, you just change your life and improve everything in regards to your fitness.
Empower your Dan Ti’an
In the Chinese martial arts and holistic healing arts of Chi Kung we seek power and understanding of our breath in movement. The power center as known in the Chinese arts is referenced as the Dan Ti’an.
Usually the Dan Ti’an is translated as the “sea of chi” or “center of power.” To a Yogi practitioner, it is known as swadhisthana chakra.
To locate your Dan Ti’an, take 3 fingers and place them right under your navel, or you can take your thumb, place it directly in your navel and loosely cradle your lower abdomen. Visualize every inhale; the air entering your nose and passing down through your anterior torso, resting and passing though the Dan Ti’an.
Exhale to elevate the air up through your posterior torso to the back of your neck, rounding over the cranium and exiting out the nose. Like all exercises, this is a practice; do your best all day to make it a habit 24/7.
Feel the Dan Ti’an
If you are having trouble breathing or even visualizing the Dan Ti’an, use this method. This simple solution may rectify your problem. Take your left hand and place it on your chest, take your right hand and place it on your Dan Ti’an/lower abdomen. Every inhale and exhale you should literally only feel your right hand moving from the inflation and deflation of your lower abdominals.
If you feel your left hand moving it means that you are breathing into your chest, in which case it is believed that this may cause heart issues and unneeded strain. I suggest having a coach or friend watch you practice to make sure you are performing this skill correctly; it is easy to “cheat” on accident and believe you are doing it correctly.
There is a harder method to this, which is taught in Hardstyle kettlebell practice. This technique is referred to as Breathing Behind the Shield. It is not recommended that to try this method until you understand and feel the Dan Ti’an.
Inhale as described before, except now when you exhale, brace your abdominals like someone is about to punch you in the stomach. There are two methods to demonstrate this, one is to have a controlled friend punch you gently in the abdomen while you are clearly exhaling. The second method, which the intensity can vary depending on the weight and size of your partner, involves having your partner stand on your abdominals while you are inhaling and exhaling. Try singing a song while bracing the abdominals to demonstrate.
The Breathing Behind the Shield method is a great tool when performing exercises, not while in recovery of exercise. You could say that this is using your Dan Ti’an in action; there are many Chinese and Japanese martial arts that focus heavily on this practice when applying it to fighting application.
Gather the Universe
“Gathering the Universe” is a Chi Kung breathing exercise that is used at the beginning, during, and at the end of a training session in order to rejuvenate and cultivate lost energy back to the Dan Ti’an. The ideology of the Chi kung exercise Gathering the Universe is to assist in clearing your mind, gaining focus on the task at hand, prepping the lungs, moving oxygen and blood through the body, relax the nervous system, and to elongate a stiff spine. Everyone will usually benefit differently from this exercise; the power is really in your intent and focus when performing it.
The movement is quite simple and can be performed anywhere, whether you are standing or sitting. Simply start by standing shoulder width apart with your legs in a soft, slight knee bent stance. Cradle your lower Dan Ti’an region, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. While inhaling through your nose, you will guide your arms in a lateral plane of motion.
Try to visualize yourself scrapping an imaginary wall behind you as if you are trying to gather air in your palms. Finish in a standing posture of what looks like you are attempting to touch the ceiling like reaching or grabbing a cloud. In this posture, you are lengthening your spine. Try to feel as if you are getting taller and each vertebrae is separating vertically.
As you exhale through your nose, you will guide your palms down your anterior torso tracing your spine, or you can visualize your chakras till your palms reach the point of your lower Dan Ti’an. You may repeat this exercise as much as needed through the day or to just recover from stress. I suggest that you do either 1, 3, 5, or 8 reps of this movement per set, taking your time with each rep.
The secret to this movement that needs to be heavily stressed is the visualization. When performing Gathering the Universe without visualizing it is honestly a waste of time.
Kettlebells & Breath
Let’s apply the use of our Dan Ti’an in a fun and easy kettlebell drill to get to know these breathing techniques. You can grab a kettlebell that you are comfortable using or one that will really challenge you. You will apply the hand on your chest and hand on lower Dan Ti’an technique as described before.
The drill is a down ladder of reps with only breathing deep and controlled to your Dan Ti’an. Preferably you should start at 5x breaths and work your way down to 1x breath. Here is the challenging part: each set of the breathing will always be 10 reps of Kettlebell Swings.
You may adjust the numbers as you see fit for yourself or even use another exercise like a Burpee to replace the Kettlebell Swing. Don’t cheat yourself, once the kettlebell has come to a complete stop start your breathing and when done with your breathing reps immediately start swinging that kettlebell again.