Techniques for keeping the mind interested in the breath

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This topic contains 4 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Jordan Hill 10 years, 3 months ago.

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    Jordan Hill

    I know that one of the ways to habituate the mind to staying with the breath is to use little tricks to make the breath more interesting. For instance, paying attention to just the temperature variations or pressure changes; trying to identify exactly where the first sensation of each part of the breath occurs; following the breath, taking note of the major points along the cycle; comparing certain points in one breath cycle to points in another one; even just counting the breath.

    I’d love to hear from others what techniques they’ve found helpful….?


    Culadasa talks a little bit about this in the February 28 Meditation Q&A at TCMC:


    Jordan Hill

    Nice– thanks George!

    I also found that Thanissaro Bhikkhu talks quite a bit about this too– lots of online Dharma talks:


    Blake Barton

    Hi Jordon,

    I have used noting whether an inhale is shorter, longer, or the same as a previous inhale, and the same with the exhale. This seemed to keep me connected with the breath pretty well. Has anyone else had the issue where when you try to notice too much detail of the breath that you tend to lose that peripheral awareness?



    Jordan Hill

    Yup, I’ve noticed the drop in peripheral awareness with too much attention on the breath. One way I’ve found to play with that while also keeping the mind interested is to move back and forth, intentionally, between a close focus and a broad perspective.

    In general it’s clear that there are pretty reliable cycles (in my mind at least) of intention– set an intention, things start out pretty clear, then the intention fades, the clarity fades, and something else comes along to whisk the mind away. Depending on the state of mind, that cycle could be 5-15 seconds long. So I sometimes try to pre-empt and stretch the cycle out a bit by playing with zoom.

    So: zoom in on the detail of the breath with the intention of only staying there for, say 20-30 seconds (not that I’m timing it– just a felt sense). Then, before a distraction can sweep things away due to loss of peripheral awareness, I’ll purposefully zoom out so that peripheral awareness becomes strong again and detail of breath drops a bit (though I do try to maintain it along with the peripheral awareness to build conscious power)– and I’ll hold that for 20-30 seconds, on purpose, before (say) subtle dullness can creep in and cause problems. And so on…

    Beyond even just getting to practice alternating scope and avoiding some of the pitfalls that present themselves as the result of this “cycle,” I’ve found that by giving my mind a ‘time limit’ for a specific flavor of practice, it’s more engaged and interested– ie the intention seems stronger. Even if it’s not just scope of awareness I’m playing with, the same principle applies– going from, say, noting relative length of different parts of the breath cycle (as you mentioned Blake) to close watching of breath sensations, to a wide peripheral awareness centered on the breath, to following the breath, to noticing specifically temperature sensations of the breath, and so on.

    Has anyone tried practicing in this way? I find it helps if my mind is a bit unwieldy, though I do wonder if the busyness of it may interfere with some important aspect of what is (hopefully) being cultivated in practice… Thoughts?

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