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Tai Hsi - Taoist Embryonic Breathing

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Embryonic Breathing (Tai Hsi) – also known as Primordial Breathing or Umbilical Breathing – refers to the process by which a Taoist practitioner reactivates the electro-magnetic circuitry associated with the primordial “breath” that fetuses have inside of the womb. As this happens, the physical breathing process becomes increasingly more subtle, and then – for periods of time – may cease altogether. In the same way that a fetus “breathes” through the umbilical cord, the practitioner whose system has remembered embryonic breathing is then able to draw life-force energy directly from the universal matrix, i.e. the “sea of energy” in which their individual bodymind floats.

Tai Hsi: Awakening of a Dormant Intelligence

How is this possible? To answer this question, we need first to understand a bit about the process by which energy is generated within the human body. In the language of biochemistry, this process, in short, revolves around the creation of ATP within the mitochondria - the "power-plant" of the cells. If our bodies are functioning according to post-natal principles, this cellular process is fueled primarily through the workings of our digestive tract (Spleen energy) in conjunction with our respiratory system (Lung energy).

Through meditation and qigong practice, however, we can return to a pre-natal state, in which the "battery" of the mitochondria is fueled electro-magnetically, i.e. directly via qi (chi). As we consolidate our energy into the Chong meridian (the central channel of the yogic body), and open the Dai meridian, our energy bodies flow in a pattern similar to a solenoid, providing ample energy for this process. It is at this point that embryonic breathing – "breathing" through the acupuncture points and meridians – starts to replace physical lung-breathing. We are able to draw (“breathe”) life-force energy directly from the universe – from the space-time continuum – into the meridian system of our bodymind.

The Microcosmic Orbit, the Central Channel & Nondual Awareness

When we’re in our mother’s womb, we “breathe” through the umbilical cord, and circulate life-force energy along a continuous circuit of energy that flows up the back of our torso and down the front of our torso. When we leave our mother’s womb, the umbilical cord is cut and we begin to breathe through our mouth/nose. At the same time (or at least within the first several years of our new life) the continuous circuit of energy divides into two, forming the Ren and the Du meridians.

In the qigong practice known as the microcosmic orbit, we reunite the Ren and Du meridians to form, once again, a single continuous circuit, allowing energy to flow in a way similar to our in-the-womb state. This is just one of many polarities that are resolved, en route to consolidating our energy/awareness within the central channel (Chong meridian). In the Hindu yogic tradition, this same process is spoken of in terms of the separation between the Ida (“moon”) and Pingala (“sun”) channels; and their resolution into the Sushumna Nadi.

The primordial consciousness that flows in the central channel is the energy/awareness of nonduality. It represents the resolving of all karmic polarities (and so a withdrawal of all projections) – a state of bodymind which wakes up the dormant circuitry of which embryonic breathing is one manifestation.

Mantak Chia & Nan Huai-Chin on Embryonic Breathing

The following passages, by Nan Huai-Chin and Mantak Chia respectively, offer additional insights into this rather mysterious (though completely natural!) phenomenon of Embryonic Breathing. Please note, especially, Mantak Chia’s point that Embryonic Breathing is not something that we can “make happen” or “will to happen.” Rather it simply “happens by itself, when conditions are right.”

From Tao & Longevity by Nan Huai-Chin:

The dhyana teachings of Hinayana Buddhism classify the breathing of air and the latent energy of the human body into three ordered categories.

(1) Wind. This indicates the ordinary function of the respiratory system and air. In other words, people depend on breath to maintain life. This is the state of air known as "wind."

(2) Ch'i. This indicates that after refinement through meditation, the breath per se becomes light, easy and slow.

(3) Hsi. Through the highly advanced refinement of meditation the breath becomes so slight that it almost stops. At this stage the inward and outward movement of the respiratory system ceases to function. Breathing through other parts of the body, however, is not completely stopped. A natural breath starts to function from the lower abdomen to the lower Tan Tien. This is Hsi. Later, the Taoists call it Tai Hsi (the breathing of an embryo in the womb). Some schools of thought even believe that mind and Hsi are interdependent.

From Energy Balance Through The Tao: Exercises For Cultivating Yin Energy by Mantak Chia:

You might at some point experience a quite different, yin, quality of chi experience. Maintain the relaxed, soft, slow, steady breathing in the tan tien and function only as the observing witness. When conditions are right and the chi is ready, you might discover that your physical breathing has stopped for a brief period of time. This is a very quiet, subtle transition. The subtle, refined chi breathing in the tan tien connects directly with the environmental cosmic chi. The tan tien energetically functions as a chi lung. This is called inner chi breathing or embryonic breathing, Tai Hsi.

This embronic breathing can only happen when your whole being is suffused with calm, peace, and quiet, and is at the same time full of chi. This experience may provide you with some hint of the process that enables one to merge with the Wu Chi. You cannot make this happen or will it to happen. Embryonic breathing happens by itself, when conditions are right.

By Elizabeth Reninger 

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