Stage 3 of the Mindfulness of Breathing: Experiencing the Continuity of the Breathing

In the third stage of this meditation practice we let go of the counting and simply follow the breath as it flows in and out. This is the Mindfulness of Breathing proper, and if I were forced to introduce the Mindfulness of Breathing practice in two minutes then this is what I’d teach — simply paying attention to the sensations of the breath.

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However, by saying that I don’t want to devalue the earlier two stages, which are important aids in helping us to practice effectively in this stage of the practice and important practices in their own right.

Here’s an outline of the practice so far:

Stage Zero

Set up your posture, as described in the posture guidelines, developing awareness of the body and relaxing as best you can.

Stage One

Then, becoming aware of the breath as the central experience within the body, begin counting after each out-breath, counting in cycles of ten breaths. When you notice the mind wandering, gently bringing it back to the breath. Notice the gently relaxing quality of the out-breath.

Stage Two

Moving into the second stage of the practice, begin counting just before each in-breath, again counting ten breaths before starting over again at one. Notice the gently stimulating quality of the in-breath.

When you feel ready, move onto the third stage.

Stage Three

In the third stage of the practice, drop the counting, and just follow the breathing coming in and out. Pay particular attention to the transitions from an in-breath to an out-breath, since those are the places where you’re most likely to become distracted.

See if you can notice the breathing as a continuous process — not as a series of in-breaths and out-breaths, but as a never-ending stream of sensation connected with the movements of the body, and the sensations of the air flowing into and out of the body.

You can listen to an MP3 guided meditation that will lead you through the first three stages of the practice by clicking on the player below:

The “Gaining Idea” in Meditation

If you’ve been working methodically through this practice you know the score by now. Try doing all three stages for a few days. Practice them every day, if possible, and get to know them well.

Watch out for any tendency to want to skip over one stage (maybe because you don’t like it as much as the others). Each stage has its own special function, so remember to do them in the correct order.

You might want to make your meditation a little longer now, perhaps five minutes per stage, making fifteen minutes.

Shunryu Suzuki, the famous Zen teacher who founded the San Francisco Zen Center and who was a major influence on Western Buddhism, talked about “the gaining idea.” This rather awkward but incredibly useful phrase points to the problem that arises in our practice when we’re hungering for results. We want be enlightened right here and right now. Or we simply want to rush on to learn the whole practice so that we can check that off our list of things to do. The gaining idea is a major hindrance to developing skill in meditation.

As Suzuki Roshi said, “When a gaining idea arises in our practice, it is a sign that our practice is in trouble.” The reason for this is that we’ve actually incorporated our restless, grasping mind into our meditation practice. Our practice has been taken over by the mind that craves, yearns, and tries to appropriate results without following the path that leads to those results.

These attitudes of grasping, craving, and greedy hunger are the very things that cause us suffering in the first place. Because we suffer we want to meditate, because meditation is the antidote to craving and suffering. And then what happens? Our craving takes control of the meditation! It’s as if the antidote to the poison itself accidentally becomes contaminated with poison!

It’s useful if you learn to recognize this gaining idea, this notion that somehow your best interests will be served if you rush through the practice. That notion is false. Meditation is about letting go of grasping so that we can experience freedom. So start doing that now by deciding that you’ll pause where you are right now, and that you’ll explore the stages of the meditation practice and really get to know them before you move on to the next stage.

As part of that exploration come back to this section and read a bit more about the issues that can arise in this stage of the practice.

Remember to Check in With Your Body

Perhaps this is a good time to remind you of your body. I’ve emphasized that it’s important to set up your posture at the start of a period of practice. Doing this provides you with better conditions for meditating.

It’s like making sure, when you’re building a fire, that your kindling is stacked just right and that your matches are dry, so that you’ll end up with a good blaze instead of a pile of smoldering wood and a bad temper.

But when you take your attention away from your posture in order to be more aware of your breath, you’ll often find that your posture starts to drift. You might find that some parts of your body start to sag, while others become tense. And these changes lead to mental and emotional changes.

The tension in your shoulders might be related to some anger you’ve started to experience. The sagging in your spine might be related to a feeling of despair that’s crept in. If you relax your shoulders, the anger will start to disappear again. If you straighten your spine, you’ll start to feel more confident again.

As you become more proficient at meditation, you’ll learn that you can periodically take your attention away from your breath for a split second in order to check your posture and make minor corrections. You’ll get so good at doing this that you’ll be able to effectively keep a continuous awareness of your breath.

Remember learning to drive? You probably found that at first you’d take your attention off the road to change gears and when you took your attention back to the road (several long seconds later) you’d find that you’d drifted off towards one side or that a red traffic light had mysteriously appeared from nowhere. Later, you’ll have found that you were able to change gears without significantly taking your awareness from what was going on around you.

The same thing happens in meditation – we learn to deal with the seeming complexity of managing our posture and what we’re doing with the focus of our attention – elegantly and even effortlessly. A good way to start practicing this skill of monitoring your posture without disrupting your practice is to check and correct your posture in between stages.

You might want to do this every time you move from one stage to another. Later, you’ll find that you can integrate monitoring your posture into your practice in the way that I’ve described.

Balancing Alertness and Relaxation

While stage one of this meditation practice helps to develop more calm (by emphasizing the qualities of the out breath), and stage two helps to develop more energy and awareness (by emphasizing the qualities of the in breath), the third stage emphasizes both the in breath and the out breath equally. This helps us to blend the calm relaxation of the first stage with the energized awareness of the second stage.

In our meditation practice we are ideally developing a sense of energetic calm awareness, or a calmly energized awareness. While doing stage three you can be aware of the constant oscillation between the calming out breath and the energizing in breath, and allow the qualities of the out breath and of the in breath to permeate each other.

Modifying an analogy the Buddha himself used, you can think about making dough. When you’re making dough, what you’re doing is taking two contrasting substances – a wet one and a dry one – and combining them together in a perfectly balanced blend.

If you have too much water, then you’ll have a sticky mess, while if you have too much flour, you’ll have a dry, cracked ball.

Get the proportions just right, and you’ll have dough that is perfectly pliable and workable. (The Buddha’s analogy involved a “bathman or bathman’s apprentice) blending soap powder and water — presumably the Buddha was more familiar from his earlier life with bathing in luxury spas than he was with baking).

Just as the right balance of flour and water (or soap-powder and water) produces a pliable mixture that can be used appropriately, this stage of the mindfulness of breathing meditation practice helps us to develop pliability of mind; to get our minds into a calm and energetic state where we can work to develop a much greater degree of concentration.

Signs of Progress in Meditation

An obsession with getting someplace in meditation can be very unhelpful. But you’re new to meditation you often need some gentle reassurance that you’re on the right path. Often it’s hard to tell whether you are making progress or not. I note elsewhere that one of the things that will help you to stick with your meditation practice is the ability to notice and appreciate small changes. So here are some of the small changes that you might want to watch out for.

  • Other people noticing that you are changing. Sometimes it’s hard to have a sense of perspective on ourselves. We can easily concentrate on supposed failures to the extent that we completely miss positive changes. Often, my meditation students report that other people notice that they are changing; becoming more relaxed, less reactive, and more friendly.
  • Starting to develop more concentration. You can use the counting to give you a sense of whether you are developing more concentration. Being able to count to ten even once may be a step forward. If you make it to there, then you might want to aim to count to ten three times in a row. You might notice that you have the ability to count continuously and also have a lot of thoughts arising. That’s great! Pay more attention to the fact that you have developed more continuity of awareness than you do to the fact that there are still a lot of stray thoughts.
  • Having interesting experiences in meditation. You may begin to notice unusual things – like a delightful sense of rhythm in your breathing, or the way in which your body subtly moves in response to your heartbeat. These are signs that you are developing more concentration and awareness in meditation, and you would be wise to pay attention to such experiences. Some of the things you might experience might seem a little odd. A common example is seeing patterns of moving lights. This is a good sign, in that you are moving into a deeper state of concentration. But it’s best not to pay much attention to those lights or they will turn into a distraction and slow your progress.
  • Spontaneous resolution of posture problems. Sometimes you’ll notice parts of your body relaxing spontaneously. Sometimes a particular problem you had with your posture might suddenly disappear.
  • Paying more attention to the outside world. It’s a very good sign when you start to slow down and notice the beauty in the world.
  • Noticing your posture more. You may become more aware of your body during the course of the day, and you may notice how awareness of your body grounds you. You may even come to a deeper understanding of how your posture influences your emotions and mind.
  • Noticing you have choices. You may start to notice the gap between stimulus and response, and realize that you have a choice about how to respond. You can choose not to respond habitually, but instead to choose a more appropriate and creative response.
  • Becoming more aware of your actions. Often, before we get to the stage of being aware of our actions before we do them, we start to notice them after we’ve done them. It’s tempting to feel frustration to realize that you’ve lost your temper once again, but actually it’s a good sign that you’re noticing this at all. With practice you’ll be able to catch those responses earlier and earlier, until you’re able to choose to respond more creatively.
  • Feelings of calmness. You may have spells of greater than usual calmness in your meditation or after meditation. You may even experience some reluctance to end a period of meditation.
  • Interesting and vivid dreams. When your meditation begins to “bite”, it often leads to more vivid and meaningful dreams. Pay attention to these and see what you can learn from them.
  • Becoming more dissatisfied. Paradoxically, one side-effect of becoming more self-aware is that you realize that there are things about yourself that you’d like to change. This realization is uncomfortable but also useful. If you don’t become aware of things in your behavior that you want to change you’ll never do anything about them.
  • Time passing quickly. When you’re really enjoying something, time passes more quickly. It’s common to notice that time passes faster in certain meditations.

One of the main signs of progress in meditation, though, is being more relaxed about making progress. Our meditation practice never changes in a constant, linear way. There are always ups and downs. One day you’re sitting there and you unexpectedly find that you’re blissfully happy and almost totally without distraction. The next day your mind is all over the place. This is normal, and it’s good to relax, and not be obsessed about “getting somewhere.” Yes, it’s good to have the aspiration to move in the direction of greater calm and happiness, but the expectation that this is going to happen will bring us nothing but pain. Bearing in mind the aspiration to move in the direction of greater calm and happiness, we simply work with whatever arises, not worrying about whether it’s a “good” meditation or a “bad” meditation.

Also, not all changes are noticeable in the short term. It’s now known that when you meditate, you rewire your brain in helpful ways. Can you tell whether or not new neurons have been generated, or whether new connections between neurons have been built? Of course not. But it’s happening anyway. It might take months for those changes to manifest in anything perceptible. So in the meantime, just relax and get on with the practice.

Lastly, if you’re here because you’re having odd experiences in meditation, like swirling lights or your body feeling odd, I’d suggest the post I wrote on “Odd experiences in meditation.”

Using Anchors in Stage Three

If the first two stages have gone really well, letting go of the numbers can allow us to develop a deeper and more balanced concentration. However, if we haven’t managed to develop enough calmness in the first two stages, then it’s easy to get lost in the third stage.

This often happens because the counting has been acting as an anchor for our awareness: it stops us from drifting too far away from the breath. So if we let go of the counting we can often float off into distraction.

One way to retain an anchor while letting go of the numbers is to use a physical sensation in the body as an anchor. I sometimes use the physical sensations in my hands in the same way as I use the numbers.

Sometimes at the end of every out-breath I take my awareness to my hands in order to keep me grounded. I use the sensations in my hands much as I’d use the numbers.

The physical anchor is a more refined anchor than the counting because it’s non-verbal — it cuts down on the amount of thinking, so that your mind can develop a deeper level of stillness.

Other times I maintain awareness of my hands throughout the cycle of each in-breath and out-breath. When I breathe in there’s a sensation of rising in the body and so I have a general sense of the gap between the hands and the breath widening. In each out-breath there’s a feeling that the body is sinking, and so I get a sense of the connection between the hands and the breath narrowing. So I notice the connection between the hands and the breath, and this helps keep the mind from wandering off.

Partly I think this works because it makes the practice more interesting. But partly I think it’s something to do with introducing a “stretch” into the practice. What I mean is that I’ve noticed that when my mind stretches to accommodate two separate sensations it seems to calm down very quickly. I can’t explain this, but I offer it as a tool that might be useful.

Other “stretches” involve being aware of the space outside my body while focusing on some inner sensation (like the breath), and being aware of sounds outside of myself while following some inner sensation.

You might want to play around with this idea of creating a stretch in your awareness and see what happens. Just notice two very different and geographically separate sensations, and pay attention to both simultaneously. And notice what the result is.

What’s a Good Meditation?

There are two answers to the question of what defines a good meditation. Both are valid, but one answer is more useful than the other.

The first answer would be that a good meditation is one where you feel concentrated, where you’re enjoying yourself, and where there aren’t many distractions. This is probably the most common answer that people would give, and it’s the least useful.

The second answer would be that a good meditation is one where you have taken every opportunity to return your attention to the breath — no matter how distracted you have been. So you might have been very distracted, but every time you realized that you had been distracted you’d taken your awareness back to the breath. This is a much more useful way to think of what a good meditation consists of.

The reason that the second way of looking at this question is more useful, is that “good” meditations of the first type will come and go, whereas you can always have “good” meditations of the second type. Also, this is a more realistic way of looking at things. In meditation you’re working to alter your mental and emotional habits. You’re subtly changing your personality.

In a “good” meditation of the first type you might be having an easy time of it — your practice is very enjoyable — but you might not be actively engaging with yourself. You might actually be rather passive. But a meditation where you have really worked — even though you’ve experienced a lot of distractions and not had an easy time of it — that is a good meditation.

Thought Trains

We talk about “trains of thought.” You can think of these as being like real locomotive trains that pull into a busy station and then go rattling off. Most of them don’t go anywhere that we particularly want to go (most of them are to do with worrying, getting angry, running ourselves down, etc). But our mind is like a little kid that’s very restless and curious, and keeps going through the open doors into the carriages.

Before we know it we’re miles away from where we wanted to be (in dangerous territory, often!), and it takes us forever to get home.

By learning meditation you can learn just to watch the trains pulling up and pulling away, being aware of them and choosing not to get into them.

Are there any trains we want to get into? Yes. Some thoughts can be useful, if they are reflections about our meditation, for example. Such thoughts take us deeper into our meditation.

One difference between useful thought trains and those that take us into distractions, is that when we’re reflecting (as opposed to being distracted), we know what we’re thinking and why, and what effect those thoughts are having). By contrast distracted thoughts are like dreams — we don’t know we’re in them until we “wake up.”

But it can take a while to recognize which thoughts are useful and at first it’s not a bad idea simply to treat all thoughts as distractions and to let them all depart from the station of the mind while you “just sit” on the platform.

Breathing, not breaths

There’s another way that the third stage of the mindfulness of breathing meditation, in which we drop the counting of the first two stages and simply follow the breath flowing in and out, is a progression from those two stages.

The progression consists in sensing the continuity of the breathing process, through having an unbroken awareness of the breathing rather than in having an awareness of individual breaths.

When we’re counting out-breaths (as in the first stage of the meditation practice) or counting in-breaths (as in the second stage) there’s an inevitable tendency to experience the process of the breathing as being chopped into bits. There’s an in-breath. Then an out-breath. Then another in-breath. Then another out-breath. We may acknowledge pauses between the in and out phases, so that we mentally chop the breathing into four parts: in / pause / out / pause.

Now actually the breathing process isn’t quite like that. It’s not really divided into discrete parts. When you watch the breathing closely in meditation you’ll see that the in-breath shades into a feeling of fullness, which then shades into the release of the out-breath. Then the increasing sense of emptiness at the end of the exhalation shades into the beginning of the next in-breath. There are no distinct beginnings or ends. There’s just one continuous process that changes its character over time. It’s much like looking at a rainbow. There are different colors, but when you look at where one color shades into another you’ll see there are no distinct transitions.

We’re practicing mindfulness of breathing, not mindfulness of breaths.

When we experience the breath as chopped up then there’s a tendency for our awareness itself to become discontinuous. We actively experience the in-breath, then the mind goes a bit floppy for a moment, then we pay attention to the out-breath, then the mind goes a bit squidgy again. Somewhere during the times when the mind is taking a little vacation from vividly noticing the breath it decides instead to get absorbed in some thought or fantasy, and we don’t have the mental sharpness to stop it from going on a little (or perhaps a long) wander.

When we get to the end of the second stage and stop counting we have the opportunity to experience the wholeness of the breathing rather than the chopped-up-ness of in-out-in-out. And so our awareness itself becomes more continuous. We’re less likely to get distracted. The mind becomes more attuned to the subtler sensations where the breath is changing from an inhalation to an exhalation, and vice versa. And we develop a very pleasant sense that we have a continuous thread of awareness running through our experience.

So practically, what this means is that we follow the sensations of the breath as it flows in, noticing the sensations of movement becoming subtler as the sensations of fullness are becoming stronger, noticing the “cresting” of the inhaling as it releases from fullness into the emptying of exhaling, noticing the sensations of exhaling becoming stronger as the body moves faster and as the exhaling happens more slowly, bottoming out into an increasing sense of emptiness, until the emptiness gives way to a sense of filling. And so on, and so on. It’s actually hard to put this in writing because for the sake of clarity in writing I have to use commas and periods, which suggests a succession of discrete experiences rather than an ever-evolving transition within one single experience, which is the process of breathing.

Another approach would be, next time you’re following the breathing (and maybe that’s right now) seeing if you can notice any absolute boundaries and discontinuities within the process of the breathing. I think you’ll find there are none, and that as your sense of the breathing becomes more continuous, so too does your sense of the continuity of your mindfulness.

Guiding, Not Controlling

The great hypnotherapist, Milton Erickson, told a story about how one day, when he was a boy, a riderless horse wandered into the farmyard outside his home. Milton had never seen this horse before, and had no idea where it lived, but very soon he had the horse back where it belonged. How did he do this?

Well, he sat on the horse’s back, got it to start walking, and then every time they came to a turn in the road, he paid attention to the almost imperceptible movements of the horse’s body that told him where it wanted to go. And once young Milton had sensed in which direction the horse wanted to head in, he encouraged it to do so. It turned out that the horse knew its own way home, and all Milton had to do was give it a little gentle guidance — or encouragement to trust its own instincts.

It’s similar with our breathing. I’ve said that in the mindfulness of breathing practice we’re not controlling our breath. On the other hand I’ve also suggested that you can use deep breathing, or breathing into the belly, or breathing into the upper chest, etc., as ways of altering your state of mind. This might sound contradictory, but it’s not really. When we change the pattern of our breathing, we don’t have to exert any control. We can gently guide the breath without controlling it, as Milton did.

Had Milton tried to tell the horse where to go, he’d never have got it home. Horses, after all, are trained to follow orders. Instead he used a more subtle technique of being aware of where the horse wanted to go, and then reinforced that desire with some gentle guidance. The horse soon got the idea.

We all are riders of horses, in a way. Our breathing is generally under the control of subconscious processes, and it has to be said that our subconscious, by and large, does a pretty good job of keeping breathing. The subconscious rarely fails to carry out its tasks, which is more than can be said for our conscious minds (how often do we go upstairs to get something and then forget by the time we get there what it was we wanted?). So let your subconscious do what it’s good at.

When you want to change your breathing, say by breathing into your belly more deeply, then all you really have to do is to take your awareness into your belly to give your subconscious a gentle hint, and then let it do the work. In this way, we gently guide our breath rather than control it.

18 Comments. Leave new

  • There is a Tibetan saying: “The breathing is the horse, the consciousness is the rider”

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  • Thank you :-)

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  • Hello and thank you for the wonderful site. One of the benefits of meditation people talk about is the ability to become an impartial observer to one’s thoughts. I’ve been meditating on and off for years but it’s something that has never happened to me. Yes, I can sort of watch my thoughts from a distance but I’m always aware that it’s me doing both the thinking and watching. There’s nothing impartial about it.

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  • As a creative writer, I think I get some of my best ideas while in a meditative state such as when showering or shaving. My question is what I should do when a ‘useful’ or ‘epiphany moment’ happens while meditating. My instinct is to get up and write my idea down and my fear is that if I go back to my breathing I will lose this idea which has bubbled up from my subconscious. I don’t really see my wandering mind as a thing to avoid but a thing to embrace – which confuses me regarding the practice of meditation.

    I would appreciate any advice or suggestions.
    Humbly yours

    Peter

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    • The wandering mind can be very creative, Peter, and when it is it’s doing a wonderful job, and this is very welcome! It’s more of a problem when it’s wandering in an uncreative way, into the territory of anger or craving, or worry or doubt. Sometimes when I have a creative thought in meditation I’ll cross my fingers. I soon forget my fingers are crossed, but when the meditation ends I notice that they are and I remember the thought I’d had. I think it’s also OK to keep a notebook handy and to jot the thought down, in order to get it out of your head. It’s probably less disruptive to the meditation session than it is to worry about losing the good idea! Often, though, when I have and lose a good idea, all I have to do is to get into a similar state of relaxation, and it comes back to me.

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  • I noticed that there are thoughts that you can easily get rid of, these are like blurry images but, others are more vivid and include images of places, things, and people and these ones take longer to abscond. Like you are tapping into other dimensions. Also, many times by acknowledging that my eyes are close, I could see through them like if they were opened. That one, you really need to focus on because it could trick you into opening them and distract you a bit.

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  • I wanted to ask a question about scoliosis, which i have lived with since early childhood. I find myself slumping a lot because i have a lot of discomfort in trying to sit erect. Any suggestions to remedy this?

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    • Two friends of mine who have mild scoliosis have tried using the “Backjack” chair, which offers some back support. You might want to look into that, Alberto. You’re probably never going to be able to sit as upright as someone with a spine that’s not affected by scoliosis, so besides finding more comfort through improved back support, you’ll probably end up having to work within the conditions your body presents you with. I wouldn’t worry about it: the body does affect the mind, but it’s possible to make progress nonetheless.

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  • Bodhipaksa – Not to litter your comment box with my remarks, but thank you, first of all, for your encouraging words. These are welcome from an advanced practitioner. Second, I hadn’t tried the “I meditate every day” mantra or the idea of the guided meditation, but I will now. Thank you again sincerely for your reply; it’s most appreciated.

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    • If this is litter, it’s of a very welcome kind. I’m happy that you find the site helpful, David.

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  • Hello, Bodhipaksa. Thank you kindly for your terrific website. Today was my 140th consecutive sitting. I’m proud of getting this far but am also finding I’m strangely nervous that I’m not going to keep the practice up. I don’t know why. I want to keep going for years to come. I’m getting a bit panicky about whether I’m cut out for meditation. Have been doing the Mindfulness of Breathing (all four stages, each for five minutes) preceded by 2-5 minutes of body mapping. I don’t seem very good at Mindfulness of Breathing. I think I’m improving, but not sure. I’ve never entered a state of absorption, for instance, and find it difficult to muster much interest in the breath. I did go to the beach a couple weeks ago and became absorbed in the sunlight on the water! Took that to be a sign of progress as that never happened prior to meditating. Just wish it would happen during a sitting. Is this normal for about five months’ practice? Won’t I get better? Appreciate your “metta” in advance — I’m sorry but am becoming nervous without knowing why! Thanks!

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    • Hi, David.

      There’s no such thing as being “cut out” for meditation. The reason we need to do it is because our minds are noisy and unruly! You’re doing great to have sat for 140 consecutive days. That almost certain places you in the top 0.01% of meditators. Seriously.

      Regarding the mindfulness of breathing, I don’t know if you’re using any guided meditations, but they can help. Reaching any state of absorption after just a few months could happen, but it’s much more likely not to, unless you’ve been on a retreat. There’s often a lot of work we have to do on our minds in daily life before we can experience jhana.

      Have you been using my “I meditate every day” mantra? And as for signs of progress, it’s common not to notice them. If you’re practicing, you’re changing, though—even if you can’t yet see it.

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    • Oh, and the nervousness: just treat that as another sensation to be mindful of. Drop the stories; notice the sensations in the body.

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  • Thank you Bodhipaksa for your reply. Then I will simply do what feels right to me and trust myself. I am reading articles regarding breathing and I do wish I had found this site earlier. But on the flip side of that, I do believe that we find many things when we are ready and no sooner. I am glad to be here now and have just today spoken to my husband about making me a meditation stool as it appears to be the best thing for me. It is quite silly yet wonderful to be so excited about a piece of equipment. :)
    Thank you again and I’ll be around.

    Jen

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  • Hi Bodhipaksa

    .
    While reading this I thought of something that has bothered me lately. I am a seeker I guess and I try different things like self hypnosis, meditation, visualization, every day mindfulness in my own way. Admittedly I stumble and I make mistakes, take wrong turns, Try things that don’t feel right in the end. I learn. I’m slowly getting to a point where i wish to organize and learn more. This might be something I can easily learn on this site but i feel suddenly impatient to ask.

    In many guided meditations I’ve found online they often, if not always, say “Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.”.
    I didn’t realize until now that it feels wrong to me. My mother actually taught me many many years ago how to breathe and the way you describe it above is how I breathe by instinct. There is no pause in my breathing, unless I’m upset perhaps, or ill or very tense.
    But breathing in through nose, out through mouth feels like interruption to me. I don’t actually understand the benefit of it.
    Is my thinking flawed regarding this? Is there a “proper” way it’s supposed to be done? I would appreciate a word on this. I am a believer that given time and thought and with some awareness, one can trust instincts. I don’t like rules if I fail to see a meaning with them. :D

    Much love
    And I really like the site you have created here. Impressive.

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    • Hi Jenny.

      Thanks for the kind comment about the site.

      I also find it odd to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, unless maybe I’m exercising. Normally I’ll inhale and exhale through the nostrils. None of my own meditation teachers have suggested doing otherwise…

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  • Oh wow, I didn’t see this thoughtful and insightful answer way back on August 30 2009. Adam’s comment caused me to be notified. What’s super cool and coincidental is, I was telling somebody about this post that is read years ago to a friend of mine just the other day! Great coincidence. Thank you for the thoughtful reply.

    Mark.

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  • Ive been meditating for awhile now. But today I incorporated your “stretching” idea by observing the sensation of the breath through the nostrils, ambient sounds and body sensations – namely a denseness in the shoulders and the rising and falling of the stomach. I tried to focus on all of them simultaneously which I found a little difficult but workable. One thing that was very different was that I completely lost track of time. I think I meditated for 50 minutes but really can’t be sure!

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  • I’ve closed the comments on this post because of the large number of them. If you’ve had unusual experiences in meditation that you’re uncertain about, I’d suggest:

    1. Reading the article above.
    2. Reading the comments above.
    3. Reading this article on unusual experiences in meditation.

    Reply
  • I had an experience with meditation almost 20 years ago when i was 18 that i have never discussed with anyone educated on the subject. I meditated by relaxing my body and focusing on my breathing until everything melted away and i found myself engulfed in a soft white light. Not flashing ligts or moving lights but almost as though i was floating in an empty room and the air itself was light. It’s very difficult to describe because it was so amazing but a few words i can use to describe my sense of it are peaceful, love, knowledge, timeless and complete. It was such a significant event in my life that i have never let go of the memory and for the past couple of months i think about it more and more. I have never tried to meditate again (althoug 20 years ago i experienced it two nights in a row) and i have been so conflicted between believing that what i experienced was real and the ways it changed my views on life but doubting myself because it was so long ago and i have never had any spiritual or meditation guidance. I guess my question would be is there any significance to my experience or should i stop dwelling on it?
    Thank you for taking the time to read my post and for all the knowledge you share.
    Mandi

    Reply
    • Hi, Mandi.

      An experience like that is certainly significant in personal ways. It’s good to have “peak experiences” in life that we can recall, and often those memories can bring us some joy. But on the other hand, it’s just an experience. It probably hasn’t radically transformed you. You’ve opened a door in the past, seen something lovely on the other side, and then decided not to open that door again.

      If you started meditating again you probably wouldn’t have the same experience again. You’re a different person now, and conditions are different. Maybe you know that. At the same time, meditating isn’t, fundamentally, about the peak experiences. It’s about the gradual work to develop skillful qualities like mindfulness, patience, courage, kindness, compassion, and wisdom. Sometimes as we develop those qualities we pause and just bathe in the beauty of our experience (as you did), and that’s great because it inspires and nourishes us as we get back to work. Eventually life can become more like that experience — less extreme, but imbued with an ongoing sense of stillness and love.

      Anyway, I’d say it’s up to you whether or not to make that experience meaningful. I’d suggest that to do so you might want to gather your courage, take the plunge, and start meditating again. Don’t expect to repeat the experience. It may or may not happen again. But it’s a preview of what your life could be like.

      Reply
  • Hi bodhipaksa,
    last night i meditated for about 15mins in the middle of my meditating i felt weird. I suddenly felt a heat and my body became sweat and i felt that i’m running out of breath..

    Is this normal or i’m doing the wrong practice?

    thanks for your time.

    Reply
    • Hi, Kristi.

      Sorry for the delayed reply. Busy summer!

      What you’re describing could be many things — even a virus! I wouldn’t be concerned about it unless it became a regular occurrence.

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
  • Hi, I have been practicing meditation for 15 minutes since a month. While meditating my breath get really slow and sometimes I feel that I was not breathing at all. But as described above by other meditators I don’t get any sensation nor any dreams my mind gets just blank. At first I thought that this is a good sign and I am progressing well, but these day my mind is in blank state not just during meditation but all the time throught the day; I am not able to think at all. Now after mediation I feel sleepy and active both at the same time. Am I doing it in wrong way? Should I stop practicing?

    Reply
  • I am six weeks into daily ten-minute mediation. Last week I started noticing the following sensation in my brain during the first minute of mediation. When I close my eyes and slowly exhale several times to quite my mind and prepare for a session, all of the sudden it feels like an energy of entire brain converges to the front (behind the eyebrows) of my brain and slowly contracts almost like a muscle. I can’t say it hurts but I certainly feel it. Then “it” slowly relaxes and the next twenty or thirty seconds are devoid of anything – I don’t notice anything, no breathing, there’s no physical me, just a void that is self-aware. Interestingly if I think about the formation of the “brain muscle” it immediately subsides, but if I let go and simply allow it by gently noticing it (not “staring” at it), it develops into a full sensation. I can now produce this physical sensation at will; but if I do it several times in succession I get a heavy feeling right behind my eyebrows; but it eventually subsides. I am so very grateful for the Creator for answering my prayers and giving me the gifts of Meditation, Frequency and The Law of Attraction. There’s one other experience I’d like to share with you – how I envisioned curing my flu and got better in under an hour. But that’s before I discovered Meditation and it might be unrelated to this blog. Thank you for your time and for sharing your wisdom. Sincerely, Arthur.

    Reply
    • Hi, Arthur.

      I’d suggest that you head over to the accompanying page on odd experiences in meditation. I’d imagine that what you’re experiencing is what’s called a “nimitta.” This is a good thing, but the important thing is that a nimitta is a sign that you’re going deeper in meditation rather than the nimitta itself. But it is good to pay attention to these sensations and just allow them to be there, since they seem to involve a kind of feedback loop, where paying attention to the sensations takes you deeper, which stabilizes or even intensifies the sensations, and so on.

      Reply
  • Hi Bodhipaksa,

    I have one or two questions please,

    1: Feeling hungry near end of meditation, even though i would have eaten an hour before starting.( the hunger is like i havent eaten in a week)

    2:Im starting to get great heat in my Hands and they tingle
    But after meditation i get cold fast, where id need to put a jumper on:( i do have Raynauds )

    3: During meditation i get flashes of images,(not all the time, can be White light, to a red circle) but i cant recall it back, the only way i can describe it is a car journey and you are looking out the window when you see something then its gone, Strangest thing i have seen is a foot, a mans foot.

    I sometimes feel i am not doing it right, i focus on breath, then my mind is blank, then my thoughts get louder and when i give up an hour or 2 may have passed, yet feels like i was sitting for only 5 minutes:

    Finally: Since starting there can be days where i can get angry or agitated in myself ( out of character for me) after meditating, could be a day or two afterwards ( if i dont meditate daily)
    I just dont understand why i would feel agitated, when i am ment to feel good and at peace, Am i doing it wrong?

    I have googled looking for answers but i cant find anything

    Thank you

    Reply
    • Hi, Lorraine.

      That seems to be five, rather than one or two… :)

      1: Feeling hungry near end of meditation, even though i would have eaten an hour before starting.( the hunger is like i havent eaten in a week)

      Just notice the hunger mindfully. There can be a tendency to treat hunger as an emergency, but it’s just a sensation. You can choose just to notice it with curiosity. I’ve written about the practice of mindful hunger elsewhere.

      2:Im starting to get great heat in my Hands and they tingle
      But after meditation i get cold fast, where id need to put a jumper on:( i do have Raynauds )

      The heat in the hands is a sign that you’re relaxing, and that blood is flowing to your extremities. That’s what happens when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. Because of this you’re losing body heat, and so afterward you feel cold. Try wrapping a blanket around your legs (not your upper body unless your environment is very cold).

      3: During meditation i get flashes of images,(not all the time, can be White light, to a red circle) but i cant recall it back, the only way i can describe it is a car journey and you are looking out the window when you see something then its gone, Strangest thing i have seen is a foot, a mans foot.

      They’re of no significance. Just allow them to pass. Pay more attention to the sensations in your body (the breathing, etc.) and your mind won’t have so much mental space available for generating random imagery.

      I sometimes feel i am not doing it right, i focus on breath, then my mind is blank, then my thoughts get louder and when i give up an hour or 2 may have passed, yet feels like i was sitting for only 5 minutes:

      Presumably by a “blank” mind you mean that you’re not talking to yourself. Sometimes we think a lot, sometimes we think less. That’s not a sign that you’re doing it wrong. It’s just how it happens sometimes.

      Finally: Since starting there can be days where i can get angry or agitated in myself ( out of character for me) after meditating, could be a day or two afterwards ( if i dont meditate daily)
      I just dont understand why i would feel agitated, when i am ment to feel good and at peace, Am i doing it wrong?

      Perhaps you’re becoming more sensitive to feelings in the body because of your meditation. And since those feelings can include things like hurt, you may be finding that you’re more sensitive, emotionally. I’d suggest that you pay attention to what’s happening when you are more reactive like this. What’s sparking it off? Is is fear, hurt, frustration? See if you can notice those feelings mindfully, and not react to them with anger or irritation.

      Reply
  • Hi Bodhipaksa
    I have experienced a similar meditation 2x’s where I am going deep…seeing stars/universes… colors…then silence…and stillness (void?) and then I am aware of a medallion that looks like it is made of stone with low and high relief with a face on it. I don’t hear what it is saying. Do you have an idea of what I am seeing?
    With gratitude and blessings for all you do.

    Reply
  • hi, everytime i meditate in the dark. when i open my eyes and i look at my hands i can se like smoke coming out at the tip of my fingers.it look like when you get out of a really hot bath and you got steam on your skin

    Reply
  • Hi Bodhipaksa

    Thank you for your valuable advise.

    God Bless you.

    Reply
  • […] are still ways to check in. Wildmild advises that you can tell that meditation is helping you if you begin to develop more concentration or start noticing things like your breathing or how particular parts of your body feel while you’re meditating. You may also feel calmer […]

    Reply
  • Hi Bodhipaksa

    Thank you for your constant feedback.

    Lately, I have experienced a certain surge of concentration in my mind which results in warmness in my head and sudden fast breathing during my meditation.

    Kindly advise whether it is normal.

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hi, Melvin.

      That sounds like what we call piti (priti in Sanskrit). It’s a feeling of energy, which sometimes has a rushing quality to it. It’s quite normal, and it’s a good sign, because it only happens when we’re relaxing and emotional conflict is being resolved. The thing is just to accept it, without trying to resist or intensify it. It sounds, from the change in your breathing, as if you’re getting a bit excited by it. If that keeps happening, try becoming more aware of any joy that’s present, and let that be the focus of your attention instead. That’ll help keep you calmer, and let you go deeper into your meditation.

      Reply
  • Hi there. I recently have been introduced to LOA and meditation to help build my self esteem and get rid of so much negativity that has built up over years. I am so new to the meditation thing that I started with Deepak / Oprah 21 day meditation. I have found that the past 2 nights (meditation was in evening btw) have been sleeping odd. Im trying to recall as much as I can. I should have written it down to remember, but 2 nights ago I must have had an odd dream/vision. All I can remember at this point is a person walked out from this really bright light and approached me. I cant remember what was said, but I do remember just asking for their guidance and assistance to help me improve myself from within. Thats it. I cant remember anymore. Last night I slept horribly. I take sleeping pills to slow down the mind, but yet last night I woke up at 3:30 wide awake. Dont remember any dreams, but it was a horrible sleep. Is this normal to see odd things and not sleep well? Should I be doing the meditation in the morning instead?

    Reply
    • I think it would be a good idea to switch to morning meditations and see what happens. It’s quite common, when people take up meditation, or do more of it than usual, that they have more powerful dreams and remember their dreams more.

      Meditation has actually been shown to improve the quality of sleep for insomniacs, so I’d suggest persevering. However I’ve no idea what Chopra does in his 21 day meditation challenges; he’s not a teacher that I have a high regard for, and it may be that it’s the specific forms of meditation you’re doing that’s causing your sleeplessness.

      I do have some advice, drawn from my own experience, of how to use meditative techniques to combat insomnia. You might want to check that out.

      Reply
  • I started to practice meditation in order to do a mental house cleaning. I had realized that few positive things crossed my mind through the day. I thought I was doing great feeling great, then all the sudden I felt like something was upon, disturbing me. I couldn’t get it off me it was aching feeling. I have quit meditating and want to return but am a little nervous. Do you know what this comes from?

    Reply
    • Hi, Lori.

      It’s difficult to know from such a brief description (“something was upon [me?], disturbing me”) what you’re experiencing. It sounds like you at the very least are feeling an uncomfortable sensation of some sort. There’s nothing wrong with experiencing discomfort, and there can be many reasons for that to happen. It sounds like you responded to this discomfort with perhaps fear and aversion, which is natural, but not helpful. What would be good is for you to practice accepting the presence of discomfort. It will pass in time, and sometimes this kind of thing passes very quickly. Often what we were afraid of turns out to be rather insubstantial and insignificant — our own fear was what was causing us to suffer. Feel free to tell me more about what was going on for you, and I can say more.

      Reply
  • thank you, man. i cant believe you actually replied to me. i usually would suspect like an automated message or something, but this is not the case haha! anyhoo, i have been trying to find some kind of organization, school, or community that would like to aid my progress, but can’t find one that doesn’t charge me, for i come from a very poor community, both financially and spiritually. and i am one of the only people i’ve ever met that has a mind or perception of life that i have. it’s really sad, man. the people i know who do have a spiritual outlook on life that i know of have a very limited and biased christian outlook on life or are cluelessly looking for answers as i do. so the christians are of very little help and my other 3 or 5 friends are not only available to group with and search with but in the same confused boat as i am :( so if you could like point me in the right direction and give me some ideas or something like that, or tell me of someone who could, or even mentor me or something yourself, that would be such a fantastic and progressive help. you and i aren’t the only ones who benefit either, because whatever it is that i learn and come to understand in life is also taught and spread to any and every other open mind that ever comes my way!!!! i love to share and spread as much knowledge as the listening ear can possibly take, and to simplify knowledge that is harder to understand into a much less complex way of understanding to help further progress one’s understanding without painful hours being spent trying to wrap your head around it. so please, help me understand and you will start off a chain reaction of awakenings, because for some reason people like to just follow what i do. PLEEEAASE HELP!!!!

    Reply
  • I have been meditating for over a year now and noticed a couple things. One is while i meditate in complete darkness i notice swirling of lights. The longer or deeper the meditation the color changes. I noticed it would go from a red, to orange, up to indigo. I cannot help but wonder, could this be in connection with the chakras? In fact, ever since i started practicing mediation i noticed that after making love i notice these lights. Funny thing is i can only see them in complete darkness. If there is light in the room that illuminates it even so slightly i wont see it. But when it is completely dark or i close my eyes i can see it. another thing i have noticed with my meditations is that i find that my head lifts up and keeps going to the point where the back of my neck begins to hurt. Another thing i have noticed is that in some meditations is that my body leans forward after each breath i take. It get to the point where i feel like i am literally going to fall on my face. I feel this interrupts my session where i have to reposition myself. What would you recomend to remedy these two? Thank you.
    Jack

    Reply
    • Hi, Jack.

      Sorry for the delayed reply — I’ve had a very busy time recently. As for the lights, see some of my comments above. They’re just a distraction, and you should ignore them.

      It’s really impossible to say what’s going on with your posture just by a brief verbal description. Generally, though, the chin lifting is a sign that people are absorbed in thinking in an excited way, leading to physical tension. I don’t know what you’re doing in your meditation practice (and you don’t say what kind of practice you’re doing) but from this, and your comment on the lights, it sounds like your attention is not very grounded in the experience of the body while you’re meditating.

      But there also may be something postural related to the way you’re sitting. As I said, with just a description like this there’s not much I can offer by way of advice. I’d really need to see how you sit, what you’re sitting on, where there’s tension in the body, etc.

      Reply
  • Thank you for addressing this. SUPER helpful!

    Reply
  • Ok so I recently learned of spirituality about a year and a half ago,i believe just after learning of enlightenment, and I have learned quite a bit about spirtuality since then. Recently, I have been reading on meditation( ive practiced meditation a few times; no specific meditation, just relaxation and calmness of the mind)and binural beats. I have always been aware of someone or something in the baxk of my mind giving me the answer to things I dont know how I would prove true, but they always made perfect sense in every current perspective, and usually come to be correct. I have always had someone back there who feels like its me, but I know its the me with all the answers I want; hard to explain. But then I learned it could have always been my sub conscience or something and in my path for spiritual enlightenment I need to better know both my physical and etherical selfs and learn some unanswered personal questions that I’m sure my sub conscious self can answer. And so I came across this book “awakening the third eye” by samuel sagan, and I was wanting to know if doing drugs affects my practices at all. And I have what I would consider poor posture and problems with fixing my spinal alignment and fear it is blocking my chakra from flowing and allowing me to grow.
    Please help me, man? Im new to the spiritual world, well consciously, and am doing this all on my own.

    Reply
    • Hi, Cameron.

      I’d strongly suggest finding a community to practice with, under some traditional approach to spirituality, rather than trying to cobble something together from books (most spirituality books are kook-books) and various new age ideas.

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
  • hello Bodhipaksa,

    Thanks for your reply and give your valuable time, I am sorry that i wrongly remember the meditation techique name. Its “panchkosha” meditation and i learnt it in 5 days course during my graduation 2 years back and started practicing later on and i sit in full lotus posture for meditation.

    Thanks again for your reply I will try to find a yoga teacher for these queries.
    Regards
    pradeep

    Reply
    • Ah, wrong number of “koshas”! I still haven’t heard of that form of meditation, though. Perhaps you can track down your original panchkosha teacher and get more specific advice.

      Reply
  • Hello Bodhipaksa,

    I need your help regrading my meditation practice.I have learnt saptkosha meditation, which is a practice of observation from outter world to breath, body, thoughts and emotions and then on nothing at last.
    I have specific queries regarding posturing and experiences.

    1. when i do this practice sitting with back supported, i find my neck very stiff after some 40-50 minutes session. so can i meditate lying down posture.

    2. Sometimes things disturbs or take my attention from meditaion like sliva in mouth or heart beats or breathing even after 40 minutes meditation or so.

    3.After 40-50 minutes meditation some laughter automatically comes and goes or sometime i kind of become sad but mostly laughter.

    4.consciousness comes and go between vivid dreams when i try to ignore them.

    5. and some times i feel heavy physical pulling of eyes inside.

    I want formal training and good literature regarding meditaion.
    I practiced it for some 8-9 months and then left and statrting again now…….

    Regrads
    pradeep

    Reply
    • Hi, Pradeep.

      I wish I had time to reply in detail to all the comments posted on this site, but unfortunately that’s not always possible, especially when there are multiple questions in one comment, as is the case here. I also find myself wondering why you don’t direct these questions to your saptkosha meditation teacher. I’m afraid I’ve never heard of saptkosha meditation.

      But to reply to your first question, it’s certainly possible to meditate lying down, but it’s not ideal. It would be best to find out what’s going on with your meditation posture, and get that sorted out. There’s probably some misalignment that’s putting strain on your neck muscles. Unfortunately I’m not in a position to diagnose what’s going on, so you might want to consult with your meditation teacher, or a reputable yoga teacher or chiropractor.

      Reply

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