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MIDL 5/52: Skill of Softening Into


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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MIDL Mindfulness Training 5/52

Our Fifth Training:
MIDL Mindfulness Training 5/52: Skill of Softening Into.

1. Develop a foundation for the Second Pillar of MIDL, the ability to Soften our relationship towards all experience.

2. Develop a heightened sensitivity to the relationship between our breathing patterns and our current state of mind.

3. Develop the ability to abandon all resistance and participation within our mind in line with each out-breath.

Basic Instruction:
Meditation is practiced in a seated position.

The Three Stages:
1. Learning the full breath, from your lower belly, to your ribs, opening the top of your chest; relaxing with the out-breath.

2. Learning to breathe from your lower belly - ribs - top of your chest and borrow the natural deflation of the body with each out-breath to refine the MIDL skill of Softening Into.

3. Learning to extend the out-breath through the nose, aligned with the natural deflation of the body with each out-breath to abandon all participation through mentally relaxing.

Practice daily for 1 week, play with how little effort you can put into the breathing; slow down the out-breath through the nose and see if you can experience the area within the frontal lobes of your brain relax. Observe how when this area relaxes all thinking stops, mental activity settles down. Your aim is to abandon all mental effort with each out-breath and to allow the deep relaxation of your body, that arises through softening, to enter your mind.

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. Ability to be with difficult experiences that arise during meditation and daily life.

5. Ability to intentionally decondition habitual tendencies and defensive emotional charge from memories.

6. Ability to develop and establish wholesome qualities of mind.

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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: 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? How do I relax my frontal lobes. Please offer some practical advice on how to do this.

Stephen Procter: 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.

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.

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.

In answer to the second part of your question: 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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Tension in Eyes & Eyelids

Your Question: I experience problems with not being able to relax my eye muscles, my eyes are darting around under my closed eyelids. It became very clear to me when I tried to relax my frontal lobes. I can relax for a couple of seconds, then my eyes start to move and I lose the relaxation.

Stephen Procter:
You said: ".....not being able to relax my eye muscles, my eyes are darting around under my closed eyelids....when I tried to relax my frontal lobes...."

This is a sign of mental restlessness appearing in your body. Our eyes have an intimate link to our mind. When our survival mind senses danger the eye muscles contact and eyelids open up wide. You may see this in an animal when it is startled, we are just the same. When working with people experiencing anxiety from trauma the first thing I notice when I meet them is big eyes and tension in the looking. this is the mind looking out through the eyes scanning the world for danger. What I also observe is as their mind finds safety the intensity of the 'looking' softens and their eyelids relax partly closed.

You said: "...I can relax for a couple of seconds, then my eyes start to move and I lose the relaxation..."

Stephen Procter:This says it all, every time you start to relax your mind brings you back into alertness.

But this is ok, your mind is just doing what it is supposed to be doing, it is trying to protect you from its imaginary danger. These small relaxations are important and they are also enough. Every time you experience these small relaxations through Softening you are putting a small gap in the continuity of the anxious cycle.

Your task as a MIDL meditator is to create these gaps, gradually the gaps of relaxation will increase and the strength of the habitual defenses will weaken and your eyes will settle down, by them self. You do not have to do anything except surrendering to the gaps of relaxation when they arise and Softening into your relationship towards your minds defenses when they switch back on again.

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Relaxing Gives Me a Headache

Your Question: The instruction to "relax the frontal lobes" actually have me a headache in those lobes. I remember experiencing the same thing the last time I cycled through 5. Any suggestion on how to prevent this headache?

Stephen Procter: This is all about effort, if you experience an increase of tension then this is a reflection of effort. This training is all about abandoning effort, abandoning doing, if you are experiencing a headache from relaxing all doing then there is strain involved in your effort to not do.

The Softening develops in this way:

In MIDL 3/52 you develop the ability to use slow, diaphragm breathing in order to make diaphragmatic breathing, your normal breathing. This is a training of the body which involves lengthening and strengthening the diaphragm so you can take slow softening breaths from belly > ribs > chest > relaxing with the out-breath.

In MIDL 4/52 you bring these skills into a seated meditation posture belly > ribs > chest > relaxing with the out-breath. You learn this in order to use the Softening breath while sitting up. But the most important part of this training is aligning awareness with the deflation of the body with the out-breath and learning to 'borrow' the relaxation of the body as the breath goes out. It is this 'borrowing' that moves this into the skill of softening. Borrowing the relaxation of the out-breath is practiced in two stages. The first stage is done by controlling the breath. The second stage is done by allowing the breathing to happening by itself, naturally, and 'borrow' the relaxation of each out breath by aligning awareness with it and abandoning all effort. Allowing the relaxation that arises within the body to enter the mind. 'Allowing' is the key word here.

In MIDL 5/52 we add an extra stage that brings this from physical relaxation to mental Softening. We bring the softening breath in as normal belly > ribs > chest > but on the out-breath we bring awareness to the area in the middle of our forehead and slow down, extend the out-breath through our nose. While we do this we abandon all mental effort, we give up the mental effort 'to do'. This has an interesting effort that is experienced as 'the frontal lobes relaxing'. This however is an experience of relaxing of mental effort or strain. the slow breath out through the nose enhances this relaxing, this abandoning, so much so that when you observe someone doing it properly all personality melts from their face as the cognitive part of their mind temporarily shuts down and they enter into a more primitive level of mind.

The frontal lobes are just a pointer, the experience is the area of the frontal lobes relaxing, sinking. this is a very simple process, it takes hardly any effort at all and since it is a relaxing of mental effort, any effort to relax this effort is the opposite direction. In the early stage through this we can borrow the relaxation of effort to bring deep relaxation to the functions of the mind. Once developed thinking processes and desires to react can be brought to an end, through one simple, slow breath out through the nose; a mental abandoning.

This process of developing Softening goes from very gross - working with the body, to very subtle - abandoning within the mind.

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Over-inflating Lungs

Your Question: I have a question and need a clarification. When doing the softening technique. I let the breath go into my belly, but then find as it moves up into my chest it becomes forced because it takes a lot of breath to move up. I find I max out my lung capacity in order to feel the fullness. This then becomes uncomfortable. Is this the correct procedure? I find that I get very distracted at such a high air volume in my lungs. The clarification I need is in regard to observe the softening breath that comes later in the meditation. I understand that the softening breath is intentional so the problem becomes how can I just observe when it is intentional? Please help me understand.

Stephen Procter: You asked: "When doing the softening technique.....belly.......up into my chest it becomes forced.....I max out my lung capacity.......becomes uncomfortable. Is this the correct procedure?"

Stephen Procter:If you experience strain or effort when Softening, then it isn't softening. There is no need to fully inflate your chest and lungs, softening is not a breathing technique. In MIDL 3/52 it was necessary to learn to take a complete breath because we were retraining habitual stress breathing patterns. This is because stress breathing is up-side-down to calm diaphragm breathing. This is why we intentionally control the breath in this way.

But when we move into developing the MIDL Softening skill in MIDL 4 & 5/52, we are not trying to change our breathing patterns, rather we are learning to 'borrow' the relaxation of the deflation of our body with each out-breath in order to bring about calmness within the mind. It is the alignment of awareness with the out-breath that is important, not the breathing itself.

There is never any reason to fully inflate your lungs, especially if this causes strain and discomfort, if it contains strain then it is not correct, lower your effort. Softening is heading towards 'not-doing', as MIDL meditators our task is to observe and relax this desire 'to-do". Bring the breath up into your chest but only enough so that you get a slight inflation of your body, then slowly release that breath and investigate what it means to 'abandon all effort' with the deflation, what it means to 'borrow' the relaxation of the deflation.

You asked: ".... I understand that the softening breath is intentional so the problem becomes how can I just observe when it is intentional?..."

Stephen Procter:In the beginning the in-breath is intentional and controlled, the out-breath is not controlled but rather known. The in-breath is like climbing to the top of a slide, the out-breath is like sliding down the slide. It takes no effort to slide down. As our meditation deepens we allow the breaths to become more subtle, more gentle until we are no longer controlling the breath. The intention to breathe is now abandoned, our intention is now to be mindful of the inflation and deflation of our body, as it happens naturally free from control, and investigating what it means to abandon all effort in-line with the deflation.

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