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Deep Breathing: It's Easy When You Don't Try

Breathing Basics

To fill the lungs more deeply, "Lower the diaphragm muscle by expanding the abdomen. When this happens, the lungs elongate and draw in air. You don't breathe into the abdomen; you allow it to expand comfortably all around its circumference — back, sides and front. Proper core breathing is really the foundation for all things — it's the foundation of health."

"Where is the core? It's below the navel a few inches or so. It isn't a thing, you can't see it: it's a sensation. Zi likes to use the image of a lotus blossom when teaching people how to breathe from their core:

"When you inhale, imagine a blossom opening within your abdomen; when you exhale, the blossom closes. You open from the center of the blossom, the core. What causes the petals to open is the energy from the core; the more you breathe from the core, the more you stimulate and nourish its energy, and you become more in control."

So Where Does Our Breathing Go Wrong?

Zi attributes shallow breathing to trauma and fashion. "When you are a child, and are sent to bed without dinner, or when you are afraid, you hold the breath. So the child goes to bed angry, sad or tense, and holds the breath. We lose that innate ability of pumping with the stomach. The lungs should just be a container; when we use them as a pump, they become overburdened and the muscles get tight; everything is restricted." Zi observes that frequently, asthma can develop as a result of such constriction.

Adults also can lose the capacity for deep core breathing from a traumatic emotional experience, or physical pain. "When we are in pain," Zi explains, "we want as little movement as possible. This again restricts breathing; later, when you are well, your breath may remain shallow."

In addition, modern fashion teaches us to "suck in our tummies" and have flat abdominal muscles. This type of posture, which Zi calls the "statue," also contributes to shallow breathing.

"This is such a mistaken attitude," she says. "The abdominal area contains the most vital organs, and we must let it pulse. When you tense your stomach all the time, like a perfect statue, you create lower back tension, stiffness and pain."

If posture is when we look like a model statue, texture is when we are flexible, extendible, stretchable, nimble, opening up and closing. "You allow the front of the chest, the back, the sides and the bottom of the torso to freely expand," Zi explains.

To test your flexibility, stand in the "saddle" position so that you stand with feet apart, and then bend down so your knees spread outward, opening the lower torso. "We need to be more like a pagoda — an anchored pagoda, with a stable bottom, not top-heavy," says Zi. That way, you can't be knocked over. "Shallow breathers are top-heavy and are teetering around through life."