This movements calls for a forceful exhalation.
In recent days, members of my website have asked some questions about breathing during Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua, and Qigong.
I replied to one question last night, then saw that the great Kevin Costner movie Bull Durham was playing on cable. I turned it on and within a minute or two, Susan Sarandon gave Tim Robbins some pitching advice.
"Breathe through your eyelids," she told him, "like the Lava Lizards. It's Mayan, or Aztec, I get them mixed up."
I laughed pretty hard because of the good timing. The "breathing through his eyelids" joke was repeated throughout the movie.
This is the type of Hooey that a lot of internal arts instructors give their students. Gullible students are told to "breathe through their skin" or other silliness. It would be fine if the instructor said that this is simply a technique of mental visualization, but there is no qualification, and that encourages people without critical thinking skills to believe that they can breathe through their skin.
But it gets even more ridiculous. Some Tai Chi instructors teach the "Hen" and "Ha" sounds during breathing. You train yourself to make the sounds as you inhale (Hen) and exhale (Ha).
Here is a section of instruction that I found online, discussing the Hen and Ha sounds that some instructors say you should make during Tai Chi breathing:
"Properly learning and practicing the Hen and Ha will eventually impart the ability for the practitioner to strike the opponents nervous system with this sound. Nervous system strikes tend to be one of the more specific targets for Fa Jing and this kind of breath directed strike can easily add a lot of juice to any Fa Jing practice. The normal effect is that the recipient will freeze for a second or two and will definitely feel and be affected by the sound. The first trick to learning how to do this is to make sure that the sound is practiced correctly so that the volume is quite loud and generated from the entire body core. The second required skill in order to have the impressive result is to practice so that you can direct the sound. Begin by practicing to make the sound of your yell spread out and also to narrow the sound of your yell so that it hits someone standing at 12 -15 feet with a spread that is no larger than the size of your facial area. This will take practice but is very achievable. When you can tighten your focus to a diameter of less than 8 inches across on a target person who is standing at 20 feet then you should be starting to get some impressive results with the sound hit that can be produced with the Hen and Ha."
There is absolutely no evidence that you can "strike" someone with your sound in any type of damaging way. It is the equivalent of the no-touch knockout and even suggesting you can do such a thing is just one more sign that an instructor is ethically bankrupt, but also is a good indication of a lack of critical thinking skills.
Shouting in martial arts has been used for centuries to surprise an opponent, but if you think that it will add to your self-defense ability to practice this type of nonsense (striking with sound), go ahead and spend your money and time. I can't help you.
I found another breathing technique on another site:
"Now relax the center of your palm, and imagine you are exhaling out the finger tips. You will feel as if your hand is filling up on the inhale and then emptying on the inhale. When you get comfortable with this, start inhaling up to the forearm where you are filling the breath coming in through your fingertips to the forearm and then out. Do this while your arms are dangling. Then breathe in to the rest of your arm. You will feel as if your arms are filling up and floating."
That one is good because when you are doing Qigong, it helps to focus on techniques like this to relax the mind and body and to take your mind off daily matters. If you focus long enough and imagine you are holding a big ball of energy, you will eventually be able to feel the ball of energy. If you focus on breathing through your fingertips or arms, you will eventually feel that it is happening.
But please don't confuse this with reality. Please remember that it is a mental visualization tool -- you are NOT actually breathing through your fingertips or arms. You are NOT holding a big ball of energy. The purpose is to focus the mind and relax.
This is from a science blog by biological anthropologist and science communicator Greg Laden:
"I’m pretty sure that the answer to the question “do humans absorb Oxygen through their skin” — which is clearly a yes or no question — is “yes.” But perhaps this leads to concerns that some of the dumb-ass humans will misuse this information thinking that we actually breathe through our skin in any meaningful way. Imagine the stupid Darwin-Award winning tricks people might think up to do with this factoid. Nonetheless, while “the widely held mis-belief” that humans “breathe through their skin” is a potentially dangerous concept, it is also simply true that all typical normal living eukaryotic cells respirate. Even plant cells “breathe” in O2 and “breathe” out CO2. So the answer “no” isn’t really acceptable."
This myth about breathing through the skin was probably boosted by the movie "Goldfinger," when James Bond loses a girlfriend when she is painted gold. According to the movie, Jill Masterson died because her skin could not breathe and she suffocated.
So let's go to the skin experts -- cosmetic companies -- and ask if your skin really breathes. This from Carolyn Ash Skin Care:
Myth #1: Skin breathes. I hear a lot of people say, "My skin can't breathe," or after removing a heavy cream or foundation, "Now my skin can breathe." Well, the truth is your skin doesn't breathe. Not externally, anyway. Your skin is nourished from the oxygen and nutrients carried in the blood. No measurable amount of oxygen is absorbed from the outside air. Your outer skin does eliminate toxins, sweat, and oil and absorbs moisture from the air. When you put a heavy cream or foundation on for instance, your skin is less able to function properly. You might mistakenly say it "can't breathe." These occlusive coverings (foundations and heavy creams) can inhibit elimination and absorption, but not the actual oxygen nourishing the skin. Now you know—skin does not breathe.
I often use reverse breathing when doing Qigong. It helps me to focus on the Dan T'ien. In reverse breathing during Standing Stake for example, you pull in the Dan T'ien area when inhaling and push it forward when exhaling, allowing it to drop.
If you do reverse breathing, remember that it is only a technique, and not some mystical way of breathing. Does it matter if your tongue is lightly touching the roof of your mouth when you inhale? In chi theory, it helps connect the flow of energy, but that's pretty silly and totally lacking in any type of scientific evidence. Must you inhale through the nose and exhale through pursed lips? No, not really.
Regardless of whether you are using reverse breathing or keeping your tongue at the roof of your mouth, you are still breathing air into the lungs and exhaling it into the atmosphere. Your diaphragm is a muscle that helps the lungs work more effectively. It helps your lungs expand and contract. Here is an article that explains what happens when you breathe. The Cleveland Clinic also has a web page to explain diaphragmatic breathing. It does not include reverse breathing.
I exhale forcefully when I do fajing and try to rotate the Dan T'ien in the proper direction of the movement. If someone punched me in the stomach, I would exhale sharply and tighten the abs. I exhale forcefully when I lift a heavy weight. Boxers exhale forcefully when they punch. Karate guys exhale sharply and "Kiyap" when they strike. It is taught as part of effective striking technique.
Chen Xiaowang often urges students to "breathe naturally" when doing Taiji. At higher levels, you can do reverse breathing, but in the early stages (the first 10 years or so) you are probably still trying to get your structure, movement and body mechanics right, so adding reverse breathing is not going to help you do quality Taiji. The slower you go, as you work on body mechanics and structure, the more naturally you should breathe.
So, how do you breathe when doing the internal arts?
Breathe naturally if doing a form slowly. Inhale when doing moves that are not obviously attacking moves, and exhale when doing attacking moves. The faster you are doing the form, and the more fajing you use, you will exhale more forcefully. For example, I will exhale normally when sinking at the end of Lazy About Tying the Coat if I am performing it slowly. I will inhale when opening the chest in Single Whip. But if I am using that opening move as a strike, I will exhale forcefully. If I am doing Single Whip slowly, I will inhale as the hand comes across and exhale as I settle in the final part of the movement.
In the opening movement of a Taiji form, I will inhale as I raise the hands and exhale as my hands drop and I sink my weight. If I am lifting my hands to free myself from a strangle as self-defense, I will exhale forcefully.
As you can tell, how you breathe also depends on the intent of the movement.
And it doesn't really matter how you are breathing if your body structure and mechanics are not right.
Just breathe. Through the nose and mouth, not through the eyelids. We are not Lava Lizards, after all.