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i've been trying to practice following the whole length of the in-breath and the whole length of the out-breath, and i can see that my attention often slips between the breaths. Any thoughts on what to focus on between two breaths?

Grateful for help and with kind regards, Tord

  • Are you practicing mindfulness of breathing according to a particular tradition? Different traditions would probably advise differeint things. – Bakmoon Oct 7 '15 at 15:28
  • Yes, thank you for this question, i'm practicing in the Plum Village (Thich Nhat Hanh) tradition. TNH describes the 2nd of the 16 exercises in the Anapanasati sutra like this: "Breathing in, i follow the whole length of my in-breath; Breathing out i follow the whole length of my out-breath" – sunyata Oct 7 '15 at 16:35
  • 16 exercises? no. they are stages. Leeds to Nirvana. Between two breaths. – Shrawaka Oct 9 '15 at 7:19
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I would advise labeling the in and out-breath by using the same name (for instance just 'breath'). In time, you will be able to observe the whole in and out-breath, including the moment in between, as a whole, in the same way you are able to see (quiet naturally) someone's body as a whole although it is made of parts.

I would advise against the counting of the breath, but if you do count, rather count the in and out breath as one [of the same cycle]. The in-between is in-between two moments of the same cycle of breath. Maybe see it as such.

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Try to focus on anything that arises in that moment. Is it waiting for something? Then say "Waiting, Waiting". If it's a feeling (of peace, impatience, longing or something else), you could say "feeling,feeling" or the name of that specific emotion. If a thought appear, say "thinking, thinking". Just be aware of what happens then and there.

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You should have the analyse the breath in parts:

  • Start of the in breath
  • acceleration of the in breath
  • peak of the in breath
  • deceleration of the in breath
  • end of the in breath
  • start of the momentarily gap
  • review if the mind wondered away
  • effort and determination to keep focus (no verbalisation or visualisation)
  • end of the momentary gap
  • Cycle starts again for the out breath
  • Continue from the start again

When micro analysing it does not wonder away. Then this will at some time become natural in which case you drop reviewing and determination and just watch the process. But when you start each session it is good to have reviewing and determination for sometime before dropping it regardless of how second nature staying with the breath has become.

When your mind wonders away and your mindfulness and equanimity has lapsed you have started creating verbal fabrications. Anchoring the mind is to stop creating verbal fabrications. When new fabrications are created there will always be some sensation associated with it (pleasant, unpleasant, neutral). When you realise that your mindfulness has lapsed, 1st realise it, examine your body and mind staying with the sensation with equanimity for a short while (few breaths) or until the tenseness has gone (at later stages this happens instantly - when you look at fabrications the fabrications pass away), which ever comes sooner, then return to the breath.

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Try to focus on movement of air in breathing in and out.Feel the air in and out this helps you from diverting and thinking.your thinking slowly stops concentrating on breath helps.

  • Welcome to Buddhism SE!. The OP is asking specifically about what to focus on between breaths, so the moment when one does not breath in or out. – THelper Oct 8 '15 at 3:06
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consciousness manifests in 4 of the skandha only (form, feeling, perception, and mental formation). Buddha said, breaths are part of the form. i put it together that in between breaths, there is no form to be conscious about (unless you're conscious about other forms of your body like arms, legs etc. during that brief moment) ,so naturally our (new) consciousness will raise in some other places in 3 skandhas. that is normal behavior of consciousness. They raise and fall all the time (except when ur in the state of cessation). if you are in state of first Jhanna, consciousness will not involve in 5 sensual pleasures, or ill-will ( or 5 hindrances). wherever your consciousness raises in between your breaths, it will fall and then another consciousness will raise when the next breath comes. From my experience, i don't try too hard. Just be a good observer. Maybe you can tell us where your consciousness raises and falls (when breathing returns) next time you meditate. :-)

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Depend on the method of breath there are various practitioners. for ex. 'Pranayama' in hindu style for health, Buddhist use 'Samatha' is for calm and 'Vipassana' for insight.

In 'Samatha' there are five(or 4) stages of ruupa jhaana and four of aruupa jhaana.

For 'Vipassana' the stages are shown in Aṅguttara Nikāya - The Book of the Tens - 60 Girimānanda

On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park. Now on that occasion the Venerable Girimānanda was sick, afflicted, and gravely ill. Then the Venerable Ānanda approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him, sat down to one side, and said to him:

“Bhante, the Venerable Girimānanda is sick, afflicted, and gravely ill. It would be good if the Blessed One would visit him out of compassion.”

“If, Ānanda, you visit the bhikkhu Girimānanda and speak to him about ten perceptions, it is possible that on hearing about them his affliction will immediately subside. What are the ten?

“(1) The perception of impermanence, (2) the perception of non-self, (3) the perception of unattractiveness, (4) the perception of danger, (5) the perception of abandoning, (6) the perception of dispassion, (7) the perception of cessation, (8) the perception of non-delight in the entire world, (9) the perception of impermanence in all conditioned phenomena, and (10) mindfulness of breathing.

(Pali: Katamā dasa? Aniccasaññā, anattasaññā, asubhasaññā, ādīnavasaññā, pahānasaññā, virāgasaññā, nirodhasaññā, sabbaloke anabhi­rata­saññā, sabba­saṅ­khā­resu anicchāsaññā, ānāpānassati.....)

According the sutta before starting ānāpānassati(mindfulness of breathing) meditation, one should develop other 9 perceptions.

For ex. nirodhasaññā (the perception of cessation)

( ‘etaṃ santaṃ etaṃ paṇītaṃ yadidaṃ sabba­saṅ­khā­ra­sama­tho sab­būpadhip­paṭi­nissaggo taṇhākkhayo nirodho nibbānan’ti)
‘This is peaceful, this is sublime, that is, the stilling of all activities, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the destruction of craving, cessation, nibbāna.’

So these are the 'perceptions' that to focus on between two breaths.

(But practically to 'vipassana samapaththi' those perceptions already gains. so let quit the breath. Do not try to control, let it gone. If the vipassana perceptions are not developed enough strength, one can fell to sleep. Better to have find a experience teacher.)

The detail stages in developing as follows

(10) “And what, Ānanda, is mindfulness of breathing? Here, a bhikkhu, having gone to the forest, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty hut, sits down. Having folded his legs crosswise, straightened his body, and established mindfulness in front of him, just mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out.

“Breathing in long, he knows: ‘I breathe in long’; or breathing out long, he knows: ‘I breathe out long.’ Breathing in short, he knows: ‘I breathe in short’; or breathing out short, he knows: ‘I breathe out short.’ He trains thus: ‘Experiencing the whole body, I will breathe in’; he trains thus: ‘Experiencing the whole body, I will breathe out.’ He trains thus: ‘Tranquilizing the bodily activity, I will breathe in’; he trains thus: ‘Tranquilizing the bodily activity, I will breathe out.’

“He trains thus: ‘Experiencing rapture, I will breathe in’; he trains thus: ‘Experiencing rapture, I will breathe out.’ He trains thus: ‘Experiencing happiness, I will breathe in’; he trains thus: ‘Experiencing happiness, I will breathe out.’ He trains thus: ‘Experiencing the mental activity, I will breathe in’; he trains thus: ‘Experiencing the mental activity, I will breathe out.’ He trains thus: ‘Tranquilizing the mental activity, I will breathe in’; he trains thus: ‘Tranquilizing the mental activity, I will breathe out.’

“He trains thus: ‘Experiencing the mind, I will breathe in’; he trains thus: ‘Experiencing the mind, I will breathe out.’ He trains thus: ‘Gladdening the mind, I will breathe in’; he trains thus: ‘Gladdening the mind, I will breathe out.’ He trains thus: ‘Concentrating the mind, I will breathe in’; he trains thus: ‘Concentrating the mind, I will breathe out.’ He trains thus: ‘Liberating the mind, I will breathe in’; he trains thus: ‘Liberating the mind, I will breathe out.’

“He trains thus: ‘Contemplating impermanence, I will breathe in’; he trains thus: ‘Contemplating impermanence, I will breathe out.’ He trains thus: ‘Contemplating fading away, I will breathe in’; he trains thus: ‘Contemplating fading away, I will breathe out.’ He trains thus: ‘Contemplating cessation, I will breathe in’; he trains thus: ‘Contemplating cessation, I will breathe out.’ He trains thus: ‘Contemplating relinquishment, I will breathe in’; he trains thus: ‘Contemplating relinquishment, I will breathe out.’

“This is called mindfulness of breathing.

“If, Ānanda, you visit the bhikkhu Girimānanda and speak to him about these ten perceptions, it is possible that on hearing about them he will immediately recover from his affliction.”

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