This morning when I went out to the frosty meadow near my house to practice I took my elk horn knives. I like to get at least one session a week in with these crescent shaped weapons. They’re a good way to emphasize the curving twisting energy of Bagua. The thing is, circling these things around your body while walking continuous circles with twists and turns woven in is quite a workout. Think of a nice long power walk up and down hills, while swinging weights around in controlled circles the entire time. It gets you breathing.
And that’s just what I started to notice. About ten minutes into my session I was panting slightly through my mouth. I had just been reading an article about the problems of mouth breathing at night, rather than nose breathing. The author pointed out that this keeps you in sympathetic, rather than parasympathetic, nervous system dominance. This increases stress, just when you should be enjoying the restorative function of your parasympathetic nervous system. To put it simply–mouth breathing tells your body there’s a tiger about to devour you and you better run fast. Nose breathing tells your body everything’s safe and comfy and it’s ok to relax, repair, and restore.
This all flashed through my mind in a second while practicing, and I closed my mouth. The difference was immediately apparent. My Bagua practice shifted from a “workout” to qigong. My mind calmed. My energy felt more contained. It was as though, in spite of the rigorous physicality of my movement, there was a calm, continuous flow of yin sustaining the yang work.
I’m reminded of the two broad categories of qigong–quiescent and dynamic. The first is quiet on the outside, and dynamic on the inside. The second is moving, sometimes rigorous, on the outside and quiet on the inside. It’s easy to lose sight of this crucial differentiation in our practice. This is important because what we’re really after, if we’re to experience the healing benefit of qigong, is to balance yin and yang.
Think of that well known symbol of harmony known as the Tai Chi, with it’s interlocking half circles of black and white. Remember the little black dot in the center of the white (yang) half of the circle? That’s the quiet yin space you hold inside, even in the midst of a rigorous martial arts workout, or your most challenging situations in life for that matter. Try closing your mouth. It’s a simple thing, but simple things are often filled with practical magic.