The wooden spoon of breathing is an increase in lung capacity which allows the body to operate at a higher level of efficiency by increasing oxygen levels and thus regulating the physiology of the body. Taoist breathing though is more than just increasing oxygen levels, it's more about affecting the blood/fluid circulation and the nervous system through creating an internal pressure which acts a reference point.
The Fluids (Water)
Your breath can be used to create an internal pressure which can feed throughout your body to it's extremities, this pressure can occur through the movement of the body fluids which on average constitutes by weight 55-65% of the body. Breathing effectively creates an internal massage and with a combination of breathe work and correct posture you can soften the tissues of your body. You are also able to enhance your blood circulation by opening up constricted blood vessels, this in turn carries and distributes the warmth of the blood to further the process of opening up the body. It’s not the volume of air but a slow soaking and deliberate penetration of breath which opens up the massive capillary network that can be closed.
The nervous system (Fire)
One aim of breathing is to calm and strengthen your nervous system, your breath is directly related to the central nervous system so what stresses the nervous system will affect your breath. If your breath is tensing, your body will tense and consequently your emotions and thoughts freeze becoming conditioned and fixated. Thus breathing is the trigger for relaxing your nerves and consequently the soft tissues of your body through the development of internal pressure. To achieve this your mind must enter any part of your body. If you feel a dead area or if your breath tenses as you systematically move through and concentrate on different parts of your body then focusing on your breath will relax your nerves and start the process of releasing this tension.
The stages of learning to breath
The first stage is using the diaphragm, like bellows, to get things started; the diaphragm is the only muscle that fully bisects the body. There are ligaments that connect the organs to the diaphragm so if the diaphragm is flaccid, the ligaments tense this will weaken the organs, weak organs make you less healthy.
The second stage is that every breath starts to penetrate, to open and close your internal organs by creating an internal pressure. Initially as your breath deepens and you access your organs more, your breath may shorten, this is because your organs are constricted and not use to this internal pressure. There’s also a dynamic flux of organ movements with all the organs moving towards or away from the spine when breathing. If your organs don’t move something in your body and mind is blocked, so you need to get your mind into your body.
The third stage is getting your breath to move through your limbs out to the extremities of your body and developing whole body breathing.
When you start to think and engage the mental process you can stop consciously breathing and disconnect from your body thus you need to concentrate on the breathing process all the time. Further to your breath becoming deeper and longer your nerves also become more plastic at first, then they become stronger. After a certain point it’s not an increase in lung capacity but more about an increase in internal space; when the central nervous system has no tension you feel space.