giving up on breath as the object

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giving up on breath as the object

Postby mynameisadahn » Thu Jul 12, 2012 2:15 pm

Hello,

I am considering giving up on breath as the object of my meditation, or at the very least changing my approach to breath.

Quick background - I have been meditating for more than a year, doing the "condensed method" of the anapanasati sutta. I focus on breath at the nostrils generally. It has been helpful generally in reducing my stress and worry in life. I also feel much more connected to the Buddha's teachings, which I am thankful for above and beyond any "stress relief" in everyday life.

However, two months after beginning meditation I began to have hyperventilating/panic responses in public speaking events, when giving presentations, or speaking on conference calls. I have a tendency to be overlly self conscious but was good at my profession and able to power through this anxiety in the past, but now, since meditating and being more aware of the breath, my anxiety has become a full blown physiological panic reaction. I now take medications (beta blockers) when doing a presentation, etc.

I hoped to continue with the anapanasati sutta and eventually pass through this difficulty, yet it does not seem to be happening. I am considering changing my practice to one of the following (other suggestions are welcome):

1. focusing on the breath at the belly, instead of the nostrils
2. dropping breath as an object entirely (ignoring it??) but continuing with the four foundations of mindfulness
3. dropping mindfulness practice and only doing other buddhist practices, like metta, chanting, and bowing

Any suggestions are greatly appreciated! I am in no way questioning vipassana of anapanasati sutta generally. My concern is that -- given my pre-existing tendencies of being self-conscious - -the focus on the breath is making my life as a lay-person more difficult.

edit - I am going to also raise this with my in-person teacher, when I have a chance.
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Re: giving up on breath as the object

Postby marc108 » Thu Jul 12, 2012 2:58 pm

mynameisadahn wrote:since meditating and being more aware of the breath, my anxiety has become a full blown physiological panic reaction.


i would be interested to know why you think your focus on the breath has been causal in your anxiety attacks, and specifically why the nostrils are a point that seems to be anxiety inducing? maybe you could elaborate more?

it sounds to me like staying aware of your breath has made you more aware of the bodily symptoms of anxiety? anapanasati is a mindfulness of body practice, and in my experience will make you more aware of how your entire body is responding in various mindstates... perhaps it appears that the awareness of breath is causing this issue for you, but maybe its just revealing an issue that was under the surface before?

you may try watching for and releasing the signs of anxiety in the body and breath. i've had issues with public speaking as well and i've found a few things usefull.

1) rather than just watch my breath passively, making an effort to counteract the effects of anxiety on my breath seems to help. anxiety produces muscle tension in the abdomen and chest, which create a shortened, gasping type of breath. you can consciously relax the muscles deep in the abdomen until the breath 'sinks down' and only the abdomen is moving while you breath... practice this while sitting to get a handle on it.

2) you can take a normal breath in, hold, and let the breath out very slowly. the out breath should be double the length of the in breath and the pause the same length as the in breath. U.S Navy Seals use a similar technique for 'arousal control' to stop the physiological symptoms of panic (re, racing heart, etc)... this type of breathing stimulates the parasympathetic (calming) nervous system & is very effective helping to calm panic.

3) look up and experiment with Thanissaro Bhikkhu's method of Anapanasati (dhammatalks.org). the basics are learning to breath in a way that arouses calm in the mind, and eventually being able to do this on command.

so with all these combined, you relax the tension in the body, calm down the physiological reactions, and purposefully arouse tranquility in the mind in a controlled way. these methods can be used for sitting meditation as well.
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Re: giving up on breath as the object

Postby daverupa » Thu Jul 12, 2012 3:11 pm

The condensed version is interesting, but I think it goes too far since condensing things down to two steps seems to operate on the assumption that the whole of the anapanasati instructions contain superfluous information. I think this interpretation can only arise in the face of confusion about the practice, but I think everyone is somewhat confused, including myself, so it takes careful attention.

Without saying this is right, and other methods are wrong, I want to suggest that locating the breath on any particular body part doesn't make sense to me as part of anapanasati. Instead, you might consider (for example) the idea of "body as a body". Here, rather than the breath as a separate percept in this or that location, instead, refrain from images, imaginings or wordy descriptions & analysis, and instead note just the body in and of itself 'flexing' in order to breathe. You can note the breath any number of places, but in this first tetrad the instructions ask us to experience all the bodies, and not a circumscribed one we've learned to associate with the breath.

The instructions also enjoin us to calm the whole thing, and not simply watch passively, so that will be something to explore.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: giving up on breath as the object

Postby befriend » Thu Jul 12, 2012 3:16 pm

in my experience meditating at the nostrils is a suppression meditation used for entering trances and experiencing bliss and rapture. i would look into that, someone correct me but from what my teacher said and what i experienced focus at the nostrils is a suppressing meditation so maybe all that crap just went deep down and is coming up now.
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Re: giving up on breath as the object

Postby mynameisadahn » Thu Jul 12, 2012 3:21 pm

Thanks marc108. You raise a few points and I appreciate your response.

Why do I think breath awareness is the cause of these panic symptoms, and/or awareness focusing on nostrils? This is partly about the timing. I began my anapansati sutta/breath mindfulness meditation practice and my first strong physiological symptoms were about two months later, at my first big court appearance after starting the practice. I had done this same type of court appearance 6x before without the same physiological symptoms.

I agree that maybe the practice is uncovering something that is already there, like my latent self-consciousness. I already had some physiological symptoms of anxiety in certain, very limited settings (hand shaking when eating at business lunches etc). I would therefore think that breath awareness is sort of expanding that anxiety into the area of feeling short of breath, as needing to pause significantly to breath when talking, and that general mindfulness is expanding the reaction into acute awareness of feeling a tight/clenched stomach.

Perhaps I should focus on calming the body more, as you describe, and maybe changing the object isn't the answer necessarily. I will certainly think about that. I at times feel conflicted about whether I should "control" the breath or just "let it be" but the anapanasati sutta does refer to 'calming the body' if I recall correctly, as one of the contemplations.

I will look into the Navy Seals arousal control breathing you describe. this sounds like a great idea, also.

Daverupa - thanks, i think you are correct to point out to the instruction on calming, not just watching passively the whole time. I have also, lately, become somewhat frustrated with the condensed method, and I am experimenting with going through the 16 steps of the sutta in a more methodical, separted-out way.
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Re: giving up on breath as the object

Postby marc108 » Thu Jul 12, 2012 10:02 pm

I would therefore think that breath awareness is sort of expanding that anxiety into the area of feeling short of breath, as needing to pause significantly to breath when talking, and that general mindfulness is expanding the reaction into acute awareness of feeling a tight/clenched stomach.


it really sounds to me like these things were already occurring, but having a more acute awareness of them is having a snowball effect... anxiety produced by the thought of having anxiety and a more acute awareness of the physical symptoms.
this seems to be extremely common in people who have panic attacks... they have a little anxiety, and focus in on the heart beating and short breath, which gives them more anxiety and explodes into a panic attack.

the shortness of breath and clenching you are feeling, imo, is the result of an unmindful bodily response to the anxiety filled mindstate... this whole interaction between your mind and body is going on without any awareness or input from you. if you can learn to catch the mindstate with sharp mindfulness, and stop the physiological response before it gets out of control i think you will likely be able to stop this problem quickly as you haven't (said you've) been prone towards these attacks. the mind and body are intertwined and both can influence one another, the same way your anxious mindstate is having an effect on your body, conscious control of your body can influence your anxious mindstate. i try to control my breathing when i'm speaking in public, or having any sort of heated conversation and find it very effective.

I at times feel conflicted about whether I should "control" the breath or just "let it be" but the anapanasati sutta does refer to 'calming the body' if I recall correctly, as one of the contemplations.


some of the instructions in the Anapanasati sutta are directed at passive observation of the breath, primarily the 1st and 2nd steps of the 1st tetrad prefixed by 'he discerns'...which implies an element of passive observation. but the 3rd and 4th steps of the 1st tetrad are prefixed by 'he trains' which clearly implies an element of intention. and by intention i mean gentle nudging in a direction, as opposed to forceful pushing. my understanding is that tradition says the Buddha gave these tetrads in response to a monk who was simple passively observing the breath and thoughts as they arose.

i view this Sutta as basic instructions combined with a 'road map' to how Right Concentration begins to unfold. it's been my experience that concentration unfolds naturally exactly explained in the 1st tetrad. the breath starts long, the breath gets short, the breath expands through the body (or becomes a seperate, disembodied body depending on how you direct it), the breath calms down, rapture arises. i dont think all 16 steps should be worked through at once, nor do i think they necessarily have to be linear... i actually think, and this is my opinion, that one should stay with the 1st tetrad until rapture and ease arise naturally.
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Re: giving up on breath as the object

Postby pegembara » Fri Jul 13, 2012 5:39 am

There is the case where a monk, having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building, sits down folding his legs crosswise, holding his body erect, and setting mindfulness to the fore.[1] Always mindful, he breathes in; mindful he breathes out.

"[1] Breathing in long, he discerns, 'I am breathing in long'; or breathing out long, he discerns, 'I am breathing out long.' [2] Or breathing in short, he discerns, 'I am breathing in short'; or breathing out short, he discerns, 'I am breathing out short.' [3] He trains himself, 'I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.'[2] He trains himself, 'I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.' [4] He trains himself, 'I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.'[3] He trains himself, 'I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.'


I think you have not mastered the part on calming bodily fabrication. So this awareness of breathing is having the opposite effect. You become more sensitive to the physical manifestations of anxiety and this make you more anxious feeding into the loop.

The practice is to be done in a quiet, stress-free environment initially until one has mastered the 1st tetrad properly.
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.
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Re: giving up on breath as the object

Postby mynameisadahn » Fri Jul 13, 2012 6:15 pm

thanks pegembara and marc108. i will try focusing more on this first tetrad and the 'training'/calming instructions. This might require some further reading, research, and practice on my part.

This may also be the spur I need to better practice sila and live a less distracted life. I feel like other factors in my life are preventing greater progress in calming and concentrating my mind. I can sit and observe a distracted mind or anxious body, but need to move beyond that.

I'd also note that in the last day or so, since my original post, I have tried changing my focus to the belly (as per mahasi sayadaw (sp?)) rather than at the nostrils. So far, I have felt a greater calming effect with this change of focus and less awareness of feeling 'short of breath' or anxiety ridden. While this method was espoused by Mahasi Sayadaw, it is new to me personally, and I am trying to be objective in investigating whether it is effective for addressing my idiosyncracies.
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Re: giving up on breath as the object

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Fri Jul 13, 2012 6:22 pm

mynameisadahn wrote:thanks pegembara and marc108. i will try focusing more on this first tetrad and the 'training'/calming instructions. This might require some further reading, research, and practice on my part.

This may also be the spur I need to better practice sila and live a less distracted life. I feel like other factors in my life are preventing greater progress in calming and concentrating my mind. I can sit and observe a distracted mind or anxious body, but need to move beyond that.

I'd also note that in the last day or so, since my original post, I have tried changing my focus to the belly (as per mahasi sayadaw (sp?)) rather than at the nostrils. So far, I have felt a greater calming effect with this change of focus and less awareness of feeling 'short of breath' or anxiety ridden. While this method was espoused by Mahasi Sayadaw, it is new to me personally, and I am trying to be objective in investigating whether it is effective for addressing my idiosyncracies.

If you're moving towards Mahasi's method of abdomen focus, consider moving towards a general mindfulness meditation approach of noting and examining all four foundations of mindfulness. I don't think samadhi meditation works as well with the belly, but it's great for a more momentary awareness vipassana approach.

Also, have you considered trying kasina or 32 parts of the body meditation?
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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Re: giving up on breath as the object

Postby mynameisadahn » Fri Jul 13, 2012 7:29 pm

that is a good point, i need to review some instructions from the mahasi perspective and see what he or his students would say.

However, why don't you think that the belly approach would work as well for samadhi meditation? Couldn't the rising and falling of the belly be a focus if one is interested in making some progress towards the first jhana? However, I am a "newb" here in forum speak, so I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you.

I had not heard of kasina or the 32 parts meditations, will have to look at those.
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Re: giving up on breath as the object

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Jul 13, 2012 8:50 pm

Hi mynameisadahn,
mynameisadahn wrote:that is a good point, i need to review some instructions from the mahasi perspective and see what he or his students would say.

There are some good resources here: http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=35&t=13120
mynameisadahn wrote:However, why don't you think that the belly approach would work as well for samadhi meditation? Couldn't the rising and falling of the belly be a focus if one is interested in making some progress towards the first jhana? However, I am a "newb" here in forum speak, so I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you.

Certainly observing the rise and fall of the abdomen can give rise to strong samadhi, as anyone who has practised this approach will attest to. The classical classifications would tend to classify it as "element" meditation (specifically wind element --- motion) and would observe that in itself it would not lead to jhana-level samadhi, but that's hardly an issue if the main aim is to build up enough samadhi for effective insight.
mynameisadahn wrote:I had not heard of kasina or the 32 parts meditations, will have to look at those.

My advice would be to find an approach that gives some degree of calm, and stick to that for a few months and see how it develops. It generally takes some time for the mind to get some calm and focus.

If you're having difficulty with the breathing, the typical Mahasi approach of equal walking and sitting (see the references above) would be particularly beneficial.

:anjali:
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Re: giving up on breath as the object

Postby mynameisadahn » Fri Jul 13, 2012 9:54 pm

Awesome, thanks for the link and the information re the classification. I have been practicing for a year but really feel like it has been only a day, in some ways.
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Re: giving up on breath as the object

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Fri Jul 13, 2012 10:26 pm

mynameisadahn wrote:I had not heard of kasina or the 32 parts meditations, will have to look at those.

I find that kasina meditation brings about a less stable but more intense samadhi for me personally. It's a more "hot and quick" vs. a "slow and low" object. It sounds like a silly concept, honestly, but you should check it out.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kasina

Also http://www.aimwell.org/ has some great Mahasi information and translations.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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Re: giving up on breath as the object

Postby Kamran » Sat Jul 14, 2012 2:26 am

As mentioned in Ajahn Lee's method 2 below, you should not focus on the nose if you have nervous problems.

I would suggest whole body awareness with abdominal breath to maintain a centered but broad awareness. I would also suggest listening to a lot of Thanissaro Bikhu's talks (he teaches ajahn lee mthod) at dhammatalks.org.

Basically, you start with body scans, just moving your attention to different parts of the body, and trying to feel the subtle energy there (Thanissaro refers to this as "breath energy" is his talks). Then after you do this for awhile, focus on the abdomen when breathing, but keep a part of your awareness on the whole body at the same time.

The window of your awareness will begin to shrink up after a while (you'll just be focusing on the abdomen instead of the whole body+abdomen). When you notice this go back to doing body scans to bring the whole body awareness back.

When the window of your awareness is large enough to encompass your whole body, the mind does not slip into the past or future...but when it shrinks up to just the nose or abdomen breathing it is easy for your thoughts to slip into the past or future.

Its easy to do body scans while at work, and maintain whole body awareness during the day even without the breath.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/lee/inmind.html
When this concentration is thus developed, thus well developed by you, then wherever you go, you will go in comfort. Wherever you stand, you will stand in comfort. Wherever you sit, you will sit in comfort. Wherever you lie down, you will lie down in comfort.
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