Continuing on my last post, we are now in the time of the Lung. What the Lung does for us physiologically is respiration; the gas exchange of the whole body. This is what we call Breath.
As a teenager, I was a rhythmic gymnast and ballet dancer. I often noticed that I was out of breath after a strenuous ballet combination and my gymnastic routines, which lasted an intense 90-seconds. None of my teachers or coaches ever mentioned anything to me until I was about 19, after I had retired from competitive gymnastics. My modern contemporary dance teacher, who was also trained in classical Chinese dance, Ballet, Pilates and Alexander Technique, mentioned that I wasn't breathing while dancing. A light went on in me, I told her that I was aware that I was out of breath after exercises but I never knew why. I then asked her, "Can you teach me how to breathe?" I heard myself then and thought how absurd that sounded to me, something supposedly so natural as breathing and I needed to learn how to do it. Since then, it has become one of my life's exploration - to breathe consciously.
When a baby first comes into the world, it is what we look for as a sign of life, the Breath. Only when the child achieves her/his first cry, do we then relax. Even in the Bible, it states:
"And the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (Genesis, 2:7 King James Version)
Many cultures and spiritual faiths around the world believe that the Breath is not just what keeps us alive; it is our connection to the Divine. We are alive because there is a higher connection or purpose that flows through us. Yet no one ever teaches us to breathe in school or at home, which is maybe changing as I am writing since more are becoming conscious of their Breath and are beginning practices, like meditation, QiGong and Yoga, which emphasize Breath.
In Chinese Medicine, not only is Breath, what we in the modern world imagine as oxygen and carbon dioxide, what we take into our lungs and expel out through our nose/mouth; it is also that which surrounds us, is within us and creates the entire universe.
"But even before speaking of forms xing 形 , we must introduce the form-without-specific-form, that which bends itself to become all forms: the Breaths Qi 氣 ."
(Larre, Rochat:1995, 21)
Qi, sometimes spelled Chi, is one of those words that cannot or has not really been translated into Western language. If you read an English or German Chinese medical text book, you will see that Qi is simply written as Qi. But the sinologists and Chinese medical scholars, Larre and Rochat, translate Qi as Breaths; Breaths that encompasses all. Sometimes Qi is translated as Vital Energy or Life Force. Some concepts are very cultural yet we know that there is a force that flows within all living beings on earth and beyond. Even Hindu philosophy speaks of Prana, the Sanskrit word for Breath or Life Force, which seems to correlate with the Chinese.
In order to understand the character Qi 氣 , one has to look at the pictograph in 2 parts. When we take this part of the pictograph 气 ,it means air, gas or vapour. The second part mi 米 is rice. Together they make Qi, referring to "the grain of rice that bursts with cooking or digestion releases a vapor that rises up and accumulates 气 ." (Larre, Rochat, 1995: 168) So Qi is therefore more substantial than air. It is the essence of life. It is that which moves us, gives life to us humans and all living beings around us. If Qi were just to be air, then an expanded balloon would be alive, but it is not. As such, Qi is something more tangible than air but still is elusive to our material-focused mind.
As you may have observed, my little journey in search of Breath has taken me much further than breathing in and out; it has opened a doorway to a whole new world, rich in meaning, understanding and awareness. As we have entered the season of the Lung, I would like to share a few of the breathing practices I have learned over the years in the next few posts.
- Bible, King James Version. www.kingjamesbibleonline.org
- Larre, Claude/ Rochat de la Vallée, Elisabeth (1995) : Rooted in Spirit. New York: Station Hill Press.
Image Ki Hanja from Wikimedia Commons