Questions from around the world on the MIDL Mindfulness Meditation System.
Your Question: How do I experience warmth and coolness during meditation and what is meant by 'within the body'?
Stephen Procter: 'Within the body' refers to the experience of your whole body internally and externally as it sits in meditation. To experience warmth and coolness within your body means to just generally be aware of the experience of any warmth or coolness within your body that you can feel, regardless of where it is. Location is not important and if you can or can't experience both warmth or coolness is also not important. Just tune into what it feels like to sit in meditation, into any sensations that you can feel as you sit. These sensations are being used as a gentle 'grounding point' for awareness, a reference point from which to observe habitual movements of your attention.
You Asked: How do I experience the feeling of heaviness during meditation?
My Reply: Heaviness is an experience that will arise within your body when it totally relaxes and your muscles no longer hold your body weight. We can only experience heaviness when we are totally relaxed.
To feel it now:
1. Hold your arm out in front of you.
2. Relax your effort to hold your arm up without dropping it.
3. The downwards 'pull' in your arm is the experience of heaviness.
In your meditation posture:
1. Align your posture so that your body is balanced within itself, balancing on your spine.
2. Gradually relax the muscles in your body and tune into the experience of heaviness.
You Asked: Question about posture adjustments during meditation, should these be carried out? For instance, I found my spine curving into a C and consciously sat erect to fix it. Is there a specific way to carry out such adjustments?
My Reply: Yes, in the beginning it is beneficial to play with your posture to reteach your body how to balance within itself. During my intensive practice days my posture was continuously collapsing, the strength of my samadhi continued (concentration) and the collapse did not bother me but my body was suffering from this continued abuse - this is not the middle way.
One of my teachers changed my meditation object from mindfulness of breathing to mindfulness of posture for the next 3 weeks. I made the collapse of my posture my meditation object. In this way I noticed the collapsing earlier until I could notice the very moment the alignment of my posture started to change. In observing this it is helpful to observe the relationship between the deflation of the out-breath and the compacting (or collapsing) of the body within itself, importantly the stacking of the vertebrae and alignment of the bowling ball (head) on the bow of the neck.
This is a wonderful mindfulness practice if done slowly with curiosity, also always be aware of and delay the intention to make the adjustment or movement, before following it so that the intention becomes clear to you.
Your Question: In this meditation, you say ‘... the pressure of your body as it rests on the floor, grounded...’ What does it mean to be grounded?
Stephen Procter: The purpose of 'grounding' is to create a reference point to our present experience as a counter to the minds habitual tendency to turn towards the past or future. All meditation objects in this way are 'grounding' points. This 'grounding' point gives us the ability to observe habitual movements of our attention away from it and the coming and going of that attention.
'Grounding' is the continuous bringing of awareness to the present experience until awareness immerses within that experience and is 'grounded' within it. In meditation this is called the applying and sustaining of attention and is the effort we apply during meditation. We bring awareness to our object of meditation and keep reapplying that awareness until it sustains by itself.
When creating a 'grounding' point in midl mindfulness meditation we bring awareness to the sensate quality of an experience. For example the ‘warmth’ of our body can be a 'grounding' point, the ‘pressure’ of the touch of our hands, the ‘hardness’ of our body as it rests on the floor or the ‘heaviness’ of our body as it relaxes.
In the beginning we are just aware of sensations; with practice awareness immerses into the sensate quality of the body and dwells within it without effort. 'Grounding' of awareness within the sensate quality of our body can protect us during difficult experiences. The Buddha called this Kaya-gata-sati: mindfulness immersed within the body.
Your Question: I found it difficult to stay with my body during this meditation, my mind kept thinking. How do I make it stop?
Stephen Procter: One of our first lessons in midl mindfulness meditation is that it is not easy to stop wandering off and becoming lost within thinking during the meditation session - and that this is perfectly ok. One of the key points to understand is that your mind wandering is not a problem - this is what it does. Your heart beats, your lungs breathe and your mind thinks; it wanders between all your senses. This is is job.. There are parts of your mind that are habitual and the wandering of your attention is part of that.
Your task during midl mindfulness meditation is not to stop your mind from wandering but rather to develop the skill of being able to observe when it does wander; to develop understanding about it. By taking interest in the points of change between being fully aware that you are sitting in meditation and noticing whenever you forget that awareness, the clarity of your mindfulness will increase and the periods in which you become lost within thinking will naturally become shorter. You will then start to notice your attention move without becoming lost within it. You will be able to notice these as subtle shifts of your attention away from awareness of your body.
As mindfulness develops these habitual movements of attention will become clearer to you. At this stage in your meditation skill you will start to understand, there are times when you can observe thinking, there are other times when you become lost within it; and both are ok. Both teach you about the true nature of your mind, both teach you about the impersonal nature of thinking. It is the Wisdom that arises from the understanding that develops from mindfully observing your mind that frees you from thinking. Wisdom develops at its own pace, as a meditator you just need to develop the curiosity to look.
Your Question: From what you've said, I understand that sensations in my body are reflections of the mind, can you explain this?
Stephen Procter: One of the main roles of the body is as a sense organ. Your eye is a sense organ sensitive to light, your ear to sound, nose to smell, tongue to taste and your body is a sense organs sensitive to touch. Your mind uses sensory input through these five senses to understand the world around it.
As a sense organ the bodies job is to reflect touch. Some sensations arise in the body to reflect the touch of the world it. Some sensations arise in the body to reflect the touch of the mind. As midl meditators we learn to tell the difference between sensations within our body that are reflections of the world and sensations within our body that are reflections of our state of mind.
You asked: “So if I just notice and feel the sensations and emotions in my body, does that then clear and release them from both the body and the mind?”
My Reply: It is not a matter of releasing them; while this is popular thinking it is coming from aversion; as if these sensations and emotional signatures shouldn't be there. Your body is just doing what it is meant to do, it is reflecting your state of mind. Some of these reflections are given names such as pleasant or unpleasant feeling; such as emotions. These are not something to be released from your body but instead something to be understood. They are reflections of your state of mind within your body, true reflections of your relationship towards what you are experiencing now. It is the relationship that is important not the reflection.
It is this relationship of attraction or aversion that should be observed and understood. The habitual "I like this", I don't like that", it is at this point that all suffering arises within the mind, your body just reflects this, it is of no use trying to change a reflection. It is always a matter of observing and softening relationship, of relaxing your relationship towards what you are experiencing. this creates the path.
You asked: “Is my busy mind focusing on thoughts giving them fuel?”
My Reply: Where awareness sits energy goes. Wherever your attention is focused that is where mental energy will go. I this is habitually towards thinking about something that that focus will feed the mental fire.If this is grounded within the sensations within your body then the mental energy will also be grounded.
You asked: So if I can put my awareness in my body and have that distance from my mind, it stops giving the mind fuel?
My Reply: Thinking needs participation to continue, it needs awareness to immerse within it. Like a fire that is no longer being fed it will consume the fuel and go out by itself. Immersing awareness within the experience of the body removes the fuel. The problem is that being attentive to thinking and identifying with it as ‘my thoughts’ is habitual, this is part of delusion. Wisdom brings this identification to an end.
Your Question: Could you clarify how to do this MIDL 2/52 and its purpose? I feel that I don't quite understand what I am doing and found it difficult to be openly aware.
Stephen Procter: MIDL Mindfulness Training 2/52 is the second mindfulness training concerned with the 'grounding of awareness. While MIDL 1/52 grounds awareness within the sensate quality of our body, MIDL 2/52 is concerned with grounding within the observing awareness itself. Simply we are moving from observing sensations within our body to observing the awareness of them. As we do this we will start to notice that awareness itself has the ability to focus, it can focus closely in on one thing or be open to all our senses.
Within this range of focus in most meditators a deficiency can be observed in the tendency of the mind to prefer one type of focus of awareness over another. Since the MIDL meditator is concerned with developing flexibility of attention it is beneficial to train the ability to freely adjust the focus of awareness from wide to narrow so that the full range is comfortable.
This is trained in a very simple way by first being aware of being aware of all our senses and grounding within them, then bringing awareness to our body as it sits and grounding within it, then bringing awareness to the touch of two fingers and grounding awareness within it. We then slowly cycle through these three levels of focus to decondition any habituation within the mind towards one tendency or another.
You Asked: Moving awareness was a challenge between these three points, it is hard to let go of my fingers touching to focus more broadly. Mind seems to prefer the smaller things, so my attention kept moving around to each of them in turn. It was hard to zoom out and take it all in at once and easier to observe one point.
My Reply: Wonderful, there is much to learn here.
Notice the habituation of your attention, take interest in it. Your mind habitually wants to zoom in on one thing and has trouble being aware of many things - fantastic - now you are learning about yourself; about the mind that you view the world through. The nature of this attention will also explain the nature of your personality. This can manifest in daily life as obsessive attention. On the other hand inability to focus on one thing and always wide in awareness tends to lead to an inability to stay with one thing in daily life and continuous doubt.
Awareness is like sight.
Imagine if you moved around through the world and your sight would only zoom in on individual things; you had no peripheral vision, no ability to see the bigger picture. If this was the case you would not be able to move through the world within banging into things, you would crash if you were driving a car or your mind would endlessly be agitated as it rapidly moved from one individual object to another. Do you crash into things in your relationship to life?
This range of focus of awareness is different for all of us, for some people wide awareness is easy and one-pointed awareness is difficult, for others one-pointed is easy and wide is difficult, others side somewhere in the middle. We will see this clearly as the community shares their experience (I hope you all will as it is beneficial to seeing patterns).
We all have strengths and weaknesses in this area, this is part of the problem.
In MIDL 2/52 we are learning the skill of smooth focus of awareness, not becoming habitual or stuck within this range from narrow to wide. As we do this we also start to develop understanding of the impersonal and habitual nature of our mind, of the factors that make up attention, how they are balanced and their relationship towards resistances within our heart.
Your Question: I find it difficult to move on because in MIDL 1/52 training my mind was wandering so much I feel un-prepared to move along to MIDL 2/52 after 1 week. What should I do?
Stephen Procter: Your minds wandering is none of your business, why are you trying to make it do something else other then what it is doing. If your sense of peace is based on what your mind is or is not doing then this peace will be fragile because your mind is not under your control. It will let you down.
Instead allow your mind to wander if it wants to, but observe this wandering and observe its habitual and impersonal nature until this is very clear to you. Do this until you deeply understand "this thinking is not me". When you realize through observation that you are not your thoughts, then its antics will not bother you, you will understand that your mind is none of your business. Ironically when you give up the fight your mind will stop fighting itself and feel safe and the immune system of your mind will turn off by itself, everything will settle down including the obsessive thinking.
Your Question: What do you mean by attention and moving attention during meditation? What is the difference between attention and being distracted?
Stephen Procter: The word 'attention' is being used as a meditation language to describe your ability to be intentionally aware of something during meditation by moving it from one thing to another in a similar way you may use a beam of light from a torch to bring clarity to a dark room.
Meditative attention in MIDL is made up of four things:
1. Curiosity / investigation.
These four factors make up your attention during mindfulness meditation and allow you to be clearly aware of your meditation object. All work together and each has a particular function. Curiosity for example, the intentionally being aware of your object of meditation, stimulates mindfulness. Mindfulness, literally remembering what you are experiencing now, develops concentration, the focusing of awareness. When awareness concentrates this brings about steadiness and clarity of the awareness allowing you to experience things more clearly in order to develop Wisdom.
Habitual movement of your attention happens when your forget to be mindful, literally forgetting what you are doing /. experiencing now, causing curiosity to collapse. the habitual mind then takes over your attention and moves it towards your habitual dwelling place, in this case thinking.
Habitual distracted attention is made up of two things:
When you become distracted, that is your attention habitually moves and you do not notice it, then curiosity and mindfulness have collapsed. When distracted your attention is made up of two things, concentration and awareness. Since there is no mindfulness present in distraction you will not know you are distracted until you come out of it. And because there is no mindfulness present there will be no curiosity / investigation and no understanding cultivated. Your mind borrows this concentration and awareness and uses it to absorb into distraction such as thinking.
When I say 'move your attention' or 'your attention moves' it means:
1. To deliberately focus your awareness to one point on one meditation object.
2. To deliberately move your awareness from one meditation object to another.
3. The habitual movement of your awareness from one object to another when mindfulness collapses.
To get the most out of this exercise focus on:
1. intentionally moving and placing your awareness on one point within your body and holding it there for the desired time.
2. Mentally 'feeling' any sensations at that point.
3. Observing every time your awareness shifts from the chosen point within your body, acknowledge this movement of attention and bringing it back. Your description of experiencing many sensations is a sign that this aspect of your attention is being trained.
Do not be too concerned if you can not feel the breathing or sensations in a particular area, guided meditations need to be generic. Whatever you experience is correct, there is no need to try to experience something that is not yet present to you.
Your Question: What does breathing with my diaphragm have to do with Buddhist Satipatthana practice? I can understand this as a way of feeling less stressed but didn't the Buddha say that we should practice mindfulness of breathing?
Stephen Procter: There are many doorways that we can enter when practicing Satipatthana Vipassana (mindfulness meditation). While on a physical level, retraining of our breathing patterns to autonomous diaphragmatic breathing lowers the experience of anxiety, it also opens the doorway to something much more profound if trained as a foundation for mindfulness within daily life.
Intentional retraining of breathing patterns covers all four Satipatthanas. When the meditator begins breathing retraining they develop Kayanupassana: Mindfulness of Body by bringing awareness to the sensations within the movement of the diaphragm within their body. While in the first two stages of breathing retraining the movement of the diaphragm is controlled, during the third stage the meditator holds bare awareness of the movement of breathing as it moves autonomously within their body. Awareness of this movement develops a heightened sensitivity to the experience of breathing as well as their relationship towards it.
This increased sensitivity to breathing naturally transfers into the meditators daily life allowing them to observe their breathing patterns throughout the day creating a foundation from which they can observe their habitual relationship of attraction or aversion. Mindfulness of breathing patterns changing from belly to chest breathing throughout the day, becomes a 'red flag' that signals the meditators relationship towards experiences within their life, allowing them to observe any habitual relationships.
When the meditator enters into the third stage of breathing retraining they immerse awareness into the experience of their body and allow the re-engaged diaphragm to move autonomously, free from control. This is their first training in the skill of mindfulness of breathing and teaches them how to experience the breath, free from control. At this stage they start to notice their habitual desire to control their breathing and develop an understanding of the relationship between their state of mind and the experience of breathing within their body. They are now developing the third foundation of Cittanupassana: Mindfulness of Mind. This sensitivity to changes within their breathing patterns naturally transfers into their daily life, heightening the understanding of how the experience of their body changes to reflect their state of mind.
As breathing retraining progresses the meditator becomes very aware of the correlation between the unpleasantness they experience while chest, stress breathing and the pleasantness they experience through diaphragmatic breathing. Sensitivity to the relationship between the experience of their body, interaction of their mind and the feeling tone that arises, dependant on both, develops. This increased sensitivity to unpleasantness and pleasantness, separate from the experience of the sensate quality of the body, brings the meditator into the development of Vedananupassana: Mindfulness of Feeling.
This increased sensitivity to the experience of their body, the interaction of the mind and feeling tone as a reflection of their mind, within their body becomes very clear to the meditator at this stage taking them into Dhammanupassana: Mindfulness of Conditioned Processes. The meditator now starts to see clearly the conditioned relationship between the experience of their body, mind and the feeling tone present. This sensitivity makes habitual defensive patterns of reaction within them very clear and provides the basis from which they can observe and soften their relationship towards these patterns within their daily life. The process of observing and softening into this habitual process becomes clear to them and the Satipatthana path of deconditioning through mindful non-participation opens up thereby cultivating the factors of the Noble Eightfold Path.
Your Question: Why do we normalize the breath, making inhalation and exhalation the same length when practicing MIDL?
Stephen Procter: The Stress Response changes the way that the diaphragm muscle works by tightening or locking it in the upward position under the lower rib cage, as it prepares the body for fight / flight. If we are exposed to stress / anxiety for a period of time, the diaphragm muscle, through lack of use, tightens and shortens in its range of movement. this can also be affected by lifestyle habits such as incessant talking, free diving (holding your breath), swimming, body obsession (belly in , chest out fashions) etc. Anything that changes our breathing patterns for a period of time.
When working with different people, some have a short movement of the diaphragm on the in-breath, some a short movement on the out-breath and others both movements are short. Short = 1 - 3 sec diaphragm movement on either in or out-breath. This shortness causes the body to mimic the stress response with short, shallow chest breathing, tricking the mind into thinking it is always under stress. This leads to hyperventilation, a lowering of CO2 levels and confusion in the regulation by the brain of respiration giving rise to the experience of anxiety.
Intentionally moving the diaphragm slowly down and back up again, strengthens the diaphragm muscle and increases its range of movement. This does not mean that we always breathe a 5 sec breath for example, it means that our brain has the option to use this full range of movement when we are under load such a jogging or exercising without having to resort to chest, hyperventilation (over breathing).
You asked: I felt that counting seconds along the length of the breath made me too aware of that, so I didn’t feel any calmer when breathing more slowly.
My Reply: Then don't count. Guided meditations by their nature are generic; they cannot be adapted to every person that uses them. Learn to be sensitive to yourself, anything that is said in a guided meditation is just a suggestion. Use it as a structure for your meditation, investigate the suggestions. If they don't work for you then drop them like a hot rock and move on. Later revisit them and see if they are useful.
You asked: Should ribs/chest be engaged in daily life or only when Softening into something?
My Reply: During this training we exercise the full range of the breath. When stress breathing, the diaphragm disengages and the chest moves up and down in short shallow breaths. During stress breathing the ribs do not open and the chest does not expand, it just moves up and down. The muscles in the upper chest become fatigues and tightness appears in the upper chest and middle of the back under the shoulder blades. This is all part of anxiety.
The important part of the stress breath is that it is upside-down. The breath habitually moves from the top of the chest downward, when I ask someone with anxiety this is how they breathe - upside down. A normal, non-stress breath is experienced as starting below the belly button, moving up through the ribs and into the top of the chest - the opposite direction.
To retrain correct breathing patterns as a basis for the MIDL Softening skill it is not enough to just breathe in our belly, we also need to learn to bring it through our ribs, expanding in our chest. This also offers the brain, as mentioned above, to use the full range of breathing when it is under physical load, returning to short, gentle breathing in the belly when we are relaxed.
You asked: In daily life, I’m never able to notice where my breath is automatically. I actively remember to do diaphragm breathing every now and then during the day - but have no idea of how it was before this. Will this come over time?
My Reply: If you approach this training in a mindful and gentle way, yes, your breathing patterns throughout the day will become very clear to you and you will notice the slightest change within your breathing, in particular the movement of the diaphragm, in relation to your state of mind. At first you just get glimpses of this, but if practiced daily for 3 - 4 weeks, this will become much more natural and sensitivity will be greatly increased. The noticing and not noticing as exactly the same as when you are in seated meditation; it is the same game that we play.
You asked: So, I didn’t feel any calmer. When I heard the instruction ‘... breathe out further than ever before...’ I tensed up. I started to put effort in breathing out fully. How can I feel calmer?
My Reply: Yes this is right, the meditation is doing exactly what it is meant to do, it is highlighting your desire to control. When you heard the instruction you tensed up, this is giving you a clear insight into the relationship between sound, your mind and your body.
Isn’t this interesting?
Is there a correlation between your effort to breathe out and the tension? What did you do with this effort when you noticed it? The over-efforting, the over-trying to achieve is the problem here, not the meditation. Whenever you notice the desire to strive use it to learn how to relax your effort. Use it to learn how to give up any desire to do anything.
You asked: When I heard your new instructions about ‘... feeling heavier...’: I became even more tense, then started to cry. I can’t relax, but I want so dearly to be able to.
My Reply: Can you see the irony of this statement that arose within your mind? "I can't relax, but I want...." Wanting and relaxing are opposite; the tension you feel is coming out of the effort of your wanting. Heaviness arises only when we relax, relaxation arises when we give up all effort, especially the effort to do anything at all, including the desire to relax.
We are starting to see a pattern within your mind, this is wonderful, and this is showing you the way out. It is not the meditation technique that is the problem here, it is the desire to achieve, the desire to control. Whenever you do any meditation I would like you to make this desire your meditation object, learn to observe and relax into to desire. Also learn to observe that this desire is not you, it is a habitual protection mechanism released by your Survival mind in order to protect you.
It is not personal.
Your Question: I have noticed sometimes when I breathe into the ribs and particularly up into my chest it feels like there is a tightness there almost like I have run out of breath, is this part of the stress response?
Stephen Procter: From my experience this tightness in the chest arises in four ways:
1. Breathing Downwards from The Chest:
Trying to inflate the belly by breathing from the chest downwards towards the belly. This is still stress breathing, the breathing is up-side-down. It is possible that you can think that you are diaphragm breathing and you are not. In this case the breath in the belly will be experienced as a 'push down' from the chest, you may be trying to push down the diaphragm muscle. This will give a feeling of tightness in the middle of the chest and lower ribs as the inflating lungs push against the locked diaphragm. It is best picturing the diaphragm being pulled down rather then pushed, like you have a handle or rubber band below your belly button pulling it down. This can be tricky at first but one it is experienced the difference is very clear.
2. Over Inflating the Belly:
If you over-inflate your belly before bringing the breath up into your chest you will experience tightness and lack of breath in your chest. This is opposite to above. Your chest can only inflate while your diaphragm muscle is moving downwards. If you fully inflate your belly before bringing the breath up (you can try it now), Your breath will feel stuck at the base of your ribs and will not be able to move up into your chest. It is only necessary start the breath below your belly button with a small breath before bringing it up into your ribs and chest to allow them to inflate.
3. Slumping In Your Body:
If you are slumping forward in your body, this can happen lying down but is more susceptible when sitting up, your lower rib cage will turn inwards and press against the base of your lungs preventing them from inflating properly (try slumping forward now and take in a deep breath). This will give a feeling of tightness in the chest and also an uncomfortable feeling in the solar plexus - its bad posture. This slumping is often the cause of the nervous, sick feeling in people with anxiety and depression because of their body slumping forward as they return to fetal position. You can observe people do this when they feel unwell, trying to go back into the safety of the womb. With posture adjustment = shoulders forward, up, back and then dropped down, the chest will open and this feeling will go away (try a deep breath now with the ribs extended out-wards instead of slumping).
4. Over-inflating The Chest:
If you are putting in too much effort into the inflation of your chest you will develop an uncomfortable tightness within it. It is not necessary to inflate the chest to the point of tension, any opening of the chest will come from relaxing the muscles not from engaging them.
Your Question: I notice the resistance and also some anxiety about not being able to get enough breath.
My Reply: When our stress response is on we over-breathe, this means that our respiration rate is too fast. When doing the MIDL Mindfulness Training we intentionally slow down our respiration rate as well as start breathing through our nose, the breathes become long and slow rather the short and fast. to the mind that is used to a faster rate of breathing it can feel like we are not getting enough breath and suffocating. This will also happen at the final relaxation stage where the breath in the belly becomes so subtle that it feels like we aren't breathing at all.
To the mind survival instinct this can be fearful and the urge to take extra big breathes will arise. this fear is experienced as an anxiety, which of course changes the breathing rate and brings it into the upper chest. This is the game we are playing. If you observe that even though your mind is saying you are suffocating, if you look, your are still alive, so obviously your are not; instead you are dealing with habit.
This of course can be caused by any of the four points above.
Your Question: How do I apply diaphragm breathing in daily life, do I take deep breaths throughout the day?
Stephen Procter: Now that we have started becoming more intimate with our breathing patterns it is time to increase this new found sensitivity in daily life.
Check your breathing throughout the day.
"Is my breathing in my belly or my chest?"
"Am I holding my breath?"
Look at the relationship between resistance towards what is and your breathing pattern.
Place your finger tips below your belly button and gently bring the breath into your belly, switching the diaphragm back on, with five slow, lower belly breaths.
Notice any changes in your body and state of mind.
Your Question: When doing this meditation my diaphragm returns to breathing and happens naturally in my belly but when I finish the meditation and go back into daily life it disengages and I start breathing in my chest again. How long does it take to change my breathing patterns?
Stephen Procter: Diaphragmatic breathing is a foundation skill in MIDL and retraining your breathing pattern so that diaphragmatic breathing becomes natural is a doorway of self observation in MIDL mindfulness meditation.
If you practice breathing retraining correctly twice per day it usually takes 3 - 4 weeks to change from habitual chest stress breathing patterns. You are correct that in the last phase of this meditation the diaphragm will re-engage and diaphragmatic breathing will happen autonomously. You will than experience the benefits of correct, natural non-defensive breathing. You are also correct that when you finish the meditation and return to normal life that at some stage your diaphragm will lock and habitual chest chest breathing will start again.
The change of your breathing pattern to chest breathing is a habitual defensive behaviour that re-engages your stress response. There is nothing wrong with this process, it is doing what it is supposed to do, the problem is that this pattern has become habitual so is not turning off when no danger is present. This is a normal part of working with any habit, something will trigger the habitual behaviour and you will fall back into it again and again.
The task of this breathing retraining has four levels:
1. Strengthen and lengthen the movement of the diaphragm by moving it slowly within the belly. This is aided by placing your finger tips just below your belly button, slightly pushing in, and lifting them away from your body by slowly extending and lowering your lower abdominal muscles. In the beginning the range of move may only be 2 - 3 seconds and the diaphragm will move too fast. With gentle practice this will lengthen to 5 seconds on the in-breath and 5 seconds of movement on the out-breath which is a more comfortable range. Even though we train this movement in this way during the meditation, this does not reflect the breathing rate in daily life. your brain will naturally adjust this dependent on what you are doing it just has a greater range of speed and length to work with.
2. Reverse stress breathing from starting at the top of the chest, moving down towards the base of the ribs to starting from below the belly button and moving up towards the top of the chest. This is also necessary because habitual stress breathing lowers the ability of the ribs to expand and contract with breathing.
3. Lying still and allowing the diaphragm to move autonomously for a period of time, without control to reteach your mind what natural breathing feels like. It is not unusual to deal with the desire to control your breathing during this stage, distract yourself and allow your body to do what it already knows how to do.
4. Observing and re-engaging diaphragm breathing throughout your day, whenever you notice that your habitual stress chest breathing pattern has re-engaged again. This is done by placing your finger tips below your belly button, pressing in slightly and slowly lifting and slowly lowering your fingers with your lower abdominal muscles five times. Slow movement is important. This will cause the diaphragm to re-engage autonomously.
Your whole task during this process is to create gaps in the habitual cycle. At first these gaps will be small, your breathing will change back again and again. This does not matter. Gradually the period of time that your diaphragm is re-engaged in breathing throughout the day will increase as will your sensitivity to changes within your breathing patterns.
From this platform you will start to observe and understand the correlation between your resistance towards what you are experiencing in life and changes within your patterns of breathing. This is real mindfulness of breathing from which you will be able to observe and decondition defensive patterns of reaction deeply embedded within your mind.
Your Question: Could you explain what softening breathing is, how do I do this breathing and if there any discernible movement of my body with each breath?
Stephen Procter: The breathing associated with Softening is focused on using slow, deep diaphragmatic breaths in order to bring about deep physical and mental relaxation. While intentionally breathing with your diaphragm you will experience some movement associated with the inflation and deflation of your body with each breath.
When training your Softening skill it is helpful to picture your breath coming in from below your belly button, then moving it upwards towards the base of your ribs and into the top of your chest. As you let the breath out, do so slowly. Like you are deflating; allowing your whole body to relax.
As your skill develops the movement of your body with each breath will become more refined until it is barely discernible. You will no longer need to control your breathing and will be able to relax deeply just by observing the expansion and deflation of the natural breath within your body.
You can now use your skill in Softening with your breath any time you experience attraction or aversion to any experience within seated meditation and daily life. You will have developed the skill of Softening all resistance with each natural out-breath.
Softening develops in this way:
In MIDL 3/52 you develop the ability to use slow, diaphragm breathing in order to make diaphragmatic breathing, your normal breathing. This is a training of the body which involves lengthening and strengthening the diaphragm so you can take slow softening breaths from belly > ribs > chest > relaxing with the out-breath.
In MIDL 4/52 you bring these skills into a seated meditation posture belly > ribs > chest > relaxing with the out-breath. You learn this in order to use the Softening breath while sitting up. But the most important part of this training is aligning awareness with the deflation of the body with the out-breath and learning to 'borrow' the relaxation of the body as the breath goes out. It is this 'borrowing' that moves this into the skill of softening. Borrowing the relaxation of the out-breath is practiced in two stages. The first stage is done by controlling the breath. The second stage is done by allowing the breathing to happening by itself, naturally, and 'borrow' the relaxation of each out breath by aligning awareness with it and abandoning all effort. Allowing the relaxation that arises within the body to enter the mind. 'Allowing' is the key word here.
In MIDL 5/52 we add an extra stage that brings this from physical relaxation to mental Softening. We bring the softening breath in as normal belly > ribs > chest > but on the out-breath we bring awareness to the area in the middle of our forehead and slow down, extend the out-breath through our nose. While we do this we abandon all mental effort, we give up the mental effort 'to do'. This has an interesting effort that is experienced as 'the frontal lobes relaxing'. This however is an experience of relaxing of mental effort or strain. the slow breath out through the nose enhances this relaxing, this abandoning, so much so that when you observe someone doing it properly all personality melts from their face as the cognitive part of their mind temporarily shuts down and they enter into a more primitive level of mind.
The frontal lobes are just a pointer, the experience is the area of the frontal lobes relaxing, sinking. this is a very simple process, it takes hardly any effort at all and since it is a relaxing of mental effort, any effort to relax this effort is the opposite direction. In the early stage through this we can borrow the relaxation of effort to bring deep relaxation to the functions of the mind. Once developed thinking processes and desires to react can be brought to an end, through one simple, slow breath out through the nose; a mental abandoning.
This process of developing Softening goes from very gross - working with the body, to very subtle - abandoning within the mind.
Your Question: Sitting up while breathing from the belly up into the ribs and the chest caused my chest to feel tight and kind of stiff, why would this be?
Stephen Procter: The most common cause of this is posture. To train Softening breathing while seated requires balance in our posture, if the posture is not balanced then this will interfere with the ability to inflate and deflate the chest. The fault is usually found in rounding of the shoulders and slumping forward slightly, this causes the bottom of the rib cage to tilt inwards and press against the base of the lungs causing a tight feeling in the chest. to adjust the posture push your shoulders forward, up, back and then drop them down into place. Notice how this brings the base of the rib cage out and opens the chest. try the breathing while slumping then try it with the chest open and notice the difference.
The other cause is when we think we are breathing with the diaphragm but we are not. this tightness in the chest is caused by breathing downwards to push the diaphragm down instead of breathing from the lower belly up to pull the diaphragm down. Subtle difference but huge difference in the experience.
You Asked: My body is kind of stiff. Probably my muscles aren't used to work against gravity like this.
My Reply: If stress, upper chest breathing is normal for us then there is a significant lowering of the movement and flexibility of the rib cage. Because of this tightness with each in-breath we need to initially help the breath move up by pushing out and opening our lower ribs. With practice this changes and the breath becomes easy and natural.
You Asked:The flow of the breath while doing this training had a slight stuttering quality to it. The slower I tried to breathe, the more I noticed this. Breathing faster caused the flow to be smoother.
My Reply: Yes this is correct and good observation. You are observing the tightness and weakness of the diaphragm muscle through lack of use, this is initially why we do this training. The stuttering can be seen in any muscle that is weak and being worked, slowing the movement during this training makes the diaphragm muscle work. I call it strengthening and lengthening. If I go to the gym to strengthen a muscle, when I first start lifting weights to strengthen the muscle the movement is not smooth or controlled. As the muscle strengthen the movement becomes more controlled and smooth, when full strength appears in the muscle I notice a difference in smoothness and solidity of the movement.
The diaphragm is strengthened by slowing the movement down and moving it precisely on the in and out-breath. When this challenges the muscle it starts to become jerky and vibrate, this will gradually go away as the muscle strengthens and is a normal part of training. Of course we should be sensitive to force through over-effort verses skillful training. As a note of interest I have observed this stuttering of the diaphragm movement in every person i have worked with for anxiety and depression. They all have a weakness in their diaphragm, as the diaphragm strengthens the symptoms of anxiety and depression also fade.
Your Question: Cognitively I get the purpose in developing breath awareness and the softening skill. My resistance lies in my mind thinking this is not real meditation because of the exercise vs sitting with a "normal" meditation focus. Can you please help me understand how this is meditation?
Stephen Procter: To understand this it is helpful to understand how meditation techniques are structured. Most meditation techniques have a very specific way of structuring attention, this then gives rise to a very specific path of experiences that a skilled meditation teacher, within a tradition, can use to guide your meditation practice. This predictability of the conditionality of experience is one of the purposes of specific meditation techniques in different traditions.
When you structure attention in a specific way you will get a specific experience, what appears as a path of development. This predictable path of development of experience is needed, for without this it would be very difficult for one person to guide another in meditation. This predictability of specific techniques also provides a sense of stability and safety and is based on the development of concentration.
MIDL on the other hand takes a different path and this path is more practical when we wish to develop mindfulness meditation while living a normal life. MIDL does not attempt to structure awareness in order to give rise to a specific path of experience or to change our state of mind. Instead it seeks to observe the mind, as it is, in its natural state, without interfering with it.
The mind in its natural state, without the structuring of attention, is messy as it wanders between the six senses. You will experience this messiness when practicing MIDL, it gives a feeling of being out of control and of experience being impersonal. To clarify this mess without changing it, MIDL focuses on developing the watching, the observing, mindful awareness that does not alter the structure of the habitual mind. This is done in order to develop understanding of the interaction of the mind and the six senses to create the conditions for Wisdom to arise.
While structuring attention in a specific way gives rise to a specific path of experience allowing a skilled teacher to guide the meditation path, MIDL does not have this luxury. Instead of using a specific path of experience to guide a meditator's practice, the skilled teacher of MIDL, since concerned with the 'observing awareness', guides the meditation path through observing the relationship of that awareness to the experiences that arise within the mind, instead of the experiences themselves. Since this path is based on relationship, the path itself is transparent and awareness can be structured in different ways in order to challenge the habitual patterns within the mind.
Since the path starts with a mind that is based on habitual attraction and aversion and ends with a mind that is equanimous towards all experience, specific tools are needed to tread the path. The first is based on developing a flexibility of awareness, so that the structuring of attention does not interfere with the mind. The next is the development of the skill of Softening any habitual attraction or aversion that arises within the mind, dissolving the stickiness of awareness as it grasps onto experiences. Stillness is what arises within the mind when the stickiness of attraction and aversion come to an end. At first temporarily due to Softening, eventually permanently due to Wisdom.
As in the repeated stanza in the Satipatthana Sutta, describing the mature meditator "... In this way they dwell independent, not clinging to anything within the world. ..", it is all about the relationship of clinging.
The resistance that you experienced is this habitual clinging and why we meditate.
Within this we can however see the development of your MIDL practice. You said: "...in terms of noticing sounds and grounding in body sensations. It felt like I was able to be more observant more quickly..." This tells me that your ability to observe your mind, without interfering with it is developing. You also said: "..Gently brought myself back and was fairly successful at not judging myself..." This shows your ability to observe and Soften your relationship towards your experience is developing.
So since the mind observed in this way is messy how can you know if your practice is developing?
Again: "..dwell.....not clinging to anything within the world. .."
You will start to notice an increase in self awareness in seated meditation and through out the day. There will be a 'calming' or 'softening' of your personality, your defensive cycles will last for shorter period and you will have less extremes of highs and lows. Everything starts to calm down. Your desire to control in everything will start to fade, as will attraction and aversion within your mind. Periods of equanimity will start to arise and your mind will regularly fall into stillness. The drama will calm from your life and life itself will flow, your concern with past and future will come to an end.
Because the habitual mind, free from control is a mess, it can seem that there is no clearly defined path of meditation. But when we understand that the path is not what arises within the mind but rather observation of the relationship of awareness towards its object, a clear path reveals itself to us, one that has no confines, shape or form. One that is not confined by structure, posture or situation.
Your Question: During the 3rd stage when you guide to let go of control over breathing is when I experience the most relaxation. However during this stage l also find myself breathing shallower then usual; it feels like it is mostly in my upper chest may not be belly breathing. Should I practice MIDL Training 3 more?
Stephen Procter: As your mind calms it is natural for your breathing to calm as well, one reflects the other. During the stage of letting go of control, breathing can become very subtle and difficult to perceive. If you are relaxing deeply during the meditation and not feeling restless then it is likely that your diaphragm is still engaged, it is just that the movement has become very small. In this case do not concern yourself with your breathing just allow it to flow naturally and find its own balance.
If you are still unsure and feel that your breathing is only in your upper chest, then it will not hurt to repeat MIDL Mindfulness Training 3/52. MIDL 3/52 and 5/52 are similar in that they both have a third stage of letting go of control over breathing. It is just that 3/52 is focused more on engaging the diaphragm and 5/52 is more focused on the deflation of the whole breath. When you understand this you can change your focus to begin this MIDL Training using the diaphragmatic breathing learnt in MIDL 3/52 and transition it into MIDL 5/52 softening when you reach the third stage of the deflation of your whole body.
Your Question: Enjoying the series! wondering about the sigh instructions...don't know if I can distinguish the difference between a sigh and exhale.
Stephen Procter: A gentle sigh out through the nose is like an extended out-breath, slow, gentle, calm. This is done by slightly increasing the back pressure to make the out-breath slow and gentle. Like air coming slowly out of a valve in a car tire. When you first train this it may make some sound but with practice it becomes incredibly subtle with no discernible sound at all.
The slow, gentle sighing releases mental tension, this tension is associated with thinking - literally thinking needs mental tension to exist. Through learning to use the gentle sighs to 'mentally deflate', any thought process can be dropped out at will, creating a tool for deeper MIDL practice.
You Asked: I have a couple more questions on the "sigh" upon exhale. Is this through the nose or through the mouth and is there any audible voice with the sigh? I notice that when I try to slow my sigh that I begin to tighten up which seems counterproductive to the "softening into". When I sigh more naturally the exhale is quicker than the inhale.
My Reply: The breath is always drawn in and out of the nose, we never use our mouth to breathe during MIDL meditation. Initially sound may be produced because we are placing too much effort into the breathing, as our skill refines there is no audible sound with each breath.
The breathing for gentle sighing is diaphragmatic breathing, not chest breathing and is based on MIDL Mindfulness Training 3/52: Retraining Autonomous Breathing. The ability to do this properly is supported by strengthening and lengthening the natural movement of your diaphragm. If your diaphragm muscle is tight and weak then it will return too quickly creating a fast exhale.
The tightness that you are experiencing when you try to slow down your out-breath points towards the tightness and shortness of range of movement of your diaphragm. Your exhale being faster then your inhale when you naturally exhale is also a sign of this. This tightness is created through habitual chest stress breathing usually triggered by periods of stress within our life.
Sitting down reading this, place your palm on your lower abdomen just below your belly button. Slowly extend your lower abdominal muscles out-wards to lift your palm noticing how this movement draws air in through your nose. Lower your palm to let the breath go back out again. Slowly repeat these breaths. Notice that as this breath draws in from this lower abdominal movement that there is very little discernible movement in your upper belly or chest.
Next, slowly bring your breath up from your lower abdomen, to your ribs and then into your upper chest. Then allow your whole body to slowly deflate with the out-breath. Notice I said 'slowly' a lot?
This is because the skill in diaphragmatic breathing is to learn to move your diaphragm muscle 'slowly'. The slowness of the movement creates the gentle sign out through your nose. This sigh is created by slowing down the exhale through the nose so that it lengthens the breath by allowing the slow return of your diaphragm to extend the out-breath.
Again this is dependent on your retraining of diaphragmatic breathing in MIDL 3/52. Allowing yourself to physically and mentally relax as you abandon all effort with each slow out-breath.
Your Question: I don't understand the difference between "soften" and "relax". Are they the same thing? Second, how can one relax the frontal cortex? I mean it's not a muscle so I don't get what I am supposed to do! Third, I thought the "softening breath" was the big deep belly/ribs/chest then let all go on the out breath. But then you used this term for the unregulated gentle breath. So I feel confused about that. Lastly, towards the end, when my attention wanders from my feeling of sitting there and breathing naturally, you instruct me to take a deep softening breath to bring me back into my body. We have been using this breath to let go/relax. I'm not sure how to use this breath to do that.
You asked: "I don't understand the difference between "soften" and "relax". Are they the same thing?"
Relaxation is what we experience when we give up any effort in our body or mind. Relaxation has an aspect of physicality to it, like to relax the effort of the muscles in your body to hold you upright or to relax the effort in your mind to do.
The word Softness or Soften is used because it describes the experience of mental resistance and acceptance. When we mentally resist something our mind becomes 'hard', we experience tension. When we 'soften' this hardness through acceptance and surrender our mind becomes 'soft' and pliable. Softness is of the heart / mind and is based on our relationship towards what is being experienced now, namely any attraction or aversion towards pleasant or unpleasant feeling. Softness arises within the mind when we 'soften into' our relationship towards what we are experiencing now, when we abandon our participation with it. As softness grows in the mind it also appears within the body, softening from the outside inwards.
RELAXATION & SOFTNESS During the instructions you will find an interchange of the words 'relax' and 'soften'. This is because softness is always preceded by relaxation. While relaxation within itself does not always contain softness of mind, softness of mind always is preceded by relaxation. This comes from the relationship between mind and body, as our body relaxes then our mind can take on that relaxation, as the mind softens through a change in relationship towards experience this softness also appears within the body.
You asked: "....how can one relax the frontal cortex? I mean it's not a muscle so I don't get what I am supposed to do!.."
My Reply: The first thing to understand is that meditation is always discussed in terms of 'personal' experience, when deciphering meditation instructions they are always based on the experienced world rather then the physical world. For example, when we talk about the breath in meditation we are not referring to the process of respiration but rather the experience of respiration which we call breathing. Physical respiration is located between the nose and the lungs, breathing can be experienced in your belly, toes, hands and head, it is common in yoga to 'breathe into' a muscle to help it relax. In the physical world this is nonsense but in the experienced world people experience this as being real every day. The experiential world is not defined by physicality.
When using the word 'frontal lobes' I am pointing towards the 'experience' of tension in the area in the front of the head that arises when we mentally engage in any activity. While the frontal lobes in the physical world may not be able to relax as they are not a muscle, experienced through the eyes of meditation they can definitely be experienced as tense and can very clearly be experienced as relaxing.
You said: "...I don't get what I am supposed to do!.."
My Reply: Your not supposed to do anything, this is a giving up of doing, a relaxing of doing, an abandoning of doing. Any attempt to do anything will have the opposite effect and cause more mental tension. Doing = tension. The softening of this effort within the mind first comes about by learning to 'borrow' the natural relaxation of the deflation of your body that occurs with each out-breath. This means aligning your awareness with the deflation of the out-breath and giving up all effort in-line with that breath.
This sits on a basis of diaphragmatic breathing as trained in MIDL 3/52 and will not work if stress breathing, breathing in the upper chest, is normal. While stress breathing tightens the body with each out-breath, diaphragmatic breathing inflates and deflates the body like a balloon creating natural relaxation. In MIDL 4/52 we borrow that natural relaxation through abandoning in our body with each out-breath. In MIDL 5/52 we bring this relaxation into the mind to give rise to softness through aligning awareness on the slow exhale of the out-breath through the nose while allowing the area of the frontal lobes to relax and eventually soften.
When relaxation appears within the mind the frontal lobes feel heavy, when softness arises in the mind all cognitive mental activity ceases, including thinking, and experience of content peace arises within the mind.
You asked: "I thought the "softening breath" was the big deep belly/ribs/chest then let all go on the out breath. But then you used this term for the unregulated gentle breath. So I feel confused about that."
My Reply: The 'Softening Breath' is not just a big breath in and out, it is developed from gross to subtle.
1. Learning to breathe with the diaphragm.
2. Learning to 'borrow' the relaxation of the deflation of the out-breath to relax the body.
3. Learning to 'borrow' the relaxation of the deflation of the out-breath through the nose to relax the mind.
4. Learning to soften the mind.
You asked: "...when my attention wanders from my feeling of sitting there and breathing naturally, you instruct me to take a deep softening breath to bring me back into my body. We have been using this breath to let go/relax. Im not sure how to use this breath to do that...."
My Reply: When your attention wanders from the experience of sitting towards thinking, this is a habitual movement within your mind. This habit of thinking contains a relationship of interest towards the story within the thoughts. By taking an intentional, gentle softening breath at this stage and relaxing mentally the relationship towards the thoughts is dissolved and you can then bring your awareness to the experience of 'sitting' or whatever meditation object you are using at this time.
The skill of Softening is not separate from our meditation practice, we use softening in many ways:
1. When you notice you are distracted, acknowledge it and soften.
2. When you notice that you are stress breathing, acknowledge it and soften.
3. When you notice that you are attracted or averse towards an experience, notice it and soften.
4. When you want to strengthen positive qualities such as loving kindness, then soften into the feeling.
Your Question: I have been practicing Meditation 6/52 and am really enjoying it. However, I definitely notice tension that you say is a result of effort and doing as opposed to just letting the breath happen naturally. I try “softening” into that control, but I don’t know if I am doing it effectively. I essentially just take a deep, slow belly breath, and on the out breath I try quietly sighing while intending to relax. Should I be doing something differently? How will I know if I am practicing softening correctly?
You said “...I definitely notice tension that you say is a result of effort and doing as opposed to just letting the breath happen naturally...”
Wonderful, this training is designed to allow you to observe the habitual tendency towards control within your mind. We are using the breath to observe the mind. Breathing can happen autonomously, regulated by the brain or it can be over-ridden by an intention within the mind. For example you can allow your breathing to happen naturally or you can intentionally take a deep breath in and out now. We are using this characteristic of breathing as a way of observing and deconditioning the tendency of habitual control within the mind.
You said “...I try “softening” into that control, but I don’t know if I am doing it effectively. I essentially just take a deep, slow belly breath, and on the out breath I try quietly sighing while intending to relax....”
When we learn the softening skill we initially take deep, slow belly breaths, this is like the training wheels on our bicycle. As we refine our softening skill in MIDL 5/52 this skill becomes much more subtle until the breath control is hardly perceivable at all.
All you have to do in this training is to slowly breathe out through your nose then relax and wait, whenever you notice your mind interfering with the breathing. You do not need to take deep breath in and out, just a gentle breath out, relax and wait for the brain to produce a signal to breathe in again. The breath will then draw in by itself, its experience will be different to the controlled breath. If you experience fear at the end of the out-breath then this is where you soften that fear. You do this by learning to give up the effort of the fear, the effort of the fight.
What is also interesting is that when the natural breath occurs, controlled by the brain, the diaphragm engages in that breath. This is what we see in stress breathing, the mind out of fear has taken over control of the breath, disengages the diaphragm causing anxiety to arise.
Your Question: I couldn't work out during this meditation whether I was controlling the breath or not. Can you please make more clear how to do this meditation?
Stephen Procter: The habitual control over breathing can be very subtle and difficult to discern at first. Anytime you think you may be controlling your breathing try this:
1. Breathe in gently then breathe out slowly through your nose.
2. Do not breathe in again but relax and wait - (Do not hold your breath).
3. Wait and relax and the breath will come in naturally.
4. Gently 'mentally feel' the breathing as if from a distance. The breathing will now be light, smooth, and beautiful.
5. Notice any tightening that appears within the breathing - this is your mind habitually trying to control it - relax the control.
6. If your breathing tightens then repeat this process to develop your skill.
Your Question: I'm just having trouble with relaxing enough to let go of controlling my breath. I find that when I try to let go, my breaths are very shallow and unsatisfying. I usually meditate lying down, could this be the problem? What is a natural breath like, is it like the way we breathe when we're asleep?
Stephen Procter: Breathing has a particular quality that no other meditation object has: It can be controlled intentionally - you can breathe in and out now - controlling it or when you are not controlling it, it will naturally come in and out - without your help. This is one of the reasons breathing is used as a meditation object, it is perfect for observing your desire to control things within your life that do not need to be controlled.
Your breathing - or the tightness within it - is trying to teach you how to 'let things be', how to put down control. The hard part about this is that much of the control that we apply to life - and also to the breathing - is conditioned; it is a habitual pattern of reaction. This means that it will happen without any obvious participation on your part.
In this MIDL practice we are working with these habitual patterns and deconditioning them - that is where the freedom can be found. This is not 'just about the breath' this is about observing the habitual functions of your mind as they 'reflect' within your breathing.
You asked what the 'natural breath' is like - by natural I do not mean 'how it is now' but rather how breathing is experienced when it is free from control - free from mental interference. "The 'natural breath' is slow, deep, soft and wispy like a cloud". It is beautiful, enchanting and endlessly interesting.
To work with 'control' I would like you for now to stop using guided meditations, instead sit in a quiet place and be aware of the feeling of your whole body - 'heaviness and touch'. Notice that you can feel the breath moving in and out of your body. "Can you feel any tension within the breathing?" Is your breathing shallow or deep?"
If there is tension present or your breathing is shallow then there is some sort of control within the breathing. Each time you notice this I would like you to gently breathe out though your nose and 'relax and wait' for the breath to come in naturally - 'by itself' (don't hold your breath). The breath will then draw in by itself, observe the difference of a breath without control - without resistance. Notice that during this breath your diaphragm engages. Then observe your breathing and notice every time it becomes shallow or there is tightness and 'rinse and repeat' - This is your training.
Your Question: When this week meditation instruction tells us to breath freely with no control, I have a conflicting feeling that my natural breathing is not “right” and that it should involve full movement of my diaphragm, but that involves controlling my breath, in this way I am confused. Can you help me understand?
Stephen Procter: Firstly, intentional, controlled diaphragm breathing and natural diaphragm breathing controlled by the brain are two different things. While we make the movement of the diaphragm longer when training it in order to strengthen and lengthen the movement, when the breath is controlled by the brain it will adjust the breathing rate to suit the oxygen demands. This means when you are seated in meditation, doing nothing, that the movement of your diaphragm will be short and shallow. If you were walking or running this movement will become bigger, this is how it is. If you are doing nothing it will idle, if you are active it will increase in revs like in a car. When you relax it will go to idle again.
The feeling that your natural breathing is not right and your natural breathing are two separate things. As mindfulness meditators we observe our breathing as it is now. If your breathing is short, tight and shallow, then that is how it is. If it is slow, short and gentle then this is how it is. If it is long and deep then this is how it is. This is why we meditate, to find out what is going on. This then gives you information that will allow you to make a decision to improve it.
But the feeling that your natural breathing is not right has nothing to do with the breathing, this is a fear judgement produced by your mind, a judgement based on the fear of giving up control, the fear of letting things be. MIDL 6/52 is designed to allow you to observe your minds fear of letting go of control, your fear has arisen as judgement of the breath. Ironically it could be this very judgement of the breath not being right, your habitual desire for things to be perfect, that creates the tension in the breathing in the first place.
This is the fun games we play with the mind.
You Asked: “...Hence , I don’t know what to do in this situation. I just give up and allow my natural breathing to continue....”
My Reply: Yes this is the correct thing to do when practicing MIDL 6/52, just allow your natural breathing to continue. However as mentioned above there are two skillful areas that you can investigate as a meditator:
1. Allocate a period of time to intentionally retrain your breathing patterns.
2. Observe your resistance towards your breathing not being a certain way.
You Asked: “...Also, no matter how hard I try to fully relax and give up control , breathing with my stomach always leaves me with some sort of turbulence and unrest....”
My Reply: Yes this is the anxiety arises when the mind is exposed to something that is new and out of its control. ‘Trying’ and ‘relaxing’ are two different things, we cannot try to relax, they are different directions and we also can not try to give up control for this is control. These are the paradoxes of the mind and why we become stuck within them.
In MIDL 6/52 when I say “breathe out, relax and wait” what I mean is to get out of the way, to allow whatever is going to happen to happen. This then exposes resistance and fear within the mind of abandoning control.
When we notice this resistance / control then we soften. To soften means to relax all effort, to give up the effort it takes to resist. If you feel you don't understand softening yet I recommend revisiting and refining your skill in softening, your skill in abandoning as practiced in MIDL 3 -5/52. These create a foundation for this particular training.
You Asked: “...However , when I switch to just observing my breath at the nose area I immediately feel relaxed and peaceful. Quite an extraordinary difference just by switching the area of observation....”
My Reply: Isn’t this interesting, you are able to observe the habituation of your mind. You have been observing what happens within your mind when you go against or with its habitual patterns. When you do what it wants it becomes your best friend and gives you pleasure, when you go against it tendencies it throws a tantrum and gives you unpleasant feeling to try to make you do what it wants. This is habit, this is addiction. It is so wonderful that you are observing this, this is the meditation path.
Also, what you are seeing is not confined to seated meditation, this is a snapshot of your mind in daily life. After all we aren’t doing anything special, we are just closing out eyes, breathing out and waiting for the breath to come in by itself, it isn’t complicated yet the mind makes it so out of fear.