Tai Chi Chuan Method Of Breathing And Chi Direction
Written by Chen Yen Ling
Translated by Tchong Ta-Tchen

From the book "The Annotated Theoretical And Practical Tai Chi Chuan" by Tchong Ta-Tchen

Some people call Tai Chi Chuan an "inside family fist". There are three reasons for doing so. First of all, Confucianism discriminates against foreign influences. Secondly, the Tai Chi Chuan technique concentrates upon grabbing the joints of the opponent;s body so that whatever bodily harm that is inflicted is internal and invisible to the opponent. Third of al, Tai Chi Chuan concentrates upon directing the chi to circulate inside the body (to cultivate vigour, chi and spirit).

The basic breathing of Tai Chi Chuan uses the nose only, not the mouth. This differs from the common people who use the nose to inhale and exhale through the mouth. After mastering Tai Chi Chuan to a higher level, the chi inside the chest can be separate into two levels (usually people call this "pre-birth chi" and "post-birth chi"). When exhaling the upper level chi (post-birth chi) is breathed out from the nose and, at the same time, the lower level chi (pre-birth chi) sinks to the dan tien. When inhaling, the upper level chi is breathed in from the nose and, at the same time, the lower level chi rises from the dan tien, along the spinal cord, to the area between the shoulder blades. When a person can achieve this technique, we call it "unobstructed chi" (the chi is able to circulate through the body freely). Everyone who practises the correct form of Tai Chi Chuan for a certain period of time and to a certain level may achieve this "unobstructed chi". However, the beginner does not have to concentrate upon this breathing technique, but concentrate instead on the forms for the correct movement and postures. The only requirements for hte beginners are slow moevements, natural breathing, and a relaxation of the entire body. If there is too much pressure to push the chi to sink into the dan tien, it will head in the wrong direction. This may cause interstinal diseases or haemorrhoids may flare up.

After practising to a certain level, we have to know how to breathe. If we do not understand the breathing theory then we cannot strive to attain the highest level of Tai Chi Chuan. The Tai Chi Chuan classic, "Thirteen Postures: Comprehending External and Internal Training", states:"Able to breathe, one may be agile and alive." Meaning that the breathing and movements must be coordinated. When one sould exhale, then one must exhale; when one should inhale, on must inhale since inhalation is insubstantial whereas exhalation is substantial. If performed correctly, the body will be agile and alive. Otherwise, one cannot discriminate the substantial and insubstantial, and the meaning of practising Tai Chi Chuan is lost since Tai Chi Chuan emphasizes the substantial and insubstantial.

Usually a teacher teaches the students to learn Tai Chi Chuan in two parts: the internal and the external. The internal is breathing while the external is the forms. If both parts are taught simultaneously and the student is unable to get it right, then there will be difficulties. Therefore, the beginner should let the breathing be natural and not emphasize the breathing technique. In this chapter, we study the breathing knowledge. Therefore we cannot avoid discussing the breathing technique in detail simply due to the above problem.

The details of the method are: when practising the forms, one exhales when extending the arm and inhales when withdrawing the arm; one inhales when rising and exhales when sinking; to lift is to inhale, to lower is to exhale; when opening up, one inhales, when closing, one exhales. When turning the body and in between movements, there should be a "little breathing". A "little breathing" means taking short breaths quickly and has the quality of relaxation and stoppage. Generally, breathing is used to lead the movement. Themovement must be coordinated with the breathing. The body opens up and the chi closes. The chi opens up and the body closes. In push hands, to push is to exhale; to roll back is to inhale; to ward off is to exhale; to neutralize is to inhale. If one is rolled back by an opponent, there shouldbe a natural "little breathing". This "little breathing" should direct the mind to calmness. When the mind is calm, then one is able to see and hear the opponent's movements and void being caught off guard. If one is pressed or pushed by an opponent, one should inhale. However, if one is unable to inhale, then one should exhale because the chi from inhaling circulates to the hands and legs. Therefore when one exhales to the extreme, there should be conversion to inhalation; andwhen one inhales to the extreme, there should be conversion to exhalation. Inhalation and exhalation can be converted alternately.

In big roll back, to strike the face is to exhale; to push is to exhale; to shoulder strike is to exhale; to roll back is to inhale. If one is shoulder struck by an opponent, one should inhale. If one is rolled back by an opponent, there should be "little breathing". When turning the bodyand just before pushing, a "little breathing" should occur. When performing other footwork and before striking, thre should be a "little breathing" as well so that one is calm and able to see and listen as well as have a sticking power. The method in which the breathing is performed in the use of knives, swords, spears, and sparring is the same as that when practising the forms.

The method to circulate the inner chi is separated into two types: from pre-birth to post-birth and from post-birth to pre-birth. The first is from the front to the back, meaning that the dan tien chi travels down to the hai ti and reverses to the tailbone, travels along the spine to yu zhen up to tian ling, down the forehead and the nose to ren zhong, to the throat, chest, navel and finally back to the dan tien. The second is from the back to the front, meaning that the dan tien chi heads up from the navel to the chest, throat, ren zhong, forehead, reaching tian ling, down to yu zhen and continues along the spine to the tailbone, and finally reaches hai ti and returns to the dan tien. Note, the second is the opposite of the first.

This type of "chi moving method" may seem very vague at the beginning but after a long period of time, one will be able to fully understand and achieve it. These two types of inner chi circulation must be used during solo practice as well as in sparring practice with an opponent and in striking practice. Otherwise, even if the strike is made with much power, it is still not good enough. Tai Chi Chuan masters not only use the inner chi circulation method but can even listen and know the opponent's inner chi: when it rises or lowers, moves to the front or back, move left, right, up and down. This kind of supreme technique is never achieved until after a few decades of good training. Of course, for the beginner, this is difficult to understand.

Thre are two sounds "Heng" and "Haah" produced when inhaling and exhaling (the great masters can also use mouth or naval to do their inhaling and exhaling). The masters, when they practice, whether in solo or with an opponent, their mouths produce these two sounds naturally for three reasons. Firstly, it makes the internal chi smooth and comfortable; the internal organs will not get hurt by the pressure. Secondly, the internal power can be released completely; none of it remains inside. Thirdly, it scares the opponent (if an opponent experiences fear, their movements become loose or scattered, their mind gets lost, their footwork becomes undisciplined and therefore is unable to defend themselves and one has a chance to win). Therefore, the two sounds of "Heng and Haah" are very useful and the learner must pay close attention to them. One make sthe sond "Heng" when one is neutralizing and the inner chi is inhaled. The sound "Haah" is usually produced when one grabs or strikes and the inner chi is exhaled. The Old Tai Chi Chuan Classic of Ching Chyan Long Dynasty states: "Hold the dan tien to practice internal kung fu. The two chis of Heng Haah are wonderful. Move open, quite close, bend and extend to follow your opponent. Slow or fast, respond, follow the thoery and understand thorughtly." Another Tai Chi Chuan Classic state: "To apply (push hands) on forth and back earlier or later, to close or to strike is like an arrow. It cultivates a lot. ONe chi "Haah" then push far away. It needs to be taught by mouth and secretly then open the door and see the sky." From that we can understand the two sounds of "Heng Haah" are marvellous and infinite.

All comments are most welcome.

  1. The copyright is retained by the author so please do not publish it. Check with me first if you want to do anything public with it.

  2. Please distrbute the document complete.

  3. This document was written for the benefit of fellow enthusiasts, please do not use it for commercial purposes or profit making purposes.

Back To Peter's Taijiquan Resource Page

Email Peter Lim Tian Tek