Concentration Meditation: Breathing Tech (Beta)
At some point it became a mission of mine to teach you concentration practice (samatha) in order that you could reach jhana in the shortest possible time. I believe that the breathing technique itself is the most key aspect of reaching absorption in the breath, and this technique seems to be very much neglected in the materials I have read. I’m hoping this post will put a dent in that.
This is a beta tech, meaning I would like you to practise it in a dedicated way for at least a week and report back to me in the comments section before I turn it into its own post.
We will now be using LuminousBliss‘s awareness spot for feeling the sensations of the breath entering the nostrils, which is the columella, indicated as the blue “V” on this bizarre picture I found on a rhinoplasty site:
Learning this breathing technique should replace any other meditation style you are currently practising for at least the next week (with the exception of pranayama which is an excellent warm-up for this).
The technique is split into two phases: Discovery, where you learn the mechanics of the breath, and Practice where you use what you have learned to enter absorption and hopefully jhana.
This phase will likely take up most of your time during the first few sessions, and that’s a good thing as it trains both mindfulness and concentration.
- Sit down in your normal meditation pose and close your eyes. Bring awareness to the spot indicated on the above diagram.
- With mouth closed, exhale somewhat forcefully through your nose in a short burst.
- Notice how there is now a reflexive inhale. The inhale happens completely by itself as a product of the exhale, meaning you do not have to do anything extra to have air coming into your lungs. During this reflexive inhale you should notice your chest filling slightly, a sensation of energy rising up your body and spine, and sensations of air passing over the awareness spot into the nostrils.
- Now, you exhale again through your nose, but notice you do not need to push out so hard to create the reflexive inhale. This is key. You need to notice that gentle pushes out create an immediate reflexive inhale, and you need to discover the optimum energy of the push to create an ongoing cycle. So, a breath is always instigated via an exhale in this way. (You do not “suck air in”; breathing is always started with a push).
- Spend time working out how hard to push out through the nose, and when, in order to maintain the cycle. Also notice that you can use a push to start a new breathing cycle if your mind wanders (which is an excellent way to keep re-anchoring to the breath and getting out of distracting thoughts). Maybe you will need to do lots of little pushes at the start to keep your mind on the end of your nose, and in the breathing process generally. That is fine!
- Now, you need to notice that there is a sweet spot in which you can time the exhale just after the inhale peaks so as to create an uninterrupted flowing cycle of breathing. This can be super-subtle. It means that out-breath becomes in-breath becomes out-breath by itself, with the process seeming to become automatic. Finding this sweet spot is really the start of concentration. You must master the art of creating breathing cycles using gentle out-pushes until you find this sweet spot whereby the cycle begins to maintain itself in a flowing way.
Once this subtle cycle is happening you should find that your mind is going completely into the process, and this is the start of absorption. Your whole mind just gets sucked into the process of gently breathing in this way, partly because it takes so much mental power and concentration just to set up and maintain awareness on the cycle.
If your mouth opens a little bit by itself during any of this, then that is perfect. It’s natural. This whole thing should end up feeling pretty natural, even if at the start all the little out-pushes feel a bit unnatural.
Additionally, if you find your awareness going onto other parts of your face or your body (like those parts want “attention”) then that is cool, too — just settle into that kind of awareness, attend to those areas by just noticing them, then return to the cycle, using a little exhale push at the nose to start it up again if you got lost.
Just cultivating this awareness of breathing like this will build massive mindfulness AND concentration, largely centred on the columella, the bit in between the nostrils. If it takes a week to set up this technique, then that is time well spent. You can also practise breathing in such a way while walking around in daily life, since breathing using the exhale to begin the cycle is correct and is a central pillar of Alexander Technique.
Practice begins when, in your meditation, you have established the out–in flowing breath cycle described above. All you do now is allow your mind to go more and more into the sensations and process of the breath cycle.
If you find yourself beginning to smile during this, then that is a great sign.
The most important sign to watch out for however is the nimitta, the growing bright light behind your eyes. The more absorbed you become in the breath, the brighter the nimitta will become. This will almost always be accompanied by growing feelings of bliss, pleasure and happiness. You must however stay with the breath (at the columella), and not be distracted by the nimitta or the bliss. Eventually the nimita will become so bright that it will kind of “suck you in”, at which point you will enter jhana, which is noticeable via total orgasmic heroin-like bliss (it cannot be mistaken; it really is that obvious).
It really is as simple as that. But “simple” does not necessarily mean “easy”. Maybe this will blow jhana wide open for some people; for others it could take weeks to establish the mindfulness to set up the breathing cycle then the concentration to stay with it long enough to enter jhana. You won’t know till you try it in dedicated fashion for some time.
I really think this is key, so please practise it and report back to me in the comments section below.