Mindfulness of Breathing

Mindfulness of Breathing Practice Instructions:

When you sit down on the cushion, take your time to establish a comfortable seated position, and begin with the eyes open, taking in the space and the environment around you. Take a moment to appreciate the simple privilege of doing spiritual practice, remembering that we are quite fortunate to have knowledge of the Dharma and conditions favorable for a consistent seated practice. This by itself something to be grateful for, regardless of where we are in our journey of development. Appreciate the simple pleasure of releasing thoughts and worries, and taking some time for yourself! You deserve it.

After taking a few moments to take in the room and the body and mind in a holistic fashion, then with closed eyes, decide mentally to keep your attention on “the breath”. The import of understanding intention cannot be overstated, so that is why we covered the mental tool of intention setting in depth in previous chapters.

As you breathe in and out, try to experience the direct experience of the breathing itself- including any sensations in your awareness that are connected to the breath in some way. In addition to the tactile sensations of expansion, contraction, energy flow, the sound of breath moving in and out of the nostrils, and any mental fabrications that seem to represent the breath. In this practice, we can feel free to keep our definition of “the breath” quite broad and non-exclusive. The larger our span of attention, the easier it tends to be for both maintaining awareness and to avoid dullness. Having a large, inclusive object with many aspects, serves to provide content and engagement for the mind.

In this beginning stage it is fine to have a broad definition of “the breath”, because we are really just using it to develop the key skills in the chapter, we do not care what exactly is “the breath”. Distraction will be clearly not “the breath” – most typically, thoughts or physical tensions and discomfort. In the beginning it is helpful to have a relaxed feel and focus on the key skill developments at this stage. Rather than striving for perfection or mastery, it is best to consider this to be an endlessly practicable skill, yet when developed there is a threshold for “good enough” to make progress in insight. Even subtle degrees of samatha provide a haven for the mind from the typical samsaric mindstates we encounter with the ordinary mind.

Intermediate Mindfulness of Breathing

In the middle stages of developing mindfulness of breathing, we are in category I and the main dynamic at play in the mind is combatting the hindrances and developing a base of intentional action and conditioned behavior. The conditioning we are trying to develop is to be at peace and happy with the present moment. The breath is a tool that we use to do that- because it is intimately related to all other energetic processes that occur in the body- the energy comes in through the lungs and is exchanged in a complex process of energetic change.

When we are in the earlier stages, we focus on stabilization and identification stages in the SigmaTropic Cycle. This involves developing the habit or the ability to notice our mind going off track and then be able to take an appropriate action to bring the mind back to the object. We want to introduce a dynamic where the breath itself is inherently enjoyable (which it very much is). When we specifically intend to have a pleasant and calming experience with the breath, focusing on enjoyment and relaxation, then we start to build a positive association between the breath and our conscious intention to focus our awareness on it. We want to breathe in a way that feels nice- soothing, and relaxing. At first, it’s helpful to take deep, slow breaths and really feel into the experience of taking in the breath, and feel the refreshing sense and the sense of relaxation on the exhale. We can notice just this nice wholesome pleasantness to that experience, and we want to develop that and cultivate it.

If there are large tense areas, make sure to do the standing meditation practice and the regular protocol of stretches and other physical exercises. These tense areas we want to intentionally relax, and feel into the experience of how to make that tension ease up. As we do this we are paying attention to the body and how the muscles feel, and paying attention to our intention and the response of our muscles. We can notice these various levels of subtlety and refinement the more concentrated we get. We want to continue intending for an overall awareness of the mind as a whole as we are practicing this.

Advanced Mindfulness of Breathing Exercises

1.) Settle into a suitable breathing pattern that feels sustainable and refreshing. In the beginning of the session, we can be deliberate with the breath, and imagine the breath as a healing energy field that moves through the body. This energy field permeates through each one of your cells and travels according to a regular breath pattern. You close your eyes and with each breath, you see a field of light corresponding to the breath. Any gross tense areas, use the healing breath energy that you are imagining and constructing, and use that energy to soothe any tense areas, getting fresh oxygenated blood to those areas. Keep visualizing the nice healing glow of the breath. Gradually soothe the bodily tensions and fabrications this way, until the body feels centered.  Keep a vivid visualization of the breath energies in the body and try to dive into this perception and take in as much as possible. Stay with the breath in the body until the bodily fabrications have ceased completely, and you are in the stage of unification.

2) Settle into a suitable breathing pattern that feels sustainable and refreshing. In the beginning of the session, we can be deliberate with the breath, and imagine the breath as a stream of fluid that moves through the body. This fluid permeates through each one of your veins and travels according to a regular pattern of liquid networks through your body. These main veins and arteries branch off to smaller arteries and channels and down to capillaries.  The breath comes into your body through your mouth nose and ears, and it travels down your spine, branching out dozens of times before reaching the anus and the liquid shoots out the anus, down the legs and out through the toes. This healing energy takes all the toxins and stress from your muscles and tissues and drains them out. This feels quite nourishing and wholesome. Gradually soothe the bodily tensions and fabrications this way, until the body feels centered.  Keep a vivid visualization of the breath energies in the body and try to dive into this perception and take in as much as possible. Stay with the breath in the body until the bodily fabrications have ceased completely, and you are in the stage of unification.

3) Settle into a suitable breathing pattern that feels sustainable and refreshing. In the beginning of the session, we can be deliberate with the breath, and imagine the breath as a beam of energy that moves through the body. This energy field permeates through each one of your veins and travels according to a regular pattern of liquid networks through your body. These main veins and arteries branch off to smaller arteries and channels and down to capillaries.  The breath comes into your body through your mouth nose and ears, and it travels down your spine, branching out dozens of times before reaching the anus and the liquid shoots out the anus, down the legs and out through the toes. On the inbreath you breath in fresh air and it goes in reverse, up through your toes and up your spinen into the head and out the head. As the energy comes in it takes away crud and stale energy and washes it through. This healing energy takes all the toxins and stress from your muscles and tissues and drains them out. This feels quite nourishing and wholesome. Gradually soothe the bodily tensions and fabrications this way, until the body feels centered.  Keep a vivid visualization of the breath energies in the body and try to dive into this perception and take in as much as possible. Stay with the breath in the body until the bodily fabrications have ceased completely, and you are in the stage of unification.

4) Settle into a suitable breathing pattern that feels sustainable and refreshing. In the beginning of the session, we can be deliberate with the breath, and imagine the breath as an abstract flux of energy across an ambiguous barrier of the body. As the breath moves into and out of the body as a flux of energy and swirling of energy as the energy comes in, goes into the lungs and is dispersed all throughout the body. Try to imagine the energy contained in the atoms of air and you visualize them interfacing with the lungs and chemical reactions are occurring. You maintain this sense of energetic flux, and you imagine the energy as having different colors for different areas, and you can imagine all these gaseous particles changing color as they go into the lungs and out of the being in a perfect energetic flux.

The mind increasingly centers on the object, and depending on the intention of the meditator, they can now move from the breath energies in the body to the mental breath sign. This is simply a mental representation of the breath, that is used as a concentration object. We have to have an intention to perceive the mental sign if we want the bodily fabrications to fade from awareness completely. This mental sign is a refined mental representation of the breath, that may have little to do with how the breath is actually physically perceived. What we know as the breath is really a composite of many different sequential sensations patched together and organized by the various parts of our mind.

When we reach the state of physical and mental pliancy and have centered on the breath nimitta, the mental bandwidth can be expanded out to an awareness of the mind itself. This metacognitive faculty is a key component of mindfulness, and we have cultivated this awareness through a consistently held intention to do so. Now we can take in the mind as a whole, and we can look directly at mind nature in this unified state. For more detailed explanation, see the chapter on Rigpa and mind nature.