Autonomous 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.

Autonomous Breathing?

Postby Mojo » Sun Mar 24, 2013 5:55 pm

During meditation, I have always seen myself as the driver of my breath. I'm guessing this probably came about from doing yoga and using the breath as a timer for each pose. Maybe I picked the habit up even before the yoga, I'm not sure.

Anyways, I am starting to learn anapanasati and during practice today, while working on the initial steps of determining the quality of each in and out breath, it occurred to me that I was controlling my breath and therefore ultimately the quality of my breath. My breathing was no longer autonomous. I decided to try to see if I could return my breath to its autonomous state and still follow it and I think I was successful. I noticed my breathing became much more shallow and I think that it became more chesty than when I control it to be more abdominal.

So which way is the right way? It's there a right way? Should I drive my breath or just grade it from the passenger seat?

Thank you.

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Re: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby convivium » Sun Mar 24, 2013 5:59 pm

if the breath becomes very subtle, you don't need to control it or breathe deeper. it's just a sign the meditation is progressing.
Just keep breathing in and out like this. Don't be interested in anything else. It doesn't matter even if someone is standing on their head with their ass in the air. Don't pay it any attention. Just stay with the in-breath and the out-breath. Concentrate your awareness on the breath. Just keep doing it. http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Just_Do_It_1_2.php
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Re: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby manas » Sun Mar 24, 2013 6:38 pm

EDIT: I'm sorry, I made a reply to this, then after this morning's meditation, thought that since my own practice keeps evolving, that means I ought to be careful about making comments that could be construed as suggestions for how one could practice, the reason being that I myself still have so much to learn, and I don't even want to take the risk that anything I said could be in error (not that even meditation masters seem to be in consensus about it, but still).

All I'm going to say is that my experience this morning seemed to be more in line with how Thanissaro Bhikkhu explains anapanasati - and that I'm going to give his writings and talks a hearty recommendation.

In peace and metta

:anjali:
Last edited by manas on Sun Mar 24, 2013 11:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby convivium » Sun Mar 24, 2013 6:58 pm

to which i would reply in praise of caffeine
Just keep breathing in and out like this. Don't be interested in anything else. It doesn't matter even if someone is standing on their head with their ass in the air. Don't pay it any attention. Just stay with the in-breath and the out-breath. Concentrate your awareness on the breath. Just keep doing it. http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Just_Do_It_1_2.php
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Re: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby danieLion » Sun Mar 24, 2013 8:56 pm

Mojo wrote:During meditation, I have always seen myself as the driver of my breath. I'm guessing this probably came about from doing yoga and using the breath as a timer for each pose. Maybe I picked the habit up even before the yoga, I'm not sure.

Anyways, I am starting to learn anapanasati and during practice today, while working on the initial steps of determining the quality of each in and out breath, it occurred to me that I was controlling my breath and therefore ultimately the quality of my breath. My breathing was no longer autonomous. I decided to try to see if I could return my breath to its autonomous state and still follow it and I think I was successful. I noticed my breathing became much more shallow and I think that it became more chesty than when I control it to be more abdominal.

So which way is the right way? It's there a right way? Should I drive my breath or just grade it from the passenger seat?

Thank you.

Mojo

Thanissaro teaches that the breath is much more voluntary than we think and that the deeper one goes with anapansati the clearer this becomes. I remember arguing with Professor Tiltbillings et al about this a while back but until the search function's fixed (this is not a complaint ;) ) I'm not looking for it and good luck to you, Mojo, if you try. It's probably worth a look at, though--in my opinion.
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Re: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby daverupa » Sun Mar 24, 2013 10:14 pm

Mojo wrote:Should I drive my breath or just grade it from the passenger seat?


Sati (watch) the breath such that you calm kaya-sankhara (body-involvement).

:heart:
    "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: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby Nyorai » Mon Mar 25, 2013 2:46 am

There is no such thing as feel of breath in chesty or abdominal. Anapanasati basically is applying concentration on one sense - breath so that all five other senses are closed. Practitioners of this method should apply breath focus in daily routine like meal time etc
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Re: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby Mojo » Mon Mar 25, 2013 3:39 am

Nyorai wrote:There is no such thing as feel of breath in chesty or abdominal. Anapanasati basically is applying concentration on one sense - breath so that all five other senses are closed. Practitioners of this method should apply breath focus in daily routine like meal time etc


I haven't heard this interpretation before. What is the basis of this assertion?
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Re: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby Samma » Mon Mar 25, 2013 4:12 am

danieLion wrote:Thanissaro teaches that the breath is much more voluntary than we think and that the deeper one goes with anapansati the clearer this becomes. I remember arguing with Professor Tiltbillings et al about this a while back but until the search function's fixed (this is not a complaint ;) ) I'm not looking for it and good luck to you, Mojo, if you try. It's probably worth a look at, though--in my opinion.

http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... 4&start=40
:juggling:
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Re: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby danieLion » Mon Mar 25, 2013 4:37 am

Samma wrote:
danieLion wrote:Thanissaro teaches that the breath is much more voluntary than we think and that the deeper one goes with anapansati the clearer this becomes. I remember arguing with Professor Tiltbillings et al about this a while back but until the search function's fixed (this is not a complaint ;) ) I'm not looking for it and good luck to you, Mojo, if you try. It's probably worth a look at, though--in my opinion.

viewtopic.php?f=41&t=11494&start=40
:juggling:

Yep, that's the one. Thanks. It's helpful to see that there's not an easy answer. The idea that breathing becomes imperceptible (not necessarily switching from breathing with the lungs to breathing solely through the skin like I argued before--I'm not so sure at this point--and Thanissaro and his teachers teach-Lee, Fuang) in fourth jhana is taught by most teachers I've read on the subject (the latest being Pau Auk; but I can't remember the reference right now).

I also swithced from yoga breathing (pranayama) to anapanasati.

I try not to think about if I should "drive" my breath or "just watch" it. I suppose it's ultimately a matter of perception (sanna). I do, however, often find just using the directed thought/evaluation of "where/when you perceive the breath as voluntary, let it go," as one of the best, if not the best ways (for me) to keep my mind absorbed in my breath--and it simultaneously serves the calming intentions, not to mention augmenting the jhana factors.

I don't know if there's a right way, but I doubt there's one way right for everyone. Maybe I'll find a better way later, but this is the "rightest" I've found to date.
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Re: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby alan... » Tue Mar 26, 2013 4:09 am

i struggle with this as well.

for me what happens is i get into a super deep state of meditation where everything fades but awareness of my mind, then i notice i'm not breathing! and so i try to ignore it, i still don't breathe, try to ignore, no breath, and finally, i just breathe. it's weird. not sure how to get around this.
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Re: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby danieLion » Tue Mar 26, 2013 4:32 am

alan... wrote:i struggle with this as well.

for me what happens is i get into a super deep state of meditation where everything fades but awareness of my mind, then i notice i'm not breathing! and so i try to ignore it, i still don't breathe, try to ignore, no breath, and finally, i just breathe. it's weird. not sure how to get around this.
Why are you trying to ignore your breathing when your'e doing mindfulness of breathing? Also, for the OP, do you perceive it as voluntary, involuntary, both, neither?
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Re: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby Mojo » Tue Mar 26, 2013 4:54 am

danieLion wrote:
alan... wrote:i struggle with this as well.

for me what happens is i get into a super deep state of meditation where everything fades but awareness of my mind, then i notice i'm not breathing! and so i try to ignore it, i still don't breathe, try to ignore, no breath, and finally, i just breathe. it's weird. not sure how to get around this.
Why are you trying to ignore your breathing when your'e doing mindfulness of breathing? Also, for the OP, do you perceive it as voluntary, involuntary, both, neither?


It is involuntary until I try to watch it, in which case it becomes voluntary. I'm not sure if I should keep it voluntary or try to move my awareness out a bit so that I can observe my breathing while in it's involuntary state if possible.
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Re: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby danieLion » Tue Mar 26, 2013 5:00 am

Mojo wrote:
danieLion wrote:
alan... wrote:i struggle with this as well.

for me what happens is i get into a super deep state of meditation where everything fades but awareness of my mind, then i notice i'm not breathing! and so i try to ignore it, i still don't breathe, try to ignore, no breath, and finally, i just breathe. it's weird. not sure how to get around this.
Why are you trying to ignore your breathing when your'e doing mindfulness of breathing? Also, for the OP, do you perceive it as voluntary, involuntary, both, neither?


It is involuntary until I try to watch it, in which case it becomes voluntary. I'm not sure if I should keep it voluntary or try to move my awareness out a bit so that I can observe my breathing while in it's involuntary state if possible.

I don't have an answer to this, so I'm not playing Socrates here, but how do you know it's not voluntary when you don't watch it? For instance, if you have a full bladder, decide to hold it, then forget about it for a few minutes via some distraction, does that render your "sub-conscious" or "un-conscious" holding of it while you're preoccupied involuntary (this might relate to operant conditioning too)?
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Re: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby Mojo » Tue Mar 26, 2013 5:27 am

Well, I haven't died in my sleep yet. *knock wood*
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Re: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby danieLion » Tue Mar 26, 2013 6:06 am

Mojo wrote:Well, I haven't died in my sleep yet. *knock wood*

Good point. I personally find contemplation of the voluntary/involuntary distinction very conducive to samadhi when I do anapanasati. But your're right, when I'm sleeping, it's not even on my radar--or any other time either. I would add though that anapanasati implies an exploration of autonomous breathing at every "step." In my opinion, it seems to culminate in "step" 16.
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Re: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby pegembara » Tue Mar 26, 2013 8:06 am

alan... wrote:i struggle with this as well.

for me what happens is i get into a super deep state of meditation where everything fades but awareness of my mind, then i notice i'm not breathing! and so i try to ignore it, i still don't breathe, try to ignore, no breath, and finally, i just breathe. it's weird. not sure how to get around this.


Watch the presence and/or absence of breath.

Once the mind is at peace, the breath will diminish, the body will become relaxed, the mind will become subtle. They will be in a state of balance until it will seem as if there is no breath, but nothing happens to you. When you reach this point, don't panic, don't get up and run out, because you think you've stopped breathing. It just means that your mind is at peace. You don't have to do anything. Just sit there and look at whatever is present. Ajan Chah

http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Just_Do_It_1_2.php
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: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby daverupa » Tue Mar 26, 2013 11:14 am

Mojo wrote:I'm not sure if I should keep it voluntary or try to move my awareness out a bit so that I can observe my breathing while in it's involuntary state if possible.


It seems to me that the instructions call for sati which isn't involved, but just watches. The breath, during anapanasati, forms a backdrop to whatever step is engaged, acting as a metronome with respect to noticing arising and passing away in terms of each satipatthana.

Step four, which calls for calming kaya-sankhara, isn't an effort over the breath but rather a retreat away from involvement with any aspect of the body, breath or otherwise. Prior to this, step three lumped these all together in preparation.

Step one involves voluntary breathing, usually, but as volition turns away from breathing it becomes shallower, and/or less frequent, more relaxed, etc., which is when it turns to what can be called a short breath, watched as step two. Being withdrawn in this way facilitates the lumping of the next step; the overall direction is away from involvement.
    "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: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby Mojo » Tue Mar 26, 2013 1:58 pm

Thank you Dave. That makes sense to me.
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Re: Autonomous Breathing?

Postby Samma » Tue Mar 26, 2013 7:09 pm

daverupa wrote:Step one involves voluntary breathing, usually, but as volition turns away from breathing it becomes shallower, and/or less frequent, more relaxed, etc., which is when it turns to what can be called a short breath, watched as step two. Being withdrawn in this way facilitates the lumping of the next step; the overall direction is away from involvement.


That is one interpretation, not a bad one. Thanssario's take is kind of opposite:
"Because steps 1 and 2 are not described as “trainings,” we can infer that in the beginning stages of familiarizing yourself with the breath you don’t consciously try to adjust it. You simply try to discern variations in the breath. The same principle would appear to apply to questions of whether the breath is fast or slow, shallow or deep, heavy or light." Nonetheless, he would say that the overall direction is one away from fabrication, but one first has to fabricate things in a skillful way before dropping them. For him, asking this question of voluntary vs involuntary shows that you have a role in the process. Involuntariness would be a particular perception, and one he probably would not consider particularly skillful. That is the default after all.
"non-reactivity—whether termed “mindfulness” or “equanimity”—is something willed through intention. To assume that either mindfulness or equanimity is unfabricated prevents the mind from seeing how it’s actually fabricating these qualities in the present moment."

Part of Mindfulness in plain English on control:
Make no attempt to control the breath. This is not a breathing exercise of the sort done in Yoga. Focus on the natural and spontaneous movement of the breath. Don't try to regulate it or emphasize it in any way. Most beginners have some trouble in this area. In order to help themselves focus on the sensation, they unconsciously accentuate their breathing. The results is a forced and unnatural effort that actually inhibits concentration rather than helping it. Don't increase the depth of your breath or its sound. This latter point is especially important in group meditation. Loud breathing can be a real annoyance to those around you. Just let the breath move naturally, as if you were asleep. Let go and allow the process to go along at its own rhythm.

This sounds easy, but it is trickier than you think. Do not be discouraged if you find your own will getting in the way. Just use that as an opportunity to observe the nature of conscious intention. Watch the delicate interrelation between the breath, the impulse to control the breath and the impulse to cease controlling the breath. You may find it frustrating for a while, but it is highly profitable as a learning experience, and it is a passing phase. Eventually, the breathing process will move along under its own steam. And you will feel no impulse to manipulate it. At this point you will have learned a major lesson about your own compulsive need to control the universe.
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