The key to integrating the body and mind, to achieving a deep state of conscious relaxation, and to opening a greater flow of qi throughout the body is the regulation of breathing.
With most qigong methods, the emphasis is on “natural breathing”. This does not mean you ignore your breathing; rather, it means that you do not inhibit, force, use special techniques or guide the breath in any way. In qigong, a natural breath mimics the way a baby breathes when sleeping. When breathing in, the body is relaxed and the belly rises as the air flows down; when breathing out, the body remains relaxed and the belly sinks in. Through the course of our lives, from the time we first learn to walk, our breathing begins to change - it becomes more shallow, pushing up and filling the chest, or can even be restricted to merely the upper chest. Everyday activities, like working on the computer, talking on the phone, concentrating on a project, working out, cleaning house - all of these, (and more), can cause us to hold our breath, have an irregular breathing rhythm, hold our neck or shoulders tight, hold our abdomen tight, and breathe shallowly, etc.
When practicing qigong, if there is any type of tension in the body or straining effort, the breathing changes; with any mental tension or emotional reaction, the breathing changes. Habitual sighing and yawning are the body’s mechanism to regulate emotions, body and breath - it is common, and a good sign, when your body regulates itself in this way when you begin your practice.
When practicing the Healing Sounds qigong method, the breath is so quiet, smooth and fine that you don’t hear it. All the while, when breathing in, out and in again through the nose, and then breathing out through the mouth while imagining the respective sound, the breathing has to be natural, uninhibited and not forced or strained in any way. As this method really focuses on breathing with the movements, you need to find your own, comfortable rhythm and let that be the guide to how slow you practice the movements. Over time, as you become more familiar with the practice, you will develop in your qigong and the rhythm will become very slow as you are able to have this long, fine, completely freely flowing quiet breath. At this point the integration of body, mind and breath has reached a very high potential.
When first learning the Healing Sounds (or any qigong method), you keep the 3 Principles in mind, first regulating the body, the breath and the mind as a preparation, and then throughout your practice. This means that when you complete one set of movements, you regulate before proceeding to the next. For example, if you feel any tension or strain while practicing, you simply pause at the completion of one part, and wait until your breathing is completely natural before continuing the practice. This helps to let go of any residual tension in the body and allows the mind to become quiet and settle, bringing you into a deeper and more potential qigong state.
The key point of the 3 Principles is that relaxation has to be everywhere -before you start your practice, and throughout the practice. You can start with any of the regulations - of the body, the mind, or of the breath - and you will find that the other two will occur simultaneously. It is not possible to relax the body fully without also calming and quietening the mind, or allowing the breath to come and go naturally.
With no special effort, the body, breath and mind work together in a deep state of relaxation, (also known as the “qigong state”), creating a pattern of healthy self-integration that carries you through each day. The body feels more comfortable, the mind remains clear and focused, the breathing becomes easier and more enlivening. Over time, this pattern becomes the stable norm of a healthy equilibrium that can support and protect your bodily functions, and inspire and motivate your creativity throughout life.