Breathing is a big topic in the Da Xuan tradition. When we look at the view that the tradition takes of the human being, we see it split into thirds. One third is the physical aspect (Jing), which is all about the cultivation of the body. As the body is material and manifested, we consider it to be more Yin in nature. Another third is the mental aspect, which we call the Shen, which is all about cultivating the mind and spirit. As the mind and spirit are non-manifested and intangible, we consider it to be more Yang in nature.
The last third is the energetic aspect, which we call the Qi. It is all about the circulation and exchange between Yin and Yang; the point at which these opposites meet, interact and change from one to the other. We say thoughts are completely non-manifest, but the moment a thought (Yang) meets the physical body (Yin) and creates a reaction by friction, we call it an emotion (Yin + Yang). The breath is at the center of this exchange, as it is a nexus for the inhalation and exhalation, and a very obvious point where the conscious and unconscious get to take turns at running the show.
When we take some time to turn our conscious attention to our breath each day rather than always letting the unconscious manage the breathing, Yin and Yang move towards a state of balance and pretty quickly a couple of things start to happen. The first thing that happens is that we simply bring in more air, and by extension more energy. If we are doing nothing else besides just sitting there while we pay attention to our breath, our energetic input will increase quite significantly without the output increasing much. In other words, we suddenly have an excess of energy. The second thing that tends to happen is that when we have built enough excess, our unconscious will start to use this spare energy to process and digest emotions that have been stored and are waiting for us to have enough energy for their resolution. Pragmatically speaking, this means you will start to have an emotional response during and sometimes after your breathing practice. It is really common that people will experience all kinds of emotions when embarking on a regular breathing practice: anxiety, a feeling of choking, grief, anger and plenty of others.
I want to remind you all that having these emotions bubble into conscious awareness is good news for you. While it may be uncomfortable at the time, there is no danger in continuing your practice as best you can amidst the rising emotions. The amount of energy it takes to keep these things pent up in the unconscious is significant. They are coming to the surface because you finally have enough energy to finish processing them (thanks to your breathing practice!). If we stop each time they arise, they will never get a chance to find resolution. On the other hand, when they are fully and completely processed, the energy that was being used to keep them locked away is now free to be used for day to day activities. This leaves you with more vitality to go about your business and making sure you have enough juice ready to confront challenges in your life without having to constantly throw them into quarantine because you “can’t even” at the moment. Having an ongoing regular breathing practice will ensure you are helping the emotions that arise from whatever is happening during your day to complete their cycle, and will also help you progressively work through the backlog of stuff stored in the unconscious.
If you’ve never done a breathing practice before, a good place to start is with the exercise below. Sit down, make sure you are relaxed, upright and comfortable (slouching closes the airways!), and then spend 10 – 20 minutes following the little animation below. It can take a bit of time for changes to appear depending on your circumstances, so try to go for 30 days straight without missing a day and see what happens!