between breaths and controlled breathing

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.
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oak1
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between breaths and controlled breathing

Post by oak1 »

Dear Dhamma brothers and sisters,

During a guided meditation I learnt that one should observe spaciousness or stillness between breaths. During my practice however I am not able to detect this sensation. For now I have been experimenting with being aware of different things instead, like a certain body part, the body as a whole or tension. What is recommended to observe between breaths?

As long as I have been meditating, I have always been controlling the breath. Any advice on how to deal with this?

My sincere gratitude for your help.

May all beings be well,

Bodhidharma482
daverupa
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Re: between breaths and controlled breathing

Post by daverupa »

Bodhidharma482 wrote:During a guided meditation I learnt that one should observe spaciousness or stillness between breaths.... What is recommended to observe between breaths?
Spaciousness or stillness. :tongue:

But actually, why do this at all? There are spaces, sure, little pauses; sometimes the one between exhale and inhale can be quite extended. I just call it part of the exhale and move on with anapanasati.
As long as I have been meditating, I have always been controlling the breath. Any advice on how to deal with this?
Get it in view, and then find ways to calm the active involvement. This can take different approaches, different folk have success in one or another way here, and it can take time to find the theme of your own mind. But, you're asking about steps 3 & 4 of anapanasati, so it's a very useful place to work.
  • "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]
JohnK
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Re: between breaths and controlled breathing

Post by JohnK »

Bodhidharma482 wrote:Dear Dhamma brothers and sisters,

During a guided meditation I learnt that one should observe spaciousness or stillness between breaths. During my practice however I am not able to detect this sensation. For now I have been experimenting with being aware of different things instead, like a certain body part, the body as a whole or tension. What is recommended to observe between breaths?

As long as I have been meditating, I have always been controlling the breath. Any advice on how to deal with this?

My sincere gratitude for your help.

May all beings be well,

Bodhidharma482
I do find it helpful to attend to the pause at the end of the exhale, maintains the continuity of attention, I suppose I am noticing the stillness though I don't conceptualize it like that.
As for tips on not controlling the breath, others will have to help on that. Perhaps you could, for a time, change the object of your attention to something harder to control, such as physical sensations. Then when that not-controlling sinks in, it might transfer to the breath. At one time, when I was counting my breaths, I found I was controlling rather than just using the counting gently.
Keep trying (or should I say "not trying."
Be well.
Those who grasp at perceptions & views wander the internet creating friction. [based on Sn4:9,v.847]
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katavedi
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Re: between breaths and controlled breathing

Post by katavedi »

Hi Bodhidharma482,

Here's Christina Feldman's advice on a similar question (regarding the controlled breathing). Perhaps it will help.
When I try to bring awareness to my breath, I feel instead like I’m interfering with its natural flow. What should I do?

This is not an unusual experience. Throughout our lives, we breathe without effort; then the moment we try to breathe consciously, our breathing suddenly feels blocked, shortened, or constricted. Our bodies know how to breathe without instruction, yet it can feel as if we are having to learn how to breathe all over again.

One reason for this is that you have suddenly become the breather. Your mindfulness of breathing has taken on something extra, a layer of self-consciousness, which brings with it tension and uncertainty. You may be trying too hard. Self-consciousness disguised as mindfulness often manifests as an effort to control the breath. Observe this. There is insight to be gained in seeing how we transfer life patterns of control, anxiety, or self-consciousness into our meditation practice. Learning to undo some of these patterns within our practice is a meaningful step in learning how to release their grip on the rest of our lives.

It is important to remember that there is no “right” breath. If you carry with you the idea that your breath should be deep and full when in reality it is shallow, you immediately get into trouble. At times the breath is deep, at times shallow, at times freely flowing, and at other times it can feel blocked. Your practice is to be with your breath as it is, learning to let go of how you think things “should be.” Mindfulness of breathing is a practice of learning to harmonize your attention with what is, in this moment. Short, long, deep, shallow are all fine breaths. Trust your body; it knows what is needed.

Some people come into meditation with a history of breathing difficulties such as asthma. The moment they consciously bring their attention to their breath, the emotional history associated with breathing comes to the forefront of their consciousness. They find themselves struggling with the breath in meditation practice just as they have in life. The fear of not having enough breath to sustain life serves to make each breath an increasingly arduous process. Your meditation should be founded in ease and relaxation. If you have historical associations with the breath that hinder its free flowing, it may be helpful to adopt for a time another object of attention, such as listening. Bear in mind that it is the development of attention that is of primary significance; the object of attention is secondary.

As we begin to practice mindfulness of breathing, we often see ourselves, initially, as the breather, apart and separate from the breath itself. The direction and development of the practice is eventually to bridge this separation until our attention is absorbed fully into the breath. The breath breathes itself, and we experience a place of deep calmness, concentration, and ease. When we breathe, we just breathe. As our practice develops, we learn to let go of much of the emotional and psychological baggage that surrounds so much of what we “do” in life. Essentially, we learn to let go of the “doer.” It is important to be patient with this process. Mindfulness of breathing is a practice of patient intimacy, learning to come closer and closer to the simple process of just breathing.

Without becoming overly strategic or feeling that this is a problem you are required to fix, there are a couple of ways to experiment with letting go of the tension that surrounds your breath. You might experiment with simply focusing your attention in the area of your upper lip and nostrils. Just notice the sensation of your breath entering and leaving your body. Let go of any expectation that your breath should be deeper than it is. Be aware just of the coolness of your incoming breath and the warmth of your outgoing breath. If you notice that there is still tension within your breathing, take your attention just to listening for a few moments. Again, don’t look for sounds, just be receptive to the sounds near and far that come to you. Then return your attention to your breathing once more. See if that same quality of receptivity that you brought to listening can be brought into your awareness of breathing. Sense if it is possible just to receive your breath. Your body is breathing; trust it, let it be just as it is.
Kind wishes,
katavedi
“But, Gotamī, when you know of certain things: ‘These things lead to dispassion, not to passion; to detachment, not to attachment; to diminution, not to accumulation; to having few wishes, not to having many wishes; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to socializing; to the arousing of energy, not to indolence; to simple living, not to luxurious living’ – of such things you can be certain: ‘This is the Dhamma; this is the Discipline; this is the Master’s Teaching.’”
JohnK
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Re: between breaths and controlled breathing

Post by JohnK »

Yes, I think turning the attention to knowing the sounds is a great one!
(I had mentioned shifting to bodily sensations, but there can still be some "controlling" of where you look!
Unless there are a ton of sounds, there is less of a sense of selection/control.)
Good luck!
Those who grasp at perceptions & views wander the internet creating friction. [based on Sn4:9,v.847]
Pinetree
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Re: between breaths and controlled breathing

Post by Pinetree »

During a guided meditation I learnt that one should observe spaciousness or stillness between breaths. During my practice however I am not able to detect this sensation.
I am just listening to a series on meditation talks by Patrick Kearney, and one of his points is that if the object of meditation is difficult to notice or observe, it should be changed.
What is recommended to observe between breaths?
Well, what is happening between breaths ?

Personally, I sometimes notice stillness, when my breath pauses for a second, but often I don't notice anything special between breaths. There is just inhale followed by exhale.

---

About controlling, I wouldn't worry too much. Changing the meditation object is a good suggestion, personally don't use sound that much, I prefer the body posture (like sitting), which has a grounding effect.
Cormac Brown
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Re: between breaths and controlled breathing

Post by Cormac Brown »

The breathing is always, in my understanding, under the control of ignorance. It's fabricated. Hence it stops at fourth jhana - only here do you stop controlling the breath, and notice that when you stop controlling it, it stops. It doesn't happen on its own. There's always an element of control, so instead of just trying to drop any control of it, which will probably just be misleading and frustrating, you might try experimenting to discover more about the relationship between breathing and intention. Play around with the first two steps: notice that all you have to do is think "breathe in long" and the breathing lengthens, similarly with "breathe in short." Very interesting. Then, as Ajaan Lee and Thanissaro Bhikkhu suggest, you can begin to learn about what sort of breathing gives rise to rapture and pleasure, and deliberately foster that.
“I in the present who am a worthy one, rightly self-awakened, am a
teacher of action, a teacher of activity, a teacher of persistence. But the
worthless man Makkhali contradicts even me, (saying,) ‘There is no
action. There is no activity. There is no persistence.’ "
AN 3.138, trans. Ven. Thanissaro
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Aloka
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Re: between breaths and controlled breathing

Post by Aloka »

Hi Bodhidharma482,

If you are fairly new to meditation then I recommend having a look at Ajahn Amaro's little book "Finding the Missing Peace - A primer of Buddhist Meditation"

http://www.amaravati.org/dhamma-books/f ... editation/

Cormac Brown wrote: Then, as Ajaan Lee and Thanissaro Bhikkhu suggest, you can begin to learn about what sort of breathing gives rise to rapture and pleasure, and deliberately foster that.
Could you give links to the source material, please Cormac ?


:anjali:
Last edited by Aloka on Mon Mar 14, 2016 3:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Cormac Brown
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Re: between breaths and controlled breathing

Post by Cormac Brown »

Sorry, yes.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu's book, "With Each and Every Breath":

http://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/Writ ... 130123.pdf

Ajaan Lee's, "Keeping the Breath in Mind":

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/lee/inmind.html
“I in the present who am a worthy one, rightly self-awakened, am a
teacher of action, a teacher of activity, a teacher of persistence. But the
worthless man Makkhali contradicts even me, (saying,) ‘There is no
action. There is no activity. There is no persistence.’ "
AN 3.138, trans. Ven. Thanissaro
Thisperson
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Re: between breaths and controlled breathing

Post by Thisperson »

Cormac Brown wrote:The breathing is always, in my understanding, under the control of ignorance. It's fabricated. Hence it stops at fourth jhana - only here do you stop controlling the breath, and notice that when you stop controlling it, it stops. It doesn't happen on its own. There's always an element of control, so instead of just trying to drop any control of it, which will probably just be misleading and frustrating, you might try experimenting to discover more about the relationship between breathing and intention. Play around with the first two steps: notice that all you have to do is think "breathe in long" and the breathing lengthens, similarly with "breathe in short." Very interesting. Then, as Ajaan Lee and Thanissaro Bhikkhu suggest, you can begin to learn about what sort of breathing gives rise to rapture and pleasure, and deliberately foster that.
I'm not sure that I can get on board fully with this idea.... What happens when one goes to sleep? Do they stop breathing?
Cormac Brown
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Re: between breaths and controlled breathing

Post by Cormac Brown »

Thisperson wrote:
Cormac Brown wrote:The breathing is always, in my understanding, under the control of ignorance. It's fabricated. Hence it stops at fourth jhana - only here do you stop controlling the breath, and notice that when you stop controlling it, it stops. It doesn't happen on its own. There's always an element of control, so instead of just trying to drop any control of it, which will probably just be misleading and frustrating, you might try experimenting to discover more about the relationship between breathing and intention. Play around with the first two steps: notice that all you have to do is think "breathe in long" and the breathing lengthens, similarly with "breathe in short." Very interesting. Then, as Ajaan Lee and Thanissaro Bhikkhu suggest, you can begin to learn about what sort of breathing gives rise to rapture and pleasure, and deliberately foster that.
I'm not sure that I can get on board fully with this idea.... What happens when one goes to sleep? Do they stop breathing?
Maybe my wording was careless.

My understanding is that there is always an element of volition or intention underlying the in-and-out breath. It's a fabricated phenomenon. When lustful intentions arise, we breathe in a certain way; when furious ones arise, we breathe in another way, and when our intentions are peaceful, so is the breath. The fourth jhana is where the breath ceases, and thus it is only there that the intention (or controlling) surrounding the breathing ceases. Some teachers advise "letting the body breathe naturally," but the above teachers recommend careful experimenting with different kinds of breathing in order to breathe more skilfully, thus giving rise to factors of jhana, and also to shed light on the relationship between the mind, or intention, and the breath.

This is from Ven. Thanissaro:
When we meditate, and when we practice in general, we’re dealing with two kinds of truths. One is simply the truth of how things work, which is true regardless of whether you watch them or don’t watch them, whether you pay attention or not, whether you understand them or not – this is the way things work. And when the Buddha said he discovered the Dharma, this is the kind of Dharma he discovered. But he didn’t discover the Dharma just by observing things, he also dealt with what are called “truths of the will” – things that happen only if you will them to happen. As when we sit down to meditate, you have to make up your mind you’re going to stay here with the breath, you’re going to work on your powers of concentration. And you have to make it happen. If you don’t make it happen, it’s not going to happen on its own. Now, these two kinds of truths have to work together: Your will has to take into consideration how things actually work. In fact, it’s through willing something like this that you really learn about your mind. It’s like when you cook: If you want to learn about eggs, you have to decide you’re going to make something out of the eggs. You can’t just sit there and watch the egg, from morning to night, day after day after day just looking at the egg, and seeing what it does on its own. You crack it open, you put it in a pan, you try different kinds of heat, you put water in the pan, you put oil in the pan, and you see how the egg reacts to what you do to it. That’s how you learn about cause and effect. Willing & Observing
During sleep, the mind does not really stop, thus neither does the breath. Fourth jhana is said to be a state of great stillness, where intentions are very subtle, and it is defined as being the jhana where the breathing stops.
“I in the present who am a worthy one, rightly self-awakened, am a
teacher of action, a teacher of activity, a teacher of persistence. But the
worthless man Makkhali contradicts even me, (saying,) ‘There is no
action. There is no activity. There is no persistence.’ "
AN 3.138, trans. Ven. Thanissaro
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tiltbillings
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Re: between breaths and controlled breathing

Post by tiltbillings »

Cormac Brown wrote: . . .This is from Ven. Thanissaro:
. . .
. . .
It is worth keeping in mind that Thanissaro presents an interpretation of the question at hand, and, as we can see above, others present differing, equally valid, interpretations.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723
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mikenz66
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Re: between breaths and controlled breathing

Post by mikenz66 »

Clearly there are different ways of building a practice from the sketches given in the suttas. Ven Thanissaro's is at the "efforting" extreme, and I presume it works well for many practitioners. I haven't seriously tried it, since it's not particularly compatible with the methods I've used. What I would point out is that it can be very confusing for a beginner when confronted with these different approaches, and my advice would be to simply ignore suggestions that doesn't fit in with one's usual practice. Sitting there thinking "should I follow Ven X and control my breath or follow Ven Y and just observe it?" will be highly ineffective. Pick one approach and try that for a few months...

Personally, I observe whatever is readily apparent between breaths. The touch of the ground, the tension maintaining the sitting posture, etc. But since the OP mentions "spaciousness" and "stillness", I suspect that this is a more conceptual approach than the one I'm using - one that is more aimed at calming than developing attention on raw details.

:anjali:
Mike
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oak1
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Re: between breaths and controlled breathing

Post by oak1 »

Thanks a lot guys! I will start experimenting and let you know how things work out.

:anjali:
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Pondera
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Re: between breaths and controlled breathing

Post by Pondera »

In between breaths the past has ceased being past; the future has arisen as the future; and the present is primed to arise as the present with each coming of a new breath.

Pondéra
“Monk, the property of light, the property of beauty, the property of the dimension of the infinitude of space, the property of the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, the property of the dimension of nothingness: These properties are to be reached as perception attainments.[2] The property of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception is to be reached as a remnant-of-fabrications attainment. The property of the cessation of feeling & perception is to be reached as a cessation attainment."[3]

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitak ... .than.html
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