Breathing and stretching exercises for healthy practice and living
Compiled for Pianodao by ANDREW EALES
Opening the Chest is the second movement from the 18 Taiji Qigong Shibashi form, and extends the Open and Commence movement previously shared here.
Opening the Chest can be used to expand your own Qigong routine as well as to help students who have benefited from Open and Commence. Before practising “Opening the Chest”, be sure to master Earth Posture and Open and Commence.
This next exercise assumes that you are familiar and comfortable with both.
Benefits of “Opening the Chest”
The benefits of this movement are similar to and largely include those of Open and Commence. Building on that movement, Opening the Chest will:
- Strengthen the mind-body connection so that players are more aware of tension and release, and particularly again in the wrists.
- Foster deeper breathing (especially using the “basic” version of the movement)
- Improve coordination of breathing with wrist and arm movement (especially using the “variation” version of the movement)
- Still the mind, relax the body, and help foster mental focus
- Prevent anxiety and relieve muscular tension.
In Qigong practice, Opening the Chest is believed to also particularly help manage and reduce depression. This is because the exercise addresses the Heart channel (which is most affected by joy and excitement) and Lung channel (which is most affected by grief and depression).
Before reading the instructions that follow, here’s a short demonstration of Opening the Chest by my first teacher Allan Howlings, used with his kind permission:
You will notice from the demonstration that Opening the Chest is very largely the same as Open and Commence. The simple difference is that after raising the arms, they are opened outwards to the side, before then returning to position and completing the movement.
Having first practised Earth Posture and Open and Commence extend the latter movement as follows:
The following extend the instructions for “Breathing in” in Open and Commence:
- Having raised the arms to around chest height, without pausing open the arms outwards to the side in a calm, controlled sweeping movement
- Breathe fully
- Don’t pull the arms too far back
- Make a mental note that there is no tension in the neck or upper back
- Do not “lock” your elbows: keep them gently curved
Following straight on from the above:
- Bring the arms back to the front of the chest
- Start to breathe out as you do so
- Focus on the “laogong” points in each palm (see picture)
- Turn the palms to face downward
- To finish, complete the movement for Breathing Out in Open and Commence, pushing the hands downwards to the start position and gently sinking the body
- As always, make sure you don’t extend your knees beyond the end of the toes.
An alternative way to practise Opening the Chest keeps the same physical motion and stretches, but coordinating the breathing differently.
When practising this variation:
- Breathe in fully while lifting the hands, as in Open and Commence.
- Then breathe OUT while stretching the arms to the sides.
- Breath back in when returning the arms to their position in front of the chest.
- Finally, breathe out when lowering the hands, again as in Open and Commence.
This variation allows for quicker breathing, but slower arm movements.
Additional Practise Tips
In either the basic version or the variation:
- When the hands are in front of the chest, you can alternatively position the palms to directly face it, with fingertips of each hand pointing at each other but not touching.
- While moving the arms outward to the side you can imagine stretching a huge elastic band between the hands.
It is useful to try all these variations, always developing a mindful comparison of how they differ.
Qigong for Pianists
Breathwork has made a significant difference to my quality of life, health and wellbeing, with a beneficial impact on my piano journey.
I hope that by trying the simple exercises in this post you will discover similar benefits and be encouraged to explore the practices further…
If you are ready to build on the Piano Qigong basics introduced on the Pianodao site, start your journey here!
In this article, I will build on the foundation of the exercises and ideas previously shared in the article Breathing at the Piano.
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In this exercise you will focus on posture, alignment, balance, breathing, and release of tension. These are all crucially important for qigong practice, and of course for piano playing.
“For me, it is breathing that is vital. You must breathe naturally, like a singer. Pianists and string players often tend to forget the necessity of breathing and they can become very tense; then they get back pains and wrist pains and so on. Usually it can be sorted out through the breathing.”
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