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A few years into my early training at the monastery, a group of overseas students came to train. The teacher told them that he was going to teach them how to sit, walk and breathe. One student half-jokingly replied that he already knew how to do all three of those things. Little did the student know, but the instructor was there to help them break through their old habits and teach them how to do those things properly.

The first step was breathing from the hara, or psycho-physical center of your body, which is located about 2” below the navel. Following the guidelines of the phrase “Shin Ki Ryoku Ichi” – which translates to “Mind Body as One through Breath” – these students focused on breath, posture and frame of mind and emphasized a long, strong exhale.

A team of Stanford University researchers has found that cyclic breathing in which the exhale is longer than the inhale and any period during which the breath is held helps reduce stress more effectively than mindful meditation or other types of special breathing exercises.

The other stress-reducing breathing techniques they studied included (1) box breath, in which inhales, holding and exhales are the same length; and (2) cyclic hyperventilation, in which inhalations are longer than exhalations. These techniques helped the study’s volunteers more than mindful meditation, which researchers defined as a method in which one relaxes by going into a period of nonjudgment.

Proper breathing – Shin ki ryoku ichi – results in experiencing more than merely saying that the mind and body are connected; instead, we feel that breath does in fact connect the mind and body.

Breath is essential in martial arts and meditation. One of the monastery’s martial arts and centering instructors used to say: “Inhale the universe; exhale through your toes to the center of the earth.” That is the strength and centering power of breath.

Through breath we release tension in our bodies.

Through breath we quiet our bodies.

Through breath we quiet our minds.

Through breath we become empty.

Through breath we feel the energy of the universe.

Through breath we become the universe.

Inhale short, exhale long. Repeat.


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