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Just breathe…

I'm working on the latest instalment of The Swordsman's Quick Guide, which will cover my foundational breathing exercises. The book is already out to my test readers who have kindly volunteered to wade through the sewage of extraneous verbiage and excessive punctuation in search of the faintest glimmer of useful text. My fellow writers will recognise that moment when first draft hits first readers…

I intend to release this book with a lot of extra material, such as video of all the exercises and audio clips so you can play the instructions into your ears, leaving your eyes and hands free. This is completely new territory for me so I don't expect it to be very good right away. The only way that I know of to get better at anything is to do it, get feedback on the results, then do it again. A tiny amount of that feedback can happen internally- I can usually spot the utter crap and kill it before it escapes. But it's far more effective, I find, to ask the community that the work is intended for to try it out and let me know what works and what doesn't.

To that end, here are two clips, one for “Walking Breathing” and one for “How to Stand”. This is the worst way to encounter the material – out of context of the book it goes with. If it survives, in other words if you can follow it, then it's robust enough. Please listen to the clips, and let me know in the comments on this page, or by email to me at, whether it works for you. Is it clear? Can you follow the instructions?

Walking breathing exercise:

[audio-clammr mp3=”″]

How to Stand:

[audio-clammr mp3=”″]

So, how was it? Posting the most amusing comment will get you a free copy of the book when it's done, but the most helpful will get the book package with audio clips and audiobook. Carry on!

I'm sure you have an opinion: do share!

18 Responses

  1. The latter bit about standing sounds strangely familiar from certain Chinese systems. 🙂 I always felt a bit of a twit doing the toes-heels-toes-heels routine, though it is a very nice way of easing into a wide stance while staying centred. Cheers!

  2. I like the bit about reminding people that breathing underwater is bad. 🙂
    My next listen will have to be at home so I can follow along undistracted by work.

  3. Re walking breathing: You say increase the count until it is a bit difficult to inhale slowly, and then you immediately go through an 8-count, but you only do the 8-count once. I should think that it is the second cycle that will show if you are having difficulty not gasping, so it would make sense to go through the 8-count twice.

    Also, I imagine many people may choose to listen to this on an mp3 player, as they work out, and maybe even have it on repeat. If that were the case, the initial warning would be tedious. I understand why you have to have them, but I wonder if the final version (linked to from your ebook, I imagine, or available as an “album”) could have the warning as an initial “track” and then the exercises as subsequent tracks without repeating the warning.

    By the way, my Tai Chi instructor talks about “empty breath” (having empty lungs for a time) as something that will happen when you stop focusing on your breath, not as something you focus on. It’s a matter of not thinking about pink elephants. Will you be headed there, or is this something completely different?

  4. How to Stand:
    Following the directions precisely, I end up pigeon-toed, which I don’t think is what you want. I think you want your feet parallel. However, it occurs to me that I am starting with my feet parallel (normal for me, and what “feet together” means to me) and if I were to start with the splay-footed stance many people have, I would end up with parallel feet. If that’s what you meant, perhaps you should say “feet together, with toes turned slightly out”.

    Also, did you mean to address pelvic tilt? In Tai Chi, I usually think of that as part of the basic stance, and the video you have posted elsewhere makes a point (in the side view) of checking pelvic tilt.

    I hope this isn’t more nit-picky than you wanted. Your email asked for feedback, and I am taking you at your word. Before I edit something (especially for a friend), I ask “do you really want honest feedback, or do you just want me to perhaps correct any typos and tell you it’s good?” It takes a certain fortitude to actually want honest feedback. Though of course, whatever I say is just my personal reaction to how the material struck me. I may not be a typical reader/listener. YMMV.

  5. Being a beginner for this kind of thing I found it fairly easy to follow along. I found it easier to go with your counting when doing the walking breathing than trying to do my own pace. For the how to stand exercise I could follow it OK, it just seemed strange moving my feet like a penguin. I assume there is some reason for those movements? Might work well with some music.

  6. I think with the walking breathing exercise you cought me on the wrong foot…
    But very clear instructions, can’t complain about them 😉

  7. The breathing exercise was fine and easy to follow. I had some trouble following your instructions on the stance: e.g. on the foot stance, I ended up pigeon-toed, like some others here. Bending your knees in a pigeon-toed stance puts quite a strain on them, which is hardly the desired effect. This is a fairly complicated exercise to do if you have no idea of what the end-result is supposed to look like. I agree with C. Curtis that the disclaimer may get a bit tedious to listen to in the long run.

  8. I was also wondering whether people will end up with parallel feet. Perhaps you can explain, as they are sinking into the stance, about the target posture and its purpose. One key point is knees forward for maximum stability rather than in or out.

    Another parallel issue: When pulling the arms back, I find it helps to think about the elbows, and the forearms should remain horizontal and parallel to each other. A typical beginner difficulty here is pulling up the shoulders or otherwise inducing strain (e.g. tightening the whole upper body along with the fists), so maybe you want to emphasise the target of opening the chest and keeping the shoulder blades together. Also, chins tend to go forward as shoulders go back and down.

    Of course, as mentioned above, a lot of the stuff should be in the text rather than in the audio used for regular guided exercise.

  9. Walking breathing:
    You haven’t mentioned how the breath fits in with the walking. Is it one step per cycle or one step per phase of the breathing? As others have also mentioned; in Tai Chi you don’t hold your breath, a gap appears between the in and out breath, noticeable at slow speeds, as the breath changes direction.

    Another unmentioned is how one should be breathing.
    Your average Westerner is a chest breather: they breath by lifting their chest (complete with any encasing armour). Hard work, and only uses a small part of the potential lung capacity.
    ‘Normal’ Abdominal breathing: The abdomen moves out as you breath in, and vice versa. Increases lung capacity somewhat.
    Reverse breathing (Compensatory breathing is the medics name): Only the lower abdomen moves; in as you breath in, and out as you breath out. The upper abdomen is held under muscular tension. I’ve been told by ‘born Buddists’ that this is considered normal in the far east. Greatest increase in lung capacity, the solar plexus is in a ‘guarded state’; takes a lot of practice to become normal.
    When you have a chest X-ray the Tech will normally use a plate that only comes down to just below your shoulder blades. If you use either of the abdominal breathing methods they will have to re-take the X-ray with a plate that comes down to the bottom of your ribs. If you ask why they will comment ‘long lungs’, they will thank you if you tell them in advance. 🙂

    How to stand:
    Sorry, but I find that an overly wide stance, about twice as wide what I would use.
    The reasoning is as follows:
    You need to be able to move your weight, fully, from one leg to the other without having to push off from the leg that you are leaving. If you need to cover a greater distance you can jump off the supporting, low and fast, or you can ‘shuffle step’ (move the trailing foot half way, then the leading foot out to restore your stance). That way you keep your grounding.

    The distance I use is a ‘shin length’ measured as follows:
    Feet together, pointing forward.
    Weight onto one leg, and move the other foot out about a shoulder width; feet are still parallel and in line.
    Turn the foot that you’ve just moved, on the ball of the foot, so that the knee points at the supporting ankle.
    Lower your weight (bend the supporting knee, use your hands to help you balance if needed) until the other knee reaches the floor alongside the supporting ankle.
    Adjust the distance until the knee is just touching the ankle.
    Stand back up, rotating the non-supporting leg on the ball of the foot, until both feet are flat on the floor.
    Move your weight into the middle.
    Your knees should always point where your toes point. Use your thigh muscles to ensure that they do. Most folk find they lack the required flexibility in the crotch, when they start.
    The height of your hips above the floor depends on your style.

    Rather wordy, I know, but easier to do.

    Hope this is of some help.

    1. Hi
      thanks for your detailed comment! most of your queries are covered in the book itself, such as how to breath- the point of this post was just to test the effectiveness of the audio. If you found the stance I was describing (whether you agree with it or not), then the audio worked, which is what I needed to know.

      1. No problem following the audio, just left me with questions. 🙂 Looks like I’ll have to add the book to my reading list. 🙂 Disagreement is not an insult; let us see what we can learn from the differences. 🙂

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