Noting the Urge to Breath - Odd Experience

S M, modified 5 Months ago at 12/30/22 7:18 PM
Created 5 Months ago at 12/30/22 7:18 PM

Noting the Urge to Breath - Odd Experience

Posts: 11 Join Date: 12/30/22 Recent Posts
TLDR: breathing naturally gets faster when I'm more concentrated; previous teacher thinks that's an attachment; tried resisting urge to take deep breath which resulted in much pain; thinking of switching Vipassana styles but unsure of validity of noting the whole body
Note: this thread is the closest thing I found to this subject, but I have additional issues.


Hello,

First post here.

A little background: I've been meditating on and off for around seven years utilizing mostly anapanasati with no formal instruction due to not knowing any better, lack of time, and lack of qualified instructors in my previous area. Recently, my practice has gotten much more serious and I have since done 3 retreats in a four month time-span: 10 days (Body Scans), 7 days (Mahasi-ish), 7 days (Mahasi). Since I started meditating, I noticed that my breathing rate/frequency naturally speeds up and gets more and more shallow when I get very concentrated - I'm not too calm during these periods but my concentration is very strong with distractions hardly affecting me. However, I always end up needing to take a very deep and long breath after around 5 to 10 seconds of this type of breathing.

I didn't think much of this since I've been breathing this way for many years and thought it was normal since it came naturally, but I felt to ask my previous teacher and he suggested that I need to fight the urge to take the deep breath - he stated that my breath should get progressively more and more subtle to the point where it feels like I'm not even breathing at all. My initial attempts at trying to fight this urge only magnified it despite calmly trying to let it go and relax; I've noted everything as calmly as I could as "pain". After telling him this, he stated that he asked his teacher in his earlier days that he often felt like suffocating to which his teacher replied "good". I interpreted this as that what I'm going through is normal and I just need to break-through the pain.

So afterwards, I tried it again and what follows is my best attempt at explaining what happened:
- my concentration kicked-in and my breathing rate increased while getting more subtle
- I let go of the urge and noted the pain in my chest as well as the desire to take my usual deep breath
- as the urge increased, I continued to let go and noted it more and more; my breathing rate as a result kept getting higher with a corresponding increase in my heart rate; these I noted as well
- the urge/pain continued till eventually, my whole head was filled with heat and my whole vision brightened like if someone opened up windows to let all the sunshine in; this wasn't a penetrating bright light but just gave a brighter scene; my head and hands felt like they were expanding like a balloon exponentially to the point where they took up my whole mental perception; meanwhile, the breath is still fighting to grasp some air and still is very shallow; I felt fear out of what will happen to me since I've never experienced this before; my whole body started to shake rapidly as I was trying to let go of this urge to take a breath; I've noted all these instances and tried to just keep noting the breath
- eventually, the urge to take a deep breath faded somewhat along with the heat in my head and the body shakes; the images of my head and hands slowly swirled away as if they were getting flushed down a toilet; and what was left was just my rapid breathing and the smaller urge to take the deep breath still remaining in the background; if previously it was at a 9, this was a 3 or 4; as normal, I noted everything and continued to note the breath
- a second wave of the urge resurfaced but this time, was more painful in my chest; as I noted it, I felt my breath working harder and harder to get as much air in through the nostrils to the point where my abdomen stopped being the primary mover of the air and my lungs took over instead; I continued to note everything and eventually the urge to breathe faded away to a 5
- after what felt like a few minutes, a third wave of the urge resurfaced but stayed at around a 7 in pain; I continued to note the breath and my lungs working more than I've ever felt them work in my life; however, the pain just got to me and I couldn't take the discomfort so I took my big breath of air and tried to relax
- during the remainder of the sit, I tried to fight the urge again on three more occasions and I only got to the second wave of the urge only to back-off; the pain in my chest was always there and never seemed to permanently dissipate despite my attempts at noting it and letting it go

I told my teacher about this and he thinks I corrupted my breath over the years by concentrating too much on it, hence the fast breathing. He said it's definitely concentration, but not right concentration, and that I should be getting more and more relaxed, not tight and striving. He instructed I just not note the breath anymore since he thinks I'm attached to it.

Aside from this incident, the teacher hasn't been that great in all honesty; he has said things that make me question his credibility and I've questioned my faith in the practice. For instance, he believes that the Mahasi method is the only way to practice Vipassana and that "(Goenka-style Vipassana) is literally not Vipassana". I now know to run the other way when I hear certain teachers state that their method is the only method, but to say that Goenka is not teaching Vipassana seems a bit ignorant and absurd, which is more disturbing since he has been practicing for around 40 years and is an ordained monk. He's said other things as well like undermining some insights into the 3C's that I've had, but I won't delve into those here.

I'm not going to state his name out of respect but I'm posting this thread because at this point, I'm not sure what to believe. I understand that I never knew any better by not having a teacher in my beginning stages of practice years ago, but I'm honest when I say I don't control my breath when it gets more rapid. Over the years, I naturally worked really hard, disciplined myself, and plowed through pain and discomfort in my daily life and I'm guessing this is what's happening when I start to get into concentration mode (jhana?). I'm concerned because my teacher said that breaking through this barrier is "progress" which implies that if I can't get past this, then my practice will stagnate. This concern added a layer of striving and worry for me when I feel like I should be letting go of everything, so I'm confused here.

On the bright side, I've noticed years ago that I've gained more insights from standing/walking meditation than sitting and I've since focused more on noting the whole body and all the myriad sensations while sitting instead of just the breath, to much success - my samadhi naturally develops when I take a big picture look at my body instead of one part. However, I'm not sure if this is even a valid approach for the Mahasi method since the breath is the primary object. I'm not even sure if this type of Vipassana is even valid since I'm not sure of anyone who does something similar; I would like to clarify that it isn't exactly body scans that I'm doing but rather, looking at the whole body holistically.

Sorry if this was long, but I'm very interested to hear some input. I've listed some questions below for convenience:
- was my teacher right in that I'm attached to my breath? Should I be getting more and more calm?
- was what I experienced normal when noting the urge to take a deep breath? If not, what should I do/try instead?
- is it really necessary to break through the urge to breathe? I feel like this is more related to jhana than it is insight, and I'm not sure if I should be aiming to attain jhanic states rather than focus more on this "dry" insight path.
- is noting the whole body while sitting a valid Vipassana technique? The breath seems to be the main focus everywhere I look/read.
- any other suggestions?

Thank you all for the support and looking forward for the responses.
George S, modified 5 Months ago at 12/30/22 9:22 PM
Created 5 Months ago at 12/30/22 9:20 PM

RE: Noting the Urge to Breath - Odd Experience

Posts: 2752 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Letting go of physical tensions/urges releases a lot of energy which can launch you towards jhana.
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Chris M, modified 5 Months ago at 12/31/22 8:47 AM
Created 5 Months ago at 12/31/22 8:43 AM

RE: Noting the Urge to Breath - Odd Experience

Posts: 4689 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
 told my teacher about this and he thinks I corrupted my breath over the years by concentrating too much on it, hence the fast breathing. He said it's definitely concentration, but not right concentration, and that I should be getting more and more relaxed, not tight and striving. He instructed I just not note the breath anymore since he thinks I'm attached to it.

By trying to manage your breath, all you're doing is causing an unnatural focus on it. And since when does meditation include a painful experience of breathing? I can recall my early days of vipassana meditation, and yes, there was confusion about what to do with the breath. The answer, however, was to let it do what it naturally does! The breath will take care of itself if you focus on it lightly, or focus on a different object. I suggest a different object - touch sensations are easy to perceive and can distract the mind from focusing on the breath in an unhealthy way. Try placing two fingers together, touching one from each hand, and use that sensation as your object.

And stop agonizing over the breath.

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S M, modified 5 Months ago at 12/31/22 9:22 AM
Created 5 Months ago at 12/31/22 9:16 AM

RE: Noting the Urge to Breath - Odd Experience

Posts: 11 Join Date: 12/30/22 Recent Posts
Chris M
By trying to manage your breath, all you're doing is causing an unnatural focus on it. And since when does meditation include a painful experience of breathing? I can recall my early days of vipassana meditation, and yes, there was confusion about what to do with the breath. The answer, however, was to let it do what it naturally does! The breath will take care of itself if you focus on it lightly, or focus on a different object. I suggest a different object - touch sensations are easy to perceive and can distract the mind from focusing on the breath in an unhealthy way. Try placing two fingers together, touching one from each hand, and use that sensation as your object.

And stop agonizing over the breath.

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Thank you and my teacher said the same thing - focus on the touching points of the body on the ground. I notice that when I focus on the body, my samadhi naturally deepens and my breath changes to long, deep, infrequent breathing which is quite the opposite of my fast, shallow, and frequent breathing when I get focuesd. When I get deep enough into my sits, I lose feeling of my feet and hands but still can note the touching sensations of my knees and sit bones - not the same as losing circulation in my legs which hardly ever happens anymore after focusing on maintaining an upright posture.

I forgot to mention that on one occasion during my first retreat while doing anapana, my breath would ramp up naturally in frequency to the point where I couldn't control it because it would be getting so fast. I would have to back off, take a deep breath, and watch it turn from slow to too-fast. My then-instructor said I needed to kick myself out of it because my body is taking control and I needed to suppress it, which is odd because I never controlled it in the first place.

This brought more confusion since I felt like I had to "let go" which I felt like I was doing, but apparently there is always an element of tension/control somewhere, however small. I guess I haven't figured out what that element is yet for my body, or at least it hasn't worked for me yet focusing on the breath. I've read and heard even more stories of practitioners basically fighting urges, striving, and being in control of their body to much success, so not sure why my situation is so different. I feel like there are the "let go" types (Ajahn Chah, Soto Zen) and the "striving" types (Mahasi, Rinzai Zen) and it confuses me that these seem to be so at odds with how they practice. I think by my encounters, I need to try more letting go and less striving.

EDIT: formatting, and added last sentence
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Chris M, modified 5 Months ago at 12/31/22 9:31 AM
Created 5 Months ago at 12/31/22 9:31 AM

RE: Noting the Urge to Breath - Odd Experience

Posts: 4689 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
Meditation is mostly about learning to drop the presumptions about ourselves, what we are, how "things" work, and all the associated habits we form and use over our lifetimes. That's the primary path, anyway. Sure, some people engage in practices that aim to control various aspects of their minds and bodies, but I would suggest to you that those are for more advanced meditators who've at least semi-mastered the letting-go part.
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 5 Months ago at 12/31/22 10:45 AM
Created 5 Months ago at 12/31/22 10:45 AM

RE: Noting the Urge to Breath - Odd Experience

Posts: 3257 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
The specific early insight stages of Cause and Effect, Three Characteristics (the one with pain), and the A&P (Arising and Passing Away) are those in which attending to the breath (or sometimes even not attending to the breath) can create all sorts of weird breath effects like stopping, stuttering, jerking, slow, fast, irregular, shaking, heat, shuddering, and and all of that. Definitely don't make a big deal about this, all just interesting stuff the breath and attention can do in some insight stages, all safe, all ok, all par for the course, just a curious thing that happens to some people sometimes in some stages, typically goes away after the A&P, may recur on next passed through the early insight stages again. Yes, it is weird. Yes, it is easy to make up all sorts of stories about it. As Chris said, let the breath do what it wants, and you will develop your own personal, verified catalogue of the weird things and curious functionality that meditaiton can do/create as attention develops and we go throught he path.
George S, modified 5 Months ago at 12/31/22 1:18 PM
Created 5 Months ago at 12/31/22 1:18 PM

RE: Noting the Urge to Breath - Odd Experience

Posts: 2752 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Since you mentioned you were practicing anapanasati, note that steps 1-2 are to know when the breath is long or short, so it's a natural and expected part of the practice to experience significant variation in breathing patterns. The feeling of the body expanding is step 3 (experiencing the whole body) and calming the breath/body doesn't come until step 4. It's common to fall back to earlier stages, because when you relax physical tensions it releases energy which has knock-on effects on the breath/body which need to be fully experienced and let go. Brightening of the vision is common at steps 9-10 (experiencing and gladdening the mind), but the experience will be more stable if you spend more time in steps 5-6 (experiencing ecstasy & bliss) and steps 7-8 (calming feelings & perceptions).
S M, modified 5 Months ago at 1/4/23 12:07 PM
Created 5 Months ago at 12/31/22 7:25 PM

RE: Noting the Urge to Breath - Odd Experience

Posts: 11 Join Date: 12/30/22 Recent Posts
Thank you all for the feedback. In the past, I haven't had too much time to dwell in the states of fast breathing because my mind always thought there was something wrong with it since I've heard no one else go through this. Next time this happens, I will stick with it as long as I can and see where it takes me.

Anyways, I'm back to noting the breath in the abdomen and had a small insight. I've gathered from all of your responses so far that I should stop doubting my practice and just keep letting go. I've seen much progress doing this but was worried for a little that I had wrong understanding or wrong effort.

Happy New Year
Jonas E, modified 5 Months ago at 1/1/23 11:56 AM
Created 5 Months ago at 1/1/23 11:56 AM

RE: Noting the Urge to Breath - Odd Experience

Posts: 75 Join Date: 2/28/15 Recent Posts
Verry interesting thread! I think I understand the insight stages better now. Like sometimes after I experienced the breath jerking or otherwise, I tried to concentrate to attract that to happen, but it didn't. So I guess it depends on what insight stage you are in; what will happen to the breath. I can find it difficult to just note it and let it happen, and I guess that's where the key is? Also, I think this is where we can get into disagreements and missunderstanding between various ways of teaching (and learning). We can get stuck in anything, interperation and communication. Like scanning the body can become conceptual. Or noting can become conceptual, again it depends in what insight stage we are in. It can be really confusing to communicate in this constantly changing world.
Aviva HaMakom, modified 5 Months ago at 1/2/23 6:29 AM
Created 5 Months ago at 1/2/23 6:29 AM

RE: Noting the Urge to Breath - Odd Experience

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The responses here have been so interesting. I just wanted to add:

Trusting the body and letting go of control are essential to the process. Maybe it would be helpful to cultivate the tranquility and bliss of samatha in addition to your insight practices, ie just keep your mind at the breath spot without noting, just actually noticing the beauty and relief of having nothing else to do but feel it. The pleasure of concentration can do the job of padding your sharp efforts. 

Also, if you note the aversion or doubt in your practice that is coming up here, one thing I have found is that it can help to note "thank you" to these thoughts of control or fear as they come up! If you thank the aversion, you are instantly not in a state of aversion towards it. Honoring these feelings as helpful indicators, showing themselves to you to be liberated, I have found this to be a fast method to transform them.

Best wishes for your continuing exploration. As the singer Bjork says in her song: "it takes courage to enjoy it," something I find endlessly applicable to meditation!
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Griffin, modified 5 Months ago at 1/4/23 4:48 AM
Created 5 Months ago at 1/4/23 4:48 AM

RE: Noting the Urge to Breath - Odd Experience

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Hello George, could you reccommend some good resources on this? I am familiar with Asanga-based TMI stages, but I am interested to learn more about these more traditional sutta-based stages... 
George S, modified 5 Months ago at 1/4/23 11:38 AM
Created 5 Months ago at 1/4/23 11:38 AM

RE: Noting the Urge to Breath - Odd Experience

Posts: 2752 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Bhikkhu Buddhadasa wrote a book on it called Mindfulness with Breathing. Ajahn Brahm's book Mindfulness, Bliss & Beyond also contains a discussion of the anapanasati sutta which fits it nicely in the context of his deep personal experience with the jhanas. I found Leigh Brasington's book useful at an earlier stage with practical tips to access the experience of piti. Other than that, I would just say lots of practice with the first 8-12 anapanasati steps in mind so you can see they function as a guide to progressively deepending concentration. Apanasati is actually a very cleverly designed meditation map, because it captures the fractal nature of concentration practice - looping back through earlier steps at successively deeper levels, and also the fact that the earlier stages of practice ("soft jhana" and/or vipassana jhana) mirror the deeper concentration jhanas:

- stages 1-4 mirror first jhana (placing the mind & keeping it connected) and to a certain extent the first 3 vipassana nanas (physical tension/pain, weird physical & energetic effects)
- stage 5 (piti) mirrors second jhana and A&P nana
- stage 6 (sukha) mirrors third jhana
- stage 7 (experiencing less pleasant feelings & perceptions) mirrors the dukha nanas (technically part of the third vipassana jhana)
- stage 8 (calming feelings & perceptions) mirrors fourth jhana/equanimity nana
- stages 9-12 (experiencing, gladdening, concentrating & liberating the mind) are the gateway into deeper jhana
- stage 13 (conemplating impermanence) is post-jhana vipassana practice
- stage 15 is cessation

I would say it's definitely worth using the anapanasati instructions in your practice because a) it's the most detailed instructions the Buddha appears to have used and left for practicing jhana and b) to some extent most other concentration/meditation instructions are going to reflect this map because it is well-designed and accurate, and the basic underlying concentration process is probably the same on a physiological level whatever instructions/tradition you are following ... Anapanasati: the original and still the best!
S M, modified 5 Months ago at 1/4/23 12:03 PM
Created 5 Months ago at 1/4/23 11:57 AM

RE: Noting the Urge to Breath - Odd Experience

Posts: 11 Join Date: 12/30/22 Recent Posts
Aviva HaMakom

Maybe it would be helpful to cultivate the tranquility and bliss of samatha in addition to your insight practices, ie just keep your mind at the breath spot without noting, just actually noticing the beauty and relief of having nothing else to do but feel it. The pleasure of concentration can do the job of padding your sharp efforts. 

This thread has made me realize that I've been neglecting jhana practice for years and that this is something I should probably focus more on. Despite my feelings towards my previously aforementioned teacher, I think he is right in that what he described as the feeling of not breathing is actually progress; however, he failed to mention to me that what he was actually doing when he initially "lost" his breath years ago was seeping into the jhanas. I'm surprised he never even mentioned this to me with his 40+ years of experience, but it at least inspired me to do some research on my own.

I picked up Leigh Brasington's Right Concentration years ago and knew upon first skimming through that I was not ready for this material yet. I'm now ready to do some exploring with the jhanas and it's been quite the experience so far. Just last night, I think I finally entered first jhana, although for not very long. What surprises me is that what Leigh was describing in the pre-jhanic states was something that I've been experiencing for YEARS and YEARS. He mentions the following on page 45, which provides even more justification for my fast breathing:

The following is not really a problem but bears mentioning: Very often when someone enters the first jhāna, their breath becomes very rough—there are short, sharp gasps that are very unlike the subtle breaths while in access concentration. This is totally normal! Once the pīti and sukha start rising, don’t worry in the least what your breathing does—it quite likely will change noticeably. Furthermore, your breathing may not settle back down until you move on toward the second jhāna.

I've been breathing like this for years and thought nothing of it and apparently, I was in/near first jhana while my teacher thought my breathing was an attachment. Also, what was very striking was how unpeaceful and uncalm the first jhana felt - quite the opposite of feeling more and more calm like what my teacher advised.

Anyway, back to Aviva's response: I'm starting to appreciate the U Ba Kin approach of utilizing samatha first then vipassana later as the calm and tranquility makes it easier to experience the 3C's. However, I'm unsure of how to combine the two approaches in my practice. I've tried switching back to anapana but find myself just noting every experience, and noting my abdomen gets me in access concentration stages pretty reliably - I see nimittas almost every single time I close my eyes whether that be standing, sitting, or laying. I'd hate to do both and run myself too thin, to which Daniel says the following in MCTB2 on page 163:

My advice to counter this trend to cling to low-level half-samatha, half-vipassana jhana is to pick either concentration or insight and really develop that, such that you really power either the insight or the concentration aspect of practice at any given time, meaning that if you are working on concentration, give that your all, and when you are doing insight practice, give that your all.

Noting does lead to much concentration and think I just may stick to that. All experiences have the 3C's no matter how profound they feel, so I'm going to keep noting and letting everything go and see where that takes me. I'm going to pick up some of the other jhana books that Daniel mentioned in MCTB2 on page 156 and start some exploring to get in deeper territory.

EDIT: paragrph formatting and clarifications in last paragraph

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