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MIDL 3/52: Retraining Autonomous Breathing


In MIDL Mindfulness Training 3/52 you retrain any habitual stress based breathing patterns to lower anxiety and as a basis for the development of mindfulness of breathing. Autonomous diaphragm breathing is essential to the development of mindfulness meditation as it affects the arising of the Five Hindrances to Meditation and the ability to use breathing as a meditation object. Training in sensitivity to diaphragmatic breathing is also used as a basis to reflect the mind to decondition habitual patterns of reaction. It can be considered the first of the softening skills developed within MIDL. Submit Your Question

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Link to 52 MIDL Mindfulness Trainings Click Here

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MIDL Mindfulness Training 3/52

Your Third training:
MIDL Mindfulness Training 3/52: Retraining Autonomous Breathing

1. To retrain habitual stress breathing patterns that provide fuel for the Five Hindrances to Meditation to autonomous, diaphragmatic breathing.
2. Develop a foundation for the Second Pillar of MIDL, the ability to Soften our relationship towards all experience.
3. Develop a heightened sensitivity to the relationship between our breathing patterns and our current state of mind.

Basic Instruction:
Meditation is practice laying down on a yoga mat / blanket, use a blanket under your knees and a pillow if you prefer. Can be done in bed but bed = sleep.

The Five Stages:
1. Lengthen and strengthen your diaphragm by slowing down your breath just in your lower belly, hands below your belly button.
2. Learning to breathe from your lower belly up into your ribs, hands on the side of your ribs, opening your ribs sideways.
3. Learning the full breath, from your lower belly, to your ribs, opening the top of your chest; relaxing with the out-breath. One hand below your belly button, the other on top of your chest to help you feel the breath.
4. Learning to breathe from your lower belly - ribs - top of your chest - relaxing with the out-breath, without your hands.
5. Stop controlling the breath, allow the diaphragm to re-engage by itself - autonomously - controlled by your brain not by your will - relax any control you observe. Give up all effort, relaxing with each natural deflation and sink into Stillness.

Practice daily for 1 week (3 - 4 weeks if experiencing anxiety), be curious, always play with how little effort you can put the breathing. Your aim is to be able to move your diaphragm slowly (down on the in-breath, up on the out-breath), 5 seconds in-breath, 5 seconds out-breath. In the beginning this range of movement may only be 2 seconds.

This can not been done through force but only through, gentle patient training. The biggest hindrance to retraining habitual breathing patterns is the obsessive desire to control. Observe the desire to control as an over-effort and relax this effort whenever it arises. Do not neglect the last training of lying still and allowing the breathing to happen by itself, it can be helpful to distract yourself by grounding awareness within the experience of your body as practiced in MIDL 1 - 2/52.

1. Significant lowering of stress / anxiety in daily life.
2. Significant lowering of defensive postures and emotions in daily life and seated meditation.
3. Significant lowering of the Five Hindrances to Meditation in seated meditation.
4. Increased sensitivity to the relationship between subtle changes within breathing and resistance / attraction within the mind.

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Is MIDL Satipatthana?

Your Question: What does breathing with my diaphragm have to do with Buddhist Satipatthana practice? I can understand this as a way of feeling less stressed but didn't the Buddha say that we should practice mindfulness of breathing?

Stephen Procter: There are many doorways that we can enter when practicing Satipatthana Vipassana (mindfulness meditation). While on a physical level, retraining of our breathing patterns to autonomous diaphragmatic breathing lowers the experience of anxiety, it also opens the doorway to something much more profound if trained as a foundation for mindfulness within daily life.

Intentional retraining of breathing patterns covers all four Satipatthanas. When the meditator begins breathing retraining they develop Kayanupassana: Mindfulness of Body by bringing awareness to the sensations within the movement of the diaphragm within their body. While in the first two stages of breathing retraining the movement of the diaphragm is controlled, during the third stage the meditator holds bare awareness of the movement of breathing as it moves autonomously within their body. Awareness of this movement develops a heightened sensitivity to the experience of breathing as well as their relationship towards it.

This increased sensitivity to breathing naturally transfers into the meditators daily life allowing them to observe their breathing patterns throughout the day creating a foundation from which they can observe their habitual relationship of attraction or aversion. Mindfulness of breathing patterns changing from belly to chest breathing throughout the day, becomes a 'red flag' that signals the meditators relationship towards experiences within their life, allowing them to observe any habitual relationships.

When the meditator enters into the third stage of breathing retraining they immerse awareness into the experience of their body and allow the re-engaged diaphragm to move autonomously, free from control. This is their first training in the skill of mindfulness of breathing and teaches them how to experience the breath, free from control. At this stage they start to notice their habitual desire to control their breathing and develop an understanding of the relationship between their state of mind and the experience of breathing within their body. They are now developing the third foundation of Cittanupassana: Mindfulness of Mind. This sensitivity to changes within their breathing patterns naturally transfers into their daily life, heightening the understanding of how the experience of their body changes to reflect their state of mind.

As breathing retraining progresses the meditator becomes very aware of the correlation between the unpleasantness they experience while chest, stress breathing and the pleasantness they experience through diaphragmatic breathing. Sensitivity to the relationship between the experience of their body, interaction of their mind and the feeling tone that arises, dependant on both, develops. This increased sensitivity to unpleasantness and pleasantness, separate from the experience of the sensate quality of the body, brings the meditator into the development of Vedananupassana: Mindfulness of Feeling.

This increased sensitivity to the experience of their body, the interaction of the mind and feeling tone as a reflection of their mind, within their body becomes very clear to the meditator at this stage taking them into Dhammanupassana: Mindfulness of Conditioned Processes. The meditator now starts to see clearly the conditioned relationship between the experience of their body, mind and the feeling tone present. This sensitivity makes habitual defensive patterns of reaction within them very clear and provides the basis from which they can observe and soften their relationship towards these patterns within their daily life. The process of observing and softening into this habitual process becomes clear to them and the Satipatthana path of deconditioning through mindful non-participation opens up thereby cultivating the factors of the Noble Eightfold Path.

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Why Diaphragm Breathe

Your Question: What is the intended purpose, please, of diaphragmatic breathing? It feels so unnatural, as if my body is not receiving sufficient oxygen until I bring the breath into my chest.

Stephen Procter:
There are three purposes to diaphragmatic breathing in MIDL:

1. As mindfulness meditators we always work with our dominant experience. Many people come to MIDL mindfulness meditation because they are experiencing stress and anxiety within their lives. This experience of stress / anxiety is our first object of meditation and is part of our foundation of mindfulness of body. To do this we need to work with it in a skillful way, this is done by developing sensitivity to our breathing patterns in regards to diaphragmatic breathing.

When the stress response is switched on, one of the ways it affects us is by disengaging the diaphragm muscle from the process of respiration. This disengagement leads to habitual stress-chest breathing patterns thereby creating the conditions for the Five Hindrances to Meditation arise. As meditators we intentionally retrain diaphragmatic breathing in order to decondition any habitual stress breathing patterns. Once diaphragmatic breathing becomes autonomous the meditator will experience a significant reduction of the Five Hindrances to Meditation arising in seated meditation and within their daily life.

2. Once breathing patterns have been retrained the meditator can then use slow diaphragmatic breathing as a basis for the MIDL Softening skill. Softening is the ability to soften / relax our relationship towards any experience that arises during seated meditation and within daily life. Softening into our relationship towards what we are experiencing is a basis for deconditioning any habitual defensive patterns of behaviour within our life.

3. Autonomous diaphragmatic breathing creates the basis for the development of mindfulness of breathing. If a meditator begins mindfulness of breathing with stress-chest breathing patterns they will have a never ending aversion based relationship with their breathing and mindfulness of breathing will not develop. Through retraining diaphragmatic breathing until it becomes autonomous the meditator creates the conditions necessary for further development of mindfulness and concentration.

Not Getting Enough Air
The experience of feeling like you are not getting enough air when breathing in your belly is a sign that stress-chest breathing has habitualised and that your diaphragm muscle has weakened as a result. This weakness can be seen both in the range of movement of the diaphragm and also the speed in which it moves. Both this range and speed of movement will affect your ability to breathe slowly within your belly with your diaphragm. As you gradually slow down your breathing pattern and increase the range of movement of your diaphragm muscle the feeling of not getting enough air will go away.

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Use Mouth or Nose Breathing?

Your Question: For the deep breaths, do we breathe in through the nose, then out through the mouth? Or out through the nose too?

Stephen Procter: If your nose is not blocked or obstructed in any way then the mouth is kept closed with the tip of your tongue on the little node behind your two top teeth. The breath is always drawn in and out through the nose, never the mouth.

The nose prepares the air for your lungs by filtering it, moisturising it and regulating its temperature. On the out-breath the nose creates a relationship of back-pressure with the diaphragm creating a slow, calming out-breath. This slowness of the out-breath also allows re-absorption of CO2 necessary for the regulation of the respiration process.

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Diaphragm Breathing Difficulties

Your Question: I am finding breathing with my diaphragm difficult, do you have suggestions on why this would be and how I can improve my breathing patterns?

Stephen Procter: Learning to breathe using your diaphragm can be quite tricky at first especially if chest breathing has become normal to you. The diaphragm naturally engaged in the process of breathing is not anything special or unusual, it is how a baby or young child breathes all the time unless it is stressed or has experienced trauma.

For many of us chest stress breathing has become our normal, natural way of breathing. It therefore may not feel natural at first to re-engage the diaphragm when breathing. The most common barrier to retraining diaphragmatic breathing is trying too hard to breathe down into your belly from your upper chest - (top of chest - ribs - belly). Trying to breathe from the top of the chest downwards into our belly does not work because when we are stressed our diaphragm muscle locks under our rib cage and since it is a dome like shape, cannot be pushed down using force.

Diaphragmatic breathing has to be started from the V shaped muscle at the base of your abdominals below your belly button (in-breath = belly button - ribs - upper chest). To learn this, place your fingers just below your belly button while lying down; lightly pressing your fingers inwards. You then slowly extend the lower abdominal muscle upwards so that it lifts your fingers; you will notice that this draws air in through your nose. You then slowly lower your fingers and lower abdominals down again; you will notice that air goes back out of your nose.

At first this may feel artificial but with practice your diaphragm becomes stronger and the movement becomes smoother and more refined. Remember slowness of the movement of your lower abdominals is the key here. This slow movement causes the diaphragm to re-engage - it now moves autonomously and the stress response turns off temporarily creating a break in the anxious habitual pattern.

As you continue in your training you will then go through a process of learning to soften / relax any over-effort or resistance you feel in order to decondition the hyper-sensitivity of your stress response; changing habitual stress chest breathing patterns. There is a detailed article on the Meditation in the Shire website in the MIDL Anxiety Softening Room.

If you find this is all too much for you this is also ok, I recommend instead focusing on developing Stillness meditation MIDL Mindfulness Training 39 - 42/52. As Stillness becomes deeper your mind will find safety and your breathing patterns will naturally start to change.

This training becomes much easier.

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Where do I Breathe?

Your Question: During MIDL 3/52 I place my thumbs above my belly button and my fingers below. I noticed that my thumbs always rise before my fingers. This made my fingers lift before my thumbs did. I realised that I needed to engage parts way down on my abdomen and when I did the feeling was very different from the first experience of filling my whole belly, is this the correct way?

Stephen Procter: If you look at a picture of a body builder you may notice at the base of their abdominal muscles there is a V shaped muscle, this is what I refer to as the lower abdominal / abdomen. This V shaped part of the abdominal's sits below the belly button. To learn to feel and fully engage the diaphragm muscle in this training we only picture extending the lower part of the abdominal's, this V shaped muscle. This is why we place our finger tips and slightly push inwards below the belly button.

A common misunderstanding when training the diaphragm is starting the inflation at the top of the belly and moving it downwards, ("..I noticed that my thumbs always rise before.....my fingers...") it is not the inflation of the belly that we are concerned with but rather the engaging of the diaphragm muscle so that we can strengthen it and lengthen its range of movement.

The focus should be on slowly raising and lower the lower abdominal's only, the V shaped muscle. If the rest of the belly inflates too this is ok, I have observed that in some people this full inflation happens and others only the lower belly inflates, this seems based on the size of their belly. Regardless the focus is on the lower part of the abdomen, below the belly button. Once we have learnt to feel the diaphragm muscle moving we then no longer need to extend the lower abdominal muscles to engage it, but rather can intentionally move the diaphragm muscle up and down, without any discernible movement within the abdominal muscles.

Your Question: "...when I did the feeling was very different from the first experience of filling my whole belly..."

Stephen Procter: This I liked, yes the experience between both is very different, you may also find that breathing in the lower abdominal's has a greater calming affect. Always remember this is about lengthening the range of the diaphragm by slowing down its speed of movement, and as always, done in a patient and gentle way.

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Tightness in Breathing

Your Question: I have noticed sometimes when I breathe into the ribs and particularly up into my chest it feels like there is a tightness there almost like I have run out of breath, is this part of the stress response?

Stephen Procter: From my experience this tightness in the chest arises in four ways:

1. Breathing Downwards from The Chest:
Trying to inflate the belly by breathing from the chest downwards towards the belly. This is still stress breathing, the breathing is up-side-down. It is possible that you can think that you are diaphragm breathing and you are not. In this case the breath in the belly will be experienced as a 'push down' from the chest, you may be trying to push down the diaphragm muscle. This will give a feeling of tightness in the middle of the chest and lower ribs as the inflating lungs push against the locked diaphragm. It is best picturing the diaphragm being pulled down rather then pushed, like you have a handle or rubber band below your belly button pulling it down. This can be tricky at first but one it is experienced the difference is very clear.

2. Over Inflating the Belly:
If you over-inflate your belly before bringing the breath up into your chest you will experience tightness and lack of breath in your chest. This is opposite to above. Your chest can only inflate while your diaphragm muscle is moving downwards. If you fully inflate your belly before bringing the breath up (you can try it now), Your breath will feel stuck at the base of your ribs and will not be able to move up into your chest. It is only necessary start the breath below your belly button with a small breath before bringing it up into your ribs and chest to allow them to inflate.

3. Slumping In Your Body:
If you are slumping forward in your body, this can happen lying down but is more susceptible when sitting up, your lower rib cage will turn inwards and press against the base of your lungs preventing them from inflating properly (try slumping forward now and take in a deep breath). This will give a feeling of tightness in the chest and also an uncomfortable feeling in the solar plexus - its bad posture. This slumping is often the cause of the nervous, sick feeling in people with anxiety and depression because of their body slumping forward as they return to fetal position. You can observe people do this when they feel unwell, trying to go back into the safety of the womb. With posture adjustment = shoulders forward, up, back and then dropped down, the chest will open and this feeling will go away (try a deep breath now with the ribs extended out-wards instead of slumping).

4. Over-inflating The Chest:
If you are putting in too much effort into the inflation of your chest you will develop an uncomfortable tightness within it. It is not necessary to inflate the chest to the point of tension, any opening of the chest will come from relaxing the muscles not from engaging them.

Your Question: I notice the resistance and also some anxiety about not being able to get enough breath.

Stephen Procter: When our stress response is on we over-breathe, this means that our respiration rate is too fast. When doing the MIDL Mindfulness Training we intentionally slow down our respiration rate as well as start breathing through our nose, the breathes become long and slow rather the short and fast. to the mind that is used to a faster rate of breathing it can feel like we are not getting enough breath and suffocating. This will also happen at the final relaxation stage where the breath in the belly becomes so subtle that it feels like we aren't breathing at all.

To the mind survival instinct this can be fearful and the urge to take extra big breathes will arise. this fear is experienced as an anxiety, which of course changes the breathing rate and brings it into the upper chest. This is the game we are playing. If you observe that even though your mind is saying you are suffocating, if you look, your are still alive, so obviously your are not; instead you are dealing with habit.

This of course can be caused by any of the four points above.

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Breathing In Daily Life

Your Question: A question on what proper breathing looks like: Regular daily life = diaphragm breaths in belly only, is this the correct breathing in MIDL?

Stephen Procter:
Rest / Digest (no danger)
1. Breath moving just in belly = not doing anything (resting
2. Breath moving from belly to ribs = mild activity (walking)
3. Breath moving from belly to chest = high activity (running)

Fight / Flight (stress breath - danger)
1. Breath moving in upper chest = not doing anything (resting)
2. Breath moving in upper chest = mild activity (walking)
3. Breath moving in upper chest = high activity (running)

**These are all just examples of how the breathing is experienced. Think of breathing as being an accelerator pedal in a car:

Rest / Digest (no danger)
1. Engine idling: Breath moving just in belly = not doing anything (resting)
2. Engine accelerating: Breath moving from belly to ribs = mild activity (walking)
3. Engine revving: Breath moving from belly to chest = high activity (running)

Fight / Flight (stress breath - danger)
1. Engine revving: Breath moving in upper chest = not doing anything (resting)
2. Engine revving: Breath moving in upper chest = mild activity (walking)
3. Engine revving: Breath moving in upper chest = high activity (running)

You asked: "When feeling stress/anxiety or just noticing breath has moved up into the chest = take 5 deep diaphragm breaths involving belly+ribs+chest; then return to diaphragm breaths in belly only. Is this correct?"

Reply: Start checking in during the day and ask: "Where am I breathing now, is it in my chest or in my belly?"

If in your chest place your finger tips just below your belly button and take 5 slow breaths in your lower belly. This will re-engage your diaphragm and create a gap in the anxious cycle.

There is no need to breathe into your ribs and upper chest when doing this since the purpose is to temporarily turn off the stress response by re-engaging the diaphragm. CPR for re-engaging the diaphragm after the stress response disengages it, if you will. We are practicing MIDL 3/52 to make Rest / Digest breathing our natural breathing in daily life.

When diaphragmatic breathing is normal we can then use the diaphragm as a way of observing our state of mind. When the diaphragm tightens or disengages and our breathing pattern changes we know that our mind is resisting something, even if we do not know what that is. We then apply the skill learnt in MIDL 3/52 and re-engage the diaphragm, temporarily turning off the stress response and abandoning the resistance within out mind.

This then allows us to to fulfill Right Intention in the Noble Eightfold path through Abandoning and Guarding against the arising or unskillful or unwholesome patterns of behaviour, deconditioning them through mindful non-participation.

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Help With Breathing

Your Question: At the end at stage 5 in MIDL 3/52 I tend to not only fall into stillness but to also fall asleep. Does it matter?

Stephen Procter: No, falling asleep does not matter, whatever happens is ok. At first we fall in and out of sleep, enter into Stillness and drift back into sleep. This is healing for the mind because it comes from Stillness, gradually this will clear and the periods of Stillness will become clearer and more stable through not doing.

You Asked: My normal breath tends to be be rather shallow in the belly with long pauses during the day, is this correct, do I have to make it bigger?

Reply: Normal, relaxed breathing is a small breath in the belly with pauses in the breath, this is how it should be. The breath only moves up into the chest when we are under load like jogging or running, then when we are relaxed it returns to gentle breaths just in the belly. This is like an idle on a car, chest breathing is like the accelerator.

You Asked: I find breathing up into the chest is a lot more difficult then in my belly. I habitually avoid this area while doing this practice for 4 or 5 days now, I have a constant pain in my chest when trying to breath into it. It is not bad but noticeable. How do i do this so there is no discomfort?

Reply: Firstly I am not sure what you mean by pain, if it is physical pain and is carrying on after the meditation then you should have it checked by a health professional. If however you mean some discomfort or emotional pain then there are a number of things that can be adjusted. Your reference to habitually avoiding experiencing your chest area says to me emotional pain, the avoidance of experiencing this is quite common. Some people will tighten and experience anxiety when being aware of the area of their chest because this is the seat of where emotions are experienced. People with asthma or long term breathing difficulties may also have built aversion towards experiencing their breath in their chest.

In the case of emotional pain it is helpful to reflect that this emotional pain is just a reflection of the past, it has nothing to do with what you are doing now. Just be gentle with yourself and let it be there. Emotional pain is just a feeling, a danger signal from your survival mind, it can not hurt you.

There are some physical reasons for tightness in the chest / solar plexus when doing the breathing. If we are seated and slumping then the base of our rib cage will turn inwards and press against our lungs making it difficult for them to inflate. This creates an unpleasant feeling in the area of the solar plexus and tightness in the chest. Bad posture would also be possible lying down, slumping forward because of pillows under the shoulders or titling of the chin forward blocking the airways (head should be slightly tilted back).

Another physical reason is the over inflating of the belly. If we fully inflate our belly before bringing the breath up into our chest we have already fully extended the diaphragm and will have to strain to bring the breath up. While in the beginning we fully inflate our belly to engage the diaphragm, when breathing up into our chest we should just think of the breath starting in our belly (a little breath), then moving up into our ribs - chest, with the ribs and chest inflating, not the belly. If we inflate our belly instead of moving the breath upwards, we will experience tightness in the chest which will increase over time because of the strain.

Remember if it isn't relaxed and easy then it isn't yet correct.

You Asked: What troubles me is that I can't breathe out longer than 4,5 seconds while the in-breath can be longer. I want to reach 5 sec in and 5 sec out because it is healthy but I don't see how I can prolong my out-breath without forcing it which I shouldn't do. Do I make sense? Obviously the problem is that I can't relax my out-breath enough, can't let it go but how can I learn that?

Reply: 5 seconds is counted 1 / 1000, 2 / 2000 etc. 5 seconds is not a competition or a goal, it is just a guideline. 4.5 seconds is wonderful, don't concern yourself. The question is not "is my breath long enough?", the question is do I feel calm and totally relaxed" "Does my diaphragm re-engage in my belly after doing these exercises?" "Is this affecting how I breathe during the day?". You said: "... it relaxes me so totally. In fact at the end at stage 5 I tend to not only fall into stillness....my normal breath tends to be be rather shallow in the belly with long pauses during the day...."

It sounds like you are doing everything right. Increased breath length while doing this Softening training does not come in a few days, it comes by itself after weeks, months and for me years of regular practice. This is a long term journey, sit back and enjoy the ride, your breathing will adjust itself.

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Applying in Daily Life

Your Question: How do I apply diaphragm breathing in daily life, do i take deep breaths throughout the day?

Stephen Procter: Now that we have started becoming more intimate with our breathing patterns it is time to increase this new found sensitivity in daily life.

Check your breathing throughout the day.

"Is my breathing in my belly or my chest?"
"Am I holding my breath?"

Look at the relationship between resistance towards what is and your breathing pattern.

Place your finger tips below your belly button and gently bring the breath into your belly, switching the diaphragm back on, with five slow, lower belly breaths.

Notice any changes in your body and state of mind.

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Questions on MIDL 3/52

Your Question: Why do we normalize the breath, making inhalation and exhalation the same length when practicing MIDL?

Stephen Procter: The Stress Response changes the way that the diaphragm muscle works by tightening or locking it in the upward position under the lower rib cage, as it prepares the body for fight / flight. If we are exposed to stress / anxiety for a period of time, the diaphragm muscle, through lack of use, tightens and shortens in its range of movement. this can also be affected by lifestyle habits such as incessant talking, free diving (holding your breath), swimming, body obsession (belly in , chest out fashions) etc. Anything that changes our breathing patterns for a period of time.

When working with different people, some have a short movement of the diaphragm on the in-breath, some a short movement on the out-breath and others both movements are short. Short = 1 - 3 sec diaphragm movement on either in or out-breath. This shortness causes the body to mimic the stress response with short, shallow chest breathing, tricking the mind into thinking it is always under stress. This leads to hyperventilation, a lowering of CO2 levels and confusion in the regulation by the brain of respiration giving rise to the experience of anxiety.

Intentionally moving the diaphragm slowly down and back up again, strengthens the diaphragm muscle and increases its range of movement. This does not mean that we always breathe a 5 sec breath for example, it means that our brain has the option to use this full range of movement when we are under load such a jogging or exercising without having to resort to chest, hyperventilation (over breathing).

You asked: I felt that counting seconds along the length of the breath made me too aware of that, so I didn’t feel any calmer when breathing more slowly.

Reply: Then don't count. Guided meditations by their nature are generic; they cannot be adapted to every person that uses them. Learn to be sensitive to yourself, anything that is said in a guided meditation is just a suggestion. Use it as a structure for your meditation, investigate the suggestions. If they don't work for you then drop them like a hot rock and move on. Later revisit them and see if they are useful.

You asked: Should ribs/chest be engaged in daily life or only when Softening into something?

Reply: During this training we exercise the full range of the breath. When stress breathing, the diaphragm disengages and the chest moves up and down in short shallow breaths. During stress breathing the ribs do not open and the chest does not expand, it just moves up and down. The muscles in the upper chest become fatigues and tightness appears in the upper chest and middle of the back under the shoulder blades. This is all part of anxiety.

The important part of the stress breath is that it is upside-down. The breath habitually moves from the top of the chest downward, when I ask someone with anxiety this is how they breathe - upside down. A normal, non-stress breath is experienced as starting below the belly button, moving up through the ribs and into the top of the chest - the opposite direction.

To retrain correct breathing patterns as a basis for the MIDL Softening skill it is not enough to just breathe in our belly, we also need to learn to bring it through our ribs, expanding in our chest. This also offers the brain, as mentioned above, to use the full range of breathing when it is under physical load, returning to short, gentle breathing in the belly when we are relaxed.

You asked: In daily life, I’m never able to notice where my breath is automatically. I actively remember to do diaphragm breathing every now and then during the day - but have no idea of how it was before this. Will this come over time?

Reply: If you approach this training in a mindful and gentle way, yes, your breathing patterns throughout the day will become very clear to you and you will notice the slightest change within your breathing, in particular the movement of the diaphragm, in relation to your state of mind. At first you just get glimpses of this, but if practiced daily for 3 - 4 weeks, this will become much more natural and sensitivity will be greatly increased. The noticing and not noticing as exactly the same as when you are in seated meditation; it is the same game that we play.

You asked: So, I didn’t feel any calmer. When I heard the instruction ‘... breathe out further than ever before...’ I tensed up. I started to put effort in breathing out fully. How can I feel calmer?

Reply: Yes this is right, the meditation is doing exactly what it is meant to do, it is highlighting your desire to control. When you heard the instruction you tensed up, this is giving you a clear insight into the relationship between sound, your mind and your body.

Isn’t this interesting?

Is there a correlation between your effort to breathe out and the tension? What did you do with this effort when you noticed it? The over-efforting, the over-trying to achieve is the problem here, not the meditation. Whenever you notice the desire to strive use it to learn how to relax your effort. Use it to learn how to give up any desire to do anything.

You asked: When I heard your new instructions about ‘... feeling heavier...’: I became even more tense, then started to cry. I can’t relax, but I want so dearly to be able to.

Reply: Can you see the irony of this statement that arose within your mind? "I can't relax, but I want...." Wanting and relaxing are opposite; the tension you feel is coming out of the effort of your wanting. Heaviness arises only when we relax, relaxation arises when we give up all effort, especially the effort to do anything at all, including the desire to relax.

We are starting to see a pattern within your mind, this is wonderful, and this is showing you the way out. It is not the meditation technique that is the problem here, it is the desire to achieve, the desire to control. Whenever you do any meditation I would like you to make this desire your meditation object, learn to observe and relax into to desire. Also learn to observe that this desire is not you, it is a habitual protection mechanism released by your Survival mind in order to protect you. It is not personal.

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Breathing Into Chest

Your Question: Why should we bring the breath up into our chest? Why not just continue breathing in our belly?

Stephen Procter: It is not enough when retraining habitual stress breathing patterns to just strengthen and lengthen the range of movement of the diaphragm in the belly. This is because stress breathing is also up-side-down in the way it functions, to autonomous diaphragm breathing.

With stress breathing, due to the disengagement of the diaphragm, breathing is experienced on the in-breath as starting at the top of the chest and moving downwards as the breath comes in, stopping at the lower ribs.

With autonomous diaphragm breathing, due to the engagement of the diaphragm, breathing is experienced on the in-breath as starting below the belly button and moving upwards to the top of the chest.

First training to breathe in the belly, then belly up into the chest, is a necessary part of breathing retraining if we wish to decondition habitual stress chest breathing and condition diaphragmatic breathing so that it becomes autonomous.

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Stress Breathing Returns

Your Question: When doing this meditation my diaphragm returns to breathing and happens naturally in my belly but when I finish the meditation and go back into daily life it disengages and I start breathing in my chest again. How long does it take to change my breathing patterns?

Stephen Procter: Diaphragmatic breathing is a foundation skill in MIDL and retraining your breathing pattern so that diaphragmatic breathing becomes natural is a doorway of self observation in MIDL mindfulness meditation.

If you practice breathing retraining correctly twice per day it usually takes 3 - 4 weeks to change from habitual chest stress breathing patterns. You are correct that in the last phase of this meditation the diaphragm will re-engage and diaphragmatic breathing will happen autonomously. You will than experience the benefits of correct, natural non-defensive breathing. You are also correct that when you finish the meditation and return to normal life that at some stage your diaphragm will lock and habitual chest chest breathing will start again.

The change of your breathing pattern to chest breathing is a habitual defensive behaviour that re-engages your stress response. There is nothing wrong with this process, it is doing what it is supposed to do, the problem is that this pattern has become habitual so is not turning off when no danger is present. This is a normal part of working with any habit, something will trigger the habitual behaviour and you will fall back into it again and again.

The task of this breathing retraining has four levels:
1. Strengthen and lengthen the movement of the diaphragm by moving it slowly within the belly. This is aided by placing your finger tips just below your belly button, slightly pushing in, and lifting them away from your body by slowly extending and lowering your lower abdominal muscles. In the beginning the range of move may only be 2 - 3 seconds and the diaphragm will move too fast. With gentle practice this will lengthen to 5 seconds on the in-breath and 5 seconds of movement on the out-breath which is a more comfortable range. Even though we train this movement in this way during the meditation, this does not reflect the breathing rate in daily life. your brain will naturally adjust this dependent on what you are doing it just has a greater range of speed and length to work with.

2. Reverse stress breathing from starting at the top of the chest, moving down towards the base of the ribs to starting from below the belly button and moving up towards the top of the chest. This is also necessary because habitual stress breathing lowers the ability of the ribs to expand and contract with breathing.

3. Lying still and allowing the diaphragm to move autonomously for a period of time, without control to reteach your mind what natural breathing feels like. It is not unusual to deal with the desire to control your breathing during this stage, distract yourself and allow your body to do what it already knows how to do.

4. Observing and re-engaging diaphragm breathing throughout your day, whenever you notice that your habitual stress chest breathing pattern has re-engaged again. This is done by placing your finger tips below your belly button, pressing in slightly and slowly lifting and slowly lowering your fingers with your lower abdominal muscles five times. Slow movement is important. This will cause the diaphragm to re-engage autonomously.

Your whole task during this process is to create gaps in the habitual cycle. At first these gaps will be small, your breathing will change back again and again. This does not matter. Gradually the period of time that your diaphragm is re-engaged in breathing throughout the day will increase as will your sensitivity to changes within your breathing patterns.

From this platform you will start to observe and understand the correlation between your resistance towards what you are experiencing in life and changes within your patterns of breathing. This is real mindfulness of breathing from which you will be able to observe and decondition defensive patterns of reaction deeply embedded within your mind.

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Breathing More Deeply

Your Question: Some observations I have made while doing 3/52 meditation.

1. On each outbreath I try to breathe out as deeply as possible however it seems like sometimes I'm trying to squeeze the last remaining amount of air out using some effort to do so. I don't know if that is the right way to accomplish breathing out more deeply. Wondering what your thoughts are on this?

2. After I have completed my outbreath it seems like there is a long 8 second pause before I take my next inbreath. Is that okay to have a long pause like that?. It seems natural to me because I don't feel the need to breathe again immediately after the outbreath. I'm totally relaxed well laying there. I just lay there for 8 seconds without breathing. Wondering what your thoughts are on this?

Stephen Procter: 1. Trying to squeeze the remaining air out is counterproductive to the purpose of breathing retraining. Breathing deeply has nothing to do with the amount of air in the lungs, it has to do with the slowness of the movement of the diaphragm muscle in the belly. This slowness of movement can not be increased through force.

Lungs do not breathe, noses do not breathe and mouths do not breathe. Air is drawn into the lungs through the mouth or nose only when a vacuum is created by the movement of the chest / back muscles (stress breathing) or movement of the diaphragm muscle (rest / digest breathing). If the diaphragm movement is fast, say 2 seconds, then only two seconds worth of air will be drawn in through the nose and the lungs will partially inflate.

If the diaphragm movement is slowed down to say 5 seconds, then 5 seconds worth of air will be drawn in through the nose and a larger breath will be taken. This slowness of movement of the diaphragm as it moves downward on the in-breath and slowly upward on the out-breath can not be done by force but only through gradual, gentle training.

The diaphragm works like a spring and naturally returns to up under the ribs on the out-breath, there is not need to help it do this but we can slightly slow down its return when retraining its movement if it is returning too fast.

Remember that during this meditation you are just reminding your body to do what it already knows how to do, to breath in a relaxed state using the diaphragm. This is how a young child breathes before they experience stress and trauma. You have just forgotten how to breathe and you are reminding your body.

2. When you are doing the exercise of strengthening and lengthening the range of movement of your diaphragm, than there is no pause. When you get into the third stage of allowing the breathing to happening autonomously, a pause between the out-breath and the in-breath is natural as your brain is regulating your breathing dependent on your needs for CO2 and Oxygen. When you are very relaxed this gap will become larger, stressed it will become shorter.

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Dream Like State

Your Question: Very relaxing, but sometime while breathing I am drifting to some dream like state and after some time returning to presence feeling overwhelmed. Is it normal? Note - I am doing meditation on the floor on a hard surface as suggested.

Stephen Procter: Yes this is normal, do not concern yourself with your mind drifting off into a dream like state during breathing retraining, this is just a sign of the level of your relaxation. This dream like state arises from an over-calming of the knowing quality of your awareness leading to your mind filling this gap of 'not-knowing' with habitual content.

Feeling overwhelmed when you come back is possibly from the knowing factor, of what you are doing now, returning and the stark difference between being unaware of your senses and suddenly returning to full awareness of them is startling you. This feeling of driftiness is part of the healing process as your mind lowers its defenses and feeling overwhelmed is these habitual defense mechanisms coming back, this will lesson over time as your mind finds safety in this process.

There are two areas you can work with:
1. Focus on lowering your effort in diaphragm breathing incase you are hyperventilating. Less effort is the key as we are not making our breathing behave a certain way but rather re-training it to do, what it already knows how to do. We just need to remind our body that breathing starts with the diaphragm. If you experience any light headedness then stop controlling your breathing; allow it to return to normal.

Slow, diaphragm breathing increases CO2 levels, this can cause the light headness if chest breathing is normal for you. Any experience of light headedness will then gradually fade as the oxygen / CO2 levels rebalance. This takes about 10 - 20 seconds for the feeling to start to fade after control of the breathing is abandoned. This feeling of lightheadness can be normal when first switching from chest to diaphragmatic breathing but gradually becomes less over time.

2. When you enter into the third stage of allowing your breathing to happen by itself, autonomously, put more effort into remembering to remembering the experience of your body lying there. The experience of your whole body on the hardness of the floor: heaviness, touch, pressure etc in order to ground your awareness This effort in remembering to remember is the aspect of mindfulness and will prevent the over-calming of the knowing factor of your awareness.

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