From my book, Sunset Tai Chi:
The breath is a tool to achieve our goals and needs. Sometimes we use slow and deep breaths and other times we use fast and shallow ones. We can use the lungs differently according to the different goals we have.
Breathing is the method we use to bring oxygen into our blood stream that nourishes every cell in our body, but the breath is also the banana we use to capture the monkey mind. The breathing in qigong is considered one of the tools to affect our ability to be 'watery' or 'fiery.'
Fast and hard exhalations lead us to be fire, and deep, long, quiet inhalation will lead us to be water. If you do too much of either for too long, you will lose balance, and it can have negative effects on a mental or physical level. But if you know how and when to use this principle, you will be able to benefit tremendously from it and achieve balance in both mind and body.
This first breathing exercise is the simple and safe way to start this journey into the science of breath. It will lead you to the first step of being relaxed or what Dr. Herbert Benson refers to as the relaxation response or what I consider a Buddhist path. But remember, this is just a first step or, as previously mentioned, the relaxation is a doorway to a palace full of other interesting rooms that I consider the Taoist path.
Surfing the breath is the simplest method of achieving deep relaxation. First, close your eyes. Sit in an erect posture with a straight spine. Do not collapse your spine. When the spine is collapsed, surfing the breath will still work on a mental level, but you will not get as much air because the lungs are compressed. Surfing the breath will help you calm the monkey mind. Follow the air through the nostrils down though the windpipe, deep into both lungs, in and out with long, quiet, and peaceful inhalation. Your inhalation and exhalation should be, eventually, equal in length, unless you have other specific goals.
After a few minutes, you will be able to determine which of your nostrils is wider. Our bodies are not symmetrical. One of our nostrils is more open than the other. Move down, with your mind, into the lungs and try to determine which lung is longer and which lung is wider. One lung has three lobes and the other lung has two.
I really enjoy the moment when my students tell me they do not know which lung has three lobes and which has two. Not knowing this fact allows them to experience the air moving into the nostrils and the sensation of air moving into the lungs, and then to determine from the sensation, not from looking at an anatomy book, which lung has the three lobes and which lung has the two.
Sometimes the lung that is wider has the two lobes, which makes some people think that it is the longer lung. This 'wide' sensation that the mind experiences throws them off, and they will swear that one is the lung that has the three lobes. But really it is just a stronger sensation in that lung that confuses them and makes them think that one is the longer lung--feel as opposed to real.
As long as you follow the air in and out of your lungs, that is, surf the breath, you will be able to quiet the mind from excess thoughts. Remember we have, on average, eighteen thoughts per second. Relax, reduce the number of thoughts, and bring the mind to the brain activity level between being awake and asleep.
Until next time, happy stretching, deep breathing, empty your mind, strengthen your energetic system, and evoke your spirit!