Last week I spoke at training about breathing during mokuso. This is a very important topic and you should think about this when you are not at training.
Anatomy of breathing
When we breathe normally, most of us use less than 50% of our total lung capacity. It is said that children under about 2 years of age use much more of their lung capacity every time they breathe, but that we lose that ability as we grow older.
Most of us breathe in a very shallow way, using just the top part of our lungs. When we are asleep or doing very heavy exercise we naturally breathe much deeper. When we yawn it is because our brains are a bit short of oxygen and yawning is the body's way of making us stop what we are doing and taking a very deep breath that fills our entire lungs.
The part of the body that helps us to breathe is the diaphragm (pronounced - "die-a-fram"), which is a thin sheet of muscle under the lungs. When the diaphragm contracts, it makes the space inside your chest grow larger, which in turn creates suction that draws air into your lungs. People who train to use their voices such as opera singers and stage actors learn how to control this muscle consciously. They learn how to breathe like little children again.
Breathing in mokuso
A simple way to start breathing from your diaphragm is to do what babies do. When you breathe in, push your stomach out. You will find that you take in a lot more air with not much more effort.
When you breathe out, do it quite slowly. The outward breath should last for at least twice as long as the breath in.
Make sure your face is relaxed and calm. Don't think about anything at all. Breathe in and out through your nose. Keep your back as straight as possible without straining.
How long should we do mokuso for?
Mokuso should be done long enough for everyone in the dojo to become calm, and a very deep silence to occur. The Dojo Captain should measure about three deep breaths before clapping to signal yamé. In clock time this might be between 20 and 40 seconds, however clock time really becomes irrelevant during meditation. A good mokuso won't be achieved if someone in the group is looking at the time! You know a deep silence has occured when the Dojo Captain claps and you get a little shock. You might even feel like you have no idea how long that mokuso was.
Why should we breathe more deeply?
The reason it is good to take in more air is it fills your blood with oxygen. This helps to reduce how tired you get, helps you recover more quickly, and helps your brain to work more efficiently. It also helps to calm your mind, and with some practice, can actually change the way you think. Many people also believe it extends your life and keeps you healthy.
It is very hard to breathe like this all the time, so mokuso or meditation gives us the opportunity to concentrate on doing it deliberately.
It is still not very well understood by science, but meditation and breathing can enable people to do amazing things. I believe that it can help to increase our awareness to the point where it is possible to predict the future. Not a long way into the future, just half a second or so, but that's more than enough for kendo.
Other kinds of breathing
There is at least one other kind of breathing you can do during mokuso. This special breathing is designed to increase your ki (気). I mentioned it at training, however I won't go into detail here. If you want to know more, see me at training.