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Practical Advice on Energy pratices + Concentration + Vipassana

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Hey all,
Something I've been exploring in my daily practice is the fluidity between concentration, insight meditation, and energy practices.  I'm looking for advice from a practical perspective to make my practice more effective and also hopefully uncover some insight which may be helpful for others as well.

There's a few good threads on here such as the following: 

https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/20117429
https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/16036844


From what I've read, there is a good amount of thought around the differences between concentration and insight, especially from a theoretical viewpoint, although I think it would still be helpful to talk about more.  I don't find quite as much (on DhO, or in MCTB ) around energy practices and how those fit into everything.  EDIT: re-reading the desdription of stage 4 (A&P) of the Progress of Insight in MCTB helps shed a good amount of light on this in that energy practices will get you to an A&P type state. 

As I understand it, energy practice is essentially a concentration practice, but done in such a way that you are using some form of physical action to supercharge your energy levels, your chakras, Kundalini, etc, that physical action itself being exerted in an intensity that is higher than normal, idle sitting.  In that sense, fundamentally the relationship between energy practice and insight practice is the same as that between concentration and insight.  Cultivating jhana and concentration through energy practice allows for investigation of that concentration or sensitivity.

All this said -- I feel there could be some discussion on this specifically around how you apply it in your daily practice.  What types of combinations have you found to be most effective from a practical perspective?




To provide a brief working definition- from Shargrol's comment on my daily log I think is a nice and succinct way of describing the relationship between concentration and insight:

"* "concentration" --or really "relaxing and centering"-- develops sensitivity to dukka

* insight -- or really "investigation" -- uses that sensitivity to determine causes of dukka.

But they are mutually supporting and intangled, because: 

*  determining the causes of dukka and dropping unhelpful habits will then allow for better relaxation and centering and even more sensitivity.

So it's sort of complete system rather than two separate things. Sort of a yin-yang symbol, concentration is never completely separate from insight nor is insight completely different from concentration."







RE: Practical Advice on Energy pratices + Concentration + Vipassana
Answer
4/22/20 2:39 PM as a reply to John W.
To start off, using my own practice as an example, and with the caveat that, as mentioned, I am still very much working this out for myself which is why I'm posing the question. The second (probably unnecessary) caveat being, the specific practices I do are just my personal preference, any energy practice, concentration or noting practice are equally valid as far as I am concerned (or any practice which combines elements of both/all three), I'm super interested to hear what others' preferences are.

- Recently I have been starting the day with a single pointed concentration sit (30mins-1hour) focusing on the breath.  I find this to help me stay balanced and relaxed throughout the day.  The idea to start the day with concentration came at the suggestion of some others on this forum.

- Try to stay mindful during the day, perhaps reciting a mantra or something of the sort.  Perhaps doing some reading or Metta practice.

- In the evenings do a noting power hour, or at least 30 minutes.  I do find that cultivating some level of concentration in the morning and trying to maintain it throughout allows for a more focused and energetic evening sit.  Now here, what I've started to experiment with is adding an energy breathing practice (I like the Wim Hof breathing technique) at the end of the Vipassana sit.  The effects of rapid noting can (as we all know) result in some unpleasantness in the form of bodily aches, pressures, headaches, etc.  I've found that ending with the energy practice helps to release some of that tension and the effects of the breathing seem to be more amplified after 30-45 minutes of rapid noting.



One more general thought here which came to me last night.  I did a guided session the other day (nothing fancy, just part of the Vipassana series on the Timeless app) in which, on the in-breath you become aware (of the breath), on the out breath you relax into that awareness.  In breath - noting (insight), out-breath, concentration.  In the Tibetan there is a practice called Tonglen (often referred to as Taking and Giving).  On the in-breath, you imagine that you are taking the suffering of others, on the outbreath, you imagine that suffering eliminating ignorance of an existent self, and "sending relief" or more simply just exhaling light.  It's maybe not an exact match but it seems along the same lines with a bit of Metta mixed in.  There's probably a similar practice in the Theravada tradition (?).  But I like the idea of the two sides of the yin-yang, so to speak, being equally represented in each breath.

RE: Practical Advice on Energy pratices + Concentration + Vipassana
Answer
4/23/20 7:43 AM as a reply to John W.
John W:
Hey all,
Something I've been exploring in my daily practice is the fluidity between concentration, insight meditation, and energy practices.  I'm looking for advice from a practical perspective to make my practice more effective and also hopefully uncover some insight which may be helpful for others as well.

There's a few good threads on here such as the following: 

https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/20117429
https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/16036844


From what I've read, there is a good amount of thought around the differences between concentration and insight, especially from a theoretical viewpoint, although I think it would still be helpful to talk about more.  I don't find quite as much (on DhO, or in MCTB ) around energy practices and how those fit into everything.  EDIT: re-reading the desdription of stage 4 (A&P) of the Progress of Insight in MCTB helps shed a good amount of light on this in that energy practices will get you to an A&P type state. 

As I understand it, energy practice is essentially a concentration practice, but done in such a way that you are using some form of physical action to supercharge your energy levels, your chakras, Kundalini, etc, that physical action itself being exerted in an intensity that is higher than normal, idle sitting.  In that sense, fundamentally the relationship between energy practice and insight practice is the same as that between concentration and insight.  Cultivating jhana and concentration through energy practice allows for investigation of that concentration or sensitivity.

All this said -- I feel there could be some discussion on this specifically around how you apply it in your daily practice.  What types of combinations have you found to be most effective from a practical perspective?




To provide a brief working definition- from Shargrol's comment on my daily log I think is a nice and succinct way of describing the relationship between concentration and insight:

"* "concentration" --or really "relaxing and centering"-- develops sensitivity to dukka

* insight -- or really "investigation" -- uses that sensitivity to determine causes of dukka.

But they are mutually supporting and intangled, because: 

*  determining the causes of dukka and dropping unhelpful habits will then allow for better relaxation and centering and even more sensitivity.

So it's sort of complete system rather than two separate things. Sort of a yin-yang symbol, concentration is never completely separate from insight nor is insight completely different from concentration."







I'm not sure if this is related to your question, but I think there is a relation between the jhanas and energy practices. My exerience with energy practices comes from learning laying on of hands healing at Spiritualist churches. In that context energy practices are considered a form of physical mediumship. The energy does not originate from within the body. I can't really explain why, but when I practice jhanas it feels like the energy is flowing and when I work with the energy it can feel like I am practicing the jhanas. 

The usual way I enter the jhanas is to relax, half-smile*, and turn my palms up and bring in the energy and that is usually enough to do it. I find bringing in energy is helpful, not not strictly necessary for entering jhanas.

I don't really know why this is, it could be something psychological or physiological or metaphysical.

I don't like to use the term "concentration" to describe how I practice the jhanas. I think samatha (tranquility, or serenity) is a better term. I find too much concentration causes suppression of thoughts and emotions which causes irritability. The way I meditate quiets the mind gently allowing one to observe the activity of the mind (vipassana). The peaceful pleasant state produced by meditation allows me to notice (during meditation and daily life) what interferes with that state (the cause of dukkha, 2nd noble truth) and what is conducive to it (ends dukkha, 3rd noble truth). 

*Sometimes people object to smiling to produce jhanas becase they don't want to fake being happy. But what if not smiling is an effort to fake being not happy that they started in childhood and continued all their life, blocking happiness, without realizing it? That is exactly what I realized when I tried meditating with a half-smile and discovered the jhanas. I had a flashback memory to a time when I was in elementry school and the teacher was announcing scores on a test. I noticed some of the kids who got good scores were deliberately not showing their pleasure - maybe so as not to seem to be gloating, or to give the impression that a good score was easy for them and was nothing special. At the time it seemed like the thing to do and it got me started in an unfortuante direction. All those good things released by the jhanas, the brahma viharas, are also suppressed by not-smiling.

RE: Practical Advice on Energy pratices + Concentration + Vipassana
Answer
4/23/20 12:04 PM as a reply to John W.
John W:
To start off, using my own practice as an example, and with the caveat that, as mentioned, I am still very much working this out for myself which is why I'm posing the question. The second (probably unnecessary) caveat being, the specific practices I do are just my personal preference, any energy practice, concentration or noting practice are equally valid as far as I am concerned (or any practice which combines elements of both/all three), I'm super interested to hear what others' preferences are.

- Recently I have been starting the day with a single pointed concentration sit (30mins-1hour) focusing on the breath.  I find this to help me stay balanced and relaxed throughout the day.  The idea to start the day with concentration came at the suggestion of some others on this forum.

- Try to stay mindful during the day, perhaps reciting a mantra or something of the sort.  Perhaps doing some reading or Metta practice.

- In the evenings do a noting power hour, or at least 30 minutes.  I do find that cultivating some level of concentration in the morning and trying to maintain it throughout allows for a more focused and energetic evening sit.  Now here, what I've started to experiment with is adding an energy breathing practice (I like the Wim Hof breathing technique) at the end of the Vipassana sit.  The effects of rapid noting can (as we all know) result in some unpleasantness in the form of bodily aches, pressures, headaches, etc.  I've found that ending with the energy practice helps to release some of that tension and the effects of the breathing seem to be more amplified after 30-45 minutes of rapid noting.



One more general thought here which came to me last night.  I did a guided session the other day (nothing fancy, just part of the Vipassana series on the Timeless app) in which, on the in-breath you become aware (of the breath), on the out breath you relax into that awareness.  In breath - noting (insight), out-breath, concentration.  In the Tibetan there is a practice called Tonglen (often referred to as Taking and Giving).  On the in-breath, you imagine that you are taking the suffering of others, on the outbreath, you imagine that suffering eliminating ignorance of an existent self, and "sending relief" or more simply just exhaling light.  It's maybe not an exact match but it seems along the same lines with a bit of Metta mixed in.  There's probably a similar practice in the Theravada tradition (?).  But I like the idea of the two sides of the yin-yang, so to speak, being equally represented in each breath.

Man, this is gung-ho and inspiring. I just have a toe in the water of anything in the ballpark of vipassana practice, and am energetically naive in the extreme, i think. 

Your three-pointed program, concentrating, noting, and working with energy, has a very real three characteristics feel to it, as a whole. Noting finds dukha, for sure, while deep concentration fails to find a self, and energy is transience and passing, uh, in the flesh.

I love tonglen! .I do a similar practice with cigarettes: i breathe in suffering and death in its blackest form, and let the smoke out harmlessly out of range of second-hand effect,  as a blessing on the world, that says, in essence, May you all out-live me.

RE: Practical Advice on Energy pratices + Concentration + Vipassana
Answer
4/23/20 2:00 PM as a reply to Tim Farrington.
Hey Tim, thanks man. I'm glad you find it inspiring. This gung-ho-ness seems to be biting me in the ass now, as my head's felt like a balloon full of helium the past couple of days. All part of the process I suppose.

But, I have no idea about the effectiveness of combining different practices vs. more of a single technique approach.  I think if you can stick to noting all day, good on you.  For me the mind seems to want some variety.

Honestly I'm trying to not think about it so much. Though it can be helpful I also feel like over analyzation has been a little distracting to my practice as interesting as it is.

That's funny about the cigarettes... I feel like i've had the same thought LOL. *cough*


@jim that's interesting about the healing hands practice and how the energy originates from an external source rather than within the body.  Thought provoking for sure.  And yeah, maybe 'tranquility' / samatha is a better term to use.  'Concentration' is a bit confusing to me as well, since Vipasanna technically does *use* concentration, it's just concentration on rapidly moving objects rather than a single point.

RE: Practical Advice on Energy pratices + Concentration + Vipassana
Answer
4/23/20 1:51 PM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Jim Smith:
[quote=I find too much concentration causes suppression of thoughts and emotions which causes irritability.
]


Very interesting.

RE: Practical Advice on Energy pratices + Concentration + Vipassana
Answer
4/23/20 3:44 PM as a reply to John W.
Hey John

I first wanted to congratulate you for your retreat, it seems like you did a great job, and gathered quite a few insights to develop your practice in a fruitful way in the future.

This gung-ho-ness seems to be biting me in the ass now, as my head's felt like a balloon full of helium the past couple of days. All part of the process I suppose.

Ok, you asked about adding energy practices in the mix. That's my 2 cents: When the balloon deflates, you might feel like shit. This is the outcome of the energy practice (Wim Hof method, if I remember right, looks like super powerful stuff. I am actually surprised we don't hear more people loosing it... I guess it is thanks to the retention after the hyperventilation that kind of balances the practice?). Anyway, this is how I think of pranayama: be careful with it, go slowly etc. Maybe it does not apply to Wim Hof?

I was thinking about you when I started to write this for my log so I paste it here (it is a work in progress, to keep on questioning assumptions) :
In the model I use these days, concentration would stand for everything that has to do with developing states, triggering experiences... and insight for all the processes which lead to understanding the nature of experience, including the very subtle experiences born from concentration.
It just occurred to me something that has been bothering me since I started attending this forum: insight is NOT letting go. Letting go is a concentration practice, or more accurately a "de-concentration" practice, that leads you from the absence of craving in equanimity to the experiences of the immaterial realms. Why? because letting go can be born of dispassion, or be born from aversion (disgust towards the world etc., that subtle movement away from phenomena that I noticed when I considered the distance from which the feeling of space emerged), so it is not wholesome per se. It is a worthy path, for sure, but it can also lead to dissociation, feeling godlike etc... because there can be in it that slight aversion towards existence.
For insight to emerge you need to consider some of the three characteristics of the object you are letting go of in your contemplation.

And, for what it's worth I stumbled on a site about Transcendent Meditation a while back (Down the rabbit hole of TM) and was surprised to find they are also full of stories of people dark nighting big time and have absolutely no framework for it. They call it deep unstressing!!! I was surprised that because mantra based meditation is supposed to be one of the 100% concentration method...

I wish you the best with your practice and explorations
with metta
smiling stone

RE: Practical Advice on Energy pratices + Concentration + Vipassana
Answer
4/23/20 6:14 PM as a reply to John W.
Hi! I think of myself as doing energy practice but I do it mainly to stay healthy, clear away brain fog, ground myself, remove blockages and find the kind of stillness that dances. I don't do exercises that build up more energy than can flow freely. Energy practices don't have to be all A&P. They can be much more subtle. I do yoga several times a week, sometimes daily, and I dabble with qigong. I'm also learning some tech from the Tibetan Bön tradition. I tend to make sense of the world through an energetic filter, sort of. That seems to be key to how I process stuff. Several people have independently from each other mentioned that I radiate energy and/or move energies. I really don't know if there is some truth to that. When I rest I can often feel some energetic untangling going on. I feel like the energy practice is the glue that holds it all together. 

RE: Practical Advice on Energy pratices + Concentration + Vipassana
Answer
4/23/20 6:20 PM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Jim Smith:

*Sometimes people object to smiling to produce jhanas becase they don't want to fake being happy. But what if not smiling is an effort to fake being not happy that they started in childhood and continued all their life, blocking happiness, without realizing it? 


I like this. Nowadays I actually find that smiling has become the default. It's not a big grin, but more of a Mona Lisa smile, or a Buddha smile. My face is also much more often naturally relaxed, even when the rest of the body is working hard. It makes things easier. 

RE: Practical Advice on Energy pratices + Concentration + Vipassana
Answer
4/23/20 7:42 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Hey Polly Ester,
Could you explain more about how you use yoga to remove blockages? And just more generally, how would you say they fit into the insight maps?

So I understand energy as mostly A&P, yes, and it's interesting to hear that you think there are other uses for it, what I'm wondering is how energy would be helpful in moving past A&P into some of the higher jhanic states or to fruitions of insight.  Energy, as sensation, provides some sort of object which can be investigated (insight), so there's that.

I would love to hear about the Bön stuff you are getting into, sounds fascinating.

With Metta,
John

RE: Practical Advice on Energy pratices + Concentration + Vipassana
Answer
4/23/20 7:59 PM as a reply to Smiling Stone.
Hey Smiling,
Thanks! Definitely a short retreat but i've been able to keep some momentum so far so that's good.

Hah, so I guess what I meant by head full of helium is, bad headaches and pressures as in DN symptoms. So right now the goal IS to 'deflate' the balloon, so my head stops hurting, which would also lead to some sort of fruition. 

But yeah I think there is dangerous stuff out there for sure. I think there's been some injuries or deaths with some of the WH cold training where you're out in the Arctic somewhere, I don't really do any of the cold therapy stuff though. Just the simple breathing. It's been relatively harmless from what I've experienced, holding your breath for a minute to minute and a half, then a big breath and exhalation at the end.  It's pretty calming most of the time.



Awesome thoughts there from your log.  I would definitely agree with what you said about letting go:

"Letting go is a concentration practice, or more accurately a "de-concentration" practice, that leads you from the absence of craving in equanimity to the experiences of the immaterial realms." 

And going back to Shargrol's definition, I would also add, I think letting go and 'relaxing' are pretty much the same, if not very similar, perhaps 'relaxing' more of a physical/energy concept and 'letting go' having more of a cognitive thinking faculty involved. 

Relaxing - 'de-concentration with the object being one from the physical 'sense door' of the body
Letting Go - 'de-concentration with the object being one from a mental aggregate 'thinking, cognizing' aspect

Maybe?  all forms of consciousness (physical or mental) are imputed by the mind, after all emoticon



Best of luck to you as well my friend, keep that self-retreat humming!

John



RE: Practical Advice on Energy pratices + Concentration + Vipassana
Answer
4/23/20 8:20 PM as a reply to John W.
I find that yoga clears blockages in a very tangible way by learning the body how to breath effectively (ujjayi breath, pranayama), how to use muscles in a balanced way, how to "unclench" tight muscles and tissues, how to be self-aware, and how to unite with the mind. I'm not sure that there is any close connection between specific blockages and insight maps. However, I have noticed a relationship between reobservation and throat chakra (which isn't very surprising, given the tendency for assertive speech in reobservation), and blockages are more likely to occur in the 3C nana and the dukkha nanas (very noticable in third vipassana jhana).  

Some practicioners are more prone to energetic features than others. It is very rare for me not to have any energetic sensations at all. A&P is the fireworksy part of the map, but we are energy. It's not like we can separate from it. It just isn't always noticeable for maybe the majority. The mapping of energetic sensations used to confuse me a lot, because it didn't make sense to me at all. It didn't match my phenomenology. Then I realized that I'm one of those people who have that curve moved higher up. 

The Bön lineage tech includes chanting (and visualizing) seed syllables, breathing exercises to clear energy channels, and physical exercises to work with different "winds" which correspond to prana or chi in other traditions. 

Metta right back at ya!

RE: Practical Advice on Energy pratices + Concentration + Vipassana
Answer
4/24/20 11:32 AM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:
I find that yoga clears blockages in a very tangible way by learning the body how to breath effectively (ujjayi breath, pranayama), how to use muscles in a balanced way, how to "unclench" tight muscles and tissues, how to be self-aware, and how to unite with the mind. I'm not sure that there is any close connection between specific blockages and insight maps. However, I have noticed a relationship between reobservation and throat chakra (which isn't very surprising, given the tendency for assertive speech in reobservation), and blockages are more likely to occur in the 3C nana and the dukkha nanas (very noticable in third vipassana jhana).  

Some practicioners are more prone to energetic features than others. It is very rare for me not to have any energetic sensations at all. A&P is the fireworksy part of the map, but we are energy. It's not like we can separate from it. It just isn't always noticeable for maybe the majority. The mapping of energetic sensations used to confuse me a lot, because it didn't make sense to me at all. It didn't match my phenomenology. Then I realized that I'm one of those people who have that curve moved higher up. 

The Bön lineage tech includes chanting (and visualizing) seed syllables, breathing exercises to clear energy channels, and physical exercises to work with different "winds" which correspond to prana or chi in other traditions. 

Metta right back at ya!
Hey Linda, that sounds awesome. I've been meaning to get more into yoga. I feel like it would help ease some of the more unpleasanat symtoms I experience from time to time.  Unfortunately here in states, and in the south at that, 'real' yoga is hard to find ;)

And oh yeah, I was definitely hard in the 3rd vipasanna jhana yesterday, lots of head pressure, blockage.  Feeling a little better today so im staying hopeful.

I've been interested in Tantric Yoga especially since it fits in with my Tibetan practice, I know nothing about it really other than the very basic concepts.  It sounds like the Bön stuff is similar to Tantra or influenced by it which would make sense.  I am pretty interested in the intersection of Bön (the more shamanistic stuff), Buddhism, and Tantra and the history of it all, it's really kind of a smorgasborg of different cultures across a couple of millenia.  Have you read any of Jamgon Kongtrul's Treasury of Knowledge?  I just started the first book but I know there's like 3 books on the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet.