Tonglen is a simple process of breathing in dark things like pain and suffering (yours, that of those close to you, that of friends, strangers and, ultimately, that of all sentient beings), assuming this suffering, and breathing out healing and peace.
Physical Exercise: My personal trainer at the local gym after my heart attack(s) in February 2000 showed me how to breathe in prior to performing an exercise and breathe out while you are performing the strenuous part. This is safer for the heart. So, for example, I breathed in while I descended in a squat and breathed out while ascending. I breathed in before pulling on a rowing machine and breathed out while pulling. Now I breathe in slowly while resting between sets of an exercise and breathe out slowly during the entire action.
My morning program now consists of:
- Treadmill walking for 30 minutes while listening to CBC podcasts on (mostly) philosophy or literature (simply walking on a treadmill is so incredibly boring otherwise for me)
- Squats and dumbell exercises combined with tonglen breathing in my own home while listening to restful, oriental music
- One performance of tai chi 24 method combined with tonglen breathing meditation while listening to restful, oriental music
Tai chi is supposed to be done while breathing in the chi (energy) and pushing it back out. I had thought of the chi as positive energy, so it seems counter-intuitive to be breathing in “hot, dark and heavy,” (i.e. suffering), and breathing out “cool, white and light,” (i.e. healing and peace). Somehow, for me, this works really well to give me a feeling of peaceful healing.
As for the strength exercises, at first it seemed weird to be breathing out peace and healing while one is doing the strenuous part of a physical exercise, but then I thought:
Bringing about peace and healing in the world, beginning with yourself, is hard work.
It makes sense to me now.