View Full Version : How to find breath?

10th August 2012, 07:40 PM
I've been reading the very reccomended "Mindfulness in plain English" and it really speaks to me, however I seem to have a problem not mentioned in the book. Now let me preface this by saying all my life I've been a very visual learner, so abstract concepts like breath are difficult for me to wrap my mind around since i cant see it, but vissipana is suppose to be everyone, so I'd like to think it'll work even for me despite my difficult time with non visual learning. The first meditations I did worked well because it allowed me to visualize things and it sucked me in, but I am having a really hard time with Vissipana.

I dont have much a problem concentrating, when my mind wanders sometimes, I can readily see it and get it back to breathing but the thing is I cant find my natural breath. Whenever I try to concentrate on it, it becomes manual and labored or I stop breathing altogether until I take a breath myself. The book and indeed meditation information on the whole seems to make finding your breath easy which makes me frustrated as I cant help but wonder if I have some issue that makes Vissipana more difficult for me then it should be.

Thanks for any help on this, as gentle as Vissipana might be, Im starting to think the only thing that'll push me to pure awareness is Zen Meditation despite how tough Bhante says it is, at least I can work with impossible problems (This happens alot in science).

11th August 2012, 09:33 AM
Hello, LenaNight.

The breath is wherever you feel the sensation of it passing through your body. Easiest to spot for most is the sensation of air passing over the nostrils, that's why it's often recommended.

Don't get hung up about the "natural breath." Just focus on the breath. Notice what quality it has. Is it forced, relaxed, long, short, etc? That's what your breath is like at the moment. Be with it. It is good enough if you don't change it on purpose, refraining from trying to manipulate it. There's no "good way to breathe" for Vipassana as opposed to other practices working with breath. It's just observation. So, the "natural breath" is what you get when you're not actively pursueing any specific quality of breath, like long, relaxed breathing or any of the myriad of Yoga or Daoist breathing techniques. It's okay if you take the breath consciously, its qualities are still worth observing. The qualities of the breath then will reflect those of the conscious mind.

Thanks for any help on this, as gentle as Vissipana might be, Im starting to think the only thing that'll push me to pure awareness is Zen Meditation despite how tough Bhante says it is, at least I can work with impossible problems (This happens alot in science).

This is probably the reason why this is not a good idea for you. You already have certain mental habits to the table, and so you might miss the point of the koan method altogether. The koan method is also best trained under the supervision of a teacher who checks your responses to see how you're doing. My personal guess is that the koan method can be misleading without this regular reality check.

In the Zen and Mahayana schools there are certain methods that are designed to lead you beyond the thinking mind. That's their ultimate purpose - like for example the koans. I'm not sure this would work for you in the way you expect.

12th August 2012, 04:44 AM
Thanks for replying, that makes it alot easier to meditate on, its a real distraction when I keep wondering about something as silly as 'am I really doing this right?". I thin Vipassana is more difficult then being questioned or pushed into awareness. Mostly because as I said Im a visual learner so analyzing through feel makes it hard on me to figure out somethings properties be with breath or walking meditation.

However I think you may be right, Im always trying to find theories to impossible questions, or at least that is what Science feels like, so that is familiar to me, which makes me think the familiarity might not inspire me to concentrate so much. Still Im not sure what is suppose to happen, I've been being mindful in many things like focusing on the task at hand and mindfully going back to that if my mind wanders and observing emotions and events happening in normal life... yet I dont feel wiser, generally speaking I dont feel much to begin with because of Anhedonia.

12th August 2012, 10:55 PM
Hi LenaNight,

I'm glad to hear that you're working on Vipassana, and please trust that the composite parts have a way of naturally falling into place with time. It took me four solid months of hit-and-miss meditation sessions before I felt confident I could observe my breath without the engine of thought intruding all over the place. Just give it time. Don't do too much in a session. If you're getting frustrated you can always try the counting techniques he outlines. I still start my sessions by taking at least five minutes to really breath deeply, count each exhale, and set my intent to focus. Then I let my breathe settle to an unforced state and focus on the sensation of inhaling.

As Korpo mentioned, the whole idea is to just grab that first ring: finding the breath and having some idea of its quality, meaning, how ragged, soft, forced, etc. You're building up awareness while encouraging focus. In time, that focus sharpens, thoughts fall away, and awareness emerges and strengthens. And that's the whole idea here in the beginning: we want to differentiate awareness from thought by tethering our focus to something uncomplicated--breathe.

I also strongly encourage against Zen to start with. I'd say it's more than just tough, but I don't want to sound critical of the tradition.

Have you ever had a saltwater aquarium? I find meditation much similar in that you want to carefully work each step in setting it up, get all your variables right, and patiently let it come to balance before you put fish in. If you meddle too much up front, your PH gets all wonky, the water doesn't become favorable, and anything you put in will die. So relax. Find that breathe and just keep moving in a stable routine.


13th August 2012, 07:54 PM
There is a system in some Zen schools to help beginners. The meditator starts by counting each breath (inhale + exhale) up to 10, then starting back at 1. If the meditator gets distracted before reaching 10, he starts all over again at 1. When the meditator can maintain attention on breath for a decent amount of time-- say, five or ten minutes-- he stops counting and simply stays with the breath. When the meditator can do this for a few minutes without distraction, he does "just sitting," which is zazen proper. It's almost like choiceless awareness.

Try this link...


Then of course there is koan training, which is very difficult, especially without proper instruction. Koan training is popular with "Samurai Zen," but less popular with other schools.

As for finding the breath, I have a little trick that I do. I start by taking deep breaths and relaxing my body. Then I focus on my heartbeat, which I find fairly easy to find in a relaxed state. After a few moments of that, I sort of "sneak up" on the breath by noticing my chest rise and fall or the feeling of air on my nostrils.

24th August 2012, 09:27 AM
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