Centuries ago, the Chinese knew that to have a healthy body one had to have a healthy marrow. By visualising the breath going through the centre of hollow bones they aimed to encourage the body's natural healing powers. For the Christian 'bone-breathing' is a simple, effective way of bringing in the body as one's best ally in prayer.
This exercise, based on practice of Tai Chi, the ancient eastern contemplative dance, is gradually becoming familiar in this country through evening classes and residential courses.
The purpose of the dance is to harmonise movement and breathing, to bring the whole being into a state of balanced tension between the vital energies of Yin and Yang, respectively the 'in-breath' of earth and the 'out-breath' of heaven. Various preliminary breathing exercises are used to prepare for the dance itself. The sequences described below are based on awareness of the bone structure of the body.
Ideally one lies on the floor, flat on the back, relaxing into the floor as much as one can, with arms loosely resting down the sides. It is, however, quite possible to do the exercise in a sitting, or even standing, position, the feet being placed a hip-width apart and firmly 'rooted' on the floor.
1. Visualise that there are openings in the ends of the right toes. Breathe out, then on the in-breath visualise the breath coming in through the toes, through the bones of the foot, and draw the breath up through the centre of the bones to the hip. On the out-breath, breathe out down the centre of the bones and out through the toes. All this should be done slowly. Do this three times, and then go to the left leg and repeat up and down the left leg three times. On the fourth breath, breathe up the left leg to the centre of the pelvis and out through the right leg. Do this three times; this forms a bridge between the legs and one is aware of the pelvis connected to the spine, and the legs connected to the pelvis. Pause for a few moments, breathing normally.
2. Do the same routine with the arms. The ends of the fingers open breathe out and then on the in-breath breathe into the fingers on the right hand and up to the shoulder and out down the arm and out of the fingers. Repeat as before, then go to the left arm. Finally breathe in up the left arm to the centre of the collar bone and breathe out through the right arm, in through the right and out through the left, repeating all this three times.
Pause to breathe normally.
3. Starting at the base of the spine, breathe in through and up the spine, coming out at the crown of the head and over the head to between the eyebrows. Breathe out down the face, go into the mouth, over the top of the spine and down to the base. Repeat three times. Pause to breathe normally.