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I'm trying to learn tai chi by watching videos. (Sorry, I know it's probably not the best way!)

I'm a slow breather (about 6 breaths per minute), and the tai chi exercises I'm trying to learn say to breathe out when moving out and breathe in when moving in.

Should the speed of my movements slow down to match my breathing or should I try to breathe faster to "catch up" to the speed of the exercises in the video?

(Whenever you see a big group of people all doing tai chi together, they are all going at the same speed, so I wonder if they're all breathing at the same speed as well)

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    I'm not a Tai Chi practitioner, but I believe your breathing should speed up to match the movement as the movements can be done at different speeds and breathing is a critical component of it. – slugster May 27 '15 at 10:49
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    Find a teacher. This is exactly the sort of thing that a good teacher will be able to tell you. As you can see from the few answers you've got, already you have widely varying responses. You can not learn solely from video or public forums like this one. These are complementary sources at best. Your primary source should come from an experienced teacher – Roland Tepp Jun 7 '15 at 15:40
  • As @RolandTepp said, find a teacher. I've been training tai chi for a few years now from a good coach, and from that I can tell you that (perhaps) especially for tai chi, there is a LOT that you will not pick up on from videos. If you don't get instruction from someone directly, you likely are making a lot of mistakes. – Ben Richards Nov 17 '15 at 21:28
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Don't worry about trying to match the breath to the movement. If you try to control the breath to the movement to soon, it is easy to hyperventilate which could cause dizziness, or other problems. Breathe naturally, and over time the breath will naturally adjust to the movements.

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Slow down the movements if you're practicing alone. Adjust the breath to the movements if you're doing applications or partner exercises.

In the beginning it is better not to worry about the synchronization between breath and the movements, it is better to just breathe naturally. After a while you are taught the logic that links the movements to the breathing and you can coordinate them. Don't do this too early!

When you have learned the position-breath coordination, the breathing should be even, with succeeding inhalations and exhalations lasting the same amount of time. The Tai Chi movements are designed to accomodate this, but you might have to do some slight adjustments compared to your earlier training.

If you are training within a group or with a video, it's probably better to follow your own breathing pattern than trying to do it in coordination with the movements, otherwise you can end up out of breath or experiencing some discomfort. Of course if the speed of the group suits your breathing pattern, you can coordinate your breathing with the other practicioners!

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When we (casual adult beginners) were learning the Tai Chi first form our (expert) teacher told us to begin with learning the gross movements and to not worry about matching the breath.

Well, we did use the breath when we learned/practised even more basic movements than the form, for example Peng Lu Ji An but not while we were trying to learn the form for the first time.

After I learned the form (i.e. learned it enough to begin to practice it) then I learned how to breath in and out to match the pushing and pulling movements. I prefer to do the form that way (i.e. with the breath) but you can't necessarily have everyone learning everything all at once (e.g. I was the first student in our group to learn to breathe after memorizing the form). That was after, I don't know (I barely remember now) maybe a year of learning/practising for 90 minutes about once a week.

Your 6 breaths/minute sounds about right.

This video of the Chen style first form includes (if I've counted them correctly) exactly 6 breaths in the first minute.

There are several things you can adjust to keep your breath and body in synch.

  • If you want to breathe slowly then move slowly; there's little limit to how slowly you can move. In fact my limit is my breath (if I did the form too slowly I wouldn't be breathing often enough).

  • If you're getting too much or too little oxygen at a given speed perhaps you can breath more shallowly or more deeply.

  • If you're getting too much oxygen (i.e. "hyperventilating" as mentioned in another answer) you might balance that by using more oxygen: if your stance were quite a bit lower (i.e. if your knees were bent and your centre of gravity lower) then supporting that weight (using upper leg muscles instead of using locked-knee leg bones) would use more oxygen ... or much more oxygen if you were much lower.

    For example this video shows an example of what I mean by a low stance ... too low to do easily and IMO a fair bit of effort to practice.

You maybe should have a teacher though because you can apparently hurt yourself (hurt your knees for example) if your posture isn't correct.

If you still have too much energy (too much spare breath) when you practice the form then perhaps you can practice a more vigorous form, for example the second video above was of the Chen style First Form ("Yi Lu") and this video is the more vigorous (explosive) Second Form ("Er Lu"):

In summary, I think:

  • The form is practiced slowly, so breathing can be slow (relaxed, oceanic) as well
  • Some movement of the form take a long time (several seconds) and require a slow breath, other movements maybe less time (fewer seconds) and a shorter breath
  • When, at the beginning, you keep needing to stop and think in order to try to remember what the next movement of the form is, then that's possibly not a good time to be trying to synch your breathing as well
  • When you know the form well enough that your memory of it (and your posture) comes automatically then you can think about (or relax within) your breathing: e.g. what I'm conscious of is the breath coming in to fill my centre (not just filling my lungs but also relaxing/loosening my joints), while my hands move towards my body almost of their own accord
  • If you're, later, doing something more rapid than the "first form" then ... well I guess it's better to find a good teacher to even learn to practice the first form properly.
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I see I'm late here. But if it helps other people, here's a go.

Taiji breathing depends on the kind of movement you do and is grounded in the yin-yang theory (not just duality but ever-changing duality).

There are 4 phases to breathing - inhalation, pause, exhalation, pause. And there are 4 primary physical jing or energies: peng (wardoff), ji (press), liu (rollback) and an (push) (you may want to read up on this, it's too much to explain here). Every taiji movement is an interplay of the 4 energies and each of them is linked to a particular kind of breathing: inwards or outwards, rising or sinking. You can see this the most clearly in fajing movements where breath follows the body for the best 'force'. It's worth noting that nothing is rigidly tied, a master may well do something internally and something else externally.

Also, the classics identify two kinds of breath - 'soldier breath', where fast movement naturally demands upper-chest rapid breathing trying to pull in maximum oxygen (think of running or jogging); and 'scholar breath', where slow, deep breathing starting from the diaphragm and utilizing as much capacity of your lungs as it can, brings calmness (think meditating). Taiji has both of these - some slow movements, some fast, some explosive, some gentle. Also a particular movement can be done fast-style; it can be done slow-style depending on your intent - are you practising that morning as a peaceful start to your day or are you all energized and want a martial art start?

Usually beginners are asked not to worry about breathing and just concentrate on their movements since concentrating on breathing at this point is asking for the cart before the horse - it takes focus off aspects that need to be polished first like posture and technique and makes the movements jerky. The only thing you should remember to do in the beginning is just breathe normally (you'll be surprised how many times people are caught holding their breath). Once you are grounded in the principles of the art, the breathing becomes automatic and you don't have to think about it consciously.

Lastly, find a teacher you respect - a good one is more precious than gold or diamond, like a second father/mother, irreplaceable. Mine taught me this and I pass it on.

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Breathe in when your balance is on your left foot, and breathe out when the balance is on your right foot.

As you're able to breathe deeper, the length of your movement matches the length of your breath.

To vary your breathing, practice your form in both directions, but always inhale while balancing on left foot, exhale while balancing on right.

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You never breathe through out the stroke or movement. There are specific spots you breath in and out. There are different types of movement based on different principle. By principle, open set of movements are of larger frame (more hand movement then hip and waist movement),so you have to breath at appropriate spots. For example, Grasping swallows tail is open type of movement, so breath appropriately. While, 'hitting river left, and right' is explosive movement then breath coming reverse-breath, explosive.

Get a good teacher or video. I recommend Erle Montaigue's videos that is where I started.

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