The Tao of Natural Breathing Preface

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “There is a crack in everything that God has made.” For me, this crack — this place where something new and more meaningful can enter our lives — became especially visible in 1990, when I found myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted, with a constant, sharp pain on the right side of my rib cage. I had just gone through the enormous stress of selling my public relations agency to a well-known English firm, and had worked to maximize the sale price of the company for two years under the direction of the new owners. Though I had had chronic abdominal discomfort for many years, and indeed had been diagnosed with “colitis” some years before, this pain was different. I went to doctors, massage therapists, and various body-work practitioners to put an end to it, but to no avail. It was during this period that I met Gilles Marin, a student of Taoist master Mantak Chia, and a teacher and practitioner of Chi Nei Tsang (CNT), a Taoist healing practice using internal-organ chi massage and work with breathing to clear unhealthy tensions and energies from our organism.

When Gilles first put his hands into my belly and began to massage my inner organs and tissues, and when he began to ask me to breathe into parts of myself that I had never experienced through my breath, I had no idea of the incredible journey of discovery that I was beginning. Though Gilles told me that CNT was part of a larger system of healing and spiritual practices called the “Healing Tao,” founded by Master Chia, my immediate concern was simply to get rid of the pain. I had my own spiritual practices; what I needed was healing.

Healing … a word I had not pondered very deeply in my life. But as Gilles began to work more intensively with me, and as it became increasingly clear that the healing process depended in large part on my own inner awareness, I began to understand why the expressions “to heal” and “to make whole” have the same roots. Though the physical pain disappeared after several sessions, and though I began to feel more alive, a deeper, psychic pain began to emerge — the pain of recognizing that in spite of all my efforts over many years toward self-knowledge and self-transformation, I had managed to open myself to only a small portion of the vast scale of the physical, emotional, and spiritual energies available to us at every moment. As Gilles continued working on me, and as my breath began to penetrate deeper into myself, I began to sense layer after layer of tension, anger, fear, and sadness resonating in my abdomen below the level of my so-called waking consciousness, and consuming the energies I needed not only for health, but also for a real engagement with life. And this deepening sensation at the very center of my being, painful as it was, brought with it an opening not only in the tissues of my belly, but also in my most intimate attitudes toward myself, a welcoming of hitherto unconscious fragments of myself into a new sense of discovery, wholeness, and inner growth.

I quickly realized that Chi Nei Tsang — with its penetration into my physical and emotional energies through touch and breathwork, provided a direct, healing pathway into myself, and as I learned more about it through its action on me I soon found myself taking classes from Gilles and even beginning to work on my friends. I also found myself taking classes in healing practices and chi kung, many of which involved special breathing practices, from various Healing Tao teachers, including Master Chia. After more than a year of CNT classes and many hours of clinical practice, I was tested by Master Chia and certified by him to do CNT professionally. And after many Healing Tao classes and retreats, as well as intensive work on myself, I also became certified by Master Chia to teach some of the Healing Tao practices. Since then I have done CNT work on both my own clients and at a Chinese medicine clinic in San Francisco, and have taught ongoing Healing Tao classes and workshops, with a large emphasis on breathing.

As a result of my work with the Healing Tao, as well as with other teachings, such as the Gurdjieff Work and Advaita Vedanta, two facts have become clear to me with regard to the relationship of breath to health and inner growth. First, that our poor breathing habits have arisen not only out of our psychosomatic “ignorance,” our lack of organic awareness, but also out of our unconscious need for a buffering mechanism to keep us from sensing and feeling the reality of our own deep-rooted fears and contradictions. There is absolutely no doubt that superficial breathing ensures a superficial experience of ourselves. Second, that if we were able to breathe “naturally” for even a small percentage of the more than 15,000 breaths we take during each waking day we would be taking a huge step not only toward preventing many of the physical and psychological problems that have become endemic to modern life, but also toward supporting our own inner growth — the growth of awareness of who and what we really are, of our own essential being. It is my hope that the ideas and practices explored in this book will help make this possible.

Dennis Lewis
San Francisco, CA

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