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MIDL 5/52: Skill of Softening Into

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In MIDL Mindfulness Training 5/52 you refine your softening skill to bring deep relaxation within your mind through mindful non-participation. You do this initially by borrowing the natural abandoning that occurs with the deflation of each out-breath and allowing yourself to mentally ‘sink’ and relax. The abandonment of mental participation is enhanced by slowly extending the breath out through your nose with each out-breath. At first this skill still rests on the physicality of breathing but with practice it gradually changes into a deep relaxation of the mind that arises due to an abandoning of all mental effort. Submit Your Question

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Breathing Becomes Shallow

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 focussed more on engaging the diaphragm and 5/52 is more focussed 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.


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How Do I Sigh Properly?

Your Question: What do you mean by silently sighing? Should I make sound with my LARYNX like hhhheeee? At the moment that stillness comes to me, my breath is so shallow and slow that I can't recognize my belly movement very well. It is diaphragm breathing and not breathing with chest, but it is very slow. It's even difficult to recognize cold air in in-breath. Is it ok?

Stephen Procter: I no longer use the word 'sighing' in my teaching because of misunderstandings. In developing this softening skill we do not produce sound as in yogic practices. We simply extend the length of our out-breath through the nose in a slow and gentle way.

At this stage you do not have to put any effort into being aware of anything. If the breathing is present to you then that is ok, if it is not present to you that is also ok. Once we enter Stillness it is a process of being rather than of doing - just be.


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How Do I Relax Mentally?

Your Question: 1. During the meditation you indicate to relax mentally on the out breath. Can you please offer some advice on what it means to relax mentally, what should I be experiencing when I relax mentally? Does it mean not followings thoughts or or attaching to a thought . Does concentrating on the breathing mean your mind is relaxed? 2. How do I relax my frontal lobes. Please offer some practical advice on how to do this.

Stephen Procter: 1. Softening / relaxing mentally means to 'put down' any doing or effort. This can be experienced as a mental softness and is enhanced by aligning with the experience of 'sinking', Literally allow yourself to mentally 'sink' with the slow out-breath.

1a) Wandering off to a thought is not a problem - this is what the mind does. Your task is not to stop it but to observe the wandering. Staying on the horses back as it were.

1b) If by concentrating on the breath you mean focusing on it then no, focusing on the breath does not necessarily mean that your mind is relaxed as there is effort involved. Concentration of awareness is not something that we do, it is what occurs when we don't do. Stillness does not contain movement and effort - it is the opposite direction.

2) Softening of the frontal lobes is what we experience when we learn the skill of abandoning all mental effort with the out-breath. This is done through slowly extending the length of the out-breath through the nose and abandoning all effort with this breath. This is trained in more detail in MIDL Mindfulness Training 38 / 52. If you do not experience Softening of your frontal lobes at this stage, do not concern yourself too much with it.


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Clarify Gentle Sighing

Your Question: Enjoying the series! wondering about the sigh instructions...don't know if I can distinguish the difference between a sigh and exhale. Also my mind wanders a lot during the silences.

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.

This Softening skill will also be deepened in MIDL Mindfulness Trainings 34 - 38. In regards to your mind wandering, do not be concerned with this - this is what it does. Your heart beats, your lungs breathe and your mind thinks. Instead just observe every time it has wandered, without judgement, get to know its habitual ways.

In this way your mindfulness will strengthen, your ability to notice when your attention shifts towards habitual thinking will develop and understanding will be cultivated. This observing of your attention move will then transfer into daily life, thus creating deeper MIDL practice.


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More On Gentle Sighing

Your Question: I have a couple of 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.

Stephen Procter: 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.


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