Where to focus between breaths?

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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 4/30/09 7:22 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 4/30/09 7:22 PM

Where to focus between breaths?

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: SoManyThoughts
Forum: Dharma Overground Discussion Forum

Hi,
When I do "following the breath" meditation, I seem to get lost after the out-breath. There's a pause before the in-breath starts, and during that pause, it seems there's no place to focus. My mind tends to get agitated, because it's trying to focus, and then there's that gap, and it's uncertain where to go. I can imagine what a person might do with this gap for vipassana practice (investigate the gap?), but at this point I'm trying to develop concentration. Any advice on how to approach this?

To give you some context, I've had some training in zazen, but am a beginner at samatha and vipassana practice.
Trent S H, modified 13 Years ago at 5/1/09 2:06 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/1/09 2:06 AM

RE: Where to focus between breaths?

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hi,

You might try focusing on the silence/stillness/spaciness between each breath, or perhaps focus on the anticipation of the next breath. Anything that reoccurs in each "breath cycle" would work fine.

Trent
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Florian, modified 13 Years ago at 5/1/09 3:42 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/1/09 3:42 AM

RE: Where to focus between breaths?

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi SMT, and welcome! (Maybe put something on your profile page?)

Some suggestions: focus on an area, and let the breath pass through that area. A time-honored illustration for this is the gatekeeper who stays at the gate and watches whatever passes through.

I've used, at various times, the space between the nose and upper lip (not the nose or upper lip itself), the abdomen, the back of the throat, and so on. Focussing on an area or volume of space has the advantage that the object of focus doesn't vanish when the breath becomes subtle, or in-between breaths.

Useful?

Cheers,
Florian
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Jackson Wilshire, modified 13 Years ago at 5/1/09 4:33 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/1/09 4:33 AM

RE: Where to focus between breaths?

Posts: 97 Join Date: 5/6/09 Recent Posts
I agree with the advice given by Florian and Trent.

One question: Where do you focus your attention while watching your breath? Do you stay focused on the nose, or watch the rise and fall of your belly, or something else?

I tend to watch the rise and fall of my abdomen when staying with the breath. If there is a long pause between the out-breath and the next in-breath, I note my posture (usually "sitting") or the sensation of my backside against the cushion or chair supporting me ("pressure", "hard", "soft", "tingles", "pain", etc.). I hardly ever get to a place where there's nothing to be mindful of. Even "nothingness" has a flavor, and that flavor can become the object.

I hope this helps. Let us know what you find out with further practice.

Jackson
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 5/1/09 6:20 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/1/09 6:20 AM

RE: Where to focus between breaths?

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: SoManyThoughts

Thanks for these ideas. As to where I focus, well, for a long time I was just noting "in", "out" without really focusing on a specific sensation. Then I read the suggestion to use the tip of the nose. I find it really demanding to stay focused in that small area of sensation, so I've been experimenting with opening it up to include the abdomen. Focusing in the area of the lungs/abdomen seems most enjoyable.

Florian, I'll get to that profile eventually. It's always hard to try and sum things up succinctly emoticon
Hokai Sobol, modified 13 Years ago at 5/1/09 6:27 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/1/09 6:27 AM

RE: Where to focus between breaths?

Posts: 4 Join Date: 4/30/09 Recent Posts
Breath awareness is done in many ways, so it's useful to specifically describe what you're doing. If breath-sensations are focused on, this can be done somewhere on the body specifically, or everywhere they seem to appear. If, on the other hand, the whole experience of breath is observed, then what follows after the out-breath is a typical place where someone would either space-out (or as you say, "get lost") or else ascertain non-conceptual awareness, and everything in between.

In any case, "focusing" does not necessarily mean reducing the sphere of attentiveness to a small area of your body, but instead should be understood to mean maintaining a sharp and vivid attention whenever distraction, dullness or confusion prevail. Reducing your attention to a spot may or may not be useful - if unable to consult someone experienced, find out for yourself. So, in this more broad sense, recognizing the "getting lost" with clear awareness is itself an instance of vipassana-type clarity. Just relax, and stay there, again and again. Each time, simply allow to the next in-breath to arise within that space. Thus, find continuity of focus. Does this help?
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 13 Years ago at 5/1/09 5:52 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/1/09 5:52 PM

RE: Where to focus between breaths?

Posts: 3231 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
The standard advice to the question of what to do at the end of the out breath is to try to see it all the way down and then the exact moment it starts again, but this can be difficult, so initially the standard instruction is to note "touching" which focuses on the sensation of where the body meets the floor, as this tends to be easier, and then return once the breath becomes clear enough on the in breath.

Other things that can help are opening up the speed and inclusiveness of the noting, such as to include thoughts, sounds, other bodily sensations, seeing one's eyelids, etc, so that the myriad sensations that arise while one is looking at the many sensations that make up the breath are also brought into the process, thus giving many complex, rapid, interesting objects for attention and creating a more inclusive, comprehensive, and realistic investigation of what arises.

I also find Hokai's advice intriguing and you should experiment and see what seems to increase your level of clarity and continuity of practice.
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 5/4/09 6:36 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/4/09 6:36 AM

RE: Where to focus between breaths?

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: SoManyThoughts

Hi again,
Just wanted to report that I tried pulling back my focus so that I was taking in more of the whole-body sensation of breathing, rather than any particular point of sensation. I also looked for a sensation to watch between breaths, and found that my weight on the floor/cushion worked quite well. With these changes, I got into a very quiet and pleasurable state. I became intensely aware of the sensations of the cloth of my shirt moving against my skin on each breath (funny I never noticed that before), and had some kind of epiphany of what a joy it is to be a living, sensing being. This joyful state lasted ten minutes or so and sort of evaporated.

I'm not sure what this was all about, but it certainly motivates me to continue emoticon
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tarin greco, modified 13 Years ago at 5/4/09 6:59 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/4/09 6:59 AM

RE: Where to focus between breaths?

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
hi,

that's a classic description of the knowlege of mind and body, the first vipassana nana ('stage of insight').

here's a link to some info about it and possibly what's to follow:
http://tinyurl.com/c7jek4
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 5/9/09 12:18 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/9/09 12:18 PM

RE: Where to focus between breaths?

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: SimoneRühle

I agree with Jackson. The aim of insight meditation is to be aware at every second, so there should not be a gap in your noting. If you would try to make a necklace with beads, it is best done without gaps. So also, moments of awareness should follow each other for minutes, hours or days. So it is better to note a point of sensation during the gaps. My teacher used to say that the appearance of such a gap is the sign of an increased concentration.
Trent S H, modified 13 Years ago at 5/9/09 2:47 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/9/09 2:47 PM

RE: Where to focus between breaths?

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Simone, Well, I would also add a caveat to thoughts about "attempting to be mindful 24/7." Without rest and balance, some good TV time or reading a nice book, our mindfulness can become sloppy and ill-effective.

I think it is probably better to note or concentrate really well for 30 seconds then being sloppily mindful for 5 minutes (and similar scales). Most of the time, to make progress in either concentration or insight, we must just "get it right" ONCE for the mind to realize something fundamental to its' own operation. From there, the insight stage shifts or the Shamatha Jhana is obtained and thus, a new chapter unfolds in your path.

I suppose my point is to be mindful of your mindfulness and make sure that you are not getting crazy and neurotic about it in a way that is counterproductive.

Trent
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 5/10/09 1:49 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/10/09 1:49 AM

RE: Where to focus between breaths?

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: SimoneRühle

totally agree with you. What I said was meant as a goal in a retreat context. It doesn't mean one does attain this goal (continious mindfulness) at all times but it serves as an incentive, a motivation.
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Crinia Signifera, modified 13 Years ago at 6/6/09 12:04 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 6/6/09 12:04 AM

RE: Where to focus between breaths?

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
SMT,

I also find the whole body sensation of breathing rewarding. I use to get lost on the breathing out (if my mind wandered it was sure to be then). Now I start with the out breath and see it through to the very end so I'm immediately ready for an in breath. After the in breath I pause my breathing and concentrate on the whole body sensation and assess vibrations.

Do you actively seek your "joyful state"? I sometimes wonder whether I should encourage what I call "blissing out". It concerns me that I would become addicted to the sensation and progress no further in my meditation practices. Any opinions from anyone on the forum as to whether this could occur?

Crinia
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 6/6/09 5:30 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 6/6/09 5:30 AM

RE: Where to focus between breaths?

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: SoManyThoughts

Hi Crinia,
I probably would if I knew how, but I'm not really aware of doing anything to cause it to happen. Some sessions are just more pleasant than others. I'm trying to see that as an opportunity to practice equanimity.
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 6/6/09 8:20 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 6/6/09 8:20 AM

RE: Where to focus between breaths?

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: okir

Thanks for starting this discussion, SMT. I've been sort of at a loss as to what to "do" at the end of the breath, too. But (thanks to DI's comment) I will now try following it more closely to its turning point. It also helped a lot when I just got more curious about noting all the body sensations that pop up. That curiosity /intent seemed to lead to deeper perceptions and a kind of finer-tuning of my visual/feeling field. Most recently noting what I can only describe as a kind of "tackiness" or "sticky" feeling at the point of visual focus, as well as a subtle "rippling" that I can both see and feel, and which occurs toward the end of the intake of breath and turning toward the exhale. You might find it interesting to see what emerges or dissipates at different points of the breathing cycle.
Bob Myrick, modified 12 Years ago at 3/18/10 10:20 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 3/18/10 5:18 AM

RE: Where to focus between breaths?

Posts: 13 Join Date: 2/3/10 Recent Posts
This thread has lain quiet for several months, but reading it the other day got me to thinking about how I dealt with similar questions when I encountered them, so I thought I might share a few observations here. Apologies for the longish post, and for stating what is probably obvious to many, especially the MDs around here.

When I first started out with the breath I tended to simply define an in-breath as the period when a significant volume of air was moving in, and an out-breath similarly as air moving out. This by default leaves “no-breath” gaps between the in and the out. Gradually, however, I came to realize there is a lot more going on between these two periods, and that my “in” and “out” boundaries were probably incorrectly defined. A few observations about the physiology of our breathing can help develop more awareness of the complete process.

The main muscle driving breathing is of course the diaphragm. This is a wide, fairly thin membrane of muscle and connective tissue that sits horizontally at the bottom of the ribcage and is connected to the ribs all around, front, side and rear. The ribcage thus becomes a kind of basket, with the diaphragm as its bottom, although there is one opening in the diaphragm membrane to provide a conduit for plumbing to get food down to stomach and intestines below. The diaphragm membrane is not really flat horizontally; rather, it is dome-shaped, rising up into the chest cavity with the lungs and heart lying above the dome.

The main driving force of an in-breath is the flexing of the diaphragm muscle, a flatting and lowering of the dome. This has two main effects. First, the volume of the ribcage/diaphragm basket is enlarged, and the ambient pressure outside the body pushes air into the lungs. Second, the lowering of the dome presses downward on the abdominal cavity, which is essentially a bag of guts containing stomach, intestines, and other organs of digestion and reproduction below.

If you’re reasonably relaxed, the in-breath pushing downward on the diaphragm leads to an expansion of the girth of the abdomen. A common misconception is that air is actually being drawn into the lower abdomen, but in fact, air goes no further than the bottom of the lungs, which is only a hand’s breadth below the nipples. Abdominal sensations of in-breathing are simply pressures and motions associated with the flattening of the diaphragm at the top of the abdominal cavity.

A secondary muscular force involved in an in-breath is the expansion of the ribcage. The ribs are semi-circular, and most of them are connected at the rear to the spinal vertebrae and at the front to the sternum, or breastbone. (The lowest few ribs are not really fully connected at the front.) These connections are hinged front and rear, and the ribs can move up and down a small amount. Picture a bucket of paint with its wire handle hanging down to the side and swinging up and down. An upward swinging motion of the ribs has the effect of enlarging the volume of the ribcage a bit, augmenting the effect of the diaphragm in drawing air into the lungs.

Contrary to what many people imagine, the arms are not connected to the spine/ribcage assembly at the shoulders. The big, triangular scapula bone which forms the back portion of the shoulder joint actually lies loosely on top of the ribcage, knitted in to nearby ribs in many directions by muscles and connective tissue, but with no bone to bone contact to anything other than the humerus bone of the upper arm and the clavicles, or collarbones, left and right across the top of the chest.
The clavicle, in turn, articulates at a joint at the top of the breastbone, just a few inches below the larynx. This is in fact the only direct connection of the arm to the main part of the rest of the skeleton, just a few inches below your chin! If your breathing is nice and relaxed, the shoulders will be rising and falling gently, hinging at the clavicle- to accommodate the hinged-bucket handle rising and falling of the ribs, as described above.

Thus there is quite a variety of muscular activity and skeletal motion going on, all of which provides sensation for meditative attention. Most prominent is the action of the diaphragm, followed by the hinging of the ribs. The is also a girdle of muscles around the entire lower abdominal cavity, and these muscles are almost always at some low level of gentle tension to maintain form, posture and balance when standing or seated. This tension of the girdle will normally be pulsing slightly in sync with the diaphragmatic breathing motion, to accommodate the expansion and contraction of the belly. All this can be felt. Similarly, with most relaxed breathing, there are very subtle tightening and loosening actions of numerous small muscles in the throat, mouth and face, all of which provide more sensation for awareness.

In addition to sensations arising from active muscular activity, breathing also results in passive pushing and tugging motions in muscles, skin, organs, and other tissues extending well beyond the central areas of the breathing process. If you pay attention, these are perceptible in face and neck, back and front of the thoracic and abdominal/pelvic regions, and even well down the arms and legs.

In addition to the sensations of active and passive physical motion of tissues, you also have air moving around, providing gentle but perceptible sensations of both friction and pressure, within the lungs proper, the trachea feeding the lungs, the throat, sinuses, and nasal cavities, nostrils and upper lip, and even subtle pressures transmitted into the inner ear.

Now regarding the between breath spaces, paying careful attention to these sensations of air movement helps us see far beyond the core actions of in-breath and out-breath. Picture the swirl of smoke exhaled by a cigarette smoker, or maybe the cloud of dust motes after the sweep of a broom across a sunlit floor. After the main motion ceases, there is still plenty of movement, with eddies, backwashes, whirlpools and other turbulent motions. Though subtle, this movement is actually much more complex and rich in sensation than are the basic in and out breaths, and it is all readily perceptible once you start looking for it.

In the same way, the passive and active movement of muscles and other tissues are really still quite busy during the gaps, with ricochet and recoil effects after a given in or out breath, as well as tensions building up preparatory to triggering the next main breath movement.

Indeed, once you learn to perceive it, there is actually a lot more richness of sensation available for awareness between the main ins and outs than during them. It becomes difficult to arbitrarily draw a line between “in” and “out” for simple naming purposes, but once you learn to tune into all this, you’ll never again lack for sensations to notice “between the breaths.”

Finally, having written all this out, I offer a warning about getting distracted thinking too much about all this. Once you get the hang of noticing it all, you’ll really want to just forget all the physiology and just breath and notice, or breath and concentrate, or whatever. I might paraphrase from some well-known musician’s advice, variously attributed to both Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, which goes something like “learn all the technique you possibly can, then forget it all and just play jazz.”

Hope some here find this helpful.

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