Qigong meditation is a means of getting in sync with your inner energy and has many health benefits. One of the goals of Taoist energy practices is to achieve a breathing rhythm that is continuous and uninterrupted. If you have noticed in situations of stress or, even working on the computer, holding the breath is a very common occurrence. Because your body needs oxygen to function, it is therefore not helpful to hold your breath for the healthy functioning of your body. I have to admit, I sometimes catch myself holding my breath as well as I am typing away on the keyboard. The thinking process somehow affects my breathing.
As in most different types of meditation, breath meditation serves to help focus the mind and develop a better ability to focus and concentration on tasks outside of the meditation period. It resembles mindfulness meditation and other meditation techniques derived from Buddhist and Yogic traditions that have well-documented health benefits, which I will listed in a separate post later. (1) However, what differentiates the practice of inner development by the qigong meditation method is the embodied intention of allowing the breath to help you encounter physical and spiritual energy blockages and help your in your improvement of health and self-realization.
There are Taoist schools that use the breath to forcefully overcome energetic blockages (fire method) and there are schools that use a gentle, or water, method that allows the breath to assist one in passing through these blockages, whether they be physical or spiritual in nature. I prefer and have been trained in the later method. Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming mentions this method as having the ability to confer improved functioning of the body and tranquility, and it is also used as a pathway for enlightenment. (2)
Qigong breathing is different from what most people naturally do. Instead of breathing in a manner where the chest rises and falls, normal Taoist breathing uses the diaphragm, where the belly expands on the in-breath and contracts on the out-breath. There is also another well-known method of qigong breathing where the diaphragm causes the belly to go in on the in-breath and out when exhaling, called reverse breathing. This is a more yang-type breathing method that is used for gathering energy and it has its applications, especially in martial arts.
The paradox of the practice is that as much as breathing is an integral part of qigong meditation practice, as you progress your breathing enters the realm of non-doing in advanced stages. Breathing in a manner that benefits health and spiritual advancement becomes breathing without conscious effort, entering the realm of wu wei .
In a later post, I will cover a method of doing qigong breathing meditation using normal (not reverse) Taoist breathing. If practiced regularly (at least daily), this method is a powerful means of opening up the body, balancing its energies in the body, and connecting the qi with the shen, or spirit.