Chapter 20: The Center of Energy
“단전” (dan-jeon) refers to our lower abdomen. This area is our “center of energy”, and is where proper breathing takes place. As adults, we must practice proper breathing with breathing exercises. On the other hand, babies and small children do it naturally. Watch children when they are sleeping on their backs. Their chests don’t heave up and down like adult chests do when they breathe. Only their lower abdomens move. If you put your hand there to feel them breathe, the area moves up and down very smoothly; they are very relaxed. When we breathe lying on our backs, we also want to feel our abdomens going up and down. With this good breathing habit, energy can pass through us and be stored within our bodies.
But, sometimes a child’s breathing stops for a short amount of time. Adults do this as well. A sprinter has been known to hold his or her breath in order to run faster. If someone is constipated, he or she must push from the lower abdomen to force stool out. Holding one’s breath creates pressure that helps move the stool along. Once breathing returns to normal, the body takes in full, deep breaths. This is healthy, and small periods of pauses in our breathing is not a bad thing. It is important to remember that here is a difference between a pause and holding your breath. If you do hold your breath, you will not be taking in oxygen and you will increase the blood pressure in your brain. In normal circumstances or even during strenuous exercise, breathe deeply and consistently in order to stay balanced.
Animals harness deep and balanced breathing, and use it to their advantage. In the animal kingdom, the top predators are the lions and tigers. They do not meow like kittens, or bark like small dogs. Their roars are deep and powerful. When other animals hear this, they tremble in fear. If these predators were people, their roars would be the equivalent of an opera singer singing bass. Why bass? Because bass can be heard from a long distance away. Although these sounds are nothing more than a loud noise, the act of roaring has an important purpose. Tigers and lions use roaring to paralyze their prey, even if only for a short time. How does this work? The roar briefly destroys their prey’s central nervous system activity by sending the animals into brief shock. Predators can only make such a powerful sound because their abdomens are strong due to their naturally relaxed breathing and exercise.
Obviously, breathing fills our lungs with oxygen. The oxygen makes its way into the pulmonary alveoli area in the lungs, and is then incorporated into the bloodstream. When the cells of our body receive oxygen, they use it to create energy, thus changing oxygen into its waste product: carbon dioxide. This is then expelled when we exhale. The entire process should occur relatively quickly. If it is not completed properly, two problems appear.
If we inhale with short breaths, only a small amount of oxygen enters our lungs. Consequently, our blood is not properly oxygenated. That is the first problem. The second comes from not exhaling properly. If we use short breaths to breath, the waste product, carbon dioxide, is not fully expelled from our bodies. Here is the solution.
You must practice breathing exercises that emphasize long and deep breaths. The deeper you breathe, the slower air comes in, and the longer the lungs have to distribute it. Oxygen enters the blood properly, therefore, increasing the body’s energy. Before you exhale, pause for a brief moment. This pause is necessary for the body to finish changing oxygen into carbon dioxide. This gets rid of all of the waste products in the lungs and bloodstream.
This type of deep breathing increases the natural pressure we have in our lower abdomens, which is the dan-jeon area (center of energy). Laughing really hard also increases the pressure in you lower abdomen. Think back to a time where you heard a funny joke, heard a funny comment, or saw something really funny. Remember how you started laughing really hard, and your abdomen started to ache? This kind of laughter increases the pressure in the lower abdomen and stimulates the brain through the parasympathetic nervous system. In turn, the brain sends out signals to the heart, slowing the heart rate and decreasing the blood pressure. Remember how relaxing it felt to take a few deep breaths after this fit of laughter? Through proper breathing exercises, you can feel this way mare frequently. Abdomen pressure is important, or you cannot exhale properly. Long exhalations reduce carbon dioxide in your body, and your chest and heart become more comfortable. Shorter exhalations have the opposite effect.
You do not have to be stationary when doing breathing exercises, either. For example, you can practice deep breathing while taking a walk. Sometimes, while practicing tae kwon do, we move slowly and concentrate on our breathing. You can practice proper breathing techniques whenever and wherever you are.
The Korean flag symbol is Tae-Guk, which means um and yang, like yin and yang. Plus and minus, positive and negative, come and go. It means balance. Our body wants harmony. This applies to our breathing. If it gets out of balance, we can become ill.