What is the canonical reference if I wanted to read about breath patterns and their mapping to specific mind states?

A while back I came across an online text which contained some very hard-to-remember tables of breath sequences. It was, if I remember correctly, a Visuddhimagga style Theravada text. It listed breath sequences such as a 2s-4l-2s breath sequence (s-short, l-long) followed by 2s-2l-2s etc. and mapped them to specific stages on the way to Jhanas and nanas.

It also had explanations about the kind of person who would get a certain sequence - for example a person who's upheld sila would get so-and-so breath pattern as opposed to a person strong in samadhi etc.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

I'm open to such texts from any tradition.

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    Very interesting question. I hope someone has an answer.
    – Jose B
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 10:21
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    Definitely something I would expect in the Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga)..
    – Ahmed
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 23:11
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    @Ahmed that's my thinking too but I don't know the book very well, and merely scrolling through the PDF was unsuccessful in discovering this sort of section. It can't be very obscure since I read it on the Internet. I recall reading that less than 20% of Buddhist texts are translated and available on the Internet.
    – Buddho
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 5:08
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    Added an answer @JoseB Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 17:29

2 Answers 2


The breath patterns you are mentioning (2s-4l-2s breath sequence (s-short, l-long) followed by 2s-2l-2s) is generally found in Yoga / Pranayama than in Theravada Buddhism.

Nevertheless, Anapana Sutta does mention about the long and short breaths. The breath is considered a bodily fabrication and it is tied to the body. (If you stop breathing then you are dead.) In meditation you have to calm your fabrication, out off which the bodily fabrication generally cease before mental fabrications. As you get concentrated your bodily fabrications also slow down hence shorter breaths. When you come out of meditation your breaths become longer as you start creating fabrication. If you start thinking and pondering (verbal fabrications) again your breath becomes longer as these fabrications influence bodily fabrications.

Kamabhu Sutta, Culavedalla Sutta & Rahogata Sutta covers more on the 3 fabrications out of which bodily fabrication is tied with the breath and breathing process.

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    Thanks Suminda, yes Hatha Yoga does manipulate the breath, but I was referring to automatic patterns. No choice or will involved. You are doubtless aware the breath will automatically morph during meditation because it is tied to the mind states. Sometimes it thins, sometimes it stops, but I've observed near the jhanas certain obscure breath patterns can start automatically. The lungs can bellow out, or the breath can become very fast or loud etc. The book I remember was definitely Buddhist. I find in these practical matters meditators of all traditions will have overlap, esp. with Hinduism.
    – Buddho
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 18:14

In Katsuki Sekida's book Zen Training - Methods and Philosophy, the author talks about bamboo breathing. Essentially, the way the practice works is that you exhale in smaller, segmented breaths much like in the way a stick of bamboo is segmented. This has a couple of applications, specifically for Zen.

First, Sekida states that bamboo breathing helps build "internal pressure". That's a phrase he invents in the book, but the way he uses the terminology and the phenomenology he attaches to it makes it sound an awful lot like mushin. I'm personally not a fan of using his method for emptiness meditation - I think that a single deep, natural abdominal breath is better - but he seems to have some success with it. I think his main reason for employing this technique is to maximize the time the body is completely stable. In the conventional way of a single breath, you only get that space of pure nonaction (i.e. not breathing) at the very end of the breath prior to inhalation and to a lesser degree before exhalation.

Second, and I'm in more in agreement with Sekida here, he applies this type of breathing to working with the turning phrases of koans. For instance, say you were working with Nansen's cat. Your exhalation pattern might be segmented along the lines of "Kiiiiiiillllls [stop] theeeee [stop] caaaaaaat". Again, I'm not sold on it, but it does make sense.

Sekida actually does a lot with breathing in his book. I mean, the dude spent almost sixty years watching it so he does have a lot to say on the subject. He even brings in ideas like lung capacity, recovery breaths, etc. etc. If you're interested in the place of breathing from a Zen perspective, his book is worth a look.

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    Thank you I will be sure to look it up. The active manipulation of the breath is new to me - usually that isn't very Zen or popular in Buddhist styles.
    – Buddho
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 18:15
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    Nope. That's for sure!
    – user698
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 18:30

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