Consciousness and Respiration
The breathing exercises of the philosophical Taoists are only known through indirect sources. I am not aware of works showing how these exercises were practiced before the arrival of Buddhism,21 but the majority of them were taken up by Chi-Kong, in a similar spirit. In these techniques, each movement is associated with a precise respiratory schema to appropriately mobilize the chi and the meridians. Chinese teachers generally avoid teaching how to breathe until the student has learned the movements. The learning of the movements already mobilizes a spontaneous respiration, one that accommodates to the movements without any conscious or voluntary intervention. Thus, the association between movements and breathing occurs at the level of the reflexes and the habits. Only later does the student learn the usefulness of harmonizing respiration and gesture in a more explicit manner. This pedagogy protects students from the damage that the will can do to the deep muscles of respiration.
The student begins by listening to his breathing following a teaching system close to the one already described in the sections on pranayama. He observes whether he is breathing from the abdomen or from the chest. He is asked not to change anything if he notices that his respiration does not correspond to his personal theories about respiration. Spontaneous respiration follows rules that reason does not know. The student is asked to explore his breathing, to become acquainted with it for example, to evaluate, by counting, whether he breathes in longer than he breathes out, how long each apnea lasts, and so on.
While learning to analyze his breathing and the impact each phase has on the organism, a person realizes that the very act of observation modifies the spontaneous respiration. That must also be observed. Slowly, a student discovers that when his awareness focuses on his breathing, he contacts deep layers of his psyche. By repeating such forms of exploration, he notices how his respiration changes as a function of the seasons, of his inner well-being, or of an illness.