Breath as object: focus area?

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

Breath as object: focus area?

Postby duckfiasco » Sat Jun 22, 2013 4:29 am

Silly question.
I've read the recommendation to focus on the sensation of the breath coming in and out of the nostrils.
My nose seems to be just the right shape for there to be almost no sensation at all.
It takes an enormous amount of concentration to find it, and it disappears quickly. And not as a sign of concentration, I can assure you!

Is it this subtle for everyone, and therefore why it's suggested?
Should I try another more obvious area to associate with the breath?

I've heard observing the rising/falling of the abdomen as an alternative, but there's far less information on this method, at least that I've found.

Thanks!
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Re: Breath as object: focus area?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Jun 22, 2013 7:16 am

Hi DuckFiasco,

Using abdominal motion as a meditation object is quite common. It was a feature of Mahasi Sayadaw's approach. Bhikkhu Pesala, a member here, has a web site dedicated to Mahasi Sayadaw's teachings: http://www.aimwell.org/

His introductory instructions are here: http://www.aimwell.org/Books/Mahasi/Pra ... tical.html

:anjali:
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Re: Breath as object: focus area?

Postby Ben » Sat Jun 22, 2013 7:42 am

duckfiasco wrote:Silly question.
I've read the recommendation to focus on the sensation of the breath coming in and out of the nostrils.
My nose seems to be just the right shape for there to be almost no sensation at all.
It takes an enormous amount of concentration to find it, and it disappears quickly. And not as a sign of concentration, I can assure you!

Is it this subtle for everyone, and therefore why it's suggested?

Because it is subtle, and continues to be increasingly subtle as concentration develops is precisely why it is an effective meditation object for developing concentration.

duckfiasco wrote:
Should I try another more obvious area to associate with the breath?

Perhaps start with sensation at the entrance to the nostrils or anywhere in the area in the vicinity external to the nostrils to the upper lip. Then, gradually over some months of regular practice, narrow the field of awareness by increments to a small area where you can feel the touch of the inhalation and exhalation. As your concentration develops, your breath will become increasingly more subtle making it more of a challenge to discern the touch sensation.
You also need to realize that as you begin this practice it is quite normal for your mind to wander. So, in the beginning phase of this practice, training your mind to remain focused on the meditation object takes some time.

duckfiasco wrote:I've heard observing the rising/falling of the abdomen as an alternative, but there's far less information on this method, at least that I've found.
Thanks!

There's actually quite a lot. Try the links Mike has supplied. Also, keep in mind that it a different type of meditation. The anapana that I am advocating develops samadhi (concentration), where as the type of anapana that Mike is advocating is a type of vipassana (insight). They both have the breath as object but have different effects.
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Re: Breath as object: focus area?

Postby Kamran » Sat Jun 22, 2013 8:48 am

Air touching the back of the throat is another option. You can actually focus too much at the nose, constricting the area, and give yourself a headache. Part of the fun is playing around with the breath. You have to make it interesting. For instance, you can combine body scanning with breath meditation, and tune into breath/awareness sensations throughout the body, especially in the hands and feet. If interested, this "whole-body breathing" approach is described in detail in Thanissaro Bikhu's talks at dhammatalks.org
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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Re: Breath as object: focus area?

Postby duckfiasco » Sun Jun 23, 2013 3:31 am

Thank you all :)

I should have been more specific.
I'm looking to develop concentration, since walking meditation has proven to be fruitful as an insight practice.
Are there other popular ways of practicing concentration aside from nostril-focusing? :P
I came across the "buddho" thread earlier for example and it seemed interesting.

Ben wrote:Because it is subtle, and continues to be increasingly subtle as concentration develops is precisely why it is an effective meditation object for developing concentration.
...
Ben


I've been trying to use the breath in this way for two or three years, hence my concern that I may not be doing something correctly.
That's in the light of reading things like "after a few months..."
I don't mean to sabotage my own practice with some sense of time limits, but there is a point when you wonder if you're not doing something quite right.

I never sit down with the intention to reach some state, only to return to the breath when the mind wanders.
I was curious if the almost total lack of sensation of the breath for me was making this process harder.

Should the breath be easy to find or hard to find to start the session?
The resources I've used are vague on this point.

@ Kamran: I'll have to look into this more, thank you very much. :toast:
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Re: Breath as object: focus area?

Postby reflection » Sun Jun 23, 2013 4:36 am

I always establish some mindfulness before going onto the breath. By focusing on the body in general, specific feelings in the body that stand out, by focusing on sounds - being in the present moment. After some minutes of that, the breath is super easy to find. And it doesn't need to have a specific location per se. The breath can also be noticed without a location in the body.
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Re: Breath as object: focus area?

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Jun 23, 2013 4:48 am

Hi DuckFiasco,

Reflection makes some very good points. You might find Ajahn Brahm's book "Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond" AKA Happiness Through Meditation useful in this context. You can download the first few chapters free here (this used to be freely available on the Buddhist Society of Western Australia's website http://www.dhammaloka.org.au/books.html but isn't there any more): http://www.holybooks.com/mindfulness-bl ... -handbook/

I don't usually practice Ajahn Brahms approach in detail, but his instructions on establishing mindfulness and dealing with hindrances are excellent.

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Re: Breath as object: focus area?

Postby duckfiasco » Sun Jun 23, 2013 3:58 pm

Thank you, thank you :toast: I'll give Ajahn Brahm's book a look :)

I tried reflection's advice and had a new sort of experience of the breath, at least.
My normal approach is to start every session with five minutes of metta.
Maybe the very active mental approach I take to metta is complicating concentration practice.
Focusing instead on a general mindfulness DID make the breath less strenuous to find, and thoughts easier to see without involvement.
I may be taking too much of a magnifying glass approach to the breath.
Of course I can tell when I'm breathing, even an exact area on my nose for concentration eludes me.
I'll try five or ten minutes of this generalized mindfulness at the start of sessions and see how it goes.

I will say one thing for these few years of what feels like exclusively monkey mind practice: I've learned a lot, a lot about patience :tongue:
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Re: Breath as object: focus area?

Postby Andre » Tue Feb 04, 2014 9:09 pm

I have a similar problem.
I started to do anapana. I'm observing (without a specific point) the breath in and out in my nostrils, but my attention is following up the air through throat too. The problem is: observe the cold air passing through my throat is really painful.

Should I ignore the pain, focus my attention in the throat and forget the nostril, look for another method of meditation??
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Re: Breath as object: focus area?

Postby daverupa » Tue Feb 04, 2014 9:57 pm

Andre wrote:Should I ignore the pain, focus my attention in the throat and forget the nostril, look for another method of meditation??


Why not move along to the third step of anapanasati: experience all the bodies - not just the breath, and not just at this or that anatomical spot - and see if that alleviates the pain of that focus?
    "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: Breath as object: focus area?

Postby PsychedelicSunSet » Tue Feb 04, 2014 11:09 pm

When having trouble finding a spot to focus on the breath, try taking a huge exaggerated inhale and exhale. Do that a few times, and see where the sensation of breath is the strongest, and use that as your focus area.



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Re: Breath as object: focus area?

Postby Andre » Wed Feb 05, 2014 1:52 am

Thanks by the answers. :smile:

daverupa wrote: Why not move along to the third step of anapanasati: experience all the bodies - not just the breath, and not just at this or that anatomical spot - and see if that alleviates the pain of that focus?

Should I do that without establish a good concentration?
I read that I need to have a good concentration on the breath in and out and then start the first step of the tetrad.

PsychedelicSunSet wrote:When having trouble finding a spot to focus on the breath, try taking a huge exaggerated inhale and exhale. Do that a few times, and see where the sensation of breath is the strongest, and use that as your focus area.



:anjali:
Metta


I did that. The strongest (and painful) sensation of breath is on my throat when I inhale. In the exhale the strongest sensation of the breath is on my nostrils.

With pain or not I'll stay strong on my purpose. Thanks again by the answers.
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Re: Breath as object: focus area?

Postby daverupa » Wed Feb 05, 2014 2:15 am

Andre wrote:I read that I need to have a good concentration on the breath in and out and then start the first step of the tetrad.


Well, satipatthana generally should be a practice that precedes anapanasati, since anapanasati is a specialized way of doing satipatthana.

So, once you have the breath in front of you for the session, pick a satipatthana tetrad to explore. The goal is calming various aspects, so there may be some back and forth.

There's no reason to practice in a non-/pre-satipatthana state, that's not going to be very useful at all when approaching anapanasati, in my experience. It's when anapanasati is seen as a standalone focus on just the breath that I seem more likely to hear about headaches and other issues such as these. The breath should always be present for anapanasati, but not just the breath.
    "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: Breath as object: focus area?

Postby alan » Wed Feb 05, 2014 2:53 am

It's a whole-body practice: an art, not a science. Finding the best place to breath is something you adjust as the experience changes.
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Re: Breath as object: focus area?

Postby Babadhari » Wed Feb 05, 2014 2:54 pm

ive read that the upper lip and tip of the nostrils are chosen because they are the most difficult place to maintain focus on,leading to stronger concentration.
when maintaining awareness on the upper lip i never feel pain from cold air but i used to have that experience when following the breahth internally
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Re: Breath as object: focus area?

Postby bodom » Wed Feb 05, 2014 4:59 pm

The following advice from Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Amaro has been very helpful to my practice:

When you focus on the breath, you focus on the experience of the breath happening now. You experience `that which tells you what the breath is doing', whether it is going in or out or in between. Some teachers say to watch the breath at the tip of the nose, some say to watch it at the abdomen and some say to move it here and then move it there. I have found through experience that it does not matter where you watch the breath. In fact it is best not to locate the breath anywhere! If you locate the breath at the tip of your nose then it becomes nose awareness, not breath awareness, and if you locate it at your abdomen then it becomes abdomen awareness. Just ask yourself the question right now, "Am I breathing in or am I breathing out?" How do you know? There! That experience which tells you what the breath is doing, that is what you focus on in breath meditation. Let go of concern about where this experience is located; just focus on the experience itself. - Ajahn Brahm


http://www.dhammaloka.org.au/articles/i ... ation.html

Narrowing the Attention by Focusing on the Breath

There may be a tendency for the mind to drift and wander. See how easily it gets caught… snagged by this or that and swept away. So we take a simple object, and train the mind to attend to the present moment. Perceive the presence of the body here in the space of awareness, and then, among all the feelings of the body, narrow the attention down to focus on the little cluster of feeling which is the rhythm of the breath. Don’t try to change the breath in any way. Don’t do anything special with it. Just feel the body breathing according to its own rhythm. Let that simple pattern, that simple cluster of feelings, be right here at the very centre of attention, like the pattern at the heart of a mandala. For this period of time, make the resolution: “Right now I’m not interested in anything else… any great ideas… any plans, projects, worries, arguments, memories or in sounds from the world around me. All that can be gently laid aside. Right now, all I’m interested in is the simple rhythm of my own breathing.” All the rest can be picked up later if need be. Right now, for these few minutes, let the breath be the very centre of attention. Simply follow the sensations… the in-breath and the out-breath as they come and go. Wherever you feel them strongly… in the chest or the diaphragm… the tip of the nose… the throat. Let that rhythm be what teaches you… what guides you. Let the attention settle upon that… gently… firmly… with ease...The practice of mindfulness of breathing brings the attention to the natural flow of the breath. Focusing on the simple aggregation of feelings and sensations of the breath is similar to focusing on the centre of a mandala or the centre of a beautiful rose. The eye naturally goes to the centre – the heart of the rose. With the mindfulness of breathing practice, the breath is similar to the very heart of the mandala, of the flower. With the attention resting on that particular spot, other experiences or perceptions, such as sounds in the street, feelings in the body, stray thoughts, etc., remain around the periphery. Keep bringing the attention to the breath, the centre, the balancing point. That is the axis of the attention. - Ajahn Amaro


http://www.abhayagiri.org/books/finding ... sing-peace

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The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Breath as object: focus area?

Postby Mkoll » Wed Feb 05, 2014 5:23 pm

Thanks for posting that bodom. That is great advice.

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Re: Breath as object: focus area?

Postby suttametta » Thu Feb 06, 2014 12:34 am

duckfiasco wrote:Silly question.
I've read the recommendation to focus on the sensation of the breath coming in and out of the nostrils.
My nose seems to be just the right shape for there to be almost no sensation at all.
It takes an enormous amount of concentration to find it, and it disappears quickly. And not as a sign of concentration, I can assure you!

Is it this subtle for everyone, and therefore why it's suggested?
Should I try another more obvious area to associate with the breath?

I've heard observing the rising/falling of the abdomen as an alternative, but there's far less information on this method, at least that I've found.

Thanks!


you don't have to focus on the feeling on your face, just breathing. Know when it's going in and when its going out. If that fades away, know that, and then...
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