Qigong breathing in the manner of the water method of Taoist meditation is an exercise in relaxation. Developing this skill requires patience and it should not be done in a forced manner. To begin learning this way of breathing you can do it laying down. When you are laying down, the chest and belly are relaxed. As you inhale, you allow the diaphragm to move towards your abdomen to cause the belly and the sides of the body to expand. Because of this movement in the abdominal region, this method is also called abdominal breathing.
Movement of the belly and the sides of the abdomen may be barely noticeable or uneven when you first start. If, while you are practicing, you need a reminder for maintaining your breathing with your diaphragm, you can place a telephone book or some other large book on your belly and allow it to go up with your in-breath and down as you exhale. Some find that placing of the hands on the belly works as well. You should work towards having smooth and even exhalations and inhalations, and relaxing into this pattern is the way to work towards that goal. Never exhale to more than 3/4 of your ability. Inhalations should occur naturally, with no muscular tension. The relaxation of the diaphragm will do that for you.
When you stand or sit, you may find abdominal breathing more difficult. Many people have habitual tension in the stomach, perhaps more so when they are standing. Training yourself to relax and have a smooth and even respiration should be done for both standing and sitting. As our bodies become more upright, habitual muscular tensions related to holding these postures come into play, thus making it more challenging to breath with the abdomen at first.
Once you have become familiar with abdominal breathing laying down, it is time to try doing it while sitting. It will help to learn to relax the face and neck muscles first, and then you can allow the chest and upper back to relax. Relaxation of the upper body muscles will allow fuller breathing to the bottom of your lungs with the movement of the diaphragm. Learn to relax the muscles sequentially, going from the top of the head, relaxing the muscles around the eyes as well when you are relaxing the facial muscles. As you are relaxing the facial muscles around the mouth, also relax the tongue and place the tip of it on the upper palate, connecting the Du and Ren meridians. As you are relaxing the neck muscles, also relax your throat. Relaxing your shoulders, arms, hands and fingers can be done after you allow your chest to relax downward.
Notice your breathing on the inhalation and the exhalation. Does the inhalation last longer than the exhalation? Is is more difficult to exhale than inhale? Are you forcing yourself to exhale or inhale? Are there certain areas of your body that seem to restrict an even breathing pattern? Choose one of these aspects of your breathing to work on at a time and you may want to keep your focus on that aspect for daily exercises that you can do for a week or more at a time.
Practice this qigong breathing exercise for 15-20 minutes a day. If you need a timer, find one that has a gentle tone to bring you out of this meditation or you could use a piece of relaxing music that lasts for the duration. After you have relaxed the muscles, you can just follow the breath as it goes in and out of your nose. When your attention wanders, go back to following the breath and allow this attention to the breath to guide you in relaxing your breathing pattern as it becomes fuller, smoother and more even over time. You will reap the benefits of improved breathing during your day, which will be evidenced as improved energy levels, resistance to stress as well as improved functioning of your digestive system. Other benefits include improved blood and lymph circulation, improved cardiac function (the pericardium is attached to the diaphragm) and improved immune response. (1)