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How to slow the breathing (air hunger)

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How to slow the breathing (air hunger)
Answer
1/25/14 12:47 PM
Hello,

I'm new to meditation (I've been meditating for about two months daily), and I wanted to get some advice from more experienced meditators here. I've been doing concentration meditation for about 20-30 minutes per day. My problem is that I can't seem to slow my breath without needing to take in a big gulp of air by yawning every few minutes. I have this problem when I'm not meditating as well. Even when I'm breathing completely normally in every day life, I often feel the need to yawn to fill my lungs because I feel like I'm not getting enough air, even though I am. I found out this is a condition called "air hunger" or dyspenea. It's not serious, but it's a nuisance during everyday life, and it's holding me back during meditation.

Most of the books I have read suggest that you focus on the feeling of the breath going in and out of the nostrils. I often find that doing this makes the air hunger worse! I'll be able to slow my breath and fall into a state of concentration and calm for a moment; I am aware of my wandering mind calming down, my body relaxing, and my focus centering on the breath. But then I feel as if my breathing is becoming shallow and I feel the need to yawn, which of course takes me away from concentration. I have felt as if I've been on the verge of entering a deeper meditative state several times, but this always happens and throws me off. Is there another way I can focus on my breath without focusing on the nostrils? Is there a certain way I should breath to overcome this, or should I try a different type of meditation, like vipassana? Would it be better to focus on the rising and falling of my diaphragm instead?

RE: How to slow the breathing (air hunger)
Answer
12/27/14 7:53 AM as a reply to Carmen Elaine Claesson.
1/25/14 3:00 PM as a reply to Carmen Elaine Claesson.

Hi Carmen,

Welcome to the DhO : )

"Most of the books I have read suggest that you focus on the feeling of the breath going in and out of the nostrils. I often find that doing this makes the air hunger worse

(...)

Is there another way I can focus on my breath without focusing on the nostrils?"

Yes! The nostrils are the Vissuddhimaga method. The sutta method is to be mindful of the whole body.

If you listen to the first few minutes of Bhikku Bodhi's 4/12/2005 (2nd) lecture on Anapanasati here: http://bodhimonastery.org/a-systematic-study-of-the-majjhima-nikaya.html, you will learn about the different methods and which Pali word triggered the different practice.

So basically you can practice being mindful of the body as you breathe in and out and do not control that.

Here is Daniel Goleman, MD, doing an lovely practice of the body-wide breathing: Breathing Buddies http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scqFHGI_nZE

Would you let me know how that works for you if you try this?

:}k

12/27/14 edit: Goleman is not an MD; he is a psychologist and co-founder of Yale's Child Studies Center and works currently at Univerisity of Illinois in evidence-based learning; he's written on social-emotional learning and, most recently, on focus. His bio is here: http://www.danielgoleman.info/biography/

RE: How to slow the breathing (air hunger)
Answer
1/25/14 3:00 PM as a reply to Carmen Elaine Claesson.
bowls, candle flames, colored discs, mantras, and so forth all get used too. Hypothetically, you can use anything as a concentration object. The breath is good because it's neutral/calm/slightly pleasant. Oh, and things like metta (loving-kindness) also get used.

Your problem with the yawns may as much be caused by your resistance, fustration, and belief that the yawn is disruptive as it has to do with the yawn itself. Maybe try just giving yourself permission to yawn without reacting to it or moving your attention away from where it should be. (The sensations on your nose are obviously going to be effected by the yawn, but that doesn't mean you have to move your attention away from them). If your attention does get moved, just calmly and gently return it to where it should be (just like with a disruptive thought).

RE: How to slow the breathing (air hunger)
Answer
1/26/14 3:50 PM as a reply to Carmen Elaine Claesson.
Carmen Elaine Claesson:
Would it be better to focus on the rising and falling of my diaphragm instead?

Yes, it would be worth trying it out for a while and see what happens when you do. Direct investigation using the myriad of tools in the yogi tool box lets you find one that really works for where you are currently at. Try different approaches, see what works, use it till it stops working, repeat.
Good Luck,
~D

RE: How to slow the breathing (air hunger)
Answer
1/26/14 6:37 PM as a reply to Carmen Elaine Claesson.
After you exhale, let the next breath begin by itself.

RE: How to slow the breathing (air hunger)
Answer
1/27/14 9:39 PM as a reply to Carmen Elaine Claesson.
it is really common for people early in practice and at a few other points to have similar issues

first, ideals about how the breath should be, meaning slow, will be overcome eventually by the physiology of the body which will work to maintain the proper amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide by altering your idealized rhythm to one that works for it

second, some of the very early stages of meditation such as Cause and Effect have as key features the sense that something in our practice is messing up the breath, and this can occur regardless of whether or not you take the sensations of the breath at the nostrils or abdomen or lungs or wherever as object, so realize that at least some part of this is stage dependent and will pass

the post about alterrnate objects for concentration is also helpful: look up kasina practices: fun stuff

RE: How to slow the breathing (air hunger)
Answer
1/31/14 11:02 PM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
Thanks for the podcast, Katy! Before listening to it I was under the impression that being aware of the whole breath without focusing on one part was not correct. Some of the books I have read have been very insistent that there must be a single point of focus on the breath, so it was great to hear there are other valid traditions.

I've been using this method of being aware of the whole breath for the past few days. I feel as if the intense concentration meditation I was attempting to do before would bring me to states of tranquility faster, but they quickly dissipated when I had to yawn or had a passing thought. I had a lot less patience with myself and tended to internally scold myself for getting distracted. I find that this broader awareness feels like a slower process, but it is much more natural. I also am less frustrated with myself when I have a distraction; I try to simply notice it and let it pass by me as I take it into my awareness. So I suppose what I'm doing now is closer to insight meditation than concentration meditation.

Thanks for your advice everyone. I'll keep lurking around these boards and likely read the MCTB soon.

RE: How to slow the breathing (air hunger)
Answer
2/3/14 2:05 PM as a reply to Carmen Elaine Claesson.
Hi Carmen,

Great! I am really glad that helped.

I had a lot less patience with myself and tended to internally scold myself for getting distracted. I find that this broader awareness feels like a slower process, but it is much more natural. I also am less frustrated with myself when I have a distraction; I try to simply notice it and let it pass by me as I take it into my awareness. So I suppose what I'm doing now is closer to insight meditation than concentration meditation.


From my experience and from a little neuroscience on stress-brain-occlution/limitation (i.e., information not being able to pass through the reticular activating system (RAS) nor the amygdala), the "faster" process is the whatever processes or methods that a person welcomes.

This welcoming feeling gets the whole brain involved, not stopping the flow of information at that two stress filters/action areas (RAS in the brain stem and the amygdala).

However, even one's favourite practices lose their novelty and one eventually chooses to press through the boredome-- this choice turns the brain from rejection-stress mode, back to welcoming, whole-brain-learning mode. So it's okay to jump around practices for a while until the practitioner choses for themselves to stick with a method.

I also cannot separate out insight versus concentration. Deep, selfless calm-concentration will arise whether the mind is using a broad focus like open awareness and sensate awareness and body-wide anapanasati as much as it will arise in the presence of narrow focus, like lip-nostril-ananpanasati, mantra, chanting, devotional prayer, repeated movements...

And in terms of insight: there is consciously reasoned insight (e.g., "When I think a lot during meditation, I itch") and there is "unforeseen" non-verbal insight --- as though an experience in the mind occurs without oneself, without one's creativity or one's reasoning-- it is as if someone is taken on an experience they could not anticipate and it has an actual sensory feeling to it -- not dream-like (in materialism speak, I think this might be called hallucination, which may be a negative experience interpretation, but in meditation this is experience can be interpreted as non-physical, actual, and potentially a useful, positive experience). This later kind of "unexpected" and "visceral" insight can be reflected upon with "deliberate" and "reasoned" insight, or the "visceral" un-anticipated experience can also just be taken for what it was without any additional analysis/looking/review. Both insights can be useful tools or can be made to cause oneself troubles, like conceit, delusion, arrogance, idealist bubble-making/aversion to other experiences in one's daily life, etc.

Best wishes and thanks for sharing your practice : )