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Breathing and your mind - Printable Version

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Breathing and your mind - David - 09-16-2011

Breathing and your mind
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Have you sat down for half an hour and worked with the eye chart without much success in seeing better, and then decided to take a break and stand up, only to glance at the chart and see it clearer for a moment?

Have you tried the "thumb movement" that Bates wrote about a few times in the Better Eyesight magazines, with some success?

Do you see better after you concentrate on your breathing for a moment, or even just when you take a good deep breath after you've been breathing shallowly for a while?

Do you often see better when you're not thinking about an unpleasant conversation, a deadline, or something you're unsure about that's bothering you? Or do you see better when you're having a "good day" in terms of things unrelated to your vision?

Do you often have moments of clearer vision when you're running out of energy when riding your bike, running, or some other exhaustive physical activity?

Do you notice that people with blurry vision are often mainly into intellectual pursuits, and that a relatively small number of people into physical sports have vision problems?

If you have blurry vision, do you remember ideas and procedures better than you remember actual sense impressions (vision, touch, sound, smell, taste)?


You can think up some interesting and different explanations for each point above. But look at how the mind works, and all of the above things are explained in the same way.

Thoughts are things, and your thinking has a real impact. When you are physically "present" and focus only on your body and your physical world that is here, right in front of you, you are that much less "in your mind", and your mind can actually stop for as long as you stay physically present. The simplest way to be physically present that you can do at any time is to focus on your breath. The sound, the feeling of the air, the movement of your abdomen and the rhythm of the whole act of breathing. You don't have to even try to silence your mind when focusing on your breath. Your mind just stops when you stop participating in your mind and direct your attention elsewhere. You spend all your time thinking because you value your mind too much, even though when you take stock of all the things you think about throughout the day very little of what you think about has any value. Most of what you think about is repeated over and over uselessly.

When you are physically present as your breath, you are in control. Being physically present means that you notice your own few thoughts, as language or emotions, as something separate from what you are as a physical presence. You also notice your own physical actions more. So when you work with the eye chart or any other object or scene to work on your vision with, you can better notice what exactly you are doing, and you can catch yourself doing some interesting things that might be detrimental to your process of seeing. You have created your own situation that you find yourself in as a collection of habits that you allow to run your life. They aren't working for you. So take a moment to notice them and start to change them.


Re: Breathing and your mind - David - 09-17-2011

There's a technical issue with posting this from my blog and I'm just replying to this so it will show up as the last post in this forum correctly.


Re: Breathing and your mind - DaniFixe - 09-17-2011

The last phrase is something to read and meditate to change for real.


Re: Breathing and your mind - Nancy - 09-17-2011

David, great post. I think I needed to get away from my computer career and spend much more time out of doors before I could really let my vision (and breathing) open up. Yes, I still spend a lot of time on the computer here at home, but there's a big window a few feet away that looks out on my front lawn where I shift my gaze often, and I hardly ever sit here for more than 1/2 hour straight without getting up to get water, stretch, etc. I fought the immobility in my job, got out at lunchtime to run or walk around even in the winter, but that wasn't enough, and part of me felt like a traitor since the corporate culture didn't support this then at all. Having more control over my time and schedule has made a big difference, but I do believe that almost no matter what your circumstances are, you can still use healthy vision habits.


Re: Breathing and your mind - sean - 09-21-2011

Hi David

Another great post. By coincidence I had just started hoping that you'd address this issue again. You know you have a kind of 2 step approach (1 relaxation 2 searching for detail) so I was beginning to wonder if the first element was being neglected a little, ie that I was just going into part 2 without giving due time to the first one. Again, it's a way of showing that this is all within our control and we are not at the mercy of unconscious forces etc.

Just a couple of points:

1 When I just 'let go' of the thinking and just blank the mind I find that this often does the trick all by itself and the vision clears, but I am not aware that I am accomplishing this by means of noticing or learning something about the way I am using my eyes - the relaxation alone seems to be enough. In fact, I have sometimes done this when I've had 'a bad day at the Snellen chart' and while it was gratifying to see that this still worked (I used to do a lot of this kind of practice when I started out: blanking the mind and letting the eyes run over the letters) it wasn't much benefit, beyond breaking the log jam and freeing things up again, in the specific task I had set out to accomplish, ie learning about searching for detail. The 'blanking' can clear up the chart and you set out to look to clear up the detail in one small area but, well, it's all there clear already. Basically I can improve my vision (eventually) by blanking the mind or by searching for detail, or a bit of both I suppose. How best can I take this forward?

2 With the breathing, as you say awareness of your breath lets you separate yourself from your own thoughts and they dry up. However breathing seems to have an effect beyond this and seems to have a direct effect on vision. On a couple of occasons I became aware of an extreme reluctance to practise and when I forced the issue I felt like a huge sudden easing over my solar plexus and freeing up of the breathing. The feeling is like when you breathe in very deeply, like in a huge extended yawn, and you feel that twinge in your solar plexus for a split second.


Re: Breathing and your mind - David - 09-21-2011

Thanks for the comments.

Sean, I'm glad it sends the message that we really do have control of our vision. And we do. We make it far more complex than it needs to be sometimes, with too many psychological theories. I think it's useful to examine your thoughts, but only if you can observe the mind from the perspective, even just for a moment, of being physically present, because you're sort of rooted outside of it and can actually see it, in contrast to the way you are swarmed and influenced by the mind in your act of trying to observe it from within, if that makes sense.

And I concur that even just the act of conscious breathing can have an effect on vision without really doing anything else. Have you noticed that when you concentrate on your breathing and your body, being "comfortable in your own skin" for a moment, tension starts to melt away? And that some of your muscles get tense only when your inner dialogue is running?

Focusing on the breath is so easy to do that you can focus on it and stop your mind in just a moment, because I think we all already stop it for a moment occasionally, unless my estimate is wrong. It might not last long, and it might not go away completely at first, but the important thing is to have your breath as the loudest sound within you. If your mind is chattering more quietly than your breath, it should go away entirely in a moment.

And to draw an analogy, it's the same with the way you see. Even if you don't see what you're looking at perfectly, you still can note that you see what you're looking at better than a moment ago, and that when you look at a new object, you see it better than you did a moment ago as well, just by the fact that you weren't looking at it before. So each time you look at a new small area, you see more details that you didn't see when you weren't looking at it, which is a clear message that you see best what you're looking at, and you're encouraged to keep looking directly at things all the time with the belief that you will see more, if not immediately then within a second or two.

I think the above is a better way than the old method of noticing that you see the previous point worse, because in seeing the previous point worse you end up actually trying to see it better in an attempt to prove that you can't see it as well, which is a huge conflict, because you have to also deal with your memory of looking at it a moment ago in trying to determine whether it's actually less clear now. And obviously people with normal vision don't think about whether they see the previous point worse, so it's pretty questionable on that basis alone.


Re: Breathing and your mind - fuoco - 09-24-2011

Interestingly enough, this connects to my personal experience, in which I seem to *think* too much about my eyes or my vision, and this creates a lot of strain, in terms of both pain and blur. I believe these days that I've spiraled into the habit of being too conscious of the process all the time or almost all the time, and this hinders it all. Trying to just not think about it is as hard a thing to do as it gets. One has to think about something else in order to forget the first. Too bad that when it hurts it's even more difficult to achieve. Concentrating on the breath should be the best method to achieve that. My experience is that when I do forget about my eyes it's because I didn't try to forget about them, it just happened. Not easy to explain I guess. I should experience with breathing more consciously, maybe it will help me...
Thanks!


Re: Breathing and your mind - otto - 09-26-2011

It's really wonderful when I get so connected to my breath while looking at the snellen that it becomes really easy to notice when a thought is affecting my vision. A thought like, "I hope my vision improves" or "I don't know what I'm doing". At that point, I just let the thought go like shifting away from a blurry letter.


Re: Breathing and your mind - Nancy - 09-27-2011

Otto, exactly! I see it just drifting away like a cloud n the blue sky (something my meditation teacher taught me), when I used o push it or struggle against it, which of course is more strain.


Re: Breathing and your mind - David - 09-27-2011

It's good to notice thoughts as they come up, because it means you're not identifying fully with every thought that comes up, or in other words you notice them as something separate from yourself.

Seeing in a sense really is a physical process, in the sense that it is a function of your body. Even though we like to think of seeing as a mental process and attribute improvement in vision to mental changes, seeing and thinking in words don't go well together. What I'm getting at is people with vision problems are consumed by their thoughts and have less grounding in being physically here, both themselves physically and other things that they can sense by seeing, hearing, etc. Virtually everyone has this problem somewhat, but I think people with blurry vision have it to a greater degree, or more constantly, not being comfortable in their own skin and what's around them, and having to escape to their thoughts. Even with glasses, they don't see things. They're away in their own little world.

So it's not that words are bad. But thoughts as words are the medium that the mind uses, and participating in the mind is how you become less physically present. Consider Bruce Lee - He completely focused on his physical body to have complete control over it, getting it to work better and better, and it worked. I used to think of various ways of forgetting about the eyes as the way to better vision, but I don't agree with that anymore. But self-control isn't about having minute control over every little muscle in your body, as in, for example, thinking about your eye muscles and trying to relax them or move them in a certain way. That would be a mess. It's about connecting your body to your will, which comes by constantly paying attention to it. Bruce Lee described something alone the lines of how it was as if he could punch just by thinking it, and it's well known that he could punch faster than anyone has ever seen, and that he was practically unbeatable. I'm not suggesting that going to that level is necessary just to see. What I'm saying is seeing clearly is a relatively easy step along that kind of path.


Re: Breathing and your mind - otto - 09-28-2011

It's like I become acquainted enough with the feeling and characteristics of relaxation (using all the bates feedback such as shifting and blinking and clarity) that I notice the thoughts as "pulls" out of the relaxed state. That's when I choose to not entertain them.


Re: Breathing and your mind - otto - 09-28-2011

It's an amazing place to get to but honestly I don't know how many more years it would take until I could maintain this relaxation throughout the day. Oh! That's the hidden belief that I don't know what I'm doing! Sorry to throw-up my current negativity onto everyone! I guess I'm looking for a little encouragement.


Re: Breathing and your mind - seetheleaves - 09-29-2011

This is a great post, David, thank you.

One thing I have finally accepted as true about myself (after years of ignoring 'less intelligent' people who tell me constantly that I think too much) is that I think too much.
It is not a coincidence then that as each day passes from morning to night I become more and more tense, more and more strained, and more and more worn out. I begin my days now with excellent vision. But as the day goes on...
I begin each new task with enthusiasm and clarity of focus. But as the task progresses through challenges and obstacles...

I think too much. And it messes everything up and it tires me.

Lately when I am having a difficult time with something, I have started to switch my focus from my mind to my body and boy is it an eye-opener (literally). If I begin to make mistakes, become clumsy, run into something, feel my stress level rising, allow worry to take over - if any of this happens and I catch myself during that moment of 'failure' I immediately switch over to my newly cultivated physical sense (i.e. away from what I think about the situation and into what I feel - especially breathing thanks to David's reminder). 10 times out of 10 I have shallow, quickened, stressful breathing - sometimes I'm even holding my breath completely while I try to push through the challenge. And the other consistent physical feeling is a sense that I am trying to 'will' myself to correct whatever is wrong - it is a mental pushing from within me - through my eyes, through my hands, through my voice. It's like I don't trust my eyes, my hands, my voice to do what they do naturally.

The Bates Method has taught me to trust my eyes. So now when I struggle with anything I stop, breathe and imagine that I am "turning on" my eyes. And then I wait for them to adjust themselves. And they do! It always works to calm me and wipe the slate clean so I can continue without tension.

I read somewhere that EFFORT is a sign of poorly-used energy. It's true - when I cultivate effortlessness, I have far more energy and focus throughout the day.


Re: Breathing and your mind - Nancy - 09-29-2011

seetheleaves, thank you. I agree with everything you wrote, and need this reminder several times a day. Keep up the good work -- you are a great example.


Re: Breathing and your mind - ted - 10-17-2012

David wrote:
Quote:You don't have to even try to silence your mind when focusing on your breath. Your mind just stops when you stop participating in your mind and direct your attention elsewhere.

In the Book, The Tao of Natural Breathing, it talks about and really emphasizes the point that one is to pay attention to one's breath, without interferring or trying to control it. This is something that can be difficult for me at times. I think this feeling of controlling my breath too much comes from the fact that I'm not actually paying enough attention to the entire process of breathing. It becomes difficult to notice the breath at the top and bottom of the inhalation and exhalation when the breath gets quieter and softer. At those times, I think it is still important to focus in on all sensory perceptions including the heat of the air, the feeling of the chest expanding or contracting, the sound as is diminishes. Through that kind of sensing, one can get very in tune with one's own physicality.
Also, I have recently starting working on focusing on the breath while palming and I found that this helps me get away from the distraction of trying to figure out how to perfectly place my palms over my eyes. When I try to be perfect like that, I notice a big feeling of this obsessive compulsive tendency for perfection arising.

Another from David:
Quote:Being physically present means that you notice your own few thoughts, as language or emotions, as something separate from what you are as a physical presence.

When I am paying attention to my breath I notice when I get lost in thoughts. But, the only time I notice it is not when I'm absorbed in it, but when I get a sense of "Oh yeah! I forgot about my breath!" And then I realize what I've been doing and thinking. I can tell if I let that thought go too far to the point of it no longer being of much benefit. I think there is a lot of merit in thinking, and that it can be very useful, but that it should be kept under control and silenced when WE want it to stop, or when we want to move on to something else. Moving on to another thought or back to present moment, for me at least, is a great feeling of letting go at the appropriate time and it seems to be very correlated with feeling when to shift your gaze at the appropriate time.

Quote:in seeing the previous point worse you end up actually trying to see it better in an attempt to prove that you can't see it as well, which is a huge conflict, because you have to also deal with your memory of looking at it a moment ago in trying to determine whether it's actually less clear now. And obviously people with normal vision don't think about whether they see the previous point worse, so it's pretty questionable on that basis alone.

So, could you say that when you move your attention to another point, it's as if you're so absorbed in this new point, in the new details, that you don't have to try to forget about the other point (like not trying to stop thinking but instead diverting attention to breath which quiets the mind indirectly), that the other point should be out of sight out of mind, so to say. This seems like it would be definitely getting back to this present moment stuff, because, when you are totally absorbed in the new details of the new point or attention spot, then you have forgotten about the past mostly and are just observing what is really in your view.

Okay last one:

Quote:What I'm getting at is people with vision problems are consumed by their thoughts and have less grounding in being physically here, both themselves physically and other things that they can sense by seeing, hearing, etc. Virtually everyone has this problem somewhat, but I think people with blurry vision have it to a greater degree, or more constantly, not being comfortable in their own skin and what's around them, and having to escape to their thoughts.

Wouldn't you say that thinking has to be of some value? Like, I guess we could be totally present almost all the time, but then our life would be completely different and there would less planning and structure, more animalistic. I feel like some thinking is useful, but that each person needs to learn when to put a cap on their thoughts, at the point when they become more of a hindrance than a help.