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  • Damian Allegretti

BREATHING: Returning to childhood

Updated: Apr 27

“The wise man breathes from his heels” - Lao Tzu (4th century BC)

I can say without hesitation that breathing is one of my favorite topics, but to your surprise, I never want to talk too much about it… Why? Because, according to my experience, the more we dig into breathing, the more we know about it, the more we try to change it, the further we are from the goal -the goal being “breathing as natural as a child does”.


The diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle at the base of the lungs, plays a decisive role in breathing. When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts and moves downwards. This creates more space in your chest cavity, allowing the lungs to expand. When you exhale, the opposite happens — your diaphragm relaxes and moves upward in the chest cavity.

All of us are born with the knowledge of how to fully engage the diaphragm to take deep breaths. As we get older, however, we get out of the habit. Everything from the stresses of everyday life to bad posture and lack of consciousness of our own body encourages us to gradually shift to shallower breathing. This type of breathing is known as Chest Breathing or Clavicular Breathing, and it is proven to actually increase the feelings of anxiety.


With this in mind, what we really want is to maximize our lungs capacity, improve cells’ oxygenation and get rid of unnecessary tension. In order to do that we must use the diaphragm efficiently, and that is why this breathing is known as Abdominal Breathing, Kidney Breathing, Diaphragmatic Breathing… it involves using our maximum lungs capacity but at the same time it demands our maximum relaxation as well.


Abdominal Breathing, sometimes referred to as natural breathing, brings benefits like: relaxing mind and body, decreasing unhealthy reactions to stress, lessening anxiety, allowing more efficient gaseous exchange, and massaging internal organs.

From the Chinese Medicine perspective, this type of breathing stimulates a very important acupuncture point that lies in between the Kidneys and is called Mingmen or “the gate of life”. When stimulated, this point increases not only the function of the kidneys but also boost overall vitality and energy levels.


Following this idea, we basically want to expand the whole lower abdomen, sides and lower back with each inhalation. All that area is what in Chinese Medicine is called “Lower Jiao”, sometimes translated as "Lower Burner”.

Abdominal breathing is not about sucking deliberately our abdomen. Just try to relax your body and mind, bring your consciousness to the Lower Jiao area and be patient. Observe your abdomen expanding a little as you breath in, and flatten a little as you breath out. Again, do not force it.

This type of breathing is an exercise in itself that can be “practiced” or “observed”, but it is also an intrinsic part of any QiGong and Internal Martial Art exercise such as Tai Chi.


Professor Yu Yongnian - doctor, researcher and one of the world QiGong experts - says that “Normally, It is not possible to take complete control of your breathing” as it “is an involuntary action under control of the Medulla Oblongata in the lower part of the brain”. He goes even further and states that “curative effects are not directly related to the consciously form of breathing you could choose”. He essentially encourages us to relax and breath naturally. With time and patience breathing will automatically reach the six qualities of the breath: slow, deep, long, natural, smooth and even.


I would like to offer only two pieces of advice to observe but never to push, when practicing Abdominal Breathing:


1 - Not to hear our breathing: Make sure you are not breathing forcefully. When practicing, choose a quiet room, and observe… Are you listening to your own breathing?


2 - Imagine a feather in front of your nostrils: The feather should not move with your breathing!


I cannot overemphasize the importance of relaxation and naturalness in breathing. There are many different breathing methods out there you can follow, but remember that what we really need, after all, is to unlearn dysfunctional habits that we ourselves have created. We want to give our bodies the chance to readjust, improve and heal naturally without using force. As you continue training, your daily habits will change naturally and effortlessly.

Relax, be patient and nature will do the whole work.


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