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Stopping breathing during meditation

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Stopping breathing during meditation
Answer
2/17/12 4:51 PM
First time posting, though I've been lurking for quite a while.

My formal practice consists of 1-2 hours daily breath meditation, and I generally follow this structure:
  1. Count breaths (descending from 10 to 1) until focus feels solid.
  2. Keep awareness on the breath and try to expand the breath awareness to the whole body.
  3. When thoughts/sensations arise, note them and then return to the breath.
  4. End with some metta


There has been marked progress in being able to stay on 2 and expand the awareness, and lately some things have been happening that I've found confusing.

Over the past few days, by the time I'm in a fairly pleasant concentrated state, I start to notice what feel like tight knots of energy, first at the navel and then also in the chest, and sometimes at the throat.

The first time I noticed this, I decided to move my attention to my navel to see what was going on, and when the attention arrived there, a strange thing happened: my breathing just stopped. It felt almost like a primal fight-or-flight response: the throat constricted, the pulse quickened, and there was a frisson of tingliness throughout the body. If I wasn't so surprised, I might have been terrified. Over the course of that sit, I would back off then return my attention to the navel. Eventually I was able to relax with my attention there and slowly that 'knot' sort of unwound (while kind of shifting around a little) and then dissipated.

The same thing happened yesterday with the knot in my chest (except for the dissipation). The same fight-or-flight response, completely stopping breathing, constricted throat, quickened heartbeat, energy pulses. This time, it almost felt like I was drowning. And the energy pulses were shooting up into my head. I was eventually able to keep my attention there without the breath stopping, but even then the breath became quick and choppy (instead of smooth and shallow, where it was before).

Has anybody had similar experiences? My instinct is to just keep watching and see what happens, but I'm really curious as to what this might be, as it doesn't feel like it matches the typical 'your breath just naturally slows down and stops when you get to X jhana' description of breath stopping.

RE: Stopping breathing during meditation
Answer
2/18/12 7:19 AM as a reply to A K S.
HI A K S,

Welcome to the DhO.

A K S: Has anybody had similar experiences? My instinct is to just keep watching and see what happens, but I'm really curious as to what this might be, as it doesn't feel like it matches the typical 'your breath just naturally slows down and stops when you get to X jhana' description of breath stopping.

Since you've been lurking for awhile, I am going to consider for the purposes of responding to your post that you are fine with the three characteristics of Gotama's path for awakening (aka: buddhism)?

What you are describing may be corresponded to chakra centers, and those are said to form (visually like the western medical caduceus), at intersecting points of the twisting ida and pingala nadi (meridians) that twist up the central nadi (shushumna, about where the spine is).

You could really get into the various meanings of this experience. Why not? The experience you describe is a product of your consciousness - how you think and act effects your body - therefore, you could go study ayurveda (the knowledge of longevity) as to why you're having what seem like chakra experiences and that study could clarify the current condition of your consciousness (how "you" are).

Yet, if you followed Gotama's guidances and you saw all mental and physical phenomena as things that go on with or without much effort on your part as a personality, then you might just observe what is going on and take care of your body and mind with loving-kindness [and developing skill therefrom] and extend the same knowing to any you meet/engage.

edit: in brackets

RE: Stopping breathing during meditation
Answer
2/18/12 7:40 AM as a reply to A K S.
A K S Over the past few days, by the time I'm in a fairly pleasant concentrated state, I start to notice what feel like tight knots of energy, first at the navel and then also in the chest, and sometimes at the throat.

The first time I noticed this, I decided to move my attention to my navel to see what was going on, and when the attention arrived there, a strange thing happened: my breathing just stopped. It felt almost like a primal fight-or-flight response: the throat constricted, the pulse quickened, and there was a frisson of tingliness throughout the body. If I wasn't so surprised, I might have been terrified. Over the course of that sit, I would back off then return my attention to the navel. Eventually I was able to relax with my attention there and slowly that 'knot' sort of unwound (while kind of shifting around a little) and then dissipated.


Ayurvedically, these sensations can point to other ways to understand how you are/have been forming your consciousness (your personal interpretation of the nerve signals registered by a living brain and a living body and with the capacity of self-reflection) up to this point. So throat sensations may point to accumulating expression and communication urges. And chest sensations may point to accumulating determination (solar plexus) and upper chest sensations may point to accumulating nurturing love, etc. (I have no ayurvedic certifications; you can just learn about these things on your own or go to an Ayur doctor).

RE: Stopping breathing during meditation
Answer
2/18/12 8:34 AM as a reply to A K S.
A K S:
The same thing happened yesterday with the knot in my chest (except for the dissipation). The same fight-or-flight response, completely stopping breathing, constricted throat, quickened heartbeat, energy pulses. This time, it almost felt like I was drowning. And the energy pulses were shooting up into my head. I was eventually able to keep my attention there without the breath stopping, but even then the breath became quick and choppy (instead of smooth and shallow, where it was before).

Has anybody had similar experiences? My instinct is to just keep watching and see what happens, but I'm really curious as to what this might be, as it doesn't feel like it matches the typical 'your breath just naturally slows down and stops when you get to X jhana' description of breath stopping.


I have had constricted chest and throat while meditating but not to the extent that you describe. But I have had constricted chest and throat while breathing alternately from nostrils (anulom vilom yogic breathing technique) to the point of almost fainting. I kept going ahead and now they have become very less. So has the constriction decreased in chest and throat while meditating.

I also think that it is a fear response and if you keep watching it will subside by itself and won't bother you afterwards.

RE: Stopping breathing during meditation
Answer
2/18/12 9:26 AM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
katy, thanks for responding.

katy steger:

Yet, if you followed Gotama's guidances and you saw all mental and physical phenomena as things that go on with or without much effort on your part as a personality, then you might just observe what is going on and take care of your body and mind with loving-kindness [and developing skill therefrom] and extend the same knowing to any you meet/engage.

edit: in brackets


This feels like the advice to follow.

There isn't much of an impulse to get into the ayurveda stuff (though it seems quite interesting) or to even contemplate the meaning of these experiences outside of 'whoa, what was that?!'

As an aside, it's really remarkable how my overall grab-bag of impulses has changed since I've started meditating. Not too long ago, I would have been off like a shotgun to learn everything I could about ayurveda had I received this response.

Thanks for the reminder to get back to the basics.

RE: Stopping breathing during meditation
Answer
2/18/12 9:31 AM as a reply to Change A..
Aman A.:
A K S:
The same thing happened yesterday with the knot in my chest (except for the dissipation). The same fight-or-flight response, completely stopping breathing, constricted throat, quickened heartbeat, energy pulses. This time, it almost felt like I was drowning. And the energy pulses were shooting up into my head. I was eventually able to keep my attention there without the breath stopping, but even then the breath became quick and choppy (instead of smooth and shallow, where it was before).

Has anybody had similar experiences? My instinct is to just keep watching and see what happens, but I'm really curious as to what this might be, as it doesn't feel like it matches the typical 'your breath just naturally slows down and stops when you get to X jhana' description of breath stopping.


I have had constricted chest and throat while meditating but not to the extent that you describe. But I have had constricted chest and throat while breathing alternately from nostrils (anulom vilom yogic breathing technique) to the point of almost fainting. I kept going ahead and now they have become very less. So has the constriction decreased in chest and throat while meditating.

I also think that it is a fear response and if you keep watching it will subside by itself and won't bother you afterwards.


You know, that seems correct. It was like a very raw terror, but without any cause, just kind of stored up, I guess.

It just occurred to me that something similar happened to me on a Goenka retreat a couple of years ago, but with anger. Ther was this locus of rage in my left shoulder, and whenever my attention approached it, it would flash with pain and I would be overcome with just this targetless, spraying anger.

Keep watching seems to be the thing to do.

RE: Stopping breathing during meditation
Answer
2/19/12 12:25 AM as a reply to A K S.
A K S:
You know, that seems correct. It was like a very raw terror, but without any cause, just kind of stored up, I guess.


I guess it is for reasons such as raw terror which doesn't seem to have any cause that mind is considered to be the sixth sense door. Subconsciously it can imagine all sorts of dangerous situations and produce constriction in various parts of the body which one experiences at the conscious level.

Another experience that I sometimes have is my extremities getting cold. I interpret this also as a reaction to fear which again seems to happen without any cause. I think due to constriction, blood flow to the extremities becomes less so that the vital region of the body (trunk) keeps getting blood supply.