Regulating breathing means to regulate your breath 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, 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. From this, 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."
Internal Organ Exercises
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 percent 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 with 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," 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.
An Ancient Daoist named Li, Qing-an said: "Regulating breathing means to regulate the real breathing until (you) stop." This means that correct regulating is no regulating. 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, no regulating is necessary, 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 Daoist literature. The Daoist Guang Cheng Zi 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 heaven qi is the positive (yang) energy, which 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) says: "One exhale one inhale to communicate qi's function, one movement one calmness is the same as (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 come from the interaction of movement (yang) and calmness (yin). Yellow Yard Classic (Huang Ting Jing) 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 lower dan tian through correct breathing.
Moreover, the Daoist Wu Zhen Ren 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 lower 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 lower dan tian), and eventually you will be able to use your lower dan tian to breathe like the immortal Daoists.
Finally, in the Daoist song, The Great Daoist Song of the Spirit's Origin (Ling Yuan Da Dao Ge) it is said: "The originals (original jing, qi, and shen) are internally transported peacefully, so that you can become real (immortal); (if you) depend (only) on external breathing (you) will not reach the end (goal)." From this song, you can see that internal breathing (breathing at the lower 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.
Eight Key Words for Air Breathing
From the above, you can see the importance of breathing. There are eight key words for air breathing which a qigong practitioner should follow during exercise. Once you understand them, you will be able to substantially shorten the time needed to reach your qigong goals. These eight key words are 1. calm (jing); 2. slender (xi); 3. deep (shen); 4. long (chang); 5. continuous (you); 6. uniform (yun); 7. slow (huan); and 8. soft (mian). These key words are self-explanatory, and with a little thought, you should be able to understand them.
(The above is an excerpt from Simple Qigong Exercises for Health Improve Your Health in 10 to 20 Minutes a Day—Eight Pieces of Brocade by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming.)