Sekida's Bamboo Breathing

m m a, modified 10 Years ago at 10/3/11 4:13 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/3/11 4:13 PM

Sekida's Bamboo Breathing

Posts: 153 Join Date: 6/9/11 Recent Posts
In 'Zen Training', Sekida describes the technique of bamboo breathing - - periodic stopping of the exhalation every 4th breath or so. He describes in great detail, but I cannot wrap my head around it; It feels clumsy and strange to me.

I was wondering if anyone else could provide commentary or an alternate description.

If this phrase, "Bamboo breathing" is foreign, I could type up the passage from the book.

-max
thumbnail
Paul Anthony, modified 10 Years ago at 10/4/11 12:30 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/4/11 12:30 PM

RE: Sekida's Bamboo Breathing

Posts: 71 Join Date: 6/22/10 Recent Posts
I read that book years ago and had forgotten all about it! I don't know about this particular technique, but I liked the book. It seemed like an earlier example of pragmatic dharma in a way. Love to hear what others thought about it.

Paul
Conor O'Higgins, modified 10 Years ago at 10/5/11 12:02 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/5/11 12:02 AM

RE: Sekida's Bamboo Breathing

Posts: 46 Join Date: 3/8/11 Recent Posts
That is a fabulous book, one of the best on meditation I've ever seen.

I don't have the book to hand, so I'll check this tomorrow to confirm for you, but my understanding is this -
Bamboo breathing is not stopping every 4 breaths, it is stopping at several points throughout a single breath.
Rather than: fully exhale, fully inhale, fully exhale, fully inhale, fully exhale, fully inhale....
It is: exhale 25% of the volume of your lungs, pause, exhale 25% more, pause, exhale 25% more, pause, finish exhaling, inhale 25% of the volume of your lungs, pause, inhale 25% more, pause, inhale 25% more, pause, finish inhaling. In other words, each breath is split up into segments.

That's as explicit as I can make it. It's hard to convey such things in text. Does that clear up your question?
thumbnail
Paul Anthony, modified 10 Years ago at 10/5/11 2:53 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/5/11 2:53 PM

RE: Sekida's Bamboo Breathing

Posts: 71 Join Date: 6/22/10 Recent Posts
I recall that he discusses having a lesson with his calligraphy master and noticing his breathign during the intense absorption of the calligraphy - how it seemed to pause periodically like the growth lines on a piece of bamboo. My interpretation was that he was talking about how, when the breathing slows down during strong concentration, the breath can spontaneously become kind of intermittent. The muscles in the diaphragm (or tanden or whatever) seem to get kind of fluttery? So I didn't really see it as a control strategy for breathing so much as an observation - this is what a certain quality of concentrated breathing is like.

Paul
Conor O'Higgins, modified 10 Years ago at 10/6/11 8:20 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/6/11 8:19 PM

RE: Sekida's Bamboo Breathing

Posts: 46 Join Date: 3/8/11 Recent Posts
I have the book in front of me now. I was a bit wrong; not every breath is meant to be segmented. It's more like this:

Deep breath
Start with lungs full
Exhale til they're 75% full
Pause
Exhale til they're 50% full
Pause
Exhale til they're 25% full
Pause
Finish exhaling. (The lungs should now be forcibly emptied, as empty as you can make them. This is deeper than the bottom point of a natural exhalation.)
Inhale 50%
Pause
Finish inhaling
Three normal breaths
Exhale half of a normal, natural exhalation
Pause
Finish a normal, natural exhalation, not a forceful emptying of the lungs.
Inhale 50%
Pause
Finish inhaling
Exhale half of a normal, natural exhalation
Pause
Finish a normal, natural exhalation, not a forceful emptying of the lungs.
Inhale 50%
Pause
Finish inhaling
Exhale half of a normal, natural exhalation
Pause
Finish a normal, natural exhalation, not a forceful emptying of the lungs.
Inhale 50%
Pause
Finish inhaling

In other words, every fourth breath has a deep exhalation divided into four segments. For other breaths you exhale less deeply and divide the exhalation into two segments. All inhalations are in two segments and are all of equal depth.

Does that clear things up?
Modern Yogi, modified 10 Years ago at 10/12/11 6:45 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/12/11 6:45 PM

RE: Sekida's Bamboo Breathing

Posts: 2 Join Date: 7/22/11 Recent Posts
Very interesting. This sounds a lot like pranayama techniques in yoga traditions. I started off studying yoga and just as you usually have to wade through the fluff in order to find the legitimate Dharma teachings (at least I certainly did), the same applies for finding the legitimate yoga teachings. The yogis found that in samadhi they experienced kevala kumbhaka, or spontaneous breath retention. They also found that systematic breath retention can lead to samadhi.
, modified 10 Years ago at 10/18/11 9:38 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/18/11 9:38 AM

RE: Sekida's Bamboo Breathing

Posts: 385 Join Date: 8/11/10 Recent Posts
To keep in mind with segmented breathing: diaphragm remains contracted (there is a stick figure animation 1/2 down this page showing contracted diaphragm), resisting the inward and upward push of the abdomen upon exhale.

sekida calls "the maintenance of this tension of utmost importance in the practice of zazen" the point of which, he is clear, is samadhi, "recovery of pure consciousness" and "recognition of pure existence in the external world".

as a related aside, heart rate coheres to breathing once segmented breathe practice is well-formed. it can help to be prepared for that.
, modified 10 Years ago at 10/18/11 11:25 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/18/11 11:25 AM

RE: Sekida's Bamboo Breathing

Posts: 385 Join Date: 8/11/10 Recent Posts
To be very clear, lungs filling is occurring as as result of diaphragmatic contraction and release; thoracic muscles are quiet, thoracic lift is not happening. Chapter Three, the Physiology of Attention offers very clear progression of this.

This Chapter Three, the Physiology of Attention, is also very interesting for actualism, and that discussion may go into a different thread.
, modified 10 Years ago at 10/18/11 1:22 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/18/11 1:22 PM

RE: Sekida's Bamboo Breathing

Posts: 385 Join Date: 8/11/10 Recent Posts
I've pulled the book. Rather, it is Chapter 4 which thoroughly details abdominal breathing (diaphragm controls lung filling, chest is quiet), and Chapter 3 regards the neurological interface between thinking and breathing.
, modified 10 Years ago at 10/18/11 4:42 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/18/11 4:37 PM

RE: Sekida's Bamboo Breathing

Posts: 385 Join Date: 8/11/10 Recent Posts
Hi m m a -

I've been moving this book around the books' shelves since last reading from it in Summer 2005, even returning it to the used book store for a year at one point and retrieving it when no one bought it. So, since i'm in a bit of a funny place dealing with persistent and perceived thoughts I spent a few hours practicing it this afternoon. I sat zazen a long time ago and was not taught this technique, however this may be because our group lacked a monastic teacher for many years and thus no one to teach something like this.

If this phrase, "Bamboo breathing" is foreign, I could type up the passage from the book.

What passage is giving you issue? You can state the page if you like.


I was wondering if anyone else could provide commentary or an alternate description.
Essentially, the diaphragm is the means of lung-filling.

Lung-filling happens at a rate determined by one's personal urge to re-establish a reserve lung volume. When our reserve lung volume is pretty high we do not gasp for air. When that reserve is very low (residual volume), we gasp for air whether we want to or not.

On a normal inhale, one is primarily
[indent]i) breathing from the upper thoracic cavity (as if air is being pulled up from the ribs through the clavicles) and the clavicles are felt to rise, and muscles between the ribs press outwards, (the diaphragm drops a bit) or [/indent]

[indent]ii) breathing is happening from first the abdomen, then up through the thoracic cavity. [/indent]
This ii) style of normal breathing is something like if two hands are placed just below the xiphoid process (pointy bone at the center of the front rib cage where ribs come together) and gently spreading apart the torso like spreading bread dough in opposite directions on a board. The abdomen drops naturally, then chest rises naturally - lungs are filled. The exhale is more symmetrical like stove bellows - the two parts are coming together more evenly: chest muscles squeeze a little (rib cage narrows) and belly button may retract.

*

So the abdominal breathing Sekida suggests involves preventing the upper chest from causing the lungs to fill. The clavicles and neck area do not rise much, if at all, and the muscles between each rib are expanded as a result of the lungs' expansion - they are not causing the lungs to expand (remember: in abdominal breathing, the contracted (dropped and down-pressed diaphragm) is pulling the lungs down and causing them to fill with air). So the rib area is fairly still.

In Part 1 of the bamboo inhalation, the abdomen naturally drops and extends a little, however for Part 2 of inhalation, just as the thoracic cavity seeks to lift up and to pull in air, the diaphragm is specifically contracted (its contraction is a downward movement pulling to the sides) and this prevents thoracic-controlled inhalation. This Part 2 diaphragmatic inhalation pulls the lungs down to fill them. There is tension in the abdomen on the second half, because the diaphragm is contracting and crowding the viscera.

In Part 1 of the bamboo exhalation, the abdomen naturally releases some air, but again, in Part 2, just before the thoracic cavity seeks to squeeze its own muscles and press air out of the lungs, the diaphragm is contracted again and the abdomen and diaphragm press into each other (a little like a well-matched air-wrestle) allowing a slow, thin exhale.

Sekida mentions again and again the tension in the abdomen. He cautions about tension in the chest and concavity of the stomach. I experienced both of these faulty conditions in the first efforts.

Over a few sits my abdomen seemed to be making small contractions like a jellyfish undulating in place and pointing down towards the pelvic cradle. The abdomen looked and felt taut (this is his "keeping tension in the danten").

I can see where the long exhales can lead to what he calls "off-sensation" and further enforce concentration, though I will commonly enter this "off sensation" though with normal, shallow breathing and at any point in the day when there is already immersive concentration. In practicing this breathing again and having experienced some of the conditions of pure consciousness without it, it is unlikely that I would keep it up, but best wishes in your use of it.
thumbnail
katy steger,thru11615 with thanks, modified 10 Years ago at 10/25/11 7:34 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/25/11 7:34 PM

RE: Sekida's Bamboo Breathing

Posts: 1740 Join Date: 10/1/11 Recent Posts
I was wondering if anyone else could provide commentary or an alternate description.
I have been practicing sekika's bamboo (segmented) breathing this week during meetings, and tonight I noticed it seems similar to the motion of the heart. It is like a heart with two chambers - one ventricle and one atria: the abdomen pumps-initially then pumps further, expells air initially, then expels air further. The stomach is always rounded. The chest never has pressure (which is nice, probably for the actual heart over time).

It has been consistently useful for maintaining wakefulness and concentration, and, yet, it can allow for pleasant "off-sensation" (sekida's words and quotes) - although this last part only occurred with the rhythm became natural and almost effortless. Good luck with it,
thumbnail
Andrew , modified 10 Years ago at 10/26/11 10:08 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/26/11 10:08 AM

RE: Sekida's Bamboo Breathing

Posts: 336 Join Date: 5/23/11 Recent Posts
I've been doing an intuitive version of this for a few weeks.

Basically, when I sit down my aim first is to feel the impulse to breath, the actual imperative to breath. I may find that on breathing in, I sense that the automatic control doesn't want to go any further so I breath out. then the slight 'panic' sensation at the bottom of the out breath may kick in earlier than I might think (like when I sob after crying, that sort of cut short breath) so I will breath in. I may go to breath out at the top of the normal breath cycle, but only get a quarter breath out before the impulse to breath in comes on again. To start with it can build up and up and I can find I've over shot the impulse, so I have to drop back down to shallow breaths t find it again.

Going on like this for 5 mins, trying to synchronise the conscious control with the unconscious automatic impulse/imperitive builds concentration very quickly. After a few minutes the whole exercise calms down as the emotions and thinking settle down under the calm of concentration.

I tend to think that it echoes the "breathing in long he discernes 'i am breathing in long', breathing out short he discernes 'I am breathing out short'"

I arrived at this style after finding that it was when I started to daydream I would get concentrated, but when I would try to watch the breath, nothing. I worked out that I breathed in a more natural way when not watching it. so now I concentrate on breathing in time with the impulse, like I would do automatically during the day without thinking about it.

I hope that isn't a derail, but that description of stepping the breath made me 'hold on, I do that... sort of'

Breadcrumb