Mindfulness with heartbeat. Is it a hindrance?

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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suriyopama
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Mindfulness with heartbeat. Is it a hindrance?

Post by suriyopama »

I have no problem at all to be aware of my breath for many hours, but I rarely notice the breathing alone. There’s always breath+heartbeat, and sometimes the heartbeat is even more intense than the breath, no matter in what position I am. And when there's a clock at the room, the heartbeat is always perfectly synchronized with the ticktock.

I exposed this question at E-Sangha one year ago, and the recommendation was “let it go”. But after all this time letting go and dont' worrying, I’m still having a heartbeat!! (lucky me 8-) )

Could there be a hindrance in some way? It doesn’t make me feel annoyed, but sometimes I feel like I am doing something wrong, because everybody talks about “Mindfulness with Breathing” and focusing on one single thing, but nobody says “Mindfulness with Heartbeat”.

There are many instructions about how to fight difference hindrances, they explain with detail how to deal with the most subtle feelings and thoughts, but nobody mentions the heart beat. ¿why? ¿Am I the only one that notice the feeling of the heartbeat when trying to meditate?. It's always present, so what is the meaning of "mindfulness with breathing" for me? I've even tried to focus only on the heartbeat, but I neither can isolate it from the breath.
:heart: :shrug: :heart:

ps: I'm not having any kind of cardiopathy disorder, it's perfectly normal.
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Re: Mindfulness with heartbeat. Is it a hindrance?

Post by mikenz66 »

Hi suriyopama,

This is an interesting question. I've seen it mentioned in several places, such as "The Heart of Buddhist Meditation" by Ven Nyanaponika, in the context of discussing the breath or the rising and falling of the abdomen, that the heartbeat is an unsuitable meditation object, without giving a reason.

There are some comments on a reason here which I believe is a quotation from Mahasi Sayadaw:
http://www.knowbuddhism.info/2009/02/se ... sting.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Remember, pain may not go away; it can always come back. The practitioners should see it as their friend. In this way pain will not cause suffering to them. Three parts of the body that must not be noted are the heartbeat, pain in the chest and in the head because they are our major organs and are part of our survival system. If we note one of these parts when we feel tension, pain never decreases and may cause danger. So, just relax them by noting other parts of the body whenever we feel tension at these three points.
Metta
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Re: Mindfulness with heartbeat. Is it a hindrance?

Post by suriyopama »

Thank you very much for the information Mike. :namaste:

So it seems that there are 2 things that I've been doing wrong for the last 3 years: noting the heartbeat and noting the pain at the head (I have frequent migraines). But I'm also wondering why it's not recommended.

I've recently managed to stop noting the headache by noting the feeling of any of my mosquito bites (I've got plenty of them) and I've even managed to fall sleep with a severe migraine thanks to this distraction. But I don't know how to distract the feeling of the heartbeat because it's deeply integrated with the breath.

I think that I don't do it intentionally anymore (although I used to do it since I was a child) but my breath is usually synchronized with the heartbeat, and that makes it very difficult to separate them.
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Re: Mindfulness with heartbeat. Is it a hindrance?

Post by jcsuperstar »

maybe youre a kasina type of guy and dont know it yet....
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat
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suriyopama
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Re: Mindfulness with heartbeat. Is it a hindrance?

Post by suriyopama »

suriyopama wrote:I think that I don't do it intentionally anymore (although I used to do it since I was a child) but my breath is usually synchronized with the heartbeat, and that makes it very difficult to separate them.
I may add a personal note that could be relevant:

When I was 14 years old (that's 29 years ago) I read the book "Hindu Yogi Science of Breath" by Ramacharaka (with no particular intention, it was just another of the many books at my father's library that I did catch at random) and I started adopting some of the breathing exercises from the book, like sequencing the breath with the steps while walking, breathing in steps, deep breathing... and that could be part of the root of this problem: that I did play with this techniques without supervision, without being aware of what it was, like a childish game.
Last edited by suriyopama on Wed Dec 02, 2009 5:38 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Mindfulness with heartbeat. Is it a hindrance?

Post by Ben »

Hi suriyopama

When observing the breath - just observe the breath. Don't try and change it, modify it or do anything else.
If your meditation instruction is to observe the breath by maintaining awareness of the rise and fall of the abdomen - just do that. If your instruction is to stay aware of the sensation of air moving past the area around, under or in the nostrils - just do that. When we practice various meditation practices we begin to notice other phenomena going on in our minds and body. For the meditation to have benefit, you need to remain focused on the object of meditation, as per your instructions. With regards to your heartbeat, just note the fact that your heartbeat is there and without creating any aversion to your heartbeat, remain steadfastly fixed to your primary object of meditation.
The problem with switching one's attention between one object and another, from the breath to the heartbeat is that it diffuses our concentration rather than focusing it.
metta

Ben
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Re: Mindfulness with heartbeat. Is it a hindrance?

Post by mikenz66 »

Hi there,
suriyopama wrote: So it seems that there are 2 things that I've been doing wrong for the last 3 years: noting the heartbeat and noting the pain at the head (I have frequent migraines). But I'm also wondering why it's not recommended.
Well, I'm no expert and I don't know exactly what sort of practise you are doing, so I can't really give you any useful advice, but I think what the quote is implying is that focussing on those particular objects doesn't work very well, in part, because they don't change when you focus on them, whereas, for example, focussing on the breath tends to make it finer (I'm not talking about "controlling" it, just focussing).

I would advise trying to find a qualified teacher to help.

Metta
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Re: Mindfulness with heartbeat. Is it a hindrance?

Post by phil »

suriyopama wrote:
suriyopama wrote:I think that I don't do it intentionally anymore (although I used to do it since I was a child) but my breath is usually synchronized with the heartbeat, and that makes it very difficult to separate them.
I may add a personal note that could be relevant:

When I was 14 years old (that's 29 years ago) I read the book "Hindu Yogi Science of Breath" by Ramacharaka (with no particular intention, it was just another of the many books at my father's library that I did catch at random) and I started adopting some of the breathing exercises from the book, like sequencing the breath with the steps while walking, breathing in steps, deep breathing... and that could be part of the root of this problem: that I did play with this techniques without supervision, without being aware of what it was, like a childish game.


Hi Suriyopama and all

This is just my opinion - the advice Ben just gave about sticking with the object we are given or choose and not fiddling with it is obviously the proper answer from the orthodox point of view - but I think if we are really prone to really gross hindrances, a playful attitude is not bad. For example, the meditation I do is pretty much in line with that taught by Ajahn Lee via Thanissaro Bhikkhu. As you may know, there is a lot of playing with the breath in that tradition. Strickly speaking, I think it is not completely kosher when one looks at the instructions in Vism. for example. But if we are really scattered and prone to gross defilements, a whatever works, works approach is called for. Otherwise we won't meditate at all. Not everyone can follow the strictly correct teachings of the Buddha, not everyone has living conditions suitable to follow that way. So if the heartbeat is an effective mindfulness object for you, or playing with the breath while you walk, go with it. If mindfulness develops on that somewhat "incorrect" object, it might provide conditions for going deeper into the strictly correct teachings. That's what I'm going with.

Just my opinion. But if it's the heartbeat that gets you (anyone) on the cushion every morning and keeps you there, it's ok for now. Especially if you've made a diligent effort to follow a more strictly kosher approach and it just isn't suitable. Not everyone can be a meditation master. (I say this more for any seriously struggling, discouraged meditators who are reading, not Suriypama, who is obviously an adept meditator if he can follow the breath for several hours.) I suspect I will never be able to, so I'm using a kind of meditation that at least quiets the worst burning of the defilements.

Metta,

Phil

p.s I think what I have written here is extremely idiosyncratic and doesn't belong in a serious discussion about Buddhist meditation. I should clam up on the subject until I get in line with an Orthodox practice.
Kammalakkhano , bhikkhave, bālo, kammalakkhano pandito, apadānasobhanī paññāti
(The fool is characterized by his/her actions/the wise one is characterized by his/her actions/Wisdom shines forth in behaviour.)
(AN 3.2 Lakkhana Sutta)
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suriyopama
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Re: Mindfulness with heartbeat. Is it a hindrance?

Post by suriyopama »

Thank you very much for all your answers :namaste:

Ben, I am going to try to focus only on some concrete aspect of breating, as you say, not on the breathing as a whole (maybe that's why I currently find it hard to seaprate it from heartbeat) Only on some of the many components of the breath. When anapanasati sutta says "body breath" I should have understood that body doesn't refer as a single entity but as a compound made of many parts.

Phil, thank you for your advice. It makes sense to use the heartbeat as far as it makes me stay "tuned" with what I'm doing, and not to worry so much.

About my practice, I've said that I can be aware of my breathing for hours, but not actually doing formal meditation. I am not able to sit down for more than 20 munutes because I can not bear with the pain on my legs, but I can do many things during the day while being aware of my breathing (reading, working, talking, walking, even listening music...). Maybe this is part of the problem: I am used to do many kind of different things and follow the breathing at the same time. Perhaps this attitude keeps me very far from achieving a Nimita. It makes my mind to be continually dispersed, not focusing on a single point.

About the technique, I have read many books with different systems, but for the last year I've been trying to follow the steps of the anapanasati as described by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu at the book "Mindfulness with Breathing", mixed with the advices of Ajahn Brahm's "Mindfulness Bliss & beyond". Maybe it's too much for me, I haven't gone further than the first tetrad.

About finding a Teacher, I'm currently living very close to Wat Wiwek Asom in Chonburi, but nobody can speak English. I think that the closest Wat with western bhikkus is Wat Boonyawad. I hope that one of this days I can get a car to make a visit there.

Thank you very much :namaste:
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Re: Mindfulness with heartbeat. Is it a hindrance?

Post by shoenhad »

Remember, pain may not go away; it can always come back. The practitioners should see it as their friend. In this way pain will not cause suffering to them. Three parts of the body that must not be noted are the heartbeat, pain in the chest and in the head because they are our major organs and are part of our survival system. If we note one of these parts when we feel tension, pain never decreases and may cause danger. So, just relax them by noting other parts of the body whenever we feel tension at these three points.
mikenz66 wrote: Wed Dec 02, 2009 6:08 am
Well, I'm no expert and I don't know exactly what sort of practise you are doing, so I can't really give you any useful advice, but I think what the quote is implying is that focussing on those particular objects doesn't work very well, in part, because they don't change when you focus on them, whereas, for example, focussing on the breath tends to make it finer (I'm not talking about "controlling" it, just focussing).

I would advise trying to find a qualified teacher to help.

Metta
Mike
Unfortunately the link you provided in your initial post does not work anymore and I can't find the quote attributed to mahasi sayadaw or anybody else for that matter.

To be honest I don’t quite understand your response in relation to the quote on multiple levels. From a general perspective there are a number of meditation objects that are considered suitable that don’t change when you focus on them.

More importantly in the context of the quote itself your explanation seems rather puzzling because the quote is about (not) focussing on pain in very specific places as opposed to any other place where it may arise so if the problematic object is pain itself as implied it does not explain why in the quote a select few places in the body are singled out and not pain in general. I don't see how pain in those three places is categorically different from pain anywhere else in the body as it relates to it being an object of meditation but perhaps you have a different view.

As far as pain being an object of meditation it is my understanding that by focussing on it trying to understand it’s nature the pain itself can often disappear or change although not necessarily but what does indeed change is the relationship to it. I like ajahn maha boowa on this topic:

'Focus directly on painful feelings when they arise and strive to understand their true nature. Don’t try to avoid the pain by focusing your attention elsewhere. The purpose of the investigation must be a search for true understanding. The neutralization of pain is merely a by-product of the clear understanding of the principles of truth. Concentrating single-mindedly on pain to the exclusion of the body and the citta will not succeed either. Fully aware the whole time, we follow the feeling of pain inward to its source. As we focus on it, the pain we are investigating begins to retract, gradually drawing back into the heart. Once we realize unequivocally that it is actually the attachment created by the heart that causes us to experience pain as a personal problem, the pain disappears. It may disappear completely, leaving only the essential knowing nature of the citta alone on its own. Or, the external phenomenon of pain may remain present but, because the emotional attachment has been neutralized, it is no longer experienced as painful.'

To bring it back to the issue at hand the question that seems to remain is why in particular pain in those three areas is precluded from the same method of investigation as pain anywhere else in the body and why you wouldn't be able to transform your relationship with pain in these places in the same way as described here?

The fact that i can't seem to find any one else backing this notion either is rather peculiar since pain is a prevalent topic in meditation and certainly not a trivial matter therefore you would expect it to be fairly easy to find something about this especially in regards to the specific topic at hand which is in the least deserving of some form of elaboration. It could very well be that I simply do not have the correct sources so feel free to share them if you do because I would love to delve a little deeper into this.

The only angle i seem to be able to come up with is that noting other parts of the body as opposed to those specific parts themselves is that the former is perhaps directed more towards (quicker?) neutralization than investigation which could be desirable given it's location although i don't find that all that convincing or accurate either and could perhaps also ultimately be viewed as a form of avoidance as mentioned by ajahn boowa.

Like i said hopefully you or some other relevant sources can shine some light on this. Much appreciated!

*Just to clarify I am strictly talking about pain in those three locations and the method of response as mentioned in the quote. I am not trying to discuss whether or not the heartbeat itself is a suitable meditation object which was in some sense the original topic.
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Re: Mindfulness with heartbeat. Is it a hindrance?

Post by mikenz66 »

Hi shoenhad,
shoenhad wrote: Sun Jun 06, 2021 2:02 am
Remember, pain may not go away; it can always come back. The practitioners should see it as their friend. In this way pain will not cause suffering to them. Three parts of the body that must not be noted are the heartbeat, pain in the chest and in the head because they are our major organs and are part of our survival system. If we note one of these parts when we feel tension, pain never decreases and may cause danger. So, just relax them by noting other parts of the body whenever we feel tension at these three points.
mikenz66 wrote: Wed Dec 02, 2009 6:08 am
Well, I'm no expert and I don't know exactly what sort of practise you are doing, so I can't really give you any useful advice, but I think what the quote is implying is that focussing on those particular objects doesn't work very well, in part, because they don't change when you focus on them, whereas, for example, focussing on the breath tends to make it finer (I'm not talking about "controlling" it, just focussing).

I would advise trying to find a qualified teacher to help.

Metta
Mike
Unfortunately the link you provided in your initial post does not work anymore and I can't find the quote attributed to mahasi sayadaw or anybody else for that matter.
It is quoted here:
https://ffmt.fr/articles/manuels/guide- ... enment.pdf

As for not focusing on certain things, because they can cause trouble, that's presumably advice from the experience of having taught many students. I've heard such cautions from others. I recall a talk by someone, possibly Ven Analayo, which mentioned someone who was unfortunate enough to aggravate a minor pain in his head into a pain that prevented them from meditating. I think something as bad as that is uncommon, but one does hear stories of people developing minor recurring niggles, for example in the forehead, after meditation retreats.

:heart:
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Post by sunnat »

There are other ways to understand the cautionings.


With a weak heart and other degenerations associated with old age like constricted blood vessels (which is a cause of headaches, as well as reduced brain function) if one persists with equanimous awareness of pain in those areas one may risk heart attack, stroke or death.


If one is fitter and or detached from fear of death then continued awareness in those areas (certainly not to the exclusion of other feelings, it is after all a training to abandon clinging to all types of feeling throughout the mind-body phenomenon) can be a shortcut to becoming aware of the continual, moment to moment, change of all things. (bhanga, awakening of anicca)


To view any pain, in the head, heart or elsewhere as not changing is wrong. All composed things are always changing. It is a matter of training, focus, to be aware of that continual flux.
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Re: Mindfulness with heartbeat. Is it a hindrance?

Post by shoenhad »

mikenz66 wrote: Sun Jun 06, 2021 3:13 am
It is quoted here:
https://ffmt.fr/articles/manuels/guide- ... enment.pdf

As for not focusing on certain things, because they can cause trouble, that's presumably advice from the experience of having taught many students. I've heard such cautions from others. I recall a talk by someone, possibly Ven Analayo, which mentioned someone who was unfortunate enough to aggravate a minor pain in his head into a pain that prevented them from meditating. I think something as bad as that is uncommon, but one does hear stories of people developing minor recurring niggles, for example in the forehead, after meditation retreats.

Wonderful thank you!

I have to admit though I still have a hard time reconciling this with ajahn boowa’s view and many others except if one were to explain it away by either individual differences or as he himself said if one concentrates single-mindedly on pain instead of including the body and the citta. Ajahn lee for example says the following: ‘When pain arises, you can focus your attention on something or somebody else in order to forget the pain, all right, but that's just mindfulness, not alertness. Your awareness has to be right at what's happening within you if you want to have both mindfulness and alertness together.’ Of course he also works primarily with the breath in relation to the body and pain.

Forgive me if I seem stuck on it but I really find it remarkable and fascinating given that it is stated in a way that almost makes it seem like a given without truly explaining why which you would expect given that the method is advised supposedly everywhere else in the body for the same phenomenon. Doubly so because it does not seem to be a widely shared view by other teachers and are actually of the opposite opinion and dont even seem to mention this supposed exception at all! I could understand it alot more if indeed the method wasn’t working one should try something else considering the location of the mentioned parts but not dismiss it entirely.

I am curious why you think you rarely read this by other teachers while sayadaw and perhaps a few others do seem to mention it. You think it could be selection bias of some sort in the sense that the students they have had simply displayed this unusual reaction to a disproportionate degree or do you think the ‘noting style’ differs in some fundamental way from many other teachers as perhaps suggested earlier that it is more akin to a singleminded concentration without enough consideration of body/breath and citta?
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Re: Mindfulness with heartbeat. Is it a hindrance?

Post by mikenz66 »

Well, as you say, some of the Thai Ajahns often recommend watching something else when there is pain. So in that case there wouldn't be a problem.

I have no real knowledge of this issue other than what I have heard, so I do not have anything to add.

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Re: Mindfulness with heartbeat. Is it a hindrance?

Post by Inedible »

For a while, I couldn't try to practice breath meditation at the nostrils. My breathing would become fast and shallow until I just couldn't get enough air. I switched my focus down to the abdomen moving and it helped, but habit kept the focus returning to the nose and it would start again. Sitting on a chair with the feet flat on the floor and imagining the breath coming in and out through the bottoms of the feet would have been even better. Having the focus on your heart or in your head can tend to lead energy there. If it builds up it can cause side effects like headaches or high blood pressure. The K1 acupuncture point is on the bottom of the foot toward the front of the foot. A focus there is good for your health.
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