Guided Calming The Breath Body Meditation

by Peter Carlson on January 29, 2015

This is a guided 45 minute training meditation to facilitate using breath body processes to enhance physical relaxation and emotional calmness, while also increasing mental alertness.  It is accompanied by a recorded dhamma dialog describing the parts of the Anapanasati Sutta that promote calming the body: “…He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.’  He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.'”  In addition, the essay Peter prepared before the dhamma dialogue is posted prior to the posting of the .mp3 recording of the dhamma dialogue

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Calming The Breath Body January 28 2015

by Peter Carlson on January 29, 2015

During this dhamma dialogue, the exploration of the Anapanasati Sutta was continued, with a focus on the stanzas: “…He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.’  He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.’

Peter described an ongoing debate as to whether “the entire body” simply refers to the totality of the in- and out-breath cycle without interruption, or whether “the entire body” relates the calming effects of enduring breath awareness is coordinated with relaxing “the bodily fabrication”.  The accompanying .mp3 recording of the training meditation that immediately preceded this dialogue orients towards the latter interpretation, emphasizing that the out-breath can coincide with briefly sweeping attention through the body to release and relax any tension that is noted.  This strategy allows the body to become increasingly relaxed, the emotions to become increasingly calm, while the degree of internal investigation of the breath and body tensions actually increases internal alertness.

This explanation was followed by dialogues regarding how those participating in the training meditation experienced the practice of mindfulness of breathing.  It was noted that suggesting that attention is a flow of energy that is simply nourishing either wholesome or unwholesome self-states, and that the breath is a wholesome factor in that process, as it interrupts the escalation of self-talk and fosters calming.

The next scheduled talk will focus on the effects of this mindful calming, the release of energy into awareness as joy and happiness.

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TRANQUILIZING THE BREATH-BODY PROCESS

by Peter Carlson on January 29, 2015

Here are the notes I prepared for the dhamma dialogue .mp3 file which is posted next: “Calming The Breath Body”.  The next posting after that is an .mp3 recording “Guided Calming The Breath Body Meditation”.  I hope they are useful for your practice of anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing).

I’ve already explored in a previous posted essay “acquiring the breath”, the ability to bring attention to the breath (vitakka) and sustain active interest (vicara) in the changing sensations during the breath cycle. This essay will explore how to make use of the suggestions in the Anapanasati Sutta to promote deeper physical relaxation and emotional tranquility while still maintaining and even increasing alert inner awareness.
Here is a section from the sutta that is relevant to the essay:
He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.’ (Translated by Thanissaro, downloaded from Access To Insight)
Just to make it interesting, here is an alternate translation by Gil Fronsdal, a well-respected teacher and translator, of the same part of the sutta:
He trains himself ‘breathing in, I experience the whole body. ’‘Breathing out, I experience the whole body.’
He trains himself, ‘breathing in, I calm the bodily formation. ‘Breathing out, I calm the bodily formation.’ (downloaded from the Insight Meditation Center)

There is ongoing debate about what the “whole body” is. Many translators and teachers say this means all of the in-breath and all of the out-breath with no deviation or interruption. Others, equally qualified, suggest it means that the breath awareness remains “core” for attentional focus, and the rest of the body is experienced as well, again, with no deviation or interruption. The essence of both approaches is that the more consistently sensations in the body are attended to, particularly the breath, the less intrusive the internal commentary is.
It’s tempting to have the view that this means no thoughts are in awareness. I don’t believe this is as important as some of the commentaries suggest. In my practice experience, breath awareness is the primary point of focus, the “home base” that is returned to when attention is drawn to an alternative focus. It’s the nature of the mind to “check out” novel sensational input, however briefly. I think this training simply means that breath awareness is predominant. The important point to consider is the degree to which the distracted awareness becomes preoccupied with the alternative focus, that is, creating a narrative, and a “selfing story” emerges to take over. With breath awareness there is no selfing story, there is just sensational awareness without commentary. This can also be true of unelaborated physical sensations. This foundational awareness serves to interrupt the “buildup” of craving and clinging associated with the emergence of the internal narrative.
When the selfing story elaborates, the degree of relaxation and calmness that was developing with ongoing, predominant breath/body awareness diminishes, as the nervous system and hormonal system associated with the narrative activates the whole body. This phenomenon can be noted with sufficiently developed mindful awareness, involving the developed pattern of vitakka and vicara that is first established at the beginning of the practice. Mindful attention (vitakka) goes to the distraction, and ongoing awareness (vicara) checks out the novel stimulus. Then the practice is to disengage from the stimulus before it develops into a selfing story and then re-engage breath awareness.
The more the distractions are noted and disregarded, the calmer and less turbulent the flow of energy in the mind is, and the more relaxed the body is. An analogy I frequently use is what happens when a stick is thrown on a fire. The stick doesn’t immediately disintegrate; it takes a while for it to burn out and it generates a lot of heat. When the “stick” of craving and clinging is activated, typically involving an internal narrative, excitatory hormones are injected into the blood stream. This creates “heat”, that is, the muscles tighten, blood pressure elevates, etc. It takes some time for the actions of the hormones to metabolize out of the system. When the mind becomes trapped in the selfing story, whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant, it’s like more sticks being thrown on to the fire! When attention is brought to the breath/body sensations, there is no hormonal excitement involved. This interval tends to create an internal “space” of non-reactivity, allowing the system to settle down. The longer the neutrality of breath/body awareness is sustained, the more opportunity there is for the hormonal “fire” to subside; this promotes physical relaxation. The degree to which one actively investigates the particular sensations of the breath/body, the more alert the mind is, while also becoming more tranquil! This is what manifests as “Breathing in I experience the whole body…Breathing out, I calm the bodily formation”. Experiencing “the whole body” includes breath awareness, body awareness and awareness of what’s “pulling” attention into a selfing story. The result is “I calm the bodily formation”.
I practice this by focusing on the sensations of the in- and out-breath, “zooming in” a focused attention on the sensations around the rim of the nostrils. I experience this as the breath sensations seem to “expand” in subjective awareness, “taking up more space” in consciousness. As this becomes established, I also practice intentionally allowing relaxation of the body/mind processes to develop with the out-breath. This tends to naturally slow and lengthen the duration of the out-breath. With this letting go associated with the out-breath, I notice and release whatever physical tension I might notice, even when the tensions are quite subtle. When you think about how the muscle we call the diaphragm, (which controls the cycle of breathing) operates, it tenses up with the inhalation and relaxes with the exhalation.
The next level of practice explored will be the stanzas associated with how further development of breath awareness leads to an emerging heightened interest in the investigation of mental phenomena.

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Acquiring Breath Awareness

by Peter Carlson on January 22, 2015

During this dhamma dialogue, Peter fostered discussion of the preceding guided “acquiring breath awareness” meditition practice, posted just prior to this posting.  He explained the importance of the practice of vitakka and vicara, that is intentionally bring focus to the sensations of breathing, then to sustain that awareness.  Peter described the maturing of the practice of “aiming and sustaining” into one of the seven factors of awakening, dhamma vicaya, the investigation of mental phenomena.  The experience of those present for the preceding guided meditation was explored, particularly any benefits from the application of Mentholatum, a mentholated salve, at the rim of the nostrils.  The practice was intended to enhance sensations at the rim of the nostrils to create a more vivid target for the practice of vitakka and vicara.

This was followed by suggestions from Peter about ways to integrate mindful awareness of the breath into daily routines in order to provide a stable routine for interrupting unnecessary inner chatter.

Next weeks dhamma dialogue will explore the stanzas in the Anapanasati Sutta that encourage training the mind to experience a buoyant interest in breath awareness.

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Guided Acquiring The Breath Meditation January 21 2015

by Peter Carlson on January 22, 2015

This is a guided meditation that supports the practice of mindfulness of breathing, particularly the “mindful of the long…and short…) stanzas at the beginning of the instructions for anapanasati practice.  The recording of a guided 45 minute meditation on Wednesday nights is unusual; this particular meditation included the placing of small amounts of Mentholatum, a salve which includes menthol.  The menthol aroma and the tactile sensation of either hot or cold (depending on the mind condition of the practitioner) serves as a strong and persistent sensation, facilitating developing longer periods of concentration on the breath.  It’s not meant to be a permanent part of mindfulness of breathing practice, but rather a way to support developing stable focus on the breath.

 

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NOTES FOR ACQUIRING THE BREATH

NOTES FOR ACQUIRING THE BREATH These notes accompany the following posts which include a guided meditation .mp3 recording for practicing acquiring breath awareness as well as an .mp3 recording for the dharma dialogue which followed the guided meditation on January 21, 2015. In a previous essay, I suggested some reasons why mindfulness of the sensation […]

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Why Breath Awareness Is Important

This is the second in a series of discussions regarding the Anapanasati Sutta, (mindfulness of breathing), a core teaching for Buddhist meditation practitioners.  During this talk, Peter described several aspects of mindfulness of breathing that supports increasing the frequency and stability of focus, both in the practice of samatha (cultivating concentration) and vipassana (cultivating insight […]

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