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Breathing is always a good idea...

Your body knows how to breathe already. It is important to remember this before considering any kind of 'breath work'. Tai chi students should avoid interfering with what is natural.

Types of breathing

Methods of breathing used in tai chi:

  1. Abdominal

  2. Reverse

  3. Pre-natal

  4. Turtle


Breathe in and the abdomen goes out, breathe out and the abdomen comes in.

The more one concentrates on breathing, the more the external stimuli fade into the background. They sink away in a kind of muffled roar which one hears with only half an ear at first, and in the end one finds it no more disturbing than the distant roar of the sea, which, once one has grown accustomed to it, is no longer perceived.

(Eugen Herrigel)


Breathe in and the abdomen comes in, breathe out and the abdomen goes out. This is Taoist breathing. It is also essential for energy release.


The front of the body ripples as you breathe. This is the advanced version of reverse breathing and incorporates a more powerful action of the diaphragm.


Pre-natal breath is held on the in-take and then then exhalation continued for as long as possible. This is specifically used as a qigong breath.

In & out

Inhale when your arms come in, exhale as your arms move out. Inhale as the arms lift, exhale as they lower. Inhale as you lift to kick...
This may seem odd until you consider the difference between a hand or leg strike.
With the hands or body, you shift from one leg to another as you strike. Yet, with a kick the weight is in one leg only - the supporting one.

Upward kicks

As you lift the body and kick, you inhale. If you exhaled as the leg rises, your balance would follow your breath.

Downward kicks

We only exhale for kicks that are inclined downward, and are using gravity and weight.

Pot belly

One major mistake with breathing is to move your muscles in an exaggerated manner as you breathe.
The purpose of the various breathing methods is to increase the intake of air by manipulating the diaphragm and creating a vacuum.
Overly physical movement will develop your stomach muscles adversely, giving you a 'pot belly' appearance. Your intention must guide the breath. Use mind not force.


Rather than force the breath, feel it instead. Once you can feel the air going into your body, leave the muscles alone and let your body breathe by itself.
The less you tamper with the breath, the better.

Delivering energy

Conscious breathing is necessary when you deliver energy. The breath helps to power the release, and it also enables the body to sink further internally.
These moments occur during the closing phase of a given pattern of movement.


If you exhale fully, the in-breath occurs by itself. The in-breath is particularly relevant for rising or inward movements.
A sharp in-breath can provide a sudden shot of oxygen and is useful when you feel afraid.


When breath and movement unite in combat, the effects are dramatic. Rather than thinking about hitting, you expel air and your muscles extend outwards.
With practice, you feel to breathe the move.
Rollback and pluck can be employed with either an out-breath or in-breath relative to your application, although in-breath is usually better unless you do not plan to flow into a second delivery.
Remember that all breathing in combat must be abrupt.

Moving with the breath

Deliberate breathing methods are fine for standing or moving qigong but no so good during dynamic combat work or form practice.
The problem with attempting to synchronise form movements and the breath is duration.
Breathing usually follows a regular, predictable rhythm. This is a major problem in combat, where predictability can be anticipated and is therefore ruinous.

Avoid synchrony

Tai chi movements differ in duration and should not be altered to fit the breath. Similarly, if you try to breathe in synchrony with the movements, your breathing will be irregular and erratic.
Let your body find its own balance between movement and breath.

The breath should be thin, long, quiet and slow.
It is like drawing silk from a cocoon.

(Chen Man Ching)

Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 02 March 2018