Breathing frequency during breath watching meditation

Discussion of meditation in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.

Breathing frequency during breath watching meditation

Postby zangskar » Fri Sep 09, 2011 2:36 pm

Hi
I have used a mala to count 108 breaths for a session of meditation instead of using a timer, and was surprised to see that I breathe about 2 times per minute. I thought it would be more. I feel no strain and I am not trying to breathe in any particular way; it just slows down 'on its own' after a little while. I am wondering if it's a bit too low? I.e. if I am either subconsciously turning this into a kind of pranayama?

I have tried to search for some figures about average breathing during breath watching/vipassana style meditation on the internet but found very little. Only some small scientific experiments which I don't think were representative (their object was to correlate heart rate, blood pressure and breathing, etc, not to discover some general breathing rate during meditation). And of course it's not the object of the breath watching meditation to be concerned about breath frequency, and the only reason I am is because of my alternative "timing device". But I wonder whether any of you have some idea about your breathing frequencies during such practices or what a 'normal' rate might be?

Thanks
Lars
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Re: Breathing frequency during breath watching meditation

Postby Silent Bob » Fri Sep 09, 2011 5:32 pm

A spontaneous respiratory rate of 2/min during settled meditation is perfectly normal and not a cause for concern. There are CO2 receptors in the brain that regulate respiratory rate very efficiently. You might also notice that the number of stray thoughts is much diminished as the rate of breathing slows down.

Chris
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Re: Breathing frequency during breath watching meditation

Postby zangskar » Fri Sep 09, 2011 7:56 pm

Thanks, Chris.

Out of curiosity, what would be a breathing rate that would be a cause for concern? Less than 1 breath per minute? Or is it generally all good, as long as it's spontaneous and there is no strain?

Lars
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Re: Breathing frequency during breath watching meditation

Postby Silent Bob » Fri Sep 09, 2011 8:48 pm

zangskar wrote:Thanks, Chris.

Out of curiosity, what would be a breathing rate that would be a cause for concern? Less than 1 breath per minute? Or is it generally all good, as long as it's spontaneous and there is no strain?

Lars


It's all good, barring the presence of brain injury to the autonomic centers that govern respiration.

Chris
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--Dudjom Rinpoche, "Nectar for the Hearts of Fortunate Disciples. Song No. 8"
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Re: Breathing frequency during breath watching meditation

Postby zangskar » Fri Sep 09, 2011 9:56 pm

:bow: :thanks:

Lars
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Re: Breathing frequency during breath watching meditation

Postby kirtu » Fri Sep 09, 2011 11:53 pm

zangskar wrote:Out of curiosity, what would be a breathing rate that would be a cause for concern? Less than 1 breath per minute? Or is it generally all good, as long as it's spontaneous and there is no strain?


Actually the breath can "disappear" in deep meditation. Bit if you have really stopped breathing the brain WILL wake it up.

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Re: Breathing frequency during breath watching meditation

Postby zangskar » Sat Sep 10, 2011 10:53 am

:namaste: Kirtu,
By breath disappearing, do you mean the breath stops (for a very long time) in one of the pauses between exhalation and inhalation?
Or do you mean the breath becomes increasingly shallow and then finally stops? (Or both?)

And the result would be the meditation is broken because of gasping for air?

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Re: Breathing frequency during breath watching meditation

Postby kirtu » Sat Sep 10, 2011 2:36 pm

zangskar wrote::namaste: Kirtu,
By breath disappearing, do you mean the breath stops (for a very long time) in one of the pauses between exhalation and inhalation?
Or do you mean the breath becomes increasingly shallow and then finally stops? (Or both?)


It's more that the breath can become increasingly subtle not that breathing stops or becomes shallow (usually the breath is pretty deep but very slow when it's like this). So even when counting breaths it can appear to disappear - but actually that doesn't usually happen during breath counting meditation because of the focus. When breath watching without counting and other kinds of meditation it can happen that the breath appears to disappear and if your attention has been on an object of meditation other than the breath you might even wonder suddenly when the last time you took a breath was.

And the result would be the meditation is broken because of gasping for air?


Not usually but it can happen - I did gasp once during a Zen sesshin and probably my breath had gotten super low. During Zen sesshin you can get into very deep meditative states and the breath can totally appear to disappear (people talk about this and Zen teachers talk about it but Master Sheng Yen wrote about some of the things that can happen during deep meditation). Generally this means that you've gone too deeply into a meditative state but if your concentration gets that good regularly then you can use it as a scalpel depending on what kind of meditation you are doing. This is much less likely to happen during Vajrayana practice because generally the sadhana is always changing although it might happen when resting non-conceptually for a long time or if you focused on parts of a deity visualization for a long time. I don't know if the Vipassana people experience this because I never did a long vipassana retreat but Theravadin monks have noted it too.

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Re: Breathing frequency during breath watching meditation

Postby zangskar » Sat Sep 10, 2011 7:41 pm

Thanks alot for the detailed explanation, Kirtu. :twothumbsup:
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Re: Breathing frequency during breath watching meditation

Postby ryu » Wed Nov 02, 2011 1:13 pm

2 Breathes a minute WOW!

Would it be fair to say the less breathing the more beneficial the meditation?

Im certainly breathing slower than normal so i know im very relaxed but after reading this post i questioned my efforts.

Please enlighten me (excuse the pun)


Thanks,

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Re: Breathing frequency during breath watching meditation

Postby meiji1 » Sat Dec 03, 2011 3:36 am

I'm also shocked at the idea of achieving 2 breaths a minute. Compared to that I hyperventilate like crazy when meditating, and small thoughts come freely.
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Re: Breathing frequency during breath watching meditation

Postby catmoon » Sat Dec 03, 2011 12:12 pm

A cautionary note. Minimal respiration in meditation can be attained by sheer effort of will, leaving the meditator red faced and gasping, the blood roaring in the ears and the heart racing. Not a good idea, your body will be running short of oxygen. So this kind of practice should not be aimed for, attempted or tried at. It should not be a goal. With steady practice, something like it might just occur... one is breathing all one wishes to, but it just happens that relaxation is so complete that the breath only arises a couple of times a minute or even becomes so fine it can no longer be perceived.

In my experience, the quiet gentle way is the right way. Willfully applying the brakes to the breathing doesn't work.


Normal resting respiration rate for an adult is 12-18 breaths per minute. By being very still and calm, one reduces the energy requirement of the body substantially, and by being still, one reduces cooling by air currents, which reduces the need for metabolic heating. Then by calming the mind we switch off some 10-20 watts of power required by the brain, or part of it at least. As the respiration rate falls, heat lost by breathing falls too. All these add up to a massive drop in energy requirements and oxygen requirements.

Ironically, the mindful meditator cannot help but be aware that his respiration rate is dropping. If he finds this either exciting or alarming, his heart rate will spike and everything else with it. So mindfulness in this case can destroy the balance! With much practice, one becomes accustomed to low respiration rates,(and high rates, and variable rates) and literally no longer gives them a second thought. At that point mindfulness stops tripping over its own feet, so to speak.
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Re: Breathing frequency during breath watching meditation

Postby Sherab Dorje » Sat Dec 03, 2011 8:14 pm

Let's get something straight here, Anapanasati is mindfulness of breathing, or breath WATCHING. We allow the breath to do its job and merely observe it. We do not "direct" the breath. For some people they will be watching two breaths per minute, for others they will be watching 20 breaths per minute. That the breath slows down, OF ITS OWN ACCORD, is to be expected since when we are sitting still and without tension our body does not consume as much oxygen, but it is NOT the aim of the practice to slow our breathing. The aim of the practice is to observe our breath. FULLSTOP! Not the rate of our breath, not the depth of our breath (that's another exercise), not the "correctness" or "wrongness" of our breath, none of that. No analysis, no hopes, no nothing, just watching the breath. FULL (frackin') STOP!
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Last edited by Sherab Dorje on Sat Dec 03, 2011 9:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Breath Meditation

Postby Will » Sat Dec 03, 2011 8:44 pm

See also the last post here, for masterful text on breath meditation: viewtopic.php?f=45&t=1332&p=70973#p70973
One should refrain from biased judgments and doubting in fathoming the Buddha and the Dharma of the Buddhas. Even though a dharma may be extremely difficult to believe, one should nonetheless maintain faith in it. Nagarjuna
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Re: Breathing frequency during breath watching meditation

Postby Clarence » Sat Dec 03, 2011 9:14 pm

Kalavinka used to be on E-sangha. Maybe someone can request him to post here. How is his health these days? He used to have some health problems.
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Re: Breathing frequency during breath watching meditation

Postby Will » Sat Dec 03, 2011 10:10 pm

Clarence wrote:Kalavinka used to be on E-sangha. Maybe someone can request him to post here. How is his health these days? He used to have some health problems.


He does not have the time (or the inclination really). His liver transplant was successful about a year ago. Right now his energy level is pretty good and he is hard at work on translating.
One should refrain from biased judgments and doubting in fathoming the Buddha and the Dharma of the Buddhas. Even though a dharma may be extremely difficult to believe, one should nonetheless maintain faith in it. Nagarjuna
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Re: Breathing frequency during breath watching meditation

Postby Clarence » Sat Dec 03, 2011 11:40 pm

Will wrote:
Clarence wrote:Kalavinka used to be on E-sangha. Maybe someone can request him to post here. How is his health these days? He used to have some health problems.


He does not have the time (or the inclination really). His liver transplant was successful about a year ago. Right now his energy level is pretty good and he is hard at work on translating.


Thanks Will. I think he is another example of an inspirational western practitioner. He once mentioned on E-sangha that he had seen previous lives where he was together with the same teacher over a thousand years ago. Pretty inspiring to me.
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