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Thread: Add breathing practices prior to zazen?

  1. #1

    Add breathing practices prior to zazen?

    In the previous spiritual practice I followed, we did a series of breathing practices for 5-10 min prior to meditation. The breathing practices are as below

    - Pranayama: Slow breathing; slow inhaling, slight holding of breath and slow exhaling (https://www.aypsite.org/41.html)
    - Chin pump: inhaling, holding the breath, rotating the head clock wise few times and exhaling (https://www.aypsite.org/139.html)

    We were also told to add yoga asanas a few minutes prior to doing breathing practices

    I believe these are all energy practices to prepare the body for meditation.

    What are your thoughts on adding these breathing practices prior to zazen? Dogen talks about taking 7 deep breaths before sitting. These will be more elaborate practices. More like taking 5-10 times such breaths

    Gassho,
    Sam
    Sat2day
    Last edited by shikantazen; 06-28-2020 at 02:02 AM.

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by shikantazen View Post
    In the previous spiritual practice I followed, we did a series of breathing practices for 5-10 min prior to meditation. The breathing practices are as below

    - Pranayama: Slow breathing; slow inhaling, slight holding of breath and slow exhaling (https://www.aypsite.org/41.html)
    - Chin pump: inhaling, holding the breath, rotating the head clock wise few times and exhaling (https://www.aypsite.org/139.html)

    We were also told to add yoga asanas a few minutes prior to doing breathing practices

    I believe these are all energy practices to prepare the body for meditation.

    What are your thoughts on adding these breathing practices prior to zazen? Dogen talks about taking 7 deep breaths before sitting. These will be more elaborate practices. More like taking 5-10 times such breaths

    Gassho,
    Sam
    Sat2day
    Hi Sam,

    Generally, we do not engage in breathing practices before Zazen because there is no special state to reach for, nothing to prepare for. One sits Shikantaza radically (an important term) without need to reach or prepare. Sitting is its own reaching of sitting, sitting is its own preparing of sitting.

    Why do we always prepare and reach in life for the next thing and more more more? What about just this this this and here here here?

    Each breath is perfectly its own breath with nothing more to add or take away from that breath. Nonetheless, keep breathing as long as one can!


    The only instructions from Dogen on breathing are basically just to breathe ... let long breaths be long and short breaths be short, at their own natural pace ... although it is advised, as in opera singing or many activities, to allow nice naturally full breaths from the diaphragm. We also tend to forget "in vs. out," as the inside breath heads out, and the outside breath heads in ... yet, in fact, outside is just inside out, and inside is just the outside in.

    More on breathing here:

    Sit-a-Long with Jundo: Zazen for Beginners (11)
    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...nners-%2811%29

    I never heard that Dogen recommended seven (7) breaths, only one or two deep breaths at the start just to get settled. After that, he recommended breathing naturally from the nose. E.g., in Shobogenzo Zazengi:

    Rest your tongue against the roof of your mouth, and breathe through your nose. Lips and teeth should be closed. Eyes should be open, neither too wide, nor too narrow. Having adjusted body and mind in this manner, take a breath and exhale fully.
    Gassho, Jundo

    STLah

    PS - Could your breathing exercises hurt? Are they a bad thing? I don't say so either, so long as when the time comes for Zazen you radically drop all need for reaching and preparing.
    Last edited by Jundo; 06-28-2020 at 04:45 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  3. #3
    Thanks Jundo. So is the concern that breathing practices might make the seeking strong? And if we add then they must be done with the same goalless, complete attitude as shikantaza.

    Gassho,
    Sam
    ST

  4. #4
    Hi Sam,

    If one undertakes the breathing exercises with goalless mind, each breath its own alpha omega completion, then such breathing is Shikantaza in motion.

    If one washes a dish with goalless mind, each sponge swipe its own alpha omega completion, then such washing is Shikantaza in motion.

    If one pets the cat with goalless mind, each purr its own alpha omega completion, then such petting is Shikantaza in motion.

    But when sitting just sit, each instant of sitting with goalless mind, its own alpha omega completion. Sitting is sitting. When sitting Shikantaza, do not undertake unusual breaths, and do not wash dishes or pet the cat.

    Gassho, Jundo

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  5. #5
    PS - People sometimes ask why bother to "sit" if everything is Shikantaza. Well, while washing dishes, breathing exercises and cat petting are Zazen in widest meaning, there is something special about stopping and stillness to taste stopping and stillness. Washing and breathing and petting are still an active doing. In those others there is still motion. After stopping and stillness in sitting, one can then get up and bring the stopping and stillness into the going and motion.
    Last edited by Jundo; 06-28-2020 at 04:47 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  6. #6
    I've found the ideal breathing "exercise" to be playing the shakuhachi. I've been learning to play this instrument for a bit more than two years, and when I started, I could play a note about 5 seconds; now I can play about 20 seconds. Part of that is having learned to have an efficient embouchure (the position of the lips) but I think much of it is my breathing capacity that has improved. And since I have mild asthma, that's a good thing.

    I'm not suggesting that everyone take up the shakuhachi - while it's a wonderful instrument, it's extremely difficult to master - but any woodwind or brass instrument, or even singing, can help with the breath. Also, it's taught me to be a lot more attentive to my breath, as well as to let go of my breath when sitting.

    Gassho,

    Kirk

    SAT
    -----
    I know nothing.

  7. #7

  8. #8
    Generally, we do not engage in breathing practices before Zazen because there is no special state to reach for, nothing to prepare for. One sits Shikantaza radically (an important term) without need to reach or prepare. Sitting is its own reaching of sitting, sitting is its own preparing of sitting.

    Why do we always prepare and reach in life for the next thing and more more more? What about just this this this and here here here?

    Each breath is perfectly its own breath with nothing more to add or take away from that breath. Nonetheless, keep breathing as long as one can!

    That is way I like just sitting. Much simpler and I feel it integrates into all aspects of life. I have tried complicated styles of meditation in the past and found it more stressful than helpful.

    Gassho,
    Ekai

    ST

  9. #9
    Jundo,

    Once I was told about a breathing technique that is supposedly specific to Zen practice. The description reminded me of a yogic pranayama that is often practiced lying down at the beginning of a class.

    I think it's called (and forgive the spelling here) suzakkon or something similar. Have you ever heard of it, and what does it entail? Is it a Rinzai thing? If it is, it seems counterproductive since you would already be sitting with a koan in Rinzai practice and focusing on breathing at the same time as a koan sounds like it would fragment the mind and take you in too many directions at once.

    Gassho,
    Juki

    St and lah
    "First you have to give up." Tyler Durden

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Juki View Post
    Jundo,

    Once I was told about a breathing technique that is supposedly specific to Zen practice. The description reminded me of a yogic pranayama that is often practiced lying down at the beginning of a class.

    I think it's called (and forgive the spelling here) suzakkon or something similar. Have you ever heard of it, and what does it entail? Is it a Rinzai thing? If it is, it seems counterproductive since you would already be sitting with a koan in Rinzai practice and focusing on breathing at the same time as a koan sounds like it would fragment the mind and take you in too many directions at once.

    Gassho,
    Juki

    St and lah
    It is primarily a Japanese Rinzai way, I believe, that I have not encountered it much the Soto world. They do very stylized breathing practices to induce samadhi states. Here is a little sample from Rinzai teacher Shodo Harada:

    In [Rinzai] Zen, it is through the practice of susokkan or the koan that alignment of the mind is attained. Susokkan, which literally means “counting-the-breath meditation,” is the most basic practice in Zen for mind-alignment. It is not a mere breathing exercise, as it is often regarded even by experienced Zen practitioners; rather, it is the primary means by which we gather the ki in the tanden, and it leads to a thorough cleansing of the very roots of the mind. Traditionally, susokkan is said to consist of six “wonderful gates”—that is, six aspects or stages. The first is called su (literally, “to count”), in which one counts as one observes the inhalations and exhalations; the second is zui (“to follow”), in which one comes into harmony with the breathing and simply follows its movement as it flows in and out; the third is shi (“to stop”), in which the mind is focused in a state of oneness; the fourth is kan (“to observe”), in which one sees clearly and directly into the true nature of all existence; the fifth is gen (“to return”), in which the all-seeing eyes attained at the kan stage are turned inward to see clearly within oneself; and the sixth is jo (“to purify”), in which one reaches the state where not so much as a speck remains.

    In susokkan, the out-breath should be long and steady. One breath after the other, inhale and exhale with the entire body, keeping centered in your lower abdomen and taking care not to force the outbreath, as this would prevent the expansive, free respiration necessary to zazen. The full exhalation should last for ten to fifteen seconds (or, for beginners, for about eight seconds, with eight seconds for inhalation, so that there are about four complete breath cycles a minute). As you become accustomed to this type of breathing, the exhalations will grow longer, while the inhalations will remain about the same length.

    As mentioned above, the first stage of susokkan is counting the breaths; the counting in and of itself is not essential, but in the beginning it helps focus the attention on the breathing process. Slowly and expansively become one with each number, breathing and counting in a relaxed, unhurried manner free of all tension. Generally, one counts in a series of from one to ten, but it is also possible to count from one to a hundred or from one to a thousand, or even just to recite “one” over and over again. Allow the exhalations to be full and complete, aiding the process with the two small, relaxed pushes described above—this will lead to a very comfortable breathing cycle.

    Again, the respiration in susokkan must not be forced or artificially controlled, as this would simply constrict the breathing process. Do not count in an automatic manner, but with relaxed yet complete attention. You must apply yourself unceasingly and with single-minded sincerity to this careful counting, working with ever-fresh attention and creativity. Exhale from the lower abdomen in an open, relaxed manner until your belly feels totally empty and the in-breath begins spontaneously; if you are too hasty or hurried, your practice will become mechanical and your mind will remain restless and unable to deepen into a state of intense concentration. At the beginning, your trunk tends to pull backward and the movement of the abdomen feels unnatural; you become very self-conscious about how the process is going, and about whether you are “succeeding” or not. As your sitting ripens with constant practice, you will be able to remain with your breathing quite naturally, your body in perfect harmony with the rhythm of respiration.

    Focus on each individual breath, one after another, centering your consciousness in your tanden and filling it with energy. Breathe each breath totally, then forget it and move on to the next. Superficial concentration is useless—you must feel that the respiration is piercing through the ground to the very ends of the universe. Let no gaps appear between your concentration on one breath and the next. Continue like this, one focused breath cutting off all thought of the one before, cutting and cutting and cutting until there is no room for random ideas, no room for concepts of self, no room for inner noise. Your body, the zendo, the entire universe are all contained in this total focus on the breath, in this utter singleness of mind. There remains nothing to hold on to, nothing to depend upon.

    This condition is known as samadhi of susokkan, where only the breathing and the counting remain; one has become the breathing; the mind is occupied with nothing else. In this state of true emptiness you feel completely refreshed, full of energy, and taut, yet fresh and lucid. This is the state of the first “wonderful gate” of susokkan, that of su.

    In this way, follow the coming in and going out of your breath from morning until night. Count and count and keep on counting the breaths whether you are doing zazen or not; count whether you are standing or sitting, whether you are asleep or awake. As you continue, the inhalations and exhalations become completely natural, and finally you enter a clear, open state of perfect unity between mind and respiration, where it is no longer necessary to count to help focus your attention. This stage, in which the awareness and the breathing are one, with no need for numbers, is that of zui, “following.”

    Then, at a certain point, all awareness disappears. This is the stage of shi, “stopping.” When this will happen cannot be predicted—it must occur naturally; it cannot be produced or forced. Some time after this “stopping” takes place you come back once again to awareness. This is kan, “to see.” Again, you cannot deliberately generate this state, it must happen of itself. Following this is gen, where you forget yourself completely, and finally jo, a state of mind that is bright, clear, and transparent. In all six of these stages—the natural path to samadhi—it is vitally important that one not attempt to force things but simply allow the process to unfold on its own.

    ...

    This state must be deepened to the point that all connection with the outside world is cut off and nothing whatsoever touches or enters your awareness. This does not mean, however, that the senses are shut down. Externally, the correct way to cut off connections is to collect the mind into a single point and maintain this state of absolute attention and clear awareness. Internally, it is to avoid holding on to anything at all. Do not get caught by thoughts or fantasies—just let the breath flow in and out while staying with susokkan or your koan. Allow the images that arise to come and go as they will—like pictures passing on a screen—but keep your awareness focused on the breath, allowing nothing to linger in your mind, until you and your breath become one.

    Breathing never stops—it is with you all the time. You need only remain attentive to its flow. Even if thoughts arise, even if stimuli press in from the outside, just push on without pause, allowing no breaks in your awareness. Put everything into the process and move relentlessly ahead. No matter what comes along, do not let it become an obstacle. If you lack the courage to advance in one continuous line, you should not begin in the first place. To do zazen and susokkan just because you think you ought to will never lead to a true understanding of the mind. If you want to touch the True Mind that connects each and every one of us, you must be willing to push beyond any problems that arise.

    ....

    https://still-breathing.net/zazen-instruction/
    It is a very different approach from the radical letting be, letting go and disentanglement of Just Sitting.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    It is primarily a Japanese Rinzai way, I believe, that I have not encountered it much the Soto world. They do very stylized breathing practices to induce samadhi states. Here is a little sample from Rinzai teacher Shodo Harada:



    It is a very different approach from the radical letting be, letting go and disentanglement of Just Sitting.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    Thank you, Jundo. That does seem like a lot of "work" that gets in the way of letting go.

    Gassho,
    Juki
    st/lah
    "First you have to give up." Tyler Durden

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Ekai View Post
    That is way I like just sitting. Much simpler and I feel it integrates into all aspects of life. I have tried complicated styles of meditation in the past and found it more stressful than helpful.

    Gassho,
    Ekai

    ST
    I like the simplicity as well. Thatís a a great way to put it about integrating into all aspects of life. Now on the flip side some people do seem to like a little bit of ceremony before Zazen. It seems to help them transition.


    Tairin
    Sat today and lah

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Ekai View Post
    That is way I like just sitting. Much simpler and I feel it integrates into all aspects of life. I have tried complicated styles of meditation in the past and found it more stressful than helpful.

    Gassho,
    Ekai

    ST
    I echo Ekai's thoughts - Zazen without toys is so much simpler.

    Gassho
    Van
    Satlah

    Sent from my HD1913 using Tapatalk

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