After developing a strong foundation of Mindfulness immersed within the experience of our body it is time to move onto a more subtle meditation object, one that can deepen both Mindfulness and concentration so that they will be strong enough to transfer into and protect us in daily life.
Formal seated meditation is our gymnasium for strengthening different factors of mind, it allows us to create a more controlled environment in which we can focus on balancing our effort, Mindfulness and concentration as well as develop some understanding into the nature of the mind.
Mindfulness of Breathing is a method of training our attention through observing the subtle sensations that arise through the 'touch' of the breath. The sensations that arise as we breathe provide a constant object of meditation that is always available, one that reflects and develops with the changing state of our mind.
Observing this interaction leads to deep understanding of ourselves and our relationship to life, through training in this way we develop knowledge about ourselves and as it matures, deep inner peace.
* Breathing is always present: This provides an anchor for our attention to the experience of reality, that isn't based in the past or future.
* Breathing can't be experienced in past or future: Obsessive thinking is always focussed on the past or future, breathing always tells us where reality is.
* Breathing happens naturally or can be controlled: Our breathing happens naturally and can also be controlled; observing our tendency to interfere with our breathing teaches us about our desire to control that which doesn't need to be controlled. As my meditation teacher said to me "It doesn't need your help".
* Breathing reflects our state of mind: Our state of mind and breathing are interlinked. When our breathing is short and agitated, so is our mind. When our breathing is long, smooth and relaxed our mind is also.
* Breathing and mind calm together: As our mind calms, our breathing calms, as our breathing calms, our mind calms.
* Breathing refines as concentration develops: As concentration develops the sensations within our breathing become more subtle meaning our concentration has to deepen to keep track of the breathing. This creates a naturally developing meditation object for developing concentration.
* Breathing is experienced as the four elements: During breath meditation the four elemental qualities become very clear.
* Breathing contains constant change: Anicca (Impermanence) is the entry point to deep Insight, understanding the impermanent nature of all experience is the path of this practice. The experience of breathing contains a clear perception of impermanence.
The starting point in the sitting practice is to establish our attention on the sensations of our breathing as it comes in through the nose, moves through the chest and fills the abdomen.
We are also fully aware as it goes out from the abdomen, moves through the chest and out through the tip of the nose. Observing the breath in this way creates it as our Anchoring Object, this is our home base.
Our task is to develop our attention on our experience of the movement associated breathing, to remember it over time. Remembering the sensations of breathing is the beginning of training of Mindfulness.
It is important at this stage to not control the breathing in any way, to allow it to happen naturally. We are not trying to develop the breathing as such; rather the Mindfulness of it by remembering this in-breath and the next out-breath. If we allow the breathing just to flow naturally it makes a wonderful object for training our attention.
When we can sustain our attention continuously on the in and out breathing without our attention continuously wandering off, it is then time for the next stage in this MIDL Mindfulness of Breathing exercise. Each in-breath has three stages to it, a beginning, middle and an end, each out-breath also has a beginning, middle and an end.
Instead of just observing one in-breath and one out-breath we can now observe the beginning, middle and end of each breath, meaning we observe six stages of the breathing rather than just two. To do this requires stronger Mindfulness and more sustained concentration, it will help develop the progression of all the mental factors mentioned earlier and deepen our meditation.
These six stages of breathing are experienced as sensations:
The beginning of the in-breath, its middle and its end are all separate, distinct experiences.
The beginning of the out-breath, its middle and its end are also all separate distinct experiences.
The in-breath and the out-breath cannot be mistaken for each other and the six stages of the breathing are also unique.
A common way to experience these six stages into separate sensations is:
1. In Breath = Nose: Coolness, Chest: Movement, Abdomen: Rising
2. Out Breath = Abdomen: Falling, Chest: Movement, Nose: Warmth
These are the experience of sensations within the cycle as the natural breathing comes in and out.
There are a number of reasons the breathing from the tip of the nose to the abdomen is chosen in MIDL over just the sensations of breathing that appears at the tip of the nose.
Firstly all methods are just that, they are methods used to develop our attention to a heightened level, once developed eventually all methods can be abandoned.
1. Observing the experience of the complete breath from the tip of the nose to the abdomen is used because the first barrier for most people is the amount of time they spend in their head thinking, planning, worrying, etc.
Awareness of the breath into the lower abdomen brings the energy down, leading to the quietening of the mind and away from where most of us associate thinking to be. If we are observing at the tip of the nose this shift can be very subtle and takes greater developed skill to discern this, therefore needing a more controlled environment, with less distractions to meditate.
2. Observing the movement down into the abdomen also encourages deeper breathing. When we are stressed our diaphragm tightens and locks and breathing moves into our upper chest. Chest breathing creates hyperventilation which lowers the amount of CO2 we are receiving and leads to the experience of anxiety.
Often I have found that if my students just learn to breathe properly, with full deep breaths through re-engaging their diaphragm, that many of the anxiety and stress symptoms disappear.
3. A main difference in this method is that the sensations during the whole breath become clearer as we observe them, where as the sensations at the tip of the nose become more subtle. This makes the sensations experienced in the complete breath ideal for developing Mindfulness, and the sensations at the tip of the nose ideal for developing concentration.
4. MIDL is also concerned with Kaya-gata-sati - Mindfulness immersed within the body. In the progression of MIDL Mindfulness becomes fully immersed and establishes within the sensate quality of our body, this becomes our viewing platform in seated meditation and within daily life.
5. MIDL is a Wisdom practice and to cultivate Wisdom the Six Sense Doors need to be kept open. If we focus on the breath as it appears at the tip of the nose for example, the resulting one-pointedness of attention will cause the Sense Doors to shut down.
In MIDL we head in the opposite direction, instead of cultivating seclusion from the Six Sense Door we cultivate and increased and intimate awareness of them. This clarity arises from not locating the breath at one point but rather by becoming aware of the whole body breathing.
To develop our Mindfulness of Breathing meditation in MIDL we initually focus on developing different stages individually so that they are steady and strong, like building a foundation for a building. If we skip over the foundation regardless of how beautiful the building is it will collapse. In the same way if we skip over building a foundation within our MIDL Mindfulness meditation practice, at deeper levels the whole thing will collapse.
After setting an initial foundation of Mindfulness immersed within our body, in this MIDL training we work with the breath in this way:
Allow the breathing to happen naturally.
⚪ Be aware of the full in-breath from nose > chest > belly.
⚪ Be aware of the full out-breath from belly > chest > nose.
⚪ Use a simple label such as 'in' and 'out' to point attention.
⚪ Notice sensations in-breath from nose (coolness > chest (movement) > belly (rising).
⚪ Notice sensations out-breath from belly (falling) > chest (movement) > nose (warmth).
⚪ Notice expanding / contracting feeling in shoulders / upper back.
⚪ Notice expanding / contracting feeling throughout whole body.
⚪ Pay attention to only out-breath - contraction to the end.
⚪ Notice end of out-breath and sit in / relax in gap between breaths.
⚪ Notice end of out-breath > gap > beginning of in-breath.
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This article was written by Stephen Procter, Meditation Instructor from Meditation in The Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you