The two primary sources of the qi that we use every day are our food and our breath. (I’ll talk about food in another post.) Eating and breathing are ways in which we take in energy from the outside world and make it our own. Breathing happens automatically, thankfully. It would be very hard to get anything done if we needed to interrupt ourselves every seconds to tell our bodies to breathe. Because it is one of those functions relegated to the background for us by our autonomic nervous system, we tend to overlook its importance.
Have you ever become so engrossed in working something on your computer that you fail to notice that your shoulders are tensing up around your ears, your back is rounded with your head craned forward? This is not a comfortable position, but you find your way there because your attention is on your work, not your posture. An hour later, you notice that your shoulder is kind of sore, and only then do you realize what an unnaturally uncomfortable position you somehow adopted.
An equivalent thing happens with breathing. The breath gets rapid and shallow as part of the stress response. Sometimes the breath gets held as the body tries to hold it all together. By tuning into what’s happening, you shine your light of consciousness on what’s been going on behind the scenes. Once you become aware of what’s happening, you can change it. The first step, therefore, is to practice tuning into your breathing several times a day. Starting now:
Take a moment for a 60-second inventory. What parts of your body are breathing freely right now? What parts are not? If you close your eyes and visualize your body, what parts can you feel or see your energy flowing easily, and what parts are harder to sense? Can you breathe into your lower belly? Your back? Your brain? This is excellent information to mine. Lack of free flow of energy is what leads to pain and other problem. We call this “qi stagnation” in Chinese Medicine. This right here is a simple qi gong exercise: practice of cultivating awareness of how your energy is moving within. The simple act of bringing your awareness to that which is usually handled unconsciously can by itself lead to profound insights and changes.
I invite you to take breathing breaks at least three times a day. Most of us make at least a little time each day to eat — a primary souce of qi. Why not take three minutes to breathe with awarenss, to mine this other overlooked source of vital energy? Try it and let me know how it goes.