MABA‘s Shifu Jiru teaches five breathing exercises. The following commentary on them is merely my own thoughts and observations and by no means objective, definitive, representative or authorized. I welcome any and all corrections and responses. Please take what’s here with a grain of salt so as not to color your own experience of doing these exercises. And also realize when someone says, “OK. I want you to NOT think of a pink elephant!” What happens? Yeah. Especially for a perspective like: could these breathing exercises signal a symbolic and physically displayed intent to overcome, and not consent to any (potential) unseen influences hindering continual bare awareness of breath?
Even in the short amount of time I’ve practiced them I find these Qigong breathing exercises an aide to (increasing) breath awareness. And along with noticing the effects during the brief relaxation and standing meditation between each exercise, I find all five particularly helpful before more extended, formal breath-centric mediation.
I address each exercise on a practical, mundane level as well as the more metaphorical:
1) Gil Fronsdal mentions riding the breath like a surfer rides a wave. Being with the breath. In tune with it. Synchronized with it. Attending skillfully to the breath and attuning to its pleasantness, instead of the futility and frustration of trying to control it. This first exercise starts off like waves in the ocean. It then adds expanding the arms wide, incorporating the vastness and incalculableness of the ocean. The ocean metaphor lines up with primordial consciousness. The source of consciousness. If represented by an animal, the first part may be a bird floating up and down on the ocean waves while taking to flight for the second part.
2) I’ve seen and heard slight variations for exercise two:
- hugging oneself
- holding or hugging a ball (maybe wrapping arms around the globe of the world) then releasing and/or expanding it
- inflating and deflating a ballon
In that order, there’s the correspondence of:
- knowing the world — and our non-attached contributions in it — without being entangled by the world
- the practicality of reinforcing our experientially knowing of the lungs’ ballon-like function
An animal representation of the first part might be a bear hug.
3) The unique and perplexing methods of movement for moths and butterflies is one of surrender, grace and beauty, as well as carefree, near effortless nourishment from nature. Throughout the butterfly‘s well-known theme of transmutation we can see a calm awareness brought to its various identities and modes of being. Developing one’s skill of sensing, applying, embedding and realizing these passive yet transformative qualities of breath is quite helpful for (awareness of) breath in meditation.
4) “Push(ing) hands” merges and synthesizes the defining physical human characteristic of opposing thumbs with the continuous life force of breath. Our opposing thumbs could represent humanity’s commonalities and unity. As the basis for much creation, work, and change in physical reality, human hands can remind us of our massive potentials and capabilities through willpower. Keeping with the animal similarity theme for each, how about a Praying Mantis?
5) The last exercise investigates the edges and limits of lung capacity — empty and full — while also exploring the amount of skillful will implemented to wisely do so. Since it resembles forming eggs and hatching, perhaps then this symbolizes birth, death and rebirth.
These exercises cover the breath’s pleasant, healing and nourishing qualities as well as clearly revealing its incessant impermanence. They also serve to illuminate the active, passive, practical, profound, transcendent and wisdom aspects of knowing the breath and breathing.