March 1, 2017 at 4:53 pm #40582
I’ve been reading Philip Kapleau and some other Zen sources for guidance in my practice, and they seem to emphasize not attempting to control your breathing and merely paying attention to it as it happens. I’ve tried this for a long time, but I’ve never found it to be effective, at least not compared to taking deep, slow breaths from the abdomen. I’ve found that to be the only way of inducing a state of calm, still, silence.
In your opinion, do you think I should simply pursue that technique, use it is a jumping-off point for more traditional zazen, or something else altogether?
March 1, 2017 at 5:47 pm #40583
IMHO, there’s nothing wrong with doing what works. If you’ve heard of our Practice Circle (which you should totally come:
Mark often employs controlled breathing (as a segue to more traditional breathing). Personally, I think you should go with what works, but not take traditional breathing off the table entirely. Practice (like everything) changes. There are some days when I need more guidance and some days when I need less. Allow yourself to be flexible enough to do what you need to in the moment.
March 1, 2017 at 6:09 pm #40584
Thanks! And I’ll check out the Practice Circle.
March 14, 2017 at 11:54 am #40607
Andrew, sorry it took me so long to get to your post. As Jenn points out, I will use various breathing exercises, usually at the beginning of a sitting. Deep breathing, especially with a longer exhale than inhale, has been demonstrated to activate the vagus nerve, which helps the parasympathetic nervous system regulate emotion. Holding your breath for a time can be used to help draw awareness into the body; and rapid breathing can increase mental energy.
At the same time, I think meditation is about more than inducing calm and stillness. I would say its most important function is to teach us to be mindfully and kindly aware of whatever arises in our experience, and to help us be aware of the limitations of our conceptual mind. So allowing our breath to be just as it is — feeling the breath breathe you, as it were — besides helping us focus awareness, also teaches us that life is living through us, that we’re not in control of it, nor do we need to be.
So there are lots of ways to use the breath in meditation and, as Jenn said, what’s important is not following some formula but listening carefully to your heart and mind and let your practice give you what you need.
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