Living 100 Years: Re-Learning to Breathe

The famous comedian George Burns was once asked, “What’s the secret of Life?” … of which he replied,

“Keep breathing.”

Wise words from a guy that reached the ripe ol’ age of 100 (and two months).

The word is Qi (pronounced “chee“).  We’ve heard it plenty… some of us have read up on it… but every one of us has experienced it [just most of us haven’t been aware of it]!

When I speak to youngsters about qi, I often allude to the Star Wars films in which George Lucas replaced “Qi” with “the Force.”  Qi is a term that means energy, or breath.  It is the prime-mover of our existence and permeates throughout the universe.

There are different types of “Qi Training” (called Qigong) such as: Buddhist Qigong, Taoist Qigong, Wushu Qigong and Medical Qigong.  Within these, the practitioner learns to harness and cultivate this energy for the purposes of: emitting, absorbing, cleansing, conditioning and healing. [Author’s note: Wushu Qigong should not be attempted without a qualified teacher. Practitioners should also have a basic understanding of qi and qigong training before wushu qigong is attempted].  And yes, there are even methods: Natural, Differential, Reversed, Dantian, Embryonic and “method of no-method.”  All have their benefits but it is the first, Natural Breathing Qigong, that we will focus on for purposes of “beginning at the root”, health and in developing a habit of “correct method.”

Breathing and its link to good health makes plenty of sense …for it’s the air we breathe, the oxygen that’s delivered to our cells and all the “energetics” at work that nurtures Life.  But it’s our awareness of our breath through both moving or non-moving activities that bolsters results.

  • Awareness: Concentrating on the “breath in” and the “breath out” focuses our mind internally and removes us from outside thoughts and common distractions.  Thoughts will always enter-in (it is our nature as humans to think).  But just as ripples appear on a pond… let the mind return to calm and think back to the breath as it is drawn into the body and finds its rest in the lower abdomen.

A MYTH:  Healthy breathing does NOT mean expanding the chest and letting as much oxygen in as possible.  By doing so, oxygen restricts the hemoglobin molecules and less is released to the cells.


  • Quality:  Soft. Quiet. Relaxed. Smooth… all of these should be words to describe how you are breathing.  As you breathe into your nostrils (at a relaxed, steady pace), imagine the breath going all the way down to your abdomen (aka. dantian).  By bringing your breath to your dantian, even smallest blood vessels will relax and open and will enrich your body with a greater flow of blood, oxygen and qi.
  • Natural or Diaphragmatic breathing: Breathe through the nose at a soft and steady rate and bring the breathe to the abdomen.  Allow the abdomen to expand (by way of the breath, and not by your abdominal muscles pushing outwards).  As you breathe out, do so by breathing out through the nose and allow the abdomen to contract/go inward.
  • Relax: This cannot be repeated enough.  The better you are at relaxing, the greater the benefits you will attain from your practice.  Bring your thoughts away from school, work or any other outside distractions.  If your thoughts drift… return back.  Over time, over practice… the “return” will be easier and easier.
  • Posture:  There are many qigong postures and all of them will have to be adjusted slightly since we all are built differently.  I have 3 basic postures that I use and they are: standing, sitting and laying.  I use each of these postures throughout the day (as I am often in one of the 3 postures naturally).  For instructional purposes, a standing posture should be made with a straight spine, head erect, knees slightly bent, arms by your side and the tip of the tongue resting softly behind the roof of the mouth (behind the first two teeth).  For more on standing qigong, please check out Eli Montaigue’s Combative Corner contribution entitled, Three Circle Qigong.

Illustrations of qigong movements are helpful, however the mother of movement will always be stillness.  There are many great books that may help you to better understand qigong such as: Qigong Empowerment, by Master Shou-Yu Liang & Wen-Ching Wu and The Way of Qigong, by Kenneth Cohen… but the act of qigong is a relatively simple way to improves your health and longevity.  Time, patience, willpower and correct intention are the only requisites.

Michael Joyce

Original article posted, April 2008 at ChenCenter.Com

Us at the Combative Corner welcome your insights as well.  Here are just a few of the questions we’d like to know.  Please post your response in the comment section below.



5 Responses to “Living 100 Years: Re-Learning to Breathe”

  1. Daisy [via ChenCenter Blog]…

    QiGong and TaiChi have pretty much saved my life. I can’t get into the nitty gritty of it here – someday I really should, but at my own blog. I will tell you that I have a very stressful job (but not for much longer!!). At one point I was popping Xanax like it was candy, on top of medication for clinical depression. Today – I take nothing. That is all TaiChi/QiGong. I work through anxiety and panic attacks with breathing alone. It is incredibly difficult and has taken me a loooong time to learn how to do – but the journey has proven worthwhile.

    Incidentally, I had a real light-bulb moment regarding relaxing and my on-going quest for stillness – my most recent blog entry is a poem that reflects that very thing… serendipitous timing, Michael – this post and my poem…

  2. Daisy replies [via ChenCenter Blog]…

    At the risk of sounding like a Nike Commercial… Just Do It. Don’t be a perfectionist about it – just keep hammering away at it. I think Michael would agree… Persistence is far more important than perfection. I always tell my son: When you make a mistake, you have received the gift of learning. Take it. Be grateful. Don’t beat yourself up about it – learn from it. Personally, I find perfection to be the partner of arrogance. No one is perfect. And in the case of TaiChi you are never finished – which means, of course, you never get to claim perfection. You can master certain skills, but you are never finished learning the art.

    I am prattling. My only advice, the advice I gave my mother when she started is don’t quit. Be kind to yourself. Keep trying. Do your best. Some days your best will be better than other days. That’s okay too.

  3. ChenCenter replies [via ChenCenter Blog]…

    Neija- again, qigong is both the easiest and hardest thing you can do. It takes the right mindframe and although, not for everyone…it certainly can benefit everyone. The best book on method is Qigong Empowerment. But another book that helped to get my mind on what’s truly important was by Suzuki- Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. It will add wonders to your training for a mere $12.

    Daisy- Always blessing us with some sound advice. I’ll eventually have an entire post on the quest for “perfection.” Many martial artists out there are still striving for perfect “likeness” (of someone else) and not building and refining like the masters of old. goes back to my last sentences… Time, patience, willpower and correct intention. Intention Intention Intention!

  4. Chris [via ChenCenter Blog]

    Through years of research of medical and scientific articles and journals, I have found a common thread. Western medicine and psychology are just now beginning to realize the benefits of traditional eastern philosophy. The western health psychology term for techniques such as Qigong are Relaxation Training. Various forms have been researched and have been found to be more effective than medications in reducing stress and tension headaches.

    As for the perfection comment, Daisy and Michael are spot on I feel. Bruce Lee said it best when he spoke of form and water. People can spend years and even a lifetime trying to be like someone else, to perfect a “form.” But, martial arts or anything else for that matter that requires practice, is like drinking water. When I want a drink of water, I reach down and drink the water with no thought of being like someone else. Practice naturally with the right postures, it will bring uniqueness to your form.

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