Controlling the long breath?

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

Controlling the long breath?

Postby adosa » Sun Jun 22, 2014 11:58 pm

In Bhikku Buddhadasa's 'Breathing with Mindfulness' he talks about controlling the long breath (and the short breath) to observe the effects on the mind and body. This just seems different than anything other approach I have come across where we are not really to control the breath but observe the various qualities and causes of those qualities. Any thoughts?


We must learn how to observe in more detail, that is, to observe the reaction or influence of the different kinds of breathing. What reactions do they cause, how do they influence our awareness? For example, when the breathing is long, how does it influence our awareness. What reactions does the short breathing cause? What are the influences of coarse and fine breathing, comfortable and uncomfortable breathing? We observe the different types of breath and their different influences until we can distinguish clearly how the long and short breaths, coarse and fine breaths, and comfortable and uncomfortable breaths differ . We must know the variations in the reactions to and influences of these various properties of the breath, of these qualities that influence our awareness, our sensitivi­ty, our mind. (52)

Along with the above observations, we need to watch the effect or flavor of the different kinds of breath. The flavors that arise are kinds of feelings, such as, happiness, non-happiness, dukkha, annoyance, and contentment. Observe and experience the flavors or effects caused, especially, by the long breath and short breath, by the coarse breath and fine breath, and by the easy breath and uneasy breath. Find out how it is they have different flavors. For instance, we will see that the long breath gives a greater sense of peace and well being, it has a happier taste than the short breath. Different kinds of breath bring different kinds of happiness. We learn to analyze and distinguish the different flavors that come with the different kinds of breath that we have scrutinized. (53)

Finally, we will discover the various causes that make the breath either long or short. We gradually will find this out for and by ourselves. What causes the breathing to be long? What kind of mood makes the breath long? What kind of mood makes it short? Thus, we come to know the causes and conditions that make the breath long or short. (54)

There is a way for us to regulate the breath in these beginning steps in order to make it longer or shorter. If we would like to train with this, we have a technique called "counting." For example, in one inhalation we count to five, from one to five. If we count to ten; from one to ten, the breath will lengthen accordingly. On an ordinary breath we only count to five. For a short breath- we might count to three and that changes the breath as we wish. Always count at the same speed, for if the pace of counting changes it would negate the effect of counting higher or lower. By counting, the lengths of the breath can be regulated. We can lengthen or shorten them using this special training technique. We do not have to use it all the time. It is just a little experiment we can use from time to time in order to regulate the breath or to get to know it better. Give it a try whenever you want. (55)


By now we have developed an adequate preliminary understanding of the breath. We know about the various properties of the breath: longness, shortness, coarseness, fineness, easiness, and uneasiness. Our knowledge extends to the things connected with the breath, the reactions toward and influence of these properties as felt in our minds. We even know how to control the length of each breath. The next thing to do is to enter a course of training with them. Now that we understand all these things, we begin train­ing with the long breath. (56)

We have come to the first lesson, the first step, namely, the contemplation of the long breath. We are able to breathe long whenever we need to. We have learned how to make the breath long and how to keep it long. In this first lesson, we will study the long breath exclusively. We study the nature of, all the facts about, the long breaths. When a breath is long, how pleasant is it? How natural and ordinary is it? What kinds of calmness and happiness are involved? In what ways is it different than a short breath? This means that we now study just the long breath using the method described above, to find out its properties, qualities, influence, and flavor. Only­ study the long breath here. Sit and investigate the long breath exclusive1y. This is lesson one, understanding all matters connected to the long breathing. (57)

Finally, we must observe how the body works in relation to the long breath. When there is a long inhalation, how does the body move? In what places is there expansion? In what places does the body contract? When there is a deepest possible long breath, does the chest expand or contract? Does the abdomen expand or contract? These are things to examine. In doing so, you may learn that it works differently than you thought. Most people have the overly simple idea that when we breathe in the chest expands and when we breathe old: the chest contracts. In studying the breath carefully, however, we find that in taking the longest inhalation, the abdomen will con­tract and the chest will expand. With the very long exhalation, then, the abdomen will expand and the chest will contract or deflate. We find the reverse of what common sense teaches. You ought to in­vestigate this business of the very long breath, the longest possible breath, to see what changes happen. Do not take anything for granted. You ought to understand even these most basic natural facts. (58)

We study all the secrets of the long breath, everything about the long breath, in order to know the nature of the long breath: We are able to contemplate the longness. We can protect it and main­tain it. This means that we are expert in all matters concerned with the long breath. Practicing with the long breath is lesson one. (59)

An extremely important thing to learn is the interrelationship between the breath and the body, There is a very close interconnection between the two. Find out what effects the long breath has on the body, discover the happiness and comfort it brings, Further, we will know the secret that there are two kaya: the breath-body and the flesh-body. We ought to observe this even at this early stage, although, we will not go into it specifically until step three. Still, in our lesson here, we should begin to realize how the breath and the body are interconnected. Therefore, please observe when breathing long, or when breathing whatever way, how it effects the rest of the body. We will grow more certain - through personal experience rother than thinking - that the breath is intimately associated with the body. (60)
"To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas" - Dhammapada 183
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Re: Controlling the long breath?

Postby culaavuso » Mon Jun 23, 2014 12:43 am

adosa wrote:This just seems different than anything other approach I have come across where we are not really to control the breath but observe the various qualities and causes of those qualities.

Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu's instructions also suggest playing with the long and short breaths to learn how to fabricate a pleasant experience. This idea is also touched on briefly in Ven. Ajaan Lee's Keeping the Breath in Mind.

Basic Breath Meditation Instructions by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Only when you have cleared the mind in this way, and set outside matters aside, are you ready to focus on the breath. Bring your attention to the sensation of breathing. Breathe in long and out long for a couple of times, focusing on any spot in the body where the breathing is easy to notice, and your mind feels comfortable focusing. This could be at the nose, at the chest, at the abdomen, or any spot at all. Stay with that spot, noticing how it feels as you breathe in and out. Don't force the breath, or bear down too heavily with your focus. Let the breath flow naturally, and simply keep track of how it feels. Savor it, as if it were an exquisite sensation you wanted to prolong. If your mind wanders off, simply bring it back. Don't get discouraged. If it wanders 100 times, bring it back 100 times. Show it that you mean business, and eventually it will listen to you.

If you want, you can experiment with different kinds of breathing. If long breathing feels comfortable, stick with it. If it doesn't, change it to whatever rhythm feels soothing to the body. You can try short breathing, fast breathing, slow breathing, deep breathing, shallow breathing — whatever feels most comfortable to you right now...

A Guided Meditation by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Try to breathe as comfortably as possible. A very concrete way of learning how to provide for your own happiness in the immediate present — and at the same time, strengthening your alertness — is to let yourself breathe in a way that's comfortable. Experiment to see what kind of breathing feels best for the body right now. It might be long breathing, short breathing; in long, out short; or in short, out long. Heavy or light, fast or slow, shallow or deep. Once you find a rhythm that feels comfortable, stay with it for a while. Learn to savor the sensation of the breathing. Generally speaking, the smoother the texture of the breath, the better. Think of the breath, not simply as the air coming in and out of the lungs, but as the entire energy flow that courses through the body with each in-and-out breath. Be sensitive to the texture of that energy flow. You may find that the body changes after a while. One rhythm or texture may feel right for a while, and then something else will feel more comfortable. Learn how to listen and respond to what the body is telling you right now. What kind of breath energy does it need? How can you best provide for that need? If you feel tired, try to breathe in a way that energizes the body. If you feel tense, try to breathe in a way that's relaxing.

Each and Every Breath (p.16) by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:The breath is one of the few processes in the body over which you can exert conscious control. An important part of breath meditation is learning how to make skillful use of this fact. You can learn which ways of breathing foster pleasant sensations in the body, and which ones foster unpleasant ones. You learn a sense of time and place: when and how to change the breath to make it more comfortable, and when to leave it alone. As you develop this knowledge, you can use it as an aid in developing skillful qualities of mind.
This sort of knowledge comes from experimenting with the breath and learning to observe the effects of different kinds of breathing on the body and mind. You can call this sort of experimentation working with the breath, for you’ve got an ardent purpose: the training of the mind. But you can also call it playing with the breath, for it requires that you use your imagination and ingenuity in thinking of different ways to breathe and to picture the breath energy to yourself. At the same time, it can be a lot of fun as you learn to explore and discover things about your body on your own.
There are many ways in which working and playing with the breath can help foster the quality of ardency in your meditation. For instance, when you learn how to breathe in ways that feel comfortable—to energize the body when you feel tired, or to relax the body when you feel tense—you make it easier to settle into the present moment and to stay there with a sense of well-being. You learn to view the meditation not as a chore, but as an opportunity to develop an immediate sense of well-being. This gives energy to your desire to stick with the meditation over the long term.
Playing with the breath also helps you stay in the present—and stick with the meditation over time—because it gives you something interesting and engaging to do that can show immediate benefits. This keeps you from getting bored with the meditation. As you see the good results arising from adjusting the breath, you become more motivated to explore the potentials of the breath in a wide variety of different situations: how to adjust the breath when you’re sick, how to adjust it when you feel physically or emotionally threatened, how to adjust it when you need to tap into reserves of energy to overcome feelings of exhaustion.
The pleasure and refreshment that can come from working and playing with the breath provide your ardency with a source of inner food. This inner food helps you deal with the obstreperous members of the committee of the mind who won’t back down unless they get immediate gratification. You learn that simply breathing in a particular way gives rise to an immediate sense of pleasure. You can relax patterns of tension in different parts of the body—the back of the hands, the feet, in your stomach or chest—that would otherwise trigger and feed unskillful urges. This alleviates the sense of inner hunger that can drive you to do things that you know aren’t skillful. So in addition to helping with your ardency, this way of working with the breath can help with your practice of virtue.

Each and Every Breath (p.18) by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Finally, working with the breath in this way shows you the extent to which you shape your present experience—and how you can learn to shape it more skillfully. As I said above, the mind is primarily active in its approach to experience. Discernment, too, has to be active in understanding where the processes of the mind are skillful and unskillful in the shape they give to things. Discernment doesn’t come just from watching passively as things arise and pass away in your experience. It also has to see why they arise and why they pass away. To do this, it has to experiment—trying to make skillful qualities arise and unskillful qualities pass away—to see which causes are connected to which effects.
In particular, discernment comes from engaging with your present intentions, to see the extent to which those intentions play a role in shaping the way experiences arise and pass away.

Keeping the Breath in Mind: and Lessons in Samadhi by Ven. Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo wrote:If, when you're sitting, you aren't yet able to observe the breath, tell yourself, "Now I'm going to breathe in. Now I'm going to breathe out." In other words, at this stage you're the one doing the breathing. You're not letting the breath come in and out as it naturally would. If you can keep this in mind each time you breathe, you'll soon be able to catch hold of the breath.
Learn four ways of adjusting the breath:

a. in long and out long,
b. in long and out short,
c. in short and out long,
d. in short and out short.
Breathe whichever way is most comfortable for you. Or, better yet, learn to breathe comfortably all four ways, because your physical condition and your breath are always changing.
Knowing various ways of improving the breath; breathing, for example, in long and out long, in short and out short, in short and out long, in long and out short, until you come across the breath most comfortable for you: This is Right Action.
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Re: Controlling the long breath?

Postby santa100 » Mon Jun 23, 2014 2:29 am

adosa wrote:This just seems different than anything other approach I have come across where we are not really to control the breath but observe the various qualities and causes of those qualities. Any thoughts?

Ven. Buddhadasa actually clarified its usage right before step one:
It is just a little experiment we can use from time to time in order to regulate the breath or to get to know it better. Give it a try whenever you want.
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Re: Controlling the long breath?

Postby Spiny Norman » Mon Jun 23, 2014 8:24 am

I've found that deliberately lengthening the breath can be an effective way of slowing everything down, including thoughts.
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Re: Controlling the long breath?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Jun 23, 2014 9:05 am

As has been pointed out, Ven Thanissaro, among others, talks about trying out different ways of breathing, to find the way that gives the most ease.

There are really no detailed instructions about any of this stuff in the suttas (no"control the breath", "don't control the breath", "sense the breath here", "don't sense the breath here", etc). I conclude, therefore, that it's a matter of personal preference, and/or a particular tactic at a particular time.

Often the instruction "don't control anything, just watch" can be extremely helpful. Under other circumstances, e.g. when agitated, or in pain, varying the breath to achieve greater ease can be very helpful. And teachers who tell you to not to try to control the breath will generally have other tactics for inducing more calm, or more energy.

Any approach has some "tricks" to attain more mindfulness, calm, and, ultimately, insight. The "tricks", of course, are not the point of the exercise --- the point is the development of mindfulness, calm, and insight. Different tricks will work at different times for different people.

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Re: Controlling the long breath?

Postby Spiny Norman » Mon Jun 23, 2014 10:27 am

mikenz66 wrote:Any approach has some "tricks" to attain more mindfulness, calm, and, ultimately, insight.

True, and I think that discussions like this can be useful in exploring "tricks" from a number of different approaches or styles.
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Re: Controlling the long breath?

Postby LXNDR » Mon Jun 23, 2014 9:07 pm

prolonged exhale and breath arrest before inhale help concentration, it's rather a means than an object itself
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Re: Controlling the long breath?

Postby adosa » Mon Jun 23, 2014 9:23 pm

Thanks for all the great replies. In the past I've always ended up putting anapanasati aside in favor satipathana as I found I've had trouble losing the breath on and off the cushion. I have also noticed that subtly, I would control the breathing a bit every time I watched it. Sort like "there is no observed without an observer." Just the act of observing the breath changes it so I've had the tendency to move to other methods.

I do have an affinity for Buddhahasa Bhikkhu especially his book "Handbook for Mankind" so I thought I would delve into his meditation teaching a little more. I found his method of controlling the long and short breath interesting. It just happened to be different than what I have come across in the past. So far it does help me to maintain focus dbetter...... especially in life off the seat.

Thanks again
"To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas" - Dhammapada 183
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