Lower Tan Tien Breathing
formerly "Iron Shirt 1"
Resources for Gentler Alternatives to Packing Breathing
It's important to work with the breath to massage the organs, store energy, and open up energy flow in the lower abdominal region. But, as already stated, the packing breathing exercises in the original Iron Shirt 1 book are no longer actively taught - because they are too prone to causing injury if one's energy channels are not already sufficiently open.
I'm not saying that the more physical breathing practices are valueless... Only that they might not be necessary / desirable for some people, and if you are going to approach those practices that it'd be prudent to gain facility with a gentler method first. As an extensive preparatory practice, a gentler method will safely clear tension (stagnation) from the lower abdomen - so that more aggressive techniques are not jamming tension deeper into your system, but are helping to integrate pure chi. Additionally, if you are practicing a more aggressive method - and you find after some while that you're building tension - you'll have an effective method already in place to ease off into for a while.
My personal preference is to stay with gentler methods as the main course, and use only moderate versions of packing breathing (I tend towards slow steady reps, rather than single forceful maneuvers) on an occasional basis. I find that the gentler methods effectively open the deeper channels, the profound connections, and that consequently the outer physical-holding-patterns spontaneously resolve. Though more physical work does feel good on occasion. Of course, listen to your own body and respect harmony within it.
I find that the Zen Pakua meditation provides an effective stillness method by which I locate (yi), and allow natural activation, blending, and purification of the critical acupoints, channels, and centers that are likely to be in Taoist/Hindu/Tibetan breathing methods. That provides a subtle activation basis which I then integrate with the more physical breathing practices. (Of course it works both ways; good physical work is important.) This going back and forth, subtle practice <~> physical practice, fosters integration.
So. What are safe and gentle ways to approach breath-work that opens up the lower abdomen?
Here's several resources:
Relaxed Breath Retention
Yi Swallows Chi: Technique
A gentle variation of relaxed breath retention. Goes a long way in providing foundations for the cauldron.
Yi Swallows Chi: Benefits
Some of the benefits of the Yi Swallows Chi technique.
Exploring the Exhale - Activating the sacrum, and the major acupoints of the lower torso.
Michael Winn is teaching a gentler alternative to the original Iron Shirt 1 methods. You can attend one of his work-shops, or order the cassettes from the Winn's Recommended Sequence web-page at the Healing Tao USA website. The specific products are MC1A: Chi Kung Fundamentals #1 (contains "Ocean Breathing") and MC2: Internal Chi Breathing (contains "Counter-force Breathing").
Bruce Kumar Frantzis has a dvd entitled Longevity Breathing that is a hands-down superior replacement to Chia's IS1 packing breathing. BKF's tissue-massage oriented breath work is relatively safe, foundational, and covers a number of sections of the body step-by-step. The results are relevant to a very physical layer of the orbit and overlap IS1 in terms of fascia development and organ massage. And DVD is such an easy format to learn by.
making it supple,
Sun Do is a system unto itself, that is centered upon a profound tan cheon (lower tan tien) breathing method, combined with physical stretching, postures, and exercises. The system is very direct and effective. Sun Do originates from a Taoist hermit tradition, was re-introduced into (Korean) society in 1967, and has hence spread world wide. Highly recommended.
It's interesting to note that Sun Do tan cheon breathes through quite a number (25) of postures. This massages the muscles, tissues, and opens the channels (that run through the tan cheon) from all the basic angles, plus. Smart, balanced. Also, the session as a whole is designed in support of tan cheon breathing: Preceding the breathing postures, there are Taoist warm-up exercises (including acupressure), after it: calisthenics (including various stuff).
Sun Do's breath technique, in a single cycle of breath, both massages the physical and concentrates into the deep-center: a key combination that gradually results in sound foundation, profound development, of the lower tan cheon. The breath changes through stages of practice, the details of which you get by staying in good communication with an instructor, as you progress. An ideal quality of breathing that Sun Do orients toward is smooth, steady, unforced, called "silk breathing".
Sun Do breathing concentrates into the deep-center
Here is a pdf article (360kb) from the "publications" section of the SunDo site that shows many of the postures used. The above breath is to be applied (smoothly: 5 seconds inhale + 5 seconds exhale) 3 times for each posture. However, the pictured set does not include the warm up (stretching, joint warm-up, self-acupressure) to be done prior nor the cool down (specialized calesthetics) to be done after the postures.
While I'm dubious as to the elemental correspondences of the postures noted in the article, I am also glad to have an openly available document that shows the postures themselves. Really useful!
(Thank you! to "balance." for the pdf link.)
IRON SHIRT 1 MAIN PAGE
IRON SHIRT GENERAL INTRODUCTION