Regulating the Breath
Regulating the breath means to regulate your breathing until it is calm, smooth, and peaceful. Only when you have reached this point will you be able to make the breathing deep, slender, long, and soft, which is required for successful qigong practice.
Breathing is affected by your emotions. For example, when you are angry or excited you exhale more strongly than you inhale. When you are sad, you inhale more strongly than you exhale. When your mind is peaceful and calm, your inhalation and exhalation are relatively equal. In order to keep your breathing calm, peaceful, and steady, your mind and emotions must first be calm and neutral. Therefore, in order to regulate your breathing, you must first regulate your mind.
The other side of the coin is that you can use your breathing to control your yi. When your breathing is uniform, it is as if you were hypnotizing your yi, which helps to calm it. You can see that yi and breathing are interdependent, and that they cooperate with each other. Deep and calm breathing relaxes you and keeps your mind clear. It fills your lungs with plenty of air so that your brain and entire body have an adequate supply of oxygen. In addition, deep and complete breathing enables the diaphragm to move up and down, which massages and stimulates the internal organs. For this reason, deep breathing exercises are also called "internal organ exercises."
Regulate Breathing; Keep Lungs Relaxed
Deep and complete breathing does not mean that you inhale and exhale to the maximum. This would cause the lungs and the surrounding muscles to tense up, which in turn would keep the air from circulating freely and hinder the absorption of oxygen. Without enough oxygen, your mind becomes scattered, and the rest of your body tenses up. In correct breathing, you inhale and exhale to about 70 or 80 percent of capacity so that your lungs stay relaxed.
You can conduct an easy experiment. Inhale deeply so that your lungs are completely full, and time how long you can hold your breath. Then try inhaling to only about 70 percent of your capacity, and see how long you can hold your breath. You will find that with the latter method you can last much longer than the first one. This is simply because the lungs and the surrounding muscles are relaxed. When they are relaxed, the rest of your body and your mind can also relax, which significantly decreases your need for oxygen. Therefore, when you regulate your breathing, the first priority is to keep your lungs relaxed and calm.
When training, your mind must first be calm so that your breathing can be regulated. When the breathing is regulated, your mind is able to reach a higher level of calmness. This calmness can again help you to regulate the breathing, until your mind is deep. After you have trained for a long time, your breathing will be full and slender, and your mind will be very clear. It is said: "xin xi xiang yi," (心息相依) which means "heart [mind] and breathing [are] mutually dependent." When you reach this meditative state, your heartbeat slows down, and your mind is very clear: you have entered the sphere of real meditation.
Comments on Breathing by Ancient Daoists
An Ancient Daoist named Li, Qing-an (李清庵) said: "Regulating breathing means to regulate the real breathing until [you] stop." This means that correct regulating means regulating is no longer necessary. Real regulating is no longer a conscious process but has become so natural that it can be accomplished without conscious effort. In other words, although you start by consciously regulating your breath, you must get to the point where the regulating happens naturally, and you no longer have to think about it. When you breathe, if you concentrate your mind on your breathing, then it is not true regulating because the qi in your lungs will become stagnant. When you reach the level of true regulating, you don't have to pay attention to it, and you can use your mind efficiently to lead the qi. Remember, wherever the yi is, there is the qi. If the yi stops in one spot, the qi will be stagnant. It is the yi that leads the qi and makes it move. Therefore, when you are in a state of correct breath regulation, your mind is free. There is no sound, stagnation, urgency, or hesitation, and you can finally be calm and peaceful.
You can see that when the breath is regulated correctly, the qi will also be regulated. They are mutually related and cannot be separated. This idea is explained frequently in the Daoist literature. The Daoist Guang Cheng Zi (廣成子) said: "One exhale, the earth qi rises; one inhale, the heaven qi descends; real man's [meaning one who has attained the real Dao] repeated breathing at the navel, then my real qi is naturally connected." This says that when you breathe you should move your abdomen as if you were breathing from your navel. The earth qi is the negative (yin) energy from your kidneys, and the sky qi is the positive (yang) energy that comes from the food you eat and the air you breathe. When you breathe from the navel, these two qi's will connect and combine. Some people think that they know what qi is, but they really don't. Once you connect the two qi's, you will know what the "real" qi is, and you may become a "real" man, which means to attain the Dao.
The Daoist book Sing [of the] Dao [with] Real Words (Chang Dao Zhen Yan, 唱道真言) says: "One exhale one inhale to communicate qi's function, one movement one calmness is the same as [i.e., is the source of] creation and variation." The first part of this statement again implies that the functioning of qi is connected with the breathing. The second part of this sentence means that all creation and variation comes from the interaction of movement (yang) and calmness (yin). The Yellow Yard Classic (Huang Ting Ching, 黃庭經) says: "Breathe original qi to seek immortality." In China, the traditional Daoists wore yellow robes, and they meditated in a "yard" or hall. This sentence means that in order to reach the goal of immortality, you must seek to find and understand the original qi that comes from the dan tian through correct breathing.
Moreover, the Daoist Wu Zhen Ren (伍真人) said: "Use the post-birth breathing to look for the real person's [i.e. the immortal's] breathing place." In this sentence it is clear that in order to locate the immortal breathing place (the dan tian), you must rely on and know how to regulate your post-birth, or natural, breathing. Through regulating your post-birth breathing you will gradually be able to locate the residence of the qi (the dan tian), and eventually you can use your dan tian to breathe like the immortal Daoists. Finally, in the Daoist song Ling Yuan Da Dao Ge (靈源大道歌) (The Great Daoist Song of the Spirit's Origin) it is said: "The originals [original jing, qi, and shen] are internally transported peacefully, so that you can become real [immortal]; [if you] depend on [only] external breathing [you] will not reach the end [goal]." From this song, you can see the internal breathing (breathing at the dan tian) is the key to training your three treasures and finally reaching immortality. However, you must first know how to regulate your external breathing correctly.
All of these emphasize the importance of breathing. There are eight key words for air breathing which a qigong practitioner should follow during his practice. Once you understand them you can substantially shorten the time needed to reach your qigong goals. These eight key words are: 1. calm (jing, 靜); 2. slender (xi, 細); 3. deep (shen, 深); 4. long (chang, 長); 5. continuous (you, 悠); 6. uniform (yun, 勻); 7. slow (huan, 緩), and 8. soft (mian, 綿). These key words are self-explanatory, and with a little thought you should be able to understand them.