Breathing exercises range from diaphragmatic, box, pursued lip breathing, and many more.
In the past, I wrote about deep, slow, abdominal breathing and how it is absolutely essential not only for relaxed personality and cardio-respiratory functions, but also for longevity.
In this post, we will uncover why our ancestors thought it was so important.
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I am passionate about reading holistic medicine literature and applying ancient knowledge of health to attain longevity.
What are we reading about?
The excerpt below is written by a 15th century doctor and prince from Ming dynasty. He went by an alias 臞仙 (Emaciated Immortal).
I thought he called himself that because he only lived off air (aka breathearian), but apparently he was a huge tea connoisseur. Go figure.
The book, titled 臞仙活人心方 (Emaciated Immortal’s Formulas for Saving Lives) was written in 1424 CE.
精者身之本 Essence is the root of the body 氣者神之主 Energy is the ruler of Spirit 形者神之宅也 Bodily form is the house of Spirit 故神太用則歇 Excessive use of Spirit leads to its stop 精太用則竭 Excessive use of Essence leads to its depletion 氣太勞則絶 Overwork of Energy leads to its disconnection (to the body) 是以人之生者神也. So, human beings live due to Spirit 形之托者氣也 Our form relies on Energy 若氣衰則形耗 If Energy is weak, then the form is consumed 而欲長生者未之聞也 And longevity is not attained
This is the Oriental Holistic Medicine (OHM)’s trinity: Essence, Energy, Spirit.
Essence is the vital substance that is manifested in our physical traits. In particular, it is critical for reproduction, birth, growth, and development of human beings.
Hence it is the root of our body. Without Essence, we wouldn’t have been conceived in the first place!
Energy here is synonymous with Qi. It’s the intangible yet vital force that drives all life.
We physically rely on energy to carry out our daily activities. Hence we need to ensure we always have proper amount of it.
Be careful not to put all our energy into overdrive, because it will scatter away, which would end up weakening our body.
Energy is so crucial that it rules our Spirit, which resides in our body (specifically, in the royal palace). In turn, Spirit governs our body via consciousness.
夫有者因無而生焉 Existence is possible because of nothingness 形者須神而立焉. The form is established because of Spirit 有者無之舘, The existence is the residence of nothingness … 倘不全宅以安生 If the house is not intact for a life of peace, 修身以養神, Cultivation of the body, and nurturing of Spirit 則不免於 Then one is unable to avoid 氣散歸空 The unrestrained energy’s return to the void … 方之於燭 This resembles a candle where 燭盡則火不居 Deformed candle no longer can sustain fire 譬之於堤 To compare to a dike, 堤壞則水不存矣 Broken dike no longer can contain water
We are alive (existing) because of Spirit (nothingness).
Spirit lives in our bodily form. Hence we could never separate the Spirit from our physical form, at least while we are living!
This means we have to make sure the “house” of Spirit is nicely kept.
By cultivating our virtues and ethics to live kind-heartedly with righteous manners, we take care of our Spirit to be at ease.
Calm Spirit equates to Energy in order and balance.
Sounds harmonious to me.
神能服氣 Spirit powers breathing exercises 形能食味 The form powers appetite 氣淸則神爽, Clear energy leads to cool Spirit 形勞則氣濁 Form that is fatigued leads to Energy turbidity 服氣者 Countless people who exercise their breathing 千百不死 Do not die 故身飛於天 Thus the body ascends to the cosmos 食穀者, Countless people who who eat (grains), 千百皆死, All die, 故形歸於地 Hence the form returns to the Earth
There is so much Yin Yang to unpack here.
First, let’s start with the clear and the turbid.
In OHM, what’s clear ascends, and what’s turbid (think of feces, urine) descends.
The fresh air that we breathe through our nose (upper body) energizes and awakens us with vitality.
The food we eat eventually disintegrates into waste that is excreted in the lower body.
Breathe resonates with Yang. Food resonates with Yin.
The body and the form are not necessarily the same; the body is Yang which ascends after death, and form is Yin which descends to the Earth.
After all, we are composed of multiple different bodies, one of which is called a subtle body.
Food nourishes the physical form that we embody which is temporary.
Breathe energizes our body which is ethereal.
Breathing Exercises Are for Longevity: Conclusion
No wonder why our ancestors invented myriads of breathing exercises.
They are essential tools for longevity.
Seeing this in perspective of OHM’s trinity has been refreshing for me.
It’s something worth meditating on.
Keep the Spirit cool,
eternal student of life