Perhaps man is afraid of taking deep breaths because if you take deep breaths you will not be breathing in the chest; on the contrary, your belly will start rising up and down where the death center is.
If you have observed Indian statues of Gautam Buddha you will see a very athletic body. The belly is almost missing, the chest is big – just like a lion whose belly is small and chest is big. That was the conception of the athletic body. But if you see the Japanese statues of Buddha, you will be surprised that he has such a big belly. What happened? Why did Japan create…Gautam Buddha was not a Japanese, why did they create the statues with big bellies? – because Japan has an understanding which India has never bothered to discover: one has to breathe from the belly.
In all other kinds of gymnastics developed all over the world, you are taught that you should pull the belly in and force your chest forwards; fill your chest with as much air as you can, but pull your belly in. Aesthetically it looks beautiful. The big belly does not look very beautiful.
But the question before the Japanese was totally different. It is not a question of beauty; the question is that if you breathe deeply, so deeply that the belly comes up and down, your chest will relax. Your belly is bound to become bigger, but a strange phenomenon happens as you start breathing from the belly – you feel tremendous relaxation. It is a kind of meditation. You are so close to death, and just as a dead body relaxes, you start relaxing. And the closer you are to death, the farther away you are from the mind. Mind stops thinking.
So in Japan the first exercise for meditators is breathing from the belly, which goes against all gymnastic rules, but it has a tremendous spiritual value. Your mind relaxes, your body relaxes, and oxygen reaches to all the holes of your lungs, forcing out dead carbon dioxide. It brings a tremendous release of liveliness, playfulness, laughter. Whenever you laugh deeply it is called “belly laughter.”
Unless your belly also laughs with you, your laughter is superficial. It is a Jimmy Carter smile – just an exercise of the lips. It is possible without any difficulty. You can stretch your lips ear to ear. That’s what poor Jimmy Carter was doing, and the whole day. I have heard that his wife used to close his mouth at night, because the whole day remaining in the same pose is bound to create a static situation, and the lips of Jimmy Carter must have lost elasticity.
I have heard the story – I don’t know whether it is true or not, because I don’t have any evidence for it, but it is beautiful – that one day his wife forgot to close his mouth and he went on smiling, and a mouse jumped into his mouth. The wife just saw the tail of the mouse going in; the whole mouse had already gone in. She phoned the doctor, not knowing what to do. And he was still smiling!