Watching the breath is impossible

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

Post by alfa »

Namaste,

New member. :jumping:

I know people say watch the breath, don't control it. But isn't that impossible? I mean, when you watch the breath, you WILL control it to some extent. How can one simple be aware of breathing? In fact, breathing goes on normally as long as you're NOT aware it. Once you're aware of it, you make an effort to breathe.

So watching the breath (without control) seems like a contradiction to me.

Alfa
PeterB
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Re: Watching the breath is impossible

Post by PeterB »

You are quite right...that is how it is to start with.
However after practising a while we become less hyper aware of the mechanics of breathing, and the breath reverts to normal. We simply become more aware of it.
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Bluishpurple
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Re: Watching the breath is impossible

Post by Bluishpurple »

I'd advise to just be aware of your breath rather than concentrate or focus on it :)

Bluishpurple
:namaste:
meindzai
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Re: Watching the breath is impossible

Post by meindzai »

Technically you are right, but it goes a bit further than that. You are already controlling your breath, it's just that we don't really realize how much we are doing so. In Buddhist technical lingo breathing is "bodily fabrication" which is an intentional act.

As a matter of practice though, you want to just observe without adding any further element of intentionality to it. You'll begin to see the linkup between your breath and your state of mind. The mind is what you are really learning about, via the breath.

If that's confusing just forget it for now. :)

-M
alfa
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Re: Watching the breath is impossible

Post by alfa »

Thanks for the replies, guys. :thumbsup:

So what exactly do I do now? Do I continue the practice even if I realize that I am not just observing but making the effort at the same time? Also can one do it even while doing other activities?
PeterB
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Re: Watching the breath is impossible

Post by PeterB »

Keep at it...preferably with hands on instruction.
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Fede
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Re: Watching the breath is impossible

Post by Fede »

Breathing is reflexive.
We can halt breathing - but not for long.
We can alter breathing - but not for long.

There are times when we alter our own method of breathing volitionally, but when we are not concentrating on it, our system reverts to breathing naturally, as naturally as is natural for that moment.

The secret is not to focus on your breathing, nor work to alter or control it.
You simply notice that your body is naturally drawing air in, and then letting it out again.

Be conscious of how your body feels, as this happens. Consider how your body rubs against your clothing, as your ribcage and abdomen expand, and how your clothing feels against your skin as you exhale, and your body gently falls and contracts.
Feel how your nostrils draw in air...does it feel cool?
Feel how your nostrils exhale...is the air warm?
Does it caress your upper lip?

Don't have a running commentary in your mind, either.
Don't think, "I'm inhaling, the air feels cold in my nose...." Just feel the cold air in your nose, without thinking anything.....

This is "Watching the breath".
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Simplify: 17 into 1 WILL go: Mindfulness!

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Ben
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Re: Watching the breath is impossible

Post by Ben »

alfa wrote:Namaste,

New member. :jumping:

I know people say watch the breath, don't control it. But isn't that impossible? I mean, when you watch the breath, you WILL control it to some extent. How can one simple be aware of breathing? In fact, breathing goes on normally as long as you're NOT aware it. Once you're aware of it, you make an effort to breathe.

So watching the breath (without control) seems like a contradiction to me.

Alfa
No its not.
Anapana-sati is deceptively simple yet incredibly difficult. At the beginning it does feel like one can't do it without controling it. But if you are vigilant in your efforts you will be to just observe without attempting to control it. All the best with your practice.
BTW, I agree with what Peter and Fede have said above. Hands on instruction is particularly important. A residential retreat is a very worthwhile investment.
kind regards

Ben
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Nibbida
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Re: Watching the breath is impossible

Post by Nibbida »

That's actually a very good observation. Whenever you observe something, you end up changing the thing that is being observed.

However, that need not be a problem. Observing the breath will affect it somewhat, but that's different than intentionally trying to control it, to make it deeper or slower. It's a matter of degree.

Trying to intentionally control the breath actually ends up taking attention away from watching the breath. Watching the breath is actually observing the sense of touch, specifically touch sensations related to breathing (e.g. at the rim of the nostrils, abdomen, etc.) So attention to controlling it detracts from attention to the sensations of the breath. But with practice, one learns to more selectively attend to the breath sensations.
pegembara
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Re: Watching the breath is impossible

Post by pegembara »

You are training your mind to let go of trying to control. Take it as a form of training in letting go. Be the observer, not the doer.
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.
Vossaga (Element)

Re: Watching the breath is impossible

Post by Vossaga (Element) »

The goal of meditation is to "control" the breathing, especially learning to calm & purify the breathing.

The way to "control" the breathing is giving up trying to control it.

Yes, it seems like a contradiction.
Last edited by Vossaga (Element) on Sat Mar 19, 2011 9:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Watching the breath is impossible

Post by Vossaga (Element) »

meindzai wrote:In Buddhist technical lingo breathing is "bodily fabrication" which is an intentional act.
Hello Meindzai

When we are asleep, is intention functioning, which causes the body to breathe whilst we are asleep?

When a clinically dead person is successfully given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, even though they are usually unconscious, is the recommencement of their body's breathing an intentional act?

:shrug:

In the Pali, applied & sustained thought are the vaci (verbal) sankhara. Perception & feeling are the citta (mind) sankhara. For example, a pleasant perception & feeling causes the citta to fabricate greed or love. An unpleasant perception & feeling causes the citta to fabricate anger or hate. So, are you certain the term 'kaya (body) sankhara' means what you are implying?
Having first directed one's thoughts and made an evaluation, one then breaks out into speech. That's why directed thought & evaluation are the verbal sankhara.

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David2
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Re: Watching the breath is impossible

Post by David2 »

Sometimes it helps me to imagine leaning back mentally.

Btw: First post! Hello to everyone! :anjali:
rowyourboat
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Re: Watching the breath is impossible

Post by rowyourboat »

Imagine you are sort of in the back of you head and the breath is this thing like a waterfall that you are observing. See the breath as in idependant entity- nothing to do with you. Sit back, relax- there is nothing you have to do here- nothing you have to get right. Also give it time- after trying to 'control' it fir a while, your brain will automatically give up trying to do that, because it will get bored :anjali:

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daverupa
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Re: Watching the breath is impossible

Post by daverupa »

You might try a trick: when you breathe all the way out, you will notice a reflex urge to breathe in on account of the body needing oxygen. When you breathe all the way in, you will notice that your lungs get full and if you stay relaxed, breathing out will happen the same way that a ball, when thrown into the air, comes back down after reaching an apex - all you have to do is wait. In this way, you might let the body, through these two opposing functions, regulate the breathing cycle, and with the body functioning as an anchor you might find it easier to detach breath control from breath awareness.

In short: don't inhale on purpose, the body will do it for you; don't exhale on purpose, simply relax and the body will begin to exhale when it's got the air it needs. In this way you can become mindful of the breath without grabbing hold of it.
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    "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.

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