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How do I watch the breath (without controlling it)?

Posted: Sun Jul 25, 2010 8:07 pm
by Moth
If I am unaware of my breath it moves by itself, automatically. However, if I focus on my breath it becomes manual--I have to control it. If I try not to control my breath, while still focusing on it, I stop breathing. If I continue this naturally I will breathe out of need for air, but this way feels very rigid and unnatural. Any advice?

Re: How do I watch the breath?

Posted: Sun Jul 25, 2010 8:30 pm
by Collective
Moth wrote:If I am unaware of my breath it moves by itself, automatically. However, if I focus on my breath it becomes manual--I have to control it. If I try not to control my breath, while still focusing on it, I stop breathing. If I continue this naturally I will breathe out of need for air, but this way feels very rigid and unnatural. Any advice?
This is what I would do (but if you have any medical condition or respiratory issues, don't try this):

Hold your breath for about 30 seconds then let it go and watch it. You won't be able to control it when you are sucking in great gulps. Keep watching it as it starts to revert to normal. See how long it goes until you start trying to control it again.

The other answer would be to relax, you probably think you are relaxed but you probably aren't.

Again though, if you have any medical condition or respiratory issues, don't try this.

Re: How do I watch the breath?

Posted: Sun Jul 25, 2010 8:31 pm
by Reductor
You are likely focusing to hard on the breath, trying to keep it from slipping away. Instead just relax, enjoy the feeling of sitting down and then very loosely pay attention to breathing: "I am breathing". Don't get to worked up on whether your in breathing or out breathing, whether it is long, or whether it is short. Just know that you are breathing, and relax.

After some time doing that you increase your attention: "I am breathing in." "I am breathing out". If you are still controlling, then relax again.

As has been pointed out on the forum before, you need to first setup general mindfulness before you really dig into the breath. General mindfulness should be relaxed and open, but not distracted into the past or future.

If you cannot relax without running into the past or future, then I think it is ok to control the breath a little bit in order to keep the mind in the present. As you practice more, you will find it less and less necessary to hold onto the breath, and more and more easy to just watch and attend to it.

Hope that helps a little.

Re: How do I watch the breath?

Posted: Sun Jul 25, 2010 8:50 pm
by dhamma_spoon
Moth wrote:If I am unaware of my breath it moves by itself, automatically. However, if I focus on my breath it becomes manual--I have to control it. If I try not to control my breath, while still focusing on it, I stop breathing. If I continue this naturally I will breathe out of need for air, but this way feels very rigid and unnatural. Any advice?
Hi, Moth -

Simply place your attention, or advert the mind, to the front of your face and stop thinking about anything else. If the monkey mind wanders again, bring it back very gently -- again and again. Practice for at least a few days until the monkey mind behaves.
Next, visualize an intersection (a cross) of an imaginary vertical and horizontal lines right in front of your nose. Keep attention at the intersection point, while relaxing any tension in the body. Again, practice ...
Once the thinking stops and the attention stays at the fore, you will discover your natural in- and out-breath. :buddha2:

" ... For one who has mindfulness of in-&-out breathing well established to the fore within oneself, annoying external thoughts & inclinations don't exist. For one who remains focused on the inconstancy of all fabrications, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises." {Iti 3.36; Iti 80}

Tep
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Re: How do I watch the breath?

Posted: Sun Jul 25, 2010 8:55 pm
by Moggalana
Besides establishing a general mindfulness before starting to watch the breath, the following advice was especially helpful for me. Maybe you can find some value in it.
Ajahn Brahm wrote: 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.

A common problem at this stage is the tendency to control the breathing, and this makes the breathing uncomfortable. To overcome this problem, imagine that you are just a passenger in a car looking through the window at your breath. You are not the driver, nor a `back seat driver', so stop giving orders, let go and enjoy the ride. Let the breath do the breathing while you simply watch without interfering.
...
Source

Re: How do I watch the breath?

Posted: Sun Jul 25, 2010 8:59 pm
by OcTavO
My advice would be if you find yourself controlling it, just watch yourself controlling it. It's important to remember that it's not about the breath. The breath is just a convenient object of focus to gently come back to whenever you become aware of being caught up in one of the incessant storylines our minds are constantly weaving.

Re: How do I watch the breath?

Posted: Mon Jul 26, 2010 3:46 am
by Moth
Thank you for all the advice, I will try not to struggle so much with it and talk a calmer approach. I tried the 'being a back seat passenger' technique and it helped. It seems the less I'm concerned about it the easier it becomes.
dhamma_spoon wrote:A soup spoon doesn't know the taste of the soup.
A dhamma_spoon doesn't know the taste of the Dhamma.
lol.

Re: How do I watch the breath?

Posted: Mon Jul 26, 2010 3:08 pm
by dhamma_spoon
Moth wrote:Thank you for all the advice, I will try not to struggle so much with it and talk a calmer approach. I tried the 'being a back seat passenger' technique and it helped. It seems the less I'm concerned about it the easier it becomes.
dhamma_spoon wrote:A soup spoon doesn't know the taste of the soup.
A dhamma_spoon doesn't know the taste of the Dhamma.
lol.
Hi, Moth -

You're welcome.
You hit the nail on its head! -- you're right, struggling is the key reason why the meditation did not work.
The spoon just "hangs in there". :tongue:

Tep
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Re: How do I watch the breath?

Posted: Wed Jul 28, 2010 7:19 am
by lojong1
Moth wrote:...Any advice?
That happened to me for the first few days while using a 'sensation at the nose' approach...breathing went from intermittently uncomfortable to steadily WTF painful and not a breath ever felt natural.

Ajahn Brahm's notion of irrelevant location is what worked best for me. If knowing vedana at the ghana during kaayanupassana was so important, would Buddha not have said "know vedana at the ghana" somewhere in the kaayanupassana tetrad? Feeling at a fixed location may help some people get started, or even pop up spontaneously during practice, but it doesn't seem to fit as an essential starting point for everyone.
You may be putting too much energy into watching...try flipping quickly and subtly between watching and ignoring the breath until attention rests smack dab in the middle, like holding a light switch midway between on and off so that it sparks and buzzes.
As in the sutta: 'When breathing in a shitty breath unaware of its origin and the exact point at which it becomes an out breath, I know: "I am breathing in a shitty breath unaware of its origin and the exact point at which it becomes an out breath."' Before long, concentration steadies, breathing calms, discomfort disappears, and the question of control moots itself. Does breathing ever feel good then!
There is no wrong way to breath, so long as you stick to that sucker all the way "tying the mind to the breath with the tether of sati."

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu's free Anapanasati e-book pdf has some great info, including common obstacles like ours here (chapter VI, p.169ff).
Pa-Auk Sayadaw's 'knowing and seeing' is impressive too.

Re: How do I watch the breath?

Posted: Fri Aug 06, 2010 9:40 am
by Jetavana
Dear Moth,

I hope it is not too late to post this reply to your question on mindfulness of the breath.

If one reads carefully the Anapana Sutta, it repeats and repeats the mindful of the short breath or mindful of the long breath etc. It has never mentioned one to deviate to calmness and lost focus point on breath.

However, out of 100 meditators, 100 do deviate from the Sutta, to refined breath with calmness, and attached to blissfullness. This inhibits one's progress on meditation.

Reason : Almost everyone will tend to get more calmness as one concentrate on the breath, thus when the breath is too refine, that one thought one has no more breath, thus loosing the focal point on breath. The stillness is a deviation from the Sutta.

One should condition the breath in a tempo that one could always and all the time, could focus its breath in and out and the shortness or longness of each breath. This is the essence of Anapansatti.

Due to most meditators who will loose their object of meditation (breath), The Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma developed the up and down tummy for most meditators so that they have a constant point of focus.

In conclusion, Moth should conditioned its strength or tempo of breath whereby it is not too coarse or too refine, that breath could always be there to be focused upon..

Metta Karuna and may all practice to full concentration.

Jet

Re: How do I watch the breath?

Posted: Sat Aug 07, 2010 2:19 pm
by dhamma_spoon
Hello, Jetavana and other interested friends -

I got the feeling that you were talking about the first tetrad of the anapanasati of the Anapanasati Sutta [MN 118].

Jetavana:

If one reads carefully the Anapana Sutta, it repeats and repeats the mindful of the short breath or mindful of the long breath etc. It has never mentioned one to deviate to calmness and lost focus point on breath.

However, out of 100 meditators, 100 do deviate from the Sutta, to refined breath with calmness, and attached to blissfullness. This inhibits one's progress on meditation.

Reason : Almost everyone will tend to get more calmness as one concentrate on the breath, thus when the breath is too refine, that one thought one has no more breath, thus loosing the focal point on breath. The stillness is a deviation from the Sutta.

One should condition the breath in a tempo that one could always and all the time, could focus its breath in and out and the shortness or longness of each breath. This is the essence of Anapansatti.

Dhamma_spoon: In the second tetrad the focus shifts to feeling (vedana), the third tetrad it shifts to mind state(citta), and the fourth to mental phenomena(dhamma).
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Tep :stirthepot:
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P.S. The pot-stirring symbol means Dhamma_spoon is stirring the Dhamma pot, yet he knows nothing about the Dhamma.
It does not mean I am looking for troubles. :meditate:

Re: How do I watch the breath?

Posted: Sat Aug 07, 2010 2:44 pm
by altar
Sometimes when you breathe it is cold out, and you can literally see your breath! So it's just this same way, except instead of seeing with your eyes, you stay with it with basic sensitivity... (and let all of the accompanying factors of mindfulness and awareness and wisdom etc. develop) this is my understanding. Sometimes more force, sometimes less.

Re: How do I watch the breath?

Posted: Mon Aug 09, 2010 7:12 am
by Jetavana
Dear Dhamma Spoon,

Thanks your email comment. Yes, I refer to Anapana Sutta first Tetrad as it is just concentration for beginner. In the Second Tetrad, it is Vipassana, for Insight.

Metta

Re: How do I watch the breath?

Posted: Mon Aug 09, 2010 7:40 am
by Kenshou
Second tetrad is for insight? You sure?

Re: How do I watch the breath?

Posted: Mon Aug 09, 2010 10:25 am
by dhamma_spoon
Jetavana wrote:Dear Dhamma Spoon,

Thanks your email comment. Yes, I refer to Anapana Sutta first Tetrad as it is just concentration for beginner. In the Second Tetrad, it is Vipassana, for Insight.

Metta
Hi, Jet and Kenshou -

It is a good question to ask if the second tetrad begins insight meditation, after concentration (samatha) is developed by the first.
If I understand it correctly from the suttas MN 118 and MN 10, the four tetrads are equivalent to the four foundations of mindfulness (satipatthana).
The first tetrad is mindfulness in the "body". The second is mindfulness in the feelings. And so on.

I think the satipatthana development is samatha first then vipassana. The samatha is achieved by just the the first half of the first tetrad.

Tep :meditate:
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