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.

Breath

Postby Collective » Fri Feb 19, 2010 9:42 am

I'm having trouble locating the breath during meditation. No matter where, stomach, or nostrils. It gets that subtle as to be non existent. So what I do, is become aware of my breathing holistically. Not confined to one particular location, I become aware of my entire body breathing in and out.

Is this recommended, is it good?

Thank you :namaste:
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Re: Breath

Postby Ben » Fri Feb 19, 2010 10:55 am

Hi Collective

It depends what you are trying to do - whether its the samatha or vipassana variant of anapanasati. So, this is dependent on what you're doing.
Don;t be too alarmed by the breath becoming too subtle to observe. Its still there but in the beginning our powers of perception are not great and, in time, we're able to discern subtler and subtler sensation for longer and longer periods uninterruptedly. The samatha variant of anapana I practice (from time to time), I maintain awareness of the touch of the breath under the nostrils. If I were to lose awareness of the touch of the breath, I exert a couple of forced, harder, breaths, to reorient my awareness, to anchor my awareness before returning to natural breath.
If your intention is to practice samatha, then dispersing your awareness throughout your body may not be conducive to developing the sort of samadhi that is then useful in vipassana.
BTW, what instructions do you have with your meditation kit?
kind regards

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Re: Breath

Postby Collective » Fri Feb 19, 2010 11:44 am

I'm practising vipassana.

The instructions are to just focus on the breath, the sensation in the nose. Warm, cool, that kind of thing. But it gets so subtle, I can't.
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Re: Breath

Postby PeterB » Fri Feb 19, 2010 1:00 pm

I suggest that you stick with it for a month or two Collective. You may well find that its a question of fine tuning...stick with it even when if feels that the sensations are too subtle to discern. You may well find them again. Its a little like thoughts, you might conclude that thoughts have stopped, but a little persistance might show that they have become more subtle..
Stick at it.
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Re: Breath

Postby meindzai » Fri Feb 19, 2010 3:47 pm

Obviously you never stopped breathing altogether or you wouldn't be reading this :tongue: so I think the above are correct - it's more about becoming more perceptive of your breathing. Maybe if you focused on a different area that would help. I've been using the abdomen for years. Even if the breathing is subtle you can keep your attention there. There are also lots of other things going on in the body that are tied up with breathing - abdominal muscles, back muscles, shoulders rising and falling and so on - the whole body is slightly expanding and contracting as a result of more air going in and out. There is really a lot to pick up on.

-M
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Re: Breath

Postby Kenshou » Fri Feb 19, 2010 7:01 pm

Ben wrote:If your intention is to practice samatha, then dispersing your awareness throughout your body may not be conducive to developing the sort of samadhi that is then useful in vipassana.


Why is this, Ben? I ask because this is how I do it, after the connection with the breath has been made firm at least.
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Re: Breath

Postby seanpdx » Fri Feb 19, 2010 7:15 pm

meindzai wrote:Obviously you never stopped breathing altogether or you wouldn't be reading this :tongue:


Although this particular comment was likely made in jest, it does remind me of one of my sits a month or so ago, in a timed group setting. I began to notice that I was barely breathing: the breath was not only infrequent, but very shallow. The rising and falling of the abdomen was nearly imperceptible. I watched it for a while, becoming more and more infrequent, and more and more shallow. In hindsight, I can't say with certainty what it was on which I was focusing. It wasn't much longer before the bell rang ending the meditation. I kind of wonder whether I would've stopped breathing entirely for a while had it kept going. =D

But of course, obviously I never stopped breathing altogether or I wouldn't be writing this. Hehe. :tongue:
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Re: Breath

Postby meindzai » Fri Feb 19, 2010 8:05 pm

seanpdx wrote:
meindzai wrote:Obviously you never stopped breathing altogether or you wouldn't be reading this :tongue:


Although this particular comment was likely made in jest, it does remind me of one of my sits a month or so ago, in a timed group setting. I began to notice that I was barely breathing: the breath was not only infrequent, but very shallow. The rising and falling of the abdomen was nearly imperceptible. I watched it for a while, becoming more and more infrequent, and more and more shallow. In hindsight, I can't say with certainty what it was on which I was focusing. It wasn't much longer before the bell rang ending the meditation. I kind of wonder whether I would've stopped breathing entirely for a while had it kept going. =D

But of course, obviously I never stopped breathing altogether or I wouldn't be writing this. Hehe. :tongue:


I didn't want to confuse the OP so I didn't mention it at first, but I have heard that "breathing" may stop in the fouth jhana (but so would any concern over it) though technically "respiration" is still happening through pores and eyes and so forth. I don't know if that's been medically verified though.

-M
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Re: Breath

Postby seanpdx » Fri Feb 19, 2010 8:12 pm

meindzai wrote:
seanpdx wrote:
meindzai wrote:Obviously you never stopped breathing altogether or you wouldn't be reading this :tongue:


Although this particular comment was likely made in jest, it does remind me of one of my sits a month or so ago, in a timed group setting. I began to notice that I was barely breathing: the breath was not only infrequent, but very shallow. The rising and falling of the abdomen was nearly imperceptible. I watched it for a while, becoming more and more infrequent, and more and more shallow. In hindsight, I can't say with certainty what it was on which I was focusing. It wasn't much longer before the bell rang ending the meditation. I kind of wonder whether I would've stopped breathing entirely for a while had it kept going. =D

But of course, obviously I never stopped breathing altogether or I wouldn't be writing this. Hehe. :tongue:


I didn't want to confuse the OP so I didn't mention it at first, but I have heard that "breathing" may stop in the fouth jhana (but so would any concern over it) though technically "respiration" is still happening through pores and eyes and so forth. I don't know if that's been medically verified though.

-M


It's overly (and overtly, heh) religious mumbo-jumbo. Furthermore, it's not even buddhist mumbo-jumbo. Breathless meditation is an ascetic non-buddhist practice, and is one likely source for this particular claim. The canon describes the Buddha's attempt at attaining enlightenment through breathless meditation, and his subsequent dismissal of such a practice as not being conducive. I've read various people who claim that breathing stops during fourth jhana, but their logic for such a claim is often abysmal at best.

Physiologically, it's ludicrous, beyond a handful of minutes. =)
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Re: Breath

Postby meindzai » Fri Feb 19, 2010 9:22 pm

seanpdx wrote:
It's overly (and overtly, heh) religious mumbo-jumbo. Furthermore, it's not even buddhist mumbo-jumbo.


"And I have also taught the step-by-step cessation of fabrications. When one has attained the first jhana, speech has ceased. When one has attained the second jhana, directed thought & evaluation have ceased. When one has attained the third jhana, rapture has ceased. When one has attained the fourth jhana, in-and-out breathing has ceased.. "

Rahogata Sutta: Alone

-M
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Re: Breath

Postby Kenshou » Fri Feb 19, 2010 9:48 pm

Is it unreasonable to think that perhaps the breathing becomes fine enough, due to the stillness of the state, that it may slip under awareness while not actually stopping altogether? That strikes me as both more realistic and likely than a literal cessation of breathing.
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Re: Breath

Postby seanpdx » Fri Feb 19, 2010 10:16 pm

Kenshou wrote:Is it unreasonable to think that perhaps the breathing becomes fine enough, due to the stillness of the state, that it may slip under awareness while not actually stopping altogether? That strikes me as both more realistic and likely than a literal cessation of breathing.


It's not unreasonable, but:

Mahåsaccaka Sutta wrote:Then, Aggivessana, I thought: ‘Let me perform meditation without breath’. Then indeed, Aggivessana, I stopped breathing out and breathing in, both through the mouth and through the nose. When, Aggivessana, my breathing out and breathing in had been stopped, both through the mouth and through the nose, there came about the extremely strong noise of winds which went out through my ears. Just as when an extremely strong noise comes about when the bellows of a smith are blown, just so indeed, Aggivessana, there came about the extremely strong noise of winds which went out through the ears, when my breathing out and breathing in had been stopped both through the mouth and through the nose. But, Aggivessana, my energy was aroused, not shrinking, my mindfulness was alert, not distracted, but my body was impetuous, not calmed, while I was harassed by that painful exertion. Even such a painful experience, Aggivessana, when it happened to me, did not completely take hold of my thought.

Then, Aggivessana, I thought: ‘Let me perform meditation fully without breath’. Then indeed, Aggivessana, I stopped breathing out and breathing in through mouth, nose and ears. When, Aggivessana, my breathing out and breathing in had been stopped through mouth, nose and ears, extremely strong winds shook up my head. Just as when, Aggivessana, a strong man may destroy a head with the sharp edge of a sword, just so indeed, Aggivessana, extremely strong winds shook up my head, when breathing out and breathing in had been stopped through mouth, nose and ears. But, Aggivessana, my energy ... did not completely take hold of my mind.
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Re: Breath

Postby meindzai » Fri Feb 19, 2010 10:35 pm

The meditation without breath being described involves actually holding the breath, and has nothing to do with the fourth jhana, where it is said to simply cease.

-M
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Re: Breath

Postby rowyourboat » Sat Feb 20, 2010 8:33 am

If a person is deeply absorbed (not superficially) into the fourth jhana the relaxation is so deep that the breath does stop. The body needs less and less oxygen and the breath can stop for a few seconds even before the first jhana (anapanasati sutta 1st tetrad- fourth line- the ceasing of the breath body), but it stopping in the fouth jhana is longer. There is an element of non-perceiving as well, but even if intentionally the attention is directed to the breath and searched, it is not there. This sounds incredible/impossible to the lay listener but then many things that happen during meditation experience are beyond the realm of our normal day to day experience and this is one of them.
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Re: Breath

Postby catmoon » Sat Feb 20, 2010 10:30 am

Here's an odd point. Suppose you had perforated eardrums. It should be possible then to actually breathe through your ears, via the Eustachian tubes. You wouldn't get much air though, and I think the effort would be large.
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Re: Breath

Postby PeterB » Sat Feb 20, 2010 10:52 am

I think the talk of jnanas and the breath is a tad premature. Collective received her intropack last week... ;)

Sometimes when we focus on something that is normally on auto- pilot we can become very self conscious about it.

Persistance is the key Collective. Follow the instructions on your intro pack and give yourself time.
Last edited by PeterB on Mon Feb 22, 2010 7:57 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Breath

Postby catmoon » Sun Feb 21, 2010 2:27 am

oh yes, I should mention.. when my teacher began meditating she could not find the air sensations at the tip of her nose. She mentions this in the meditation instructions almost every night. This baffled me at first, because for me it is about as easy to miss as a St Bernard sitting on my face. Anyhow, she now has no problem finding it, so practice is the way.

I do have this theory that some people's noses have turbulent flow and others have laminar flow due to shape, size and smoothness of the nasal passages, but it's pure speculation. People are built differently though.
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Re: Breath

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Feb 21, 2010 4:08 am

Interesting theory,
catmoon wrote: I do have this theory that some people's noses have turbulent flow and others have laminar flow due to shape, size and smoothness of the nasal passages, but it's pure speculation. People are built differently though.

So would turblent flow be easier to detect?
Or would laminar flow give higher velociy air and a stronger sensation in the area below the nostrils?

Perhaps we could write a funding application...

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Re: Breath

Postby salmon » Mon Feb 22, 2010 2:33 am

How can you be in fourth jhana if you are AWARE that you are not breathing? :thinking:
~ swimming upstream is tough work! ~
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Re: Breath

Postby fig tree » Mon Feb 22, 2010 4:57 am

In the first talk of Knowing and Seeing, the Ven. Pa-Auk Tawya Sayadaw says,
Just before the nimitta appears, a lot of yogis encounter difficulties. Mostly they find that the breath becomes very subtle and unclear; they may think the breath has stopped. If this happens, you should keep your awareness where you last noticed the breath, and wait for it there.

A dead person, a foetus in the womb, a drowned person, an unconscious person, a person in the fourth jhana, a person in the attainment of cessation (nirodha samapatti), and a brahma: only these seven types of person do not breathe. Reflect on the fact that you are not one of them, that you are in reality breathing, and that it is just your mindfulness which is not strong enough for you to be aware of the breath.

When it is subtle, you should not make the breath more obvious, as the effort will cause agitation, and your concentration will not develop. Just be aware of the breath as it is, and if it is not clear, simply wait for it where you last noticed it. You will find that, as you apply your mindfulness and wisdom in this way, the breath will reappear.

Note that this is advice intended for people aiming for absorption.

salmon wrote:How can you be in fourth jhana if you are AWARE that you are not breathing? :thinking:

Same source, "Questions and Answers 6":
Question 6.3
What is the object of the fourth ānāpānā jhāna? If there is no breath in the fourth jhāna, how can there be a nimitta?

Answer 6.3
There is still a pañibhāga-nimitta in the fourth ānāpānā jhāna, although there is no in-and-out-breath. That ānāpānā pañibhāga-nimitta arose from the ordinary, natural breath. This is why the object is still the in-and-out-breath (assāsa-passāsa). It is explained in the Visuddhi Magga sub-commentary.


Hope this helps.

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