I’ve been reading this book about Taoism and longevity.
So some people might hear Taoism and say: Isn’t that like a religion? Isn’t this a branch of Eastern Spirituality?
Yeah, it’s kind of a religion, but it’s like religion light.
There are no 10 commandments
There’s no heaven
There’s no hell
Mostly it’s a lifestyle system to live a long, vibrant life with some spiritual undertones.
One of the things that become pretty obvious early on in this book is that Taoism is basically like The Force from Star Wars — minus the lightsabers (unfortunately) and the celibacy (fortunately!)
Taoist masters over a very long time developed a breathing technique that’s very effective, proven and a little counter-intuitive so I think it’s appropriate to say that this is how a Jedi would breath.
In principle, breathing is a science, but in practice it is an art. (3119–3120)
How To Breath Like A Jedi (Taoist Breathing)
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Our default breathing is quite bad, especially if you spend all day sitting or relatively sedentary, you are probably a chronic shallow breather. As you can see this is a fairly complex system of breathing with steps within steps. I don’t recommend you start by trying to implement everything. At first, you’ll find that like a lot of mindfulness practices, the first few times you do this you will be bad at it and find it quite boring. You’ll want to first get to a level of conscious competence with these 4 stages of breathing…
4 Stages of Breath Control
Since you are going to be breathing every day, every minute for the rest of your life, it’s worthwhile to granularly train your breathing technique. It starts with flaring your nostrils as you inhale; I suggest you spend your first couple of breath training sessions just focusing on flared nostril inhalations, once that becomes automatic for you add another step.
…begin a slow inhalation through flared nostrils, drawing air deep down into the bottom of your lungs by expanding the diaphragm downward and letting the abdomen balloon. When lower lungs are full, continue inhaling smoothly and let the rib cage expand to fill the mid lungs, then inhale a bit more to fill the top. It is not necessary or desirable to fill the lungs completely on each inhalation, and you should never force inhalation beyond comfortable capacity. About two-thirds full is the right measure for an inhalation. The final step in inhalation is to sink the big “energy bubble” of breath gently down into the abdominal cavity. This will cause the abdominal wall to balloon out. (3269–3275)
To sink the energy bubble down you just swallow.
The next step is to hold the breath for just a moment. After you’ve inhaled completely and let the breath sink, just hold it still for a few seconds, more specifically
never to force retention beyond natural capacity. Work with average retentions of 3 to 5 seconds, and after several months of regular practice, you may occasionally try a few retentions of 7 to 10 seconds, (3320–3322)
This is beneficial
breath retention is complex, subtle, and of central importance to the efficacy of breathing exercises. Heartbeat slows by more than half, blood pressure is substantially reduced, and cellular respiration is triggered. Cells throughout the body start “breathing” by themselves, spontaneously breaking down sugars to release oxygen and automatically excreting cellular wastes into the bloodstream for disposal. (3280–3283)
You’ll know that you are doing this correctly if there’s a noticeable increase in body heat and even perspiration after 10–15 minutes of practicing breathing
Cellular respiration generates body heat. This is first felt in the lower abdomen, then spreads slowly to the extremities, (3292–3293)
Empty the lungs in reverse order of inhalation: start at the top and end at the bottom. At the end of exhalation, pull the entire abdominal wall inward in order to push the diaphragm upward into the chest (3329–3330)
So you kind of suck in your belly as you are exhaling
In cold, dry weather, exhalation should always be done through the nostrils in order to replenish heat and moisture borrowed from the turbinates on the way in. However, in warm, humid climates, you may opt for mouth exhalation, which enhances expulsion of toxins, permits more thorough evacuation of air, and helps dissipate excess body heat. (3333–3336)
This step should be conducted in a calm, metrical manner
If the breath tends to burst out in an explosive gust, it means you’ve retained too long. (3333)
When the lungs are completely empty, block the throat by closing the glottis, so that air does not rush back into the vacuum left in your lungs. Now pause for a few seconds to permit the abdominal wall and the diaphragm to relax again, then slowly begin the next inhalation through the nose. If you have to gasp for the next inhalation, then you have paused too long. (3337–3340)
This breathing is kind of like salsa dancing, the book urges us to focus on rhythm and smooth transitions between steps
it is not the duration or volume of breath retained that works such therapeutic wonders, but rather the smooth, rhythmic regularity of the entire breathing process, (3322–3323).
That’s the 4 steps of the Taoist breathing technique, which I recommend you start practicing today. You’ll soon reach a point where you can multi-task while practicing your 4 stage breath control. Personally, I like to practice my Taoist breathing while watching television, a documentary film, sitting in traffic or showering. This is slower breathing, it’s going to take 20–40 seconds to go through the four steps, according to Taoism quantity of breath can be reduced in lieu of quality
Taoists measure life span not by counting birthdays but by counting breaths and heartbeats: Every breath and heartbeat saved now prolongs life later. (3156–3157)
Ideally, you want to devote 10–15 minutes daily to practicing breathing but even if you just do it for a few minutes it will improve your mindset.
Your 1st Goal: Should be to reach a state of cellular respiration which you’ll notice from the body heat you are generating after 10–15 minutes of breathing.
The Cosmonaut’s Guru
A cool anecdote about the practical power of cellular respiration
In 1966, Russia invited Indian prime minister Nehru’s personal guru, Swami Brahmachari, to Moscow to train Soviet cosmonauts in deep-breathing techniques as preparation for prolonged space travel. This fact alone reflects how seriously the Russians take these matters. The swami arrived in Moscow in midwinter wearing nothing but a thin cotton gown, while his hosts shivered on the tarmac in overcoats, fur hats, and woolen scarves. Concerned about the swami’s health, they immediately offered him an overcoat, but he politely declined, saying, “I manufacture my own heat as I need it.” His secret: breath control and cellular respiration. (3298–3302)
There’s quite an emphasis on using the belly and the diaphragm in these breathing methods
you will feel your lower abdomen swell up as you inhale. When the abdomen stops expanding, continue the inhalation and feel the rib cage expand as the mid lungs fill with air. Retain the breath for a few seconds, then begin a long, slow, controlled exhalation through the nose. This time you’ll feel the rib cage shrink first, followed by the contraction of the lower abdomen. This is the correct sensation of deep abdominal breathing. (3485–3488)
From a 2011 human placebo-controlled Italian study from the University of Camerino
…in this study, we investigated the effects of diaphragmatic breathing on exercise-induced oxidative stress and the putative role of cortisol and melatonin hormones in this stress pathway. We monitored 16 athletes during an exhaustive training session. After the exercise, athletes were divided in two equivalent groups of eight subjects. Subjects of the studied group spent 1 h relaxing performing diaphragmatic breathing and concentrating on their breath in a quiet place. The other eight subjects, representing the control group, spent the same time sitting in an equivalent quite place. Results demonstrate that relaxation induced by diaphragmatic breathing increases the antioxidant defense status in athletes after exhaustive exercise.
The Three Locks
They should be applied toward the end of the inhalation stage, held during retention, and released as exhalation commences. (3342–3343)
At first, you’ll feel as awkward as Jar-Jar Binks squeezing and releasing your anal sphincter while breathing. I suggest adding these locks consecutively, add just one of the locks while you are going through the four stages. Once it’s all relatively fluid and automatic add another lock until you are doing all three with the graceful control of Qui-Gon Jinn’s saberplay.
The Anal Lock
Here’s how to apply the anal lock. As inhalation reaches capacity, focus attention on the anus and contract the external sphincter ring. This is easy. Next, make a stronger, deeper, more deliberate contraction about an inch above the first. You will immediately feel a powerful contraction throughout the pelvic floor. (3354–3356)
This lock is very useful in other domains of Taoist practice; particularly for men mastering your anal sphincter will open the gates to boundless ethical hedonism. Intrigued? For now, just practice your anal locks every time you use the bathroom.
The Abdominal Lock
During the retention stage you want to suck in and keep the belly tight. Exercising your stomach and abdominal muscles, otherwise, you might end up looking like Jabba the Hut!
When the lungs are full, the diaphragm stretched, and the anal lock applied, deliberately draw the lower portion of the abdominal wall (the part below the navel) inward (3383–3385)
Unless the abdominal wall is locked during retention, there is insufficient abdominal pressure to squeeze excess blood out again, and consequently the organs may get congested with blood. (3379–3380)
The Neck Lock
For the few moments of the retention stage, your body should be airtight; that’s why you lock the exit door of your body with the Anal Lock and you’re going to lock the entryway of your respiration system by closing off the throat.
To apply the neck lock, first contract the throat muscles and close the glottis over the bronchial tubes. Then tuck the chin slightly in toward the throat without bending the neck forward. This locks the throat while simultaneously stretching the back of the neck. Be sure to keep shoulders relaxed otherwise they will hunch up and tense the back of the neck. (3413–3416)
If you need a pick me up you can skip that red bull or cup of coffee and instead just focus on breathing in more rapidly, after about 60–90 seconds of more forceful inhalation
make exhalation about twice as long as inhalation, with a brief retention and a pause between stages. (3444)
This is a Biohack that once saved my life actually! When I was a teenager, I took scuba diving classes where they taught me to hold my breath for up to 2 minutes by hyperventilating before diving into the depths. I went to a summer camp in Minnesota and was showing off to girls how long I could hold my breath in the hot tub. One unlucky time I passed out below the bubbling water while trying to set a new personal record. They had to pull my unconscious body out of the water and a very competent camp counselor performed CPR on me. I was pretty groggy for a few hours and had to spend a night in the local emergency room recovering. I returned to summer camp and for the first time in my young life, I was a very, very popular guy. It turned out that this could have been much more serious episode, the hyperventilating flooded my bloodstream with oxygen that kept my brain alive while I was unconscious.
Warrior vs Scholar Breathing
to begin a session of meditation, it’s a good idea to first stimulate the energy centers and get circulation moving with a few minutes of the forceful Warrior’s Breath, then slip gently into the more passive Scholar’s Breath. (3472–3473)
The Warrior’s Breath is forceful, strong, and audible, and driven by powerful, deliberate contractions of the diaphragm and abdominal wall. (3460–3461)
The Scholar’s Breath is used primarily for meditation and practicing rhythmic breathing during ordinary activity, such as reading, walking, working, (3464–3465)
Some specific high performance breathing methods worth practicing…
Start by forcefully expelling all air from the lungs with a strong contraction of the abdominal wall. (3495–3496)
Immediately after expulsion of air, let lungs fill again naturally by virtue of the vacuum left inside and exert a small additional effort to fill them about half full only. (3497–3498)
Focus entirely on abdominal exhalations that completely evacuate the lungs. No pause or retention of breath is involved in this exercise. When lungs are half full, immediately contract the abdominal wall again to forcefully expel another gust of air. Then let air flow back in and repeat continuously at a rate of about 20 breaths per minute. (3499–3501)
This is quintessential Nootropic Breathing
The Bellows refreshes the brain by irrigating it with oxygen-rich blood. Vigorous exhalations set up a series of powerful waves throughout the circulatory system, and these waves travel up the carotid arteries into the brain, (3518–3519)
Note how lucid you feel after the Bellows. Try it when you feel physically exhausted, mentally muddled, or emotionally upset. You’ll be amazed at how quickly it restores equilibrium and boosts energy levels. (3522–3524)
This is a good exercise for beginners to use in developing breath retention. (3553)
For fractional inhalation, begin a deep abdominal inhalation, but stop when lungs are only 1/ 4 to 1/ 3 full. Apply Three Locks, sink the breath down, and retain briefly. Then release locks, but instead of exhaling, continue the inhalation for another 1/ 4 to 1/ 3 increment, pause, lock up, retain, release locks, and continue in this manner until lungs are full, then do a long, complete, uninterrupted exhalation. (3555–3560)
This exercise quickly accustoms the novice to the techniques and sensations of breath retention and the Three Locks. The serial shifts in pressure and locks promote circulation of blood and energy and stimulate cellular respiration, which causes body heat and benefits metabolism. (3566–3568)
The Great Tai Chi Circle Breath
This highly fluid exercise synchronizes body, breath, and mind, and balances Yin and Yang energies throughout the system. It is one of the best breathing exercises in the entire Taoist repertoire, and if you practice only one breath control technique, this should be it. (3569–3571)
From a casual standing posture
Bring hands together in front, below the navel, palms up, with right hand cupped in left. (3572–3573)
slow inhalation through flared nostrils. As you inhale, slowly raise the hands out to the sides, palms up, and inscribe as wide a circle as possible as you raise them up above your head. At the same time, slowly straighten the knees, hands raised above and lungs full at about the same time. Tuck in the pelvis and apply the Three Locks as you retain briefly and swallow audibly. Be sure to keep neck as stretched as possible, despite the raising of the arms. Then release the locks and begin a slow, controlled exhalation through the nose; at the same time, bring hands, palms down, slowly down in a straight line past face, throat, heart, solar plexus, navel, and back to the starting position, while slowly bending the knees back into a semisquat. Empty lungs with a final abdominal contraction, pause to relax the abdominal wall, then turn palms upward again, cup them, and begin another inhalation. (3573–3579)
Alternate Nostril Breathing
This exercise alternates the flow of air between the nostrils, which in turn balances the energy channels associated with right and left nostrils and right and left hemispheres of the brain. (3590–3591)
Empty lungs completely, then take a deep breath through both nostrils and apply the Three Locks. Place thumb of right hand firmly against right nostril, fold index and middle fingers against palm, then close off left nostril with fourth and little fingers. With nostrils sealed, retain for 3 to 5 seconds. Now open left nostril by releasing fingers from it (keeping right nostril well sealed with thumb), release locks, and begin long, slow, controlled exhalation entirely through left nostril. Exhale completely, pause to relax abdomen, then begin a deep, controlled inhalation through the open left nostril, keeping right side sealed. When lungs feel full, seal off left nostril again, apply locks and retain briefly, then open up the right nostril by removing thumb (keeping left side shut), and begin controlled exhalation through right side. (3592–3598)
Repeat at least a dozen times, 6 on each side, performing one complete inhalation and one complete exhalation on each side before switching nostrils. (3599–3600)
Alternate nostril breathing is a great way to clear the nasal passages and balance airflow through the nostrils. (3602)
It also balances right/ left hemisphere functions in the brain. Nasal membranes are exposed to far more concentrated doses of air when one nostril is shut, (3604–3605)
Much of this chee is transmitted directly to the brain and central nervous system by the olfactory nerves, giving the entire system a potent boost. (3605–3606)
I’ve started adding some Ohms to my Jedi breathing
Empty lungs thoroughly, then take a comfortably deep breath and retain it briefly. Open the mouth and round the lips, keeping the throat partly blocked with the neck lock to baffle and slow down the exhalation, then begin exhaling as you loudly pronounce “oooooooohh . . .” as deeply and resonantly as possible. By controlling throat and vocal cords, you may prolong this audible exhalation for a remarkably long time. About three-quarters of the way through the exhalation, shut the mouth and continue exhaling through the nose, loudly humming the rest of the syllable nasally, (3612–3616)
Do 3 to 6 at a session. (3618)
Of all syllables in the world, the one that provides the greatest therapeutic benefits in vibratory breathing is the ancient syllable “om.” (3608–3609)
The vibrations travel up into the brain as well, where they massage the brain cells. This in turn stimulates all branches of the central nervous system. Due to its proximity to the vibrating larynx, the thyroid gland receives an especially strong stimulation, which enhances its secretions and balances metabolism. (3620–3622)
It’s not a lot of fun practicing breathing, if you’re finding it difficult devoting 10–15 minutes daily to merely practicing breathing I’d suggest devoting every other meditation session for the next two weeks to doing these breath exercises; that will get you over the hump of conscious effort and help you to habituate these breathing methods into your normal mindfulness practice. I recommend adding the Breathing Exercise habit on Coach.me, which will prompt you to check in daily to practicing.
The nose is the only organ in the entire body other than the sex organs and breasts that contains erectile tissue. (3067–3068)
PowerLung Respiratory & Lung Strength Trainer
If you want to take your breathing to the next level consider using the PowerLung device for a couple of minutes every day; which is kind of like resistance training for your lungs.
A paper by Dr. Joseph A. Sheppard explains how this device biohacks our breathing and allows us to reach peak respiratory flow:
The results of the Respiratory Muscle Training study showed that there was a significant improvement in total Peak Expiration Flow (PEF) spirometry by 36%… Resistance training of the respiratory muscles increases strength and endurance and the last phase of the testing with no PowerLung Resistance Muscle Training validated that importance of regular and consistent [Respiratory Muscle Training]
Taoism has been around for a long time and certain aspects of it have been validated by modern science. This breathing method is one of the most scientifically valid parts of it. If this interests you, I’d encourage you to pick up this book.
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Originally published at www.limitlessmindset.com.