Balance may start in the feet; but it’s sustained in the breath — specifically deep abdominal breathing.  

If the first thing we do in any Qigong practice is to properly align our posture so that our bones support our body, the second thing we do is breathe deeply into our lower abdomen — the lower dantien.  

“Dantien” means “elixir field” or “sea of qi,” and according to Qigong theory, we each have three—one in your head (behind the “third eye”), one in your heart, and one in your lower abdomen (the small intestine).  Dantien act like batteries where our energy naturally pools:

  • In the head, the energy is thoughts.  
  • In our heart, the energy is emotion.  
  • And in our lower abdomen, the energy is our vitality.  

One reason deep abdominal breathing is important to balance is that it brings our energy down closer to our center of gravity–our lower dantien.  

When there is too much energy in the head because of overthinking, over-analyzing, intellectualizing, and anxiety, the energy is rising and “disconnecting” from the body and Earth.  Think about how much balance you have if you are standing on your tip toes, or being partially suspended from above.  I find it easy to fall into this trap with my love of studying and it often gives me headaches or a floating sensation, like I’m out of touch with others and myself. 

Have you ever experienced that feeling after being on the computer or reading a book when you step outside for some reason and feel like you’re in another world, or that you’re emerging from another world?  This can be a sign you have too much energy in your head.     

Where there is too much energy in the heart, it shows up as being overly emotional, with energy swirling in your chest.  This can make a person feel overheated, shaky, irritated, nauseous, distrustful and out-of-control. 

Have you ever had the experience after an intense emotional experience that you might not be able to control what you say or do, you know you need to get a grip, but you aren’t sure how, everything is moving too fast or is unclear?  This can be a sign that you have too much energy in your heart.  

Both of these scenarios can be “eased” by taking even one deep abdominal breath–though I recommend you take several if you find yourself in either of those situations.  

When we breathe deeply into our lower abdomen, several things happen:

  • Your diaphragm (a muscle that divides your organs in the rib cage and those below) contracts allowing the lungs to inflate more fully.
  • By expanding your lungs more fully, more air enters (technically called “inspiration”!), increasing the exchange of oxygen (inhalation) and carbon dioxide (exhalation). 
  • As your diaphragm contracts, it squeezes the organs below it (mainly the stomach, spleen, liver, gallbladder and pancreas, which in turn squeeze the large and small intestines, kidneys, and adrenal glands) and the lower abdomen expands outwards.
  • This squeezing of the abdominal organs stimulates each one for more efficient function respective to their individual roles, including, but not limited to, these benefits:
    • normalizing heart rate and blood pressure
    • lowering cortisol and stress
    • reducing anxiety and insomnia
    • improved digestion and clarity of thought

In Qigong theory, we say it helps circulate and remove excess, stagnant or toxic qi from your system.  From a physiological balance perspective (and referring to my illustration), it draws energy down to your center of gravity.  

Not sure if you believe?  I invite you to try this experiment (Safety first! If your balance isn’t great, move objects out of your way and have a chair or other sturdy object nearby to grasp.  If you have good balance, try it with your eyes closed.):

  1. Stand on one leg and divide 5,475 by 365.*  Or recite the Constitution of the United States or the Gettysburg Address from memory.
  2. Resume standing on two legs, shake and shake out your leg while exhaling deeply through your mouth.  Rest your leg.  
  3. Stand on that same leg (one leg only) and recall an intense memory — one you can actually feel.  Focus on that feeling  as long as you can while maintaining your balance.
  4. Resume standing on two legs, shake and shake out your leg while exhaling deeply through your mouth.  Rest your leg.
  5. Stand on the same leg (only one leg) and simply breathe deeply into your lower abdomen.

Did you notice a difference in your balance, how long you could stand on one foot, or the micro-movements of your foot?   

Here’s a 10-minute tutorial for Drawing Down the Heavens qigong flow from another of my primary teachers.  Drawing Down the Heavens flow is the best qigong exercise I know to help encourage the energy to sink to the lower dantien. 

Deep breathing is really the greatest tool!  And it’s free, at your disposal all the time, you can do it when people are watching or alone, doesn’t require equipment or a teacher, and has only POSITIVE side effects!