What About Your Third Lung?

And what is Skin Breathing Meditative Guided Imagery Chi Kung?

In traditional Chinese medicine/health arts, the skin of our bodies, e.g., the epidermis, is traditionally viewed as the body’s third lung. With its porous nature, among other aspects, it is believed that the skin has an intrinsic affinity with our breath and lungs. From the view of TCM, the intrinsic/bioelectic energy, aka chi, qi, ki, pranha, has an intrinsic relationship with the skin, and is an aspect of the foundation of acupuncture theory. It is known that bioelectric current/energy flows throughout the body, inclusive of skin, at the cellular level and quantum levels, not just the central nervous system. Since ancient times, Taoists have set forth philosophy which views this electrical current as ‘dark energy’ – that which is most often not visible to the naked eye. Acupuncture and all of TCM are based first and foremost on Taoist philosophy, and through the practice of acupuncture and its many schools of thought, stimulation of acupoints on the body/skin (in proper timing with inhalations or exhalations) allows access to treatment of all parts of the body for health and healing purposes (both with local and distal applications). Meditation and meditative guided imagery are facets of, and can be employed as complements to, other aspects of the holistic practices of traditional Chinese medicine; they can additionally be health practices in and of themselves, e.g., for both treatment of maladies and for preventative medicine. Herein, my purpose is to share a traditional type of mindfulness meditation guided imagery chi kung known as Skin Breathing, or Third Lung Breathing. That said, it is important in the tenets of this tradition to set forth a much more basic preparatory form of guided imagery meditation, e.g., our foundational guided imagery – it’s name is coined in the form of a question…How Much Gratitude Do You Need to be Healthy?

The following foundational practice of mindfulness meditation guided imagery/visualization chi kung is traditionally employed as a precursor to the many other of types of traditional mindfulness meditation guided imagery chi kung taught and practiced in this Li-Jia tradition. As a foundation for our various types of meditative guided imagery practices, it is important to understand that this practice is quite helpful, and in plethora aspects necessary, for learning to practice and embrace all other types of guided imagery in this tradition – in fact that is a primary purpose thereof. Again, it is often utilized as an ancillary preparatory exercise, though it can be utilized as a significant form of guided imagery in and of itself:

How Much Gratitude Does One Need to be Healthy?

Herein, this guided imagery will be set forth for a standing position, but it can also be done in a sitting position – sitting on a chair/stool, or in a lotus sitting posture. Additionally, a majority of this practice can be done lying down, especially if one has physical limitations or as a treatment for insomnia.

Stand with one’s feet almost together (called a ‘humble stance’), and bend one’s knees comfortably. Put one’s tongue against the roof of one’s mouth (connecting the Governing and Central Vessels – congruent with acupuncture theory). Relax one’s face, shoulders, hands, and feet – it’s said, “if they’re relaxed, you’re relaxed.” If the congruent deep breathing is difficult with one’s tongue as such, it is best then not to do it with the tongue as such.

Realize that relaxation is a true skill – there is always room for improvement. Realize, we ALWAYS have some tenseness/stress, no matter how relaxed we are. Be so relaxed that one is barely standing – in what we coin as a Swaying Willow demeanor. Gently roll the spine above the waist, forward and backward. This demeanor is much like a willow tree swaying in a gentle wind. Breathe in, all the way forward and backward, and breathe out in between: This is considered to be our most basic chi kung.

Constantly adjust one’s vision so that one is looking just slightly above straight ahead, without focusing or staring: herein, one is endeavoring to play the part of a less and less blemished witness to one’s external environment – ideally without expectations…as if all is new to you, you know nothing (it isn’t genuinely possible to do this, but it is important to try). After a bit of time (as one chooses – but try not to hurry), continue with one’s eyes closed. Keep one’s eyes in their sockets as if one’s eyes are open and looking just slightly above straight ahead (don’t let one’s eyes droop or drop): herein, one is endeavoring to play the part of a less and less blemished witness to one’s internal environment, without expectations, fear, or discomfort.

Get the ‘engine’ of the (advance versus reverse) diaphragmatic/abdominal breathing going: Breathe in, push one’s abdomen out, breathe out, pull one’s abdomen in. Pretend that one’s lungs are in one’s abdomen. One of the greatest gifts one can allow oneself, is all-of-the-time diaphragmatic breathing – there is nothing more healthful. In practicing this breathing for five minutes twice daily, within 30 to 60 days most people will realize all-of-the-time diaphragmatic breathing, even when they are not mindfully making it happen. It greatly enhances circulation, and promotes the secretion of relaxing, pain killing hormones (empirically substantiated).

Be in a spirit of gratitude and true appreciation. Be all in the moment. A true appreciation of the miracle of the moment. Ask oneself, “How much gratitude does one need to be healthy?”

Try not to think, just witness one’s breathing, relaxation, and subtle movement. Again, endeavor to play the part of a less and less blemished witness. If a thought comes to one’s mind, embrace it, see it for what it is, try not to hang on to it, just let it go – put all of one’s attention in just what one is doing.

Mindfulness meditation is putting ALL of one’s attention into just one, two, or three aspects of what one is doing at any given time. It is next to impossible to be upset, anxious, worried, depressed, sad, or frustrated, if one is not thinking such thoughts, AND if one is in a spirit of gratitude and appreciation. This is a primary purpose of mindfulness meditation – it is the sword that cuts out internal dialogue and/or cyclical thinking – ideally all thought…BEING ‘light’. Thoughts are often ‘heavy’. It is learning to come closer and closer to actually emptying one’s mind of thought (as a tool) – while it will never be perfect, it is important accordingly to try. One can’t fail unless one gives up or doesn’t try…trying is achieving.

Skin Breathing Guided Imagery/Third Lung Guided Imagery

In these arts this technique is traditionally considered a significant aspect of true health. It is considered to be a difficult guided imagery chi kung breathing technique and is initially next to impossible for beginners (until one has endeavored to realize the ability by way of substantial time & effort). It is commonly believed that it can take many years or even a lifetime of practicing meditative guided imagery to be able to do it in a fashion in which this technique becomes quite practical. In various traditions, it is among the ultimate goals of chi kung breathing. And this type of guided imagery can be performed with either the advance or reverse breathing.

In the traditional Chinese health arts, the skin is viewed as the third lung. Hence in this technique, when one breathes, one embraces the notion that one is breathing, drawing air and bioelectric energy (chi) in and out of every pore of one’s body. When done in full, it requires that one focuses one’s mind on every part of one’s epidermis at the same time. Upon inhalation, one imagines that air and bioelectric energy are drawn through every pore (after entering, the pores close). Upon exhalation, one imagines that the spent air and bioelectric energy are moved to the pores as they open and the spent air and bioelectric energy are released. In the beginning of this practice and over a necessary time, it is strongly suggested that practitioners begin with visualizing just one part of the body at a time, versus endeavoring to visualize the whole body at the same time. That said, the goal is to become skilled in visualizing the whole body as such.

As one is able to move one’s chi through one’s pores with inhalation and exhalation, it is said that the congruent sensation is not unlike “feeling the warmth of the sun during the cold winter”, and also, as one’s skill evolves, the feeling of the (strong enhanced) chi is much like a sweet and innocent sparkling spine-tingling/shivering most splendid (almost beyond words) sensation: it is of import to learn to better and better embrace and be able to prompt this feeling at will. Accordingly, it is said that nothing is more healthful, in combination with meditative witnessing, diaphragmatic breathing, and a spirit of gratitude and appreciation. Furthermore, warmth prompts one’s pores to unseal, enabling them to release and take in energy more readily. Chi kung first and foremost translated as ‘breathing in time with movement and/or effort’ and a primary and significant aspect in the practice of chi kung is in the utilization of the mind (yi) to guide the chi to the skin in order to invigorate one’s pores from within and even from without. When the pores are thusly invigorated, they amply unseal: this is an aspect of the visualization occurring during the inward breath. By the end of the inward breath, one’s pores have closed.

Upon having seriously practiced chi kung for awhile, a commonly accepted goal in these arts is to dramatically improve circulation of chi and blood and lymph throughout the entire body. According to the associated theory, skin breathing visualization enables one to employ the mind to unseal one’s pores & bring fresh life-giving chi and air inward in order to eliminate morbid deposits which have accumulated (with regard to the skin, but also the whole self). Also according to traditional theory, this technique is a significant measure toward the goal of expanding the chi externally (outside of oneself). It is said that if one realizes this level of mastery, then one “can lead one’s chi anywhere one’s mind wills it”. At this point, one will enjoy such a healthful level of chi circulation that one’s overall circulation will be become stronger and stronger as one more and more enjoys this skill: a pertinent notion is (additionally) handed down, e.g., the quality by which the chi flows is congruent with the blood and even the lymph – or “as the chi goes, so does the blood and even often the lymph”. This is a quintessential aspect of longevity and True Health, in accordance to these teachings.

When practicing skin breathing guided imagery, partially focus one’s attention/mind (yi) at the real tan tien (behind the navel): In this regard, witness one’s chi and form (physiology) as not unlike a sphere. With each inhalation, one’s mind directs fresh vibrant chi in through each pore of the skin & into the real tan tien, e.g., witnessing the sphere significantly contract into the real tan tien. Consecutively upon exhalation, one’s mind directs spent/stagnant chi in reverse (out through the pores). With experience, one will realize that the chi sphere progressively swells to envelope one’s full form (with its center behind the naval): as one breathes, the chi sphere congruently breathes. To put this more simply, when one imagines bringing fresh energy/air in through the pores, continue with directing this energy/air to the area just behind one’s naval (which is viewed as ‘stoking the real tan tien furnace’ – e.g., acupoint central vessel 8/CV8); when one exhales, direct the energy from this ‘furnace’ back to the skin and out the pores.

In traditional teachings, skin breathing visualization is viewed as a type of Fwu Chi Fah, e.g., Chi Manifesting Exercise. It is a particular path within the context of the Ling Bao Bi Fah, e.g., Inexpressible Wealth (to) Witnessing…(e.g., it can only be witnessed, not rationalized) and is an aspect of Playing the Part of the Less and Less Blemished Witness: It is in the sweet and innocent sparkling spine-tingling/shivering spirit of true appreciation of the miracle of the moment, more and more each moment. It is more and more in the benevolent spirit of Wu Wei, e.g., endeavoring to do the right thing for the right sake, without the need for selfish recognition or hidden agendas…a very much humble selfless glimpse of heaven…glimpses of a place, so-to-speak, without time, space, or distance…nothing to hide behind…all is known (without expectations, not rationalized, just better and better only witnessed).

It is significant that in beginning of the practice of this technique that one begins by a deep breath in, mindfully keeping the breath in for a bit – gradually allowing the breath out: As with all of the techniques set forth in this writing, the rise & fall of the abdomen must be slow & fluid, never jerky or all-at-once. This ability, in a fashion in which one is not ‘fooling oneself’, is absolutely necessary in realizing the ability to truly carry out/or best ‘be’ this technique. Keeping the breath in for a bit slows one down in various ways – assisting one greatly and as simple as it may sound, is an initial step in this practice. Once one has many years of practice, one will realize facility in prolonging the length of the inhalations and exhalations, enjoying Gui Shi (tortoise breath): Tortoises are known to have long lives, e.g., and according to traditional beliefs they enjoy an awareness of breathing through their pores as such. – – Dr. Glen Hepker

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What’s a Good Starter Sword?

In the traditions that I teach, coach, and practice, one’s initial (so-called) ‘sword’ is not one to put in the hand, it is that which assists one in meditatively clearing one’s mind of internal dialogue/thought – cutting it away, so-to-speak. Hence, guided imagery meditation of various types can be forms of the sword, being a precursor or strategic step toward actually learning to ’empty’ one’s mind of thought. That said, meditative guided imagery is also a practice in and of itself, whether using it as a step to emptying the mind or not: If one becomes skilled in these practices/arts, it doesn’t in any fashion mean that one shouldn’t continue to utilize guided imagery/visualization in their meditative practice.

It is also important in this tradition to realize and respect the well-meaning healthful philosophy/notion that, no matter how skilled one becomes, there is nothing perfect on this earth – there’s always room for improvement, no matter the skill level. Additionally, these skills, even with regular effort, can take years or decades to reach a significant level of mastery. Not to overstate it, though again in this tradition, the concept of True Mastery embraces the notion that there is always room for improvement, greater mastery/skill…this is considered to be among life’s greatest blessings, especially as we benevolently make the effort to feel gratitude as such, to truly appreciate it. It is in the spirit of doing the right thing for the right selfless sake.

Many people find it fairly improbable or even preposterous to truly empty their minds of thought at the outset, hence necessitating learning to utilize the ‘sword’ which makes it simpler to slow down, slower, slower…the ‘monkey mind’. Hence, eventually learning or coming close to, not thinking/emptying one’s mind, e.g., in Mandarin, traditionally known in these arts as the h’ou t’ou. There are many versions of the h’ou t’ou. As aforementioned, from the traditional perspective herein, most forms of guided imagery/visualization are forms of the sword or h’uo t’uo. In the traditions that I teach, we have over a dozen types of guided imagery that are handed-down, albeit the foundation of all of them is focusing on one’s breath: In said arts, the goal of any guided imagery practice is to be focused solely, ideally on the guided imagery/visualization, in the context of ‘nothing more, nothing less,’ in, of, and unto itself. Thus, that is what makes it like a sword. Having said that, a complementary practice for focusing on one’s breathing, is to simply think the word “innnnnnn” as one breathes in, and think the word “ouuuuuut” as one breathes out – being physiologically and psychologically conjunctive or in congruence. For some this may seem to make success simpler, for others, it may make it more difficult – as is common, one size doesn’t fit all.

Another way by which to describe it, is that it is meant to keep one’s mind from thinking about anything, curtailing the cyclical thoughts which most people have difficulty abbreviating. This cyclical thinking is also coined as the “monkey mind” – so it is of significant importance to learn to “repulse the monkey.” (The name being also utilized, in the same context, to describe a particular technique in tai chi chuan.) Once one has nurtured this tool, it can be utilized in stressful situations to promote calm and clear headedness. We also often coin this concept/practice as “witnessing,” or “playing the part of a less and less blemished witness.” Ideally, it is without expectations or preset patterns by which to view the world…objective insight, no opinion, just witnessing. Once again, it’ll never be succinctly perfect – but it is of great importance to try: As is set forth philosophically herein, “One will never fail unless one strops trying. Trying is achieving.”

Below is a broader associated synopsis set forth in this tradition:

This is a form of mindfulness meditation guided imagery/visualization chi kung.

Herein, this guided imagery will be set forth for a standing position, but it can also be done in a sitting position – sitting on a chair/stool, or in a lotus sitting posture.

This exercise is titled in the form of a question – How Much Gratitude Does One Need to be Healthy?

Stand with one’s feet almost together (called a ‘humble stance’), and bend one’s knees comfortably. Put one’s tongue against the roof of one’s mouth (connecting the Governing and Central Vessels – congruent with acupuncture theory – accordingly, this promotes homeostasis, e.g., a healthful balance in the central nervous system). Relax one’s face, shoulders, hands, and feet – it’s said, “if they’re relaxed, you’re relaxed.”

Realize that relaxation is a true skill – there is always room for improvement. Realize, we ALWAYS have some stress, no matter how relaxed we are: try to shake it off – be so relaxed that one is barely standing – in what we coin as a Swaying Willow demeanor. Gently roll the spine above the waist, forward and backward. This demeanor is much like a willow tree swaying in a gentle wind. Breathe in, all the way forward and back, and breathe out in between.

Constantly adjust one’s vision so that one is looking just slightly above straight ahead, without focusing or staring: herein, one is endeavoring to play the part of a less and less blemished witness to one’s external environment – ideally without expectations…as if all is new to you, you know nothing (it isn’t genuinely possible to do this, but it is important to try). After a bit of time (as one chooses – but try not to hurry), continue with one’s eyes closed. Keep one’s eyes in their sockets as if one’s eyes are open and looking just slightly above straight ahead (don’t let one’s eyes droop or drop): herein, one is endeavoring to play the part of a less and less blemished witness to one’s internal environment, without fear or discomfort.

Get the ‘engine’ of the (advance versus reverse) diaphragmatic/abdominal breathing going: Breathe in, push one’s abdomen out, breathe out, pull one’s abdomen in. Pretend that one’s lungs are in one’s abdomen. One of the greatest gifts one can allow oneself, is all-of-the-time diaphragmatic breathing – there is nothing more healthful. In practicing this breathing for five minutes twice daily, within 30 to 60 days most people will realize all-of-the-time diaphragmatic breathing. It greatly enhances circulation, and promotes the secretion of relaxing, pain killing hormones (empirically substantiated).

Be in a spirit of gratitude and true appreciation, not thinking about it, just ‘being it’ – be all in the moment – a true appreciation of the miracle of the moment.

Try not to think, just witness one’s breathing, relaxation, and subtle movement. Again, endeavor to play the part of a less and less blemished witness. If a thought comes to one’s mind, embrace it, see it for what it is, try not to hang on to it, just let it go – put all of one’s attention in just what one is doing.

Mindfulness meditation is putting ALL of one’s attention into just one, two, or three aspects of what one is doing at any given time. It is next to impossible to be upset, anxious, worried, depressed, sad, or frustrated, if one is not thinking such thoughts. This is a primary purpose of mindfulness meditation – it is the sword that cuts out internal dialogue and/or cyclical thinking – ideally all thought…BEING ‘light’. Thoughts/internal dialogue are often ‘heavy’. – Instructor Glen Hepker

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