Breathing exercises often seem forced, overly mental, and irrelevant to the energy that's naturally moving. My alternative has been to let the breath do whatever it does. If it holds, great. If it releases, great.
But today I'm learning more of a third way, a new invitation: conscious breathing that is "forced" only in the sense of setting a very gentle intention. The priority remains the same: stay connected to the original focal point or main energy flow. The breath is secondary to that. But now, rather than just letting the breath do whatever it does, experiment with intentionally cracking open the taut fibers to let air through, whether in or out at first. This seems to establish a new channel—or reopen a long-closed channel—of air to the area that's in focus. It may start as a narrow channel of air—raspy breathing in the back of my throat, maybe partly voiced at first—but then it becomes clear as the airway opens further. A natural rhythm ensues. And the part in focus (e.g. the pit in my stomach, or the back of my heart, or the top of my back) can relax, newly nourished and refreshed.
It still needs to be very gentle. This means that the breath intention should not overpower the primary connection, causing it to be lost. Sure, I can always forcefully make myself breathe in or out. But this breaks the concentration on the original connection. It creates waves, noise, disorientation, and the part in focus immediately goes back into hiding.
Using the breath as a "pump" for pushing energy into the physical body works as a metaphor for me, provided that the hose actually stays connected. What I realize now is that the reason breath exercises don't often "work" for me is that the hose isn't connected. It's flopping about randomly, and the energy dissipates into wherever. But if I am very, very gentle (and patient), I can actually start pumping air through the hose without losing the connection.
Telling features of success: new, strange sense of self (maybe with some fear but only at first); deeper relaxation; a natural desire to move the body.