Our breath plays a major role in cushioning our body, or at least it can if we use our body effectively. If the muscle tensions throughout our body are balanced, the air inside us acts as a very effective internal suspension system. This is a big part of what is referred to as ‘internal force’ within the martial arts.
You can think of this internal force as similar to a bottle rocket. The combination of gas in our lungs and liquid in the organs lower down in the torso are able to compress and expand just like the water and gas in the bottle rocket. This can be used to generate or dissipate large amounts of force as needed, but it will only work if the muscle tensions around the body are balanced, if not the force will tend to get stuck wherever there is excessive tension in the body.
Exercise: Finding the Centre
For this exercise, sit in a comfortable position well away from anything you could lean against such as the back of a chair or a wall. Inhale as you lean you body forwards slightly, exhale as you lean backwards slightly, repeat five to ten times. Inhale as you lean backwards slightly, exhale as you lean forwards slightly, repeat five to ten times. Inhale as you lean to the left slightly, exhale as you lean to the right slightly, repeat five to ten times. Inhale as you lean to the right slightly, exhale as you lean to the left slightly, repeat five to ten times.
Remember that the external muscles will tend to lengthen as you inhale and shorten as you exhale. This exercise will get the muscles of your torso able to either lengthen or shorten to adapt to your breath as you move. If you focus on the centre of your body while you do this exercise, little by little you will get a sense of where the centre of your body is and of all your muscles balanced around it. You will be able to feel the centre of your body filled with force and supported evenly on all sides by your muscles. This will help you to be able to ‘push’ from your centre as you go about your activities, which will cause your postural muscles on all sides of your torso to work together in a balanced, co-ordinated way to power the activity.
Exercise: Rise and Fall
Stand up in a comfortable position, focus on the centre of your body and the feeling of being filled with force. As you inhale notice that this force seems to push upwards (this is due to the natural subtle shift in expansion of the torso you experienced the wave breathing and whole body breathing). As you exhale notice the force seems to sink back downwards. After several breaths, as you inhale raise up onto the balls of your feet, as you exhale sink back down onto your heels. This will accentuate your sense of the rise and fall of your internal force. Repeat several times.
Exercise: Internal Force in the Limbs
Carrying on from the previous exercise, extend your awareness and sense of being filled with force to your whole body including your arms and legs. Inhale and bring your hands up to your shoulders, palms facing up. Exhale and press your hands up towards the sky feeling your arms and legs filled with force, feel as though you are pushing up with this internal force from the centre of your body. Inhale and lower your hands back down to your shoulders still aware of the sense of internal force within your body.
Repeat five to ten times.
While you are doing this exercise is a good opportunity to experiment with pushing while exhaling through your mouth versus exhaling through your nose. Try both and see if you can feel the stronger muscle activation caused by exhaling through your mouth.
Carrying this sense of being filled with internal force over into other activities will help you to keep the activity and tension of your muscles balanced on all sides of your body. It will give you much greater strength and resilience than if your muscle activity is imbalanced. Your structural strength is only as strong as your weakest link.
In the following links we will look at the specifics of how to breathe optimally for different types of physical activity. We will look at the areas of strength, impact, endurance and flexibility. For all of these activities ideally you will maintain the sense of internal force you felt in the previous exercises to some extent.
This Week’s Practice Sessions
This week you will focus on finding your centre and feeling the movement of internal force with the breath.
- Balanced Breathing – 5 minutes
- Finding the Centre – 5 minutes
- Rise and Fall – 5 minutes
- External Force in the Limbs – 5 minutes
- Balanced Breathing – 5 minutes