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MIDL 36/52: Softening 3: Gentle Sighing

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In MIDL Mindfulness Training 36/52 you cultivate the skill of slowly releasing the out-breath through your nose, as if sighing, in order to experience deep mental relaxation as a basis for 'abandoning' participation with all experience. Extending the length of the out-breath slowly through your nose has the effect of relaxing the frontal lobes of brain creating the conditions for mindful non-participation. This Softening skill is also used for deconditioning the unpleasantness attached to memories. Submit Your Question

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Not Sighing Correctly?

Your Question: I'm having problems with calming my mind in this practice, and I suspect that I'm not sighing correctly. In particular, should the sighing produce sound? Currently my sighing introduces vibrations which make this experience rather unpleasant. Is the tire valve image presented only as a metaphore, or should I actually attempt to generate such a sound?

Stephen Procter: This Softening skill has its foundation within autonomous diaphragmatic breathing (MIDL Mindfulness Trainings 3 - 5/52). If chest stress breathing is natural to you then higher level Softening skills will be more difficult to do. For this answer I will assume that your breathing comes from your diaphragm.

Your question: "In particular, should the sighing produce sound?"

My answer: There is no sound made with the gentle sign out through the nose. This out-breath is not created through effort and comes from the movement of the diaphragm as it returns on the out-breath. The only thing we do is focus on the area of the nose and slightly slow down the return of the diaphragm to extend the length of the out-breath. This has a calming effect on the mind and relaxes all mental activity, the actual experience is a relaxing of the frontal lobes of the brain.

Your question: "Currently my sighing introduces vibrations which make this experience rather unpleasant."

My answer: This may be a sign of too much effort. This is a Softening skill, Softening always heads towards less effort, less participation, less doing.

Your question: "Is the tire valve image presented only as a metaphore, or should I actually attempt to generate such a sound?"

My answer: Yes letting air out of the valve of a tire is just a metaphor for slowly releasing the air. This is not a yogic practice, no effort should be made towards producing sound. What we are training here is natural breathing, we are retraining our breathing rate, once retrained the softening happens naturally. When I teach I no longer use metaphors such as this or use the word 'sigh' because of the possibility of a misunderstanding towards effort. The experience is of a slow, gentle releasing of the air through the nose as mentioned above.


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Calming Effect

Your Question: I don't seem to get similar calming effect from the sighed exhale as I get from the diaphragm inhale. I'll use it the next time I'm stressed and see what happens.

Stephen Procter: The calming effect that comes from this softening techniques require slowness of the exhaled breath, accuracy of attention towards the centre of the eyebrows and an intentional abandoning of all mental effort in line with the breath.


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Feeling Confused

Your Question: I do get confused on the dropping because in the session associated with the first door, the dropping of the body was a sudden movement. The releasing of the breath is to be slow and gentle.I find myself thinking in two step in this process with a drop and then a sign that is slow and elongated. Which feels conflicting. I also find as I am not used to diaphragm breathing, focusing on this almost makes me physically tired after a prolonged period. Over- doing perhaps.

Stephen Procter: It sounds like over effort and not quite understanding the Softening skill. The first Softening door: Lifting / Dropping is not just physical, it is also mental. The cancelling of the desire to move a part of your body not only results in a deep physical relaxation but also a mental one - a mental 'drop' that arises when the desire 'to do' itself is cancelled.

The 'dropping' that is mentioned in the other Softening doors is a mental / physical 'drop', an abandoning of all mental and physical effort. This is done in alignment with the out-breath (deflation of the body) and is similar to sliding down a slide or pushing a swing. This means that the drop is slow and gentle as it 'rides' on the deflation of the out-breath.

The order of the Softening breath is 'breathing-in: in the belly - chest - lifting you up - out-breath - slowly through the nose - mentally / physically relaxing deeply. Understanding diaphragm breathing, strengthening the slowness of its movement and sensitivity to your breathing throughout the day is a foundation skill in MIDL. I recommend spending more time on MIDL Mindfulness Training 3/52 to develop understanding of this.


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Difficulty Sighing

Your Question: I am not able to sigh SILENTLY through my NOSE. It is just not possible for me. Is it ok to sigh through the mouth? I think the "valve" - sound in the explanation at the end is also done through the mouth. I know that breathing out slowly through the mouth is extremely relaxing but maybe it is not good in this case.

Stephen Procter: The ability to let out a slow, gentle sigh through the nose is based on earlier training done in MIDL Mindfulness Trainings 3 - 5/52. These mindfulness trainings are concerned with strengthening the diaphragm and in learning to move it very slowly and gentle way to develop the MIDL Softening skill. The more slowly the diaphragm is moving the more gentle and refined the in and out breath are.

For most adults the diaphragm muscle is disengaged during normal breathing due to anxiety, this locking of the diaphragm under the ribs causes chest breathing to occur and also a weakening of the diaphragm itself. (this then creates anxiety symptoms). This then makes it difficult to take a slow, deep, relaxing breath and to use the full capacity of our lungs.

The sighing in the nose comes from the back pressure caused by controlling the slow movement of the diaphragm which then creates an exaggerated out-breath through the nose. If the diaphragm muscle has not been trained than this can be difficult. The in and out-breath are taken only through the nose for many reasons, from a health point of view the noses task is to condition the air as it goes into the lungs by filtering, warming and moistening it. Breathing through the mouth also leads to dehydration in the mouth, throat and lungs and drying of the teeth.

The small holes in the nose also create a back pressure which has a unique relationship to the movement of the diaphragm and the ability to take a slow, deep breath. This back pressure is needed to create a slow deflation in the chest to allow Softening Into to occur. With specific training the diaphragm unlocks and breathing with the diaphragm becomes natural breathing once again.


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