Stage 1 of the Mindfulness of Breathing: Letting Go With the Out-Breath

Stage One of this practice involves counting our out-breaths. We do this by counting, silently, just after the end of the exhalation. I’ll say more about that in a moment.

Before we start on Stage 1, it’s helpful to do some preparation — what I call “Stage Zero,” which you can read about here. Stage Zero involves setting up and settling into your meditation posture, then taking your awareness through your body, letting go of any tensions as best you can. To help you do that most effectively, you might want to check out our posture guidelines, then come back and read what’s next.

Okay, now we’re sitting comfortably, we’ll begin…

Sometimes it can be beneficial to take a few deep, long, breaths, or to breath more fully using the abdomen. This is done to encourage the body and mind to slow down. But if this is done it’s just for a few breaths, after which we let the breathing return to a natural rhythm. This is the only time we control the breathing.

Jump to a section:

Once you’ve taken a tour of your whole body, begin to notice in particular the physical sensations of your breathing. Let yourself become absorbed in the sensations of the breathing that accompany the breath flowing in and out of your body.

This includes not just the experience of the breath — the contact your body makes with the air flowing in your passageways — but any sensation anywhere that’s related to this. That includes the movements of muscles, joints, and bones

Notice how the sensations are always changing.

This meditation is not a breathing exercise, and we don’t control the breath in any way, simply letting it flow naturally in and out. Generally we inhale and exhale through the nose, unless perhaps the nose is blocked.

It’s natural for there to be a slight pause between the end of the in breath and the start of the exhalation, and a slightly longer pause between the end of the out breath and the start of the in breath. Again, we allow the breath to flow naturally, and there’s no question of deliberately holding the breath or controlling it in any way.

Then begin counting (internally) after every out-breath:

Breathe in – breathe out – 1
Breathe in – breathe out – 2
Breathe in – breathe out – 3
Breathe in – breathe out – 4
Breathe in – breathe out – 5

… and so on until you reach ten. If you get to ten, start again at one.

If your mind wanders, just come back to experiencing the physical sensations of the breath, and begin counting again.

Keep following the breath, and counting, for at least five minutes.

Really notice the qualities of the out-breathing. Notice the sense of letting go, the downward movement in the body, the feeling of relaxation as your body releases, and perhaps even a sense of mental calming.

Bring as much patience into the process as possible. It’s normal for a lot of thoughts to arise, and from time to time you’ll completely forget you’re supposed to be following your breath. Distraction is a normal part of the meditation process.

You can listen to an MP3 guided meditation that will lead you through the First Stage of the practice by clicking on the player below:

Exploring Stage 1

Just tried the first stage of the Mindfulness of Breathing?

Kind of anxious about getting on to stage two?

Okay. Why not consolidate what you’ve already learned, rather than rushing on to do the whole practice as quickly as possible? Heck, the chances are you want to learn to meditate because life is so rushed and hectic, so why not start to relax. What’s the rush? Hang loose!

Try doing the first stage of the practice for a few days. Maybe even try to do it more than once every day. Why not take a few minutes now to plan exactly when you’re going to do it?

I suggest you try five to ten minutes in the morning, and the same in the evening, just before you go to bed. Or maybe a few minutes on your lunch-break? There’s no right or wrong time to meditate, so see what suits you.

So try that for maybe three days, and then come back and learn the second stage. Give that a few days (doing both stages) and then come back again. And so on.

You can also think about touching base with your breathing at various times throughout the day. This could be as simple as taking one full, mindful breath in between activities. Or you might stay in touch with your breathing while you’re having a conversation or listening to a presentation. Instead of sitting on the train or bus, letting your mind wander, or (since we don’t like inactivity these days) checking your text messages, try just paying attention to your breathing. If you’re walking — even if it’s just from the car to the building in which you work, or from your office desk to the bathroom — pay attention to your breathing. The breathing is always there for you to notice. And noticing it will always help calm your mind, at least a little.

Play around with the out-breath. Any time you become aware of the breathing during the day, explore the qualities of the out-breath. Notice how the body lets go every time you exhale. Notice how emotions like relief and contentment relate to exhaling.

While you’re exploring stage one, you can try to answer any questions you have by exploring the site, and explore the links on this page that deal with stage one.

What Does This Practice Do?

In the short term, the Mindfulness of Breathing practice helps us to become calmer and (rather paradoxically) to become more energized and refreshed.

In the long term, it helps us to develop more awareness so that we have more freedom to choose what our responses are going to be in any given situation. This means, for example, that we can find ourselves in a situation that would normally make us anxious, but we can choose instead to cultivate patience and calmness.

Practicing mindfulness is enormously enriching. Instead of being half-aware of what we’re doing, we can fully and richly experience every moment of our lives. The mindfulness that we develop in this practice will help us to enjoy our food more, will help us to concentrate better at work, and will help us to be more present when we’re talking to our friends. And many people who do this practice last thing at night say that it helps them to sleep and that their dreams are richer.

Mindfulness helps us develop the ability to pay sustained attention, and this is valuable in many ways. Ultimately it’s because we’re able to pay sustained attention to our experience that we’re able to gain spiritual insight. Without this ability we simply skim over the surface of our experience without really learning anything. With it we learn more and more about how to become happier and more fulfilled.

What’s the Counting For?

The counting has a number of really useful functions (almost as useful as the breathing, really!).

It’s very easy just to “space out” instead of actually meditating. When we space out we get distracted without realizing it. The counting helps to give us a more objective sense of how much of the time we’re distracted, and how much we’re remaining aware.

Counting allows us to “measure” how long we’re maintaining our awareness. Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused on the breath even for three breaths. Other times we can be aware for several cycles of ten breaths. So you can tell if it’s a “good day” or a “bad day.”

Counting gives us something to aim for. It’s good to have goals. If you’re getting distracted before getting to the tenth breath then you can try hard to reach ten. If you make it that far then you can try to get to ten again. Without the counting it’s hard to have any sense of what you’re working towards.

The numbers help us to see if we’re making progress. If you put the effort into your meditation practice then you’ll see results. But how can you see results if there’s nothing to measure them by?

The numbers subtly alter your perception of the breath. When you count after the out-breath then that’s the part of the breathing process that you’re most aware of. So in the first stage of the practice you’re more aware of breathing out. We’ll talk more about this after you’ve done the second stage of the practice.

Keep Getting Distracted?

Everyone gets distracted during meditation — even people who’ve been meditating for years. You’re in good company.

The first stage in creating a beautiful garden is to realize how many weeds there are to be cleared up. If you feel a bit daunted by the sheer volume of trivia that your mind seems capable of creating then it’s good to remember that you need to know it’s there before you can do anything about it. Also bear in mind that dealing with it will bring you happiness.

It’s as if you’ve just inherited a beautiful garden, which is full of weeds. You can’t just pretend that the weeds aren’t there — you have to do something about it. With a real garden you could always just get rid of it or hire someone to look after it. With your mind you don’t have that luxury. Leave it alone and it will just get worse. The best thing to do is get started as soon as possible on clearing those mind-weeds.

If you ever feel frustration with your distractions, then remember that when you realize you’ve been distracted in meditation you have a choice — you can choose to exercise patience and gentleness with yourself. Getting mad or getting despondent will only make things worse. It’s a bit like kicking the dandelions because you’re annoyed with them; all you’re doing is spreading the seeds even further.

So chill, and patiently continue working at clearing the weeds from your wild mind.

The moment that you realize you’ve been distracted is actually a very valuable one. This is the point at which our natural tendency may be to get annoyed, or despondent, or frustrated. But it’s also an opportunity for us to practice patience, and to be accepting of imperfection, and to be kind to ourselves. And it’s bringing those qualities into being that’s as important, in the long run, as returning to the object of the meditation practice.

It can be reassuring as well to know that there are tools that help us reduce the level of distraction we experience. Simply returning our attention to the breath every time we realize the mind has wandered is very effective in the long term. Counting the breaths is another way to bring more stability to the mind in meditation. We’re not helpless. In fact we have all we need in order to calm the mind. We just need to keep making a gentle effort.

If the Numbers Won’t Stay Put

Many people find that the number won’t stay put. It merges with the out-breath so that you’re sort of exhaling the numbers. I think that’s fine.

The first stage is more connected with the out-breath anyway, and the fact that the number has a way of integrating itself into the exhalation just reinforces that association.

It’s all too easy, especially when first learning meditation, to find that we get caught up in wanting to do things “perfectly.” We look at our current experience and compare it unfavorably to some imagined state that we tell ourselves we “should” be experiencing, and of course we feel unhappy. There’s no quicker way to make ourselves miserable than to make unfavorable comparisons between how we think we are and how we think we should be.

So we need to learn to let go and to accept that sometimes things don’t happen the way we expect them to.

In fact it’s probably a good idea, when something like this happens — the numbers not going where we expect them to go — to take a sense of gentle curiosity into the experience. Perhaps the fact that the numbers are merging into the outbreath (which is all about letting go) is helping us to meet a need to let go more.

Having said that, I think it’s good to work gently at getting the number to go where it’s “supposed” to go — in the space between the out-breath and the in-breath. There are good reasons for this that we’ve gone into elsewhere. But don’t force it. Be gentle. Be patient.

Timing the Stages

Beginners often assume that timing how long they are meditating for will be very distracting. They sometimes wonder if they should use an alarm clock, or some other mechanical method.

Actually, an alarm clock or beeper might be rather jarring and unpleasant. Most meditators just have a clock or watch sitting in front of them. They’ll open their eyes from time to time and see how long they’ve been sitting.

It really isn’t a great distraction. Just make sure to place your clock or watch somewhere that you can see it without having to change the angle of your head or move your eyes. Also choose a clock or watch that doesn’t tick, and that has a face large enough for you to see without straining.

There are also some specialist timers and apps available that make it even easier to keep track of the time without having even to open your eyes.

When You Find You’re Controlling Your Breathing

I recently received an email from a visitor to Wildmind. Ken asked:

When practicing breathing, I find that I can not seem to not control it to some
extent.

How can I feel more comfortable with the breath and prevent myself from
controlling it?

Should I just be aware of the fact that I am doing this and continue on?

This is a very common experience. We get so used to being in control, or thinking that we’re in control, or simply thinking that we ought to be in control, that the conscious mind starts to interfere with the act of breathing — something that’s normally handled unconsciously by the autonomic nervous system.

For most animals the breath is controlled entirely by unconscious parts of the brain. Dogs and cats don’t think about their breathing as far as we know. In a few creatures — such as whales and dolphins — breathing is entirely under conscious control and they have to take each breath as a deliberate action. These animals have a clever way of sleeping with only one half of the brain at a time so that they don’t drown. In humans breathing mostly takes place unconsciously (we don’t stop breathing when we fall asleep) but we can also take conscious control of our breathing when we need to. This is a handy talent — it means for example that we can hold the breath when we’re submerging ourselves in water or walking past an obnoxious odor, and that we can consciously take deep breaths when necessary.

In mindfulness meditation we don’t generally aim to control the breath consciously. Certainly there are times when we may wish to do this for short periods — for example taking a few deep breaths at the start of the practice in order to settle the mind, or slowing the breath when we realize that we’ve become excited — but the words to emphasize here are “short periods.” We only control the breath for a specific purpose and for few breaths, and then we let the breathing return to autonomic control.

Ideally we’re simply letting the breath flow in and out of the body at its own pace, and the job of the conscious mind is to observe the sensations of the breath. Ideally. This doesn’t always work out as we’ve planned, and sometimes beginners to meditation find that they’re controlling the breath. In its mildest forms there may be a slight sense of stiffness or awkwardness about the breathing, but in more extreme cases the muscles involved in the breathing, such as the intercostals (the muscles between the ribs) may become very sore indeed. People sometimes hyperventilate and feel dizzy. None of this is usually dangerous, but it certainly doesn’t help our meditation practice.

So what can we do if we find that we develop a habit of controlling the breath?

As Ken suggested in his email, we can just be aware of the fact that we are controlling the breath and simply carry on with the practice. Eventually if we do this we’re likely to find that we’ve forgotten to control the breath consciously. But this can take a long time and this isn’t a very effective approach.

One time, when I was very new to meditation, I found that I was controlling my breathing. The more I noticed that I was controlling the movements of my ribcage and abdomen, the harder it was to let go and simply breathe. My chest muscles were working against each other and as a result they became very sore. The more sore they became the harder it was to just let go and breathe. I was caught in a vicious cycle.

Luckily I had a creative realization that I didn’t need to focus on my chest at all, and I started to pay more attention to the breath in the nostrils, and particularly to the sensation of the breath as it passed over the rims of the nostrils. It occurs to me now that it’s possibly to be aware of the breath in the nostrils but not to control it there. Anyway, I noticed that the more I directed my attention to the nostrils, the less I noticed the pain in my chest. From time to time my focus would slip down to my aching ribcage and I’d sense the discomfort there, and this experience became an incentive to notice the nostrils even more keenly. Eventually I became very concentrated indeed and my chest muscles began to relax and return to unconscious control.

Another approach that can be very useful is to lighten up by bringing more of a sense of playfulness into our experience. One way to do this is to imagine that you’re floating on warm, buoyant water that’s rising and falling in time with the breath. You can really enjoy the rhythm of the waves as they rise and fall.

A similar approach is to imagine that you’re sitting on a swing that’s moving in time with the breathing. You can call to mind the sense of enjoyment that you may have got from this activity when you were a child, and get a sense of pleasure from the rise and fall.

One thing that’s going on here is that we’re bringing a sense of enjoyment and playfulness into the practice. This can be very helpful if we tend to take a dry, dutiful, and willful approach to meditation. Another thing that’s happening is that the driving force for the breath is being imaginatively located outside of ourselves, in the waves or in the motion of the swing, and so we’re learning that we don’t have to have conscious control of the breath. Just as the motion of the water or swing is outside ourselves, so the control of the breathing is outside of the conscious mind.

So these are a couple of approaches to dealing with the difficulty of simply observing the breath without consciously controlling it. There are no doubt other approaches but these are ones that my students have found to be most useful.

Dealing With Ups and Downs

Diane, one of my students, reported the following:

“This morning it was not as easy to concentrate; I had to make more of an effort to keep myself on track. I handled the situation quite easily, noticing that I was more distracted and being aware that it would take a bit more work today to keep myself out of distraction. I did not judge myself or get scared that my practice is falling apart, just acknowledged that it was not one of my better days and went on from there.”

Your meditation practice will always have its ups and downs. This is inevitable in developing any skill. You’ll have good days and bad days, and at first both good and bad experiences may seem to arrive randomly, as gifts – welcome or unwelcome – of the gods. At first this can be dispiriting. You think you’re doing so well; your meditation was so calm and enjoyable yesterday, and here you are today struggling to count to three and feeling that it’s all hopeless.

Diane’s approach to her ups and downs is exemplary. Instead of getting lost in the distracted, reactive states of self-pity or fear, she simply observed what was happening, realizing that the conditions in her mind, for whatever reason, had changed, and that the kind of effort she would have to make had also changed. Change is unavoidable. Life gives us that challenge. And it isn’t helpful to us to mourn the inevitable or to fight change. We have to learn to embrace change, accept that it is a part of our lives, and then respond as creatively as we can: no condemnation, no self-recriminations, just a patient sense of working with whatever comes up.

As Diane went on to say: “I guess I always got the good and the bad, and perhaps now just have more awareness of my state of mind whatever it may be. I remind myself to be especially gentle with myself, that the ‘bad’ is really no different than the ‘good’, it just is.”

This is an excellent observation. Meditation is, above all, the art of dealing with what is.

What’s Next?

If you’ve explored the first stage of the Mindfulness of Breathing, as described above, you may want to start exploring Stage 2. It’s similar to Stage 1 in that it too involves counting our breaths. Yet it feels very different and has a different effect. You can learn more about Stage 2 of the Mindfulness of Breathing practice by clicking here.

160 Comments. Leave new

  • Hello there. For some reason I find myself tending up when I try to focus on my breathing. I end up being so tense trying to stop my thoughts and my breathing gets tense . It gets short and shallow. Do you have any tips for this? Thank you

    Reply
    • Hi, April.

      The first thing I’d suggest is that at the beginning of your meditation practice you let the muscles around the eyes be soft, and allow your eyes (behind closed eyelids) to have a slightly defocused feel to them, almost as if you were staring into space. This will help you be more at ease. It’ll also help you observe the breathing in the whole body, as opposed to just a few selected sensations. You’ll even be able to notice the way your skin moves against your clothing as you breathe in and out. Try paying attention to those sensations, which aren’t directly to do with your muscles. It’s your muscles you’re tensing, and being aware of the skin takes some of your attention away from them and lets them do their own thing, without interference.

      Reply
  • Hey bhodipaksa hope you are fine .. i am also manual breathing from 6 months after i got attack by despersonalization.. as i was feeling unreal while praying .. then i dont know how my focus went to breathing since then i am aware of it .. i tried medications but there was no help from it .. In the start i was unable to go out because of breathng problm .. now i managed to go outside but still the problem is there.. even in the gym when i do exercise i dont feel out of breath but all other guys are out of breath after exercise ..
    plz give me some advice

    Reply
    • Hi, Immad.

      I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve been experiencing this problem. As you can see, you’re not alone.

      I’m going to suggest something two things that might sound unusual. The first is a simple change in the way you relate to your eyes. So I’d like you to relax your eyes. Let the muscles around the eyes soften. And let the focus in your eyes be gentle, so that your eyes almost seem a little out of focus. This is something you should do as often as possible — not just once. You’ll find that this triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for helping us to relax and be at ease. As you soften the eyes, just notice any changes that take place. Softening the eyes is something you can do almost anytime. Try bringing this into your daily life as much as possible. Set a reminder on your phone to do this every 20 minutes, if possible.

      The second suggestion is a practice of self-compassion, where you’re going to talk in a reassuring way to the part of you that is controlling your breathing.

      So, some part of you somehow got the idea that you need to consciously control your breathing, presumably fearing that if it didn’t control your breathing you’ll die. So it’s acting out of fear. Obviously it’s wrong since the breathing ordinarily happens completely automatically, and it continues even when you’re deeply unconscious. The only reason we evolved the ability to control our breathing consciously is so that we can so things like talk and swim. It’s only meant to happen for short periods of time. But still, this part of you is afraid. And what it needs is reassurance.

      So I’d suggest that you talk to this part of you, particularly at times when you’re practicing soft eyes. First, notice where in the body you experience the fear or anxiety. This is what you’re going to talk to. Speak to that part of the body.

      Bear in mind it’s like a frightened child. You want to talk in a gentle, reassuring way. From its point of view it’s trying to do you a favor (keeping you alive), so you don’t want to insult it in any way. It’s not your enemy. It’s a friend that’s become a bit confused.

      So you can say things like,

      “Thank you for trying to keep me safe by controlling our breathing. And I’m sorry you’re afraid that we might die if you don’t do this. That’s a lot of responsibility to take on, and it must be terrifying. I don’t want you to have to be afraid. I want you to feel safe and at peace. I want us all to feel safe and at peace.

      “I also want you to know that there’s a part of us that’s been in charge of the breathing from the moment we were born. It keeps us breathing even at night when we’re deeply asleep. So I invite you to let go of controlling the breathing and to allow that part of us to run the breathing again. It’s very good at it. We’ll be in safe hands. As you let go of controlling the breathing it’ll take over and keep us safe. And then you can take a rest. You deserve that. You’ve been working so hard to keep us safe. But you can rest now. We are safe. We’re in safe hands.”

      This is something you might want to do many times. It’s probably going to take a lot of reassurance to get that part of you to let go.

      So that’s two suggestions. I hope they’re helpful. Please try them for at least a week and let me know how you get on.

      Reply
  • I am suffering from manual breathing since two months ago when my anxiety started.
    I’ve done yoga for a year prior to my anxiety and never had a problem with letting go of controlled breathing but now it’s become impossible for me not to be conscious of it and breath normally. It’s taken away the joy of life and it bothers me to a level that I don’t wanna live anymore. I can’t fall asleep once I wake up or do anything that distracts me from it. It’s made me not want to do any kind of meditation or exercise. Can someone please help me and tell me how I can cope with it? I feel like I’m losing my marbles.

    Reply
    • That sounds very distressing, Sam. I’ve only had very brief periods of compulsively controlling my breathing, back when I was first learning to meditate, and it was very unpleasant. Fortunately it passed quickly. And as you can see here, you’re not alone.

      I’d certainly suggest staying away from any breathing-based meditation. In fact I’d suggest an ongoing practice of lovingkindness — “ongoing” meaning that you bring it into your ordinary activities as much as you can, rather than relying upon formal periods of sitting meditation. Keep it simple, just by dropping the thought, “May I be well. May I be happy. May I be kind to myself and others” into your heart. Keep a light focus on both the thought and the heart. You can do this during many ordinary activities, and keep returning to it as much as you can.

      Lovingkindness practice will help in two ways. First, it’ll help reduce your anxiety, although of course this takes time and practice. You’ll start, in time, to experience a sense of being supported and at ease, and of being gentler with yourself. And this will reduce the compulsion to engage in control. Second, it’ll take your attention away (to some extent) from controlling the breathing. The words “to some extent” are important here. You’re not going to let go of this unhelpful habit of controlling your breathing all at once. Returning to natural breathing is going to take time. But any shift away from focusing on controlling the breathing is going to be helpful. So rather than cursing the fact that the breath-control is still going on, celebrate the fact that you’re less caught up in it.

      May you be well, happy, and at peace, Sam.

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
    • Hey Sam,

      I’d recommend doing anything to take your mind off of it. Watching a movie, exercising, going for a walk, music, etc… Maybe challenge yourself with something difficult, like trying to solve a Rubix cube? Just do anything that would be able to hold your focus.

      Reply
  • Hello. I have been very anxious and as a result I started to breath consciously. And it’s really bothering me a lot and I can’t even asleep at night because I keep hyperventilate and feel an urge of breathing rapidly. And now I am thinking about it 24/7 I can’t get anything done or focus on anything else. Please help me learn how to just to observe my breath without controlling it. I know you have explained very well how to do it but I don’t know how to practice it. Please help I am really suffering.

    Reply
    • Hi, Kale.

      I’m very sorry to hear about this very unpleasant experience you’re having. It sounds very distressing. When I wrote this article it was with the aim of helping people who, in the context of meditation, find it difficult to let their breathing happen naturally. It wasn’t intended for the more extreme case that you’re describing. In fact at that time I’d never heard of such a thing happening, although since then I’ve heard from a few people. In short, I ‘m not at all qualified to address the kind of issue you’re facing.

      But to extrapolate from my own much milder experience of this. When I found myself controlling my breathing in meditation what eventually happened was that I just “forgot” to do it and my breathing returned to normal. This would happen after my mind had wandered; I’d come back to the meditation and find that the breathing was back to normal. I’d “forgotten” to keep controlling the breathing.

      Now I doubt that’s going to work for you, because the part of your mind that’s controlling the breathing seems to be much more persistent. I wonder if you might need to find a good hypnotherapist to help you to “forget” so that your breathing can happen in a natural and relaxed way. It’s really amazing what a good hypnotherapist can do. They can be very good at helping us to forget.

      If I were to make one meditative suggestion, though, it would be that you look for the “controller.” Where is it? What is it like? This may seem like an odd suggestion, but it’s very, very much worth doing.

      I wish you all the best, and I’d very much appreciate if you would come back and let me know how you get on.
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
    • Hi Kale, that actually used to happen to me too. Honestly, the answer is to not focus on the breath. I used to read a story before bed to take my mind off of it, or I’d listen to music. If you do want to meditate, I’d try repeating a mantra in your head instead, or try to visualize something in your head, like a single point, like a little white dot, or you can visualize what’s youd like. This is a different type of meditation. Honestly, I’ve never gotten a focus on the breath to work, because I have a sort of ocd about it. I think I’ll be sticking to a mantra or visual meditation because of this. You can ignore the “Bud” “dho” comment I made above, lol.

      Reply
    • You’re not alone Kale. I am suffering just as bad and can’t sleep once I wake up and it’s affected every second of my life. If you find a solution please let me know. No one seem to understand what I’m going through.

      Reply
  • Hi. Thank you so much. This has caused me problems for years in the past, and is why I could not start a meditation routine. I have a lot of anxiety, and would control my breath to the point where I could barely breathe during meditation. I wanted to say that the most helpful technique I found here was actually in the comments. The technique was to say “bud” at the end of one exhale, and “dho” at the end of the next. This helped me because by nature the other methods mentioned are passive, in my view. Thinking of water for instance, and floating in it – since the idea of floating is not very “grabbing” in terms of keeping my conscious attention, my mind naturally falls back to the breath. This is my problem – it goes back to the breath, and I am not able to breath again. I find that repeating the word “bud” and “dho” after each breath allows a space from my physical body. It becomes more of a focus on a mental phenomenon, which I am much more comfortable with, rather than a focus on the body – which tightens me up with anxiety. The best part is that it has the side affect of seeing the breath from the side, or like from your peripheral vision. I can still notice the affects and sensations of the breath subtly, but since it is not my focus, I don’t get tied up in it. I think that with this method, over time I can drop the “bud” “dho”, and I will just be left with awareness of the breath.

    Reply
  • Focusing on the breath in the nose rather than the chest helped me 100%. Thanks for sharing :)

    Reply
  • Heikki Väänänen
    March 29, 2018 1:24 pm

    I am very glad that I found your page. I am a beginner in meditation and my current problem is that I am too self-aware of my breath. Your tips and especially the “floating water”- mental exercise has renewed my meditation. My meditation started beginning to feel dry and boring and now I can enjoy my precious hobby again. Thank you!

    Reply
  • While following the first stage…i found a really small light much more smaller than a fire fly in between my noise and as my mind got distracted i lost that light…what was that

    Reply
    • Hi, Appu.

      The light is what’s called a “nimitta.” Sometimes as the mind starts to settle it creates or finds a sensation that acts as a kind of guide. Paying attention to these signs helps us to go deeper into meditation. Some people are prone to such things, and so you’ll probably find that it happens again.

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
  • Ok.. where to begin.

    I have been meditating on and off for about a year, but became more disciplined over the last 3 months, making it a daily practice. I meditate for about an hour daily, 30 minutes at dawn, and 30 minutes in the early evening.

    I have, on occasion, had those beautiful but very fleeting moments of  being “universally aware” where my attention is on my breathing but I’m not controlling it in any way, as far as i know. Lately, however, I have been “struggling” with letting go of controlling my breathing while also observing it. Three suggestions here really appeal to me. The first two are..
    Your suggestion – Redirecting attention to the nostrils, as it can also be observed there without bringing the location of the driving energy (chest or abdomen) into awareness, and
    Martin’s suggestion – Redirecting attention to the entire body, which actually gives a more wholistic experience of the “wave” action on the body, and also decouples awareness from the location of its driving energy

    These suggestions appeal to me because I have experimented with both and found them extremely calming during the meditation practice itself, and profoundly regenerative for long periods (days) after.

    But I want to explore an idea noone (as far as I know) seems to have considered, and I have to apologize upfront for bringing a completely separate field of knowledge into the mix here – Quantum Theory, and the effect an observer has on any random or naturally occurring event. It’s instructive to note that quantum theory happens to be the most tested and confirmed theory in the history of science. It states that ANYTHING being observed is affected (no matter how subtly) by the very act being observed – more specifically, it collapses the “wave function”. So, it’s got me thinking it might be less useful trying not affect it, and perhaps more useful deciding what the “wave'” will collapse to. Herein lies the intriguing potential merit in the third suggestion to “lighten things up” by imagining “that you’re floating on warm, buoyant water that’s rising and falling in time with the breath” or imagining “that you’re sitting on a swing that’s moving in time with the breathing”. Obviously, we want to affect the breath as little as possible, or not at all during meditation, but setting a “framework” within which this can be achieved, may also be worth considering.

    I have a scientific background, but I’m clearly no expert on this. However, I see no reason why we shouldn’t use the imagination (visual and auditory thoughts) to positively affect our experience of awareness (meditation), seeing as in meditation we are effectively using our awareness to positively affect our relationship to our thoughts and imagination.

    They are, after all, part of the very same human system we seek to manage and experience. Apologies again, for deviating slightly from the topic – it just felt like a bit of a Eureka moment for me.

    Reply
  • Hi,
    Thank you for this article, it somehow helped me, however, i still have this thinking of controlling my breathing specially at times when i’m not occupied, like when i’m going to sleep. This is stressing me out, i feel like if i’m not going to control it, my breathing will stop. Please help. Really need some direct advice.

    Reply
    • Hi, Charm.

      Sorry for the long delay.

      Obviously your breathing is not going to stop when you’re asleep. You’ve slept many times and your breathing has continued every night.

      I’d suggest that you direct some reassuring thoughts toward the part of you that is fearful. Since the fear is manifesting in control of the breathing, direct your thoughts toward the breathing. Tell is that it’s OK, that the breathing will just happen naturally, that you sleep every night and your breathing always continues. Thank it for its concern and its desire to help you, and assure it that your brain-stem is already doing a great job of keeping you safe.

      When protesting thoughts arise, don’t believe them and continue to reassure them.

      And shift your attention to the breathing in the nostrils, which is less “controllable.”

      All the best!
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
  • I find that usually when i do basic meditation that my breathing gets stuck at the end or near the end of the exhale for 10 seconds or so until i need to inghale and then the inhale happens,and even though i dont try to control the breath this gets frustrating and i usually end up doing conscious circular breathing for the the rest of the time,or chant a mantra instead.

    Reply
  • I find that if I’m controlling my breathing im putting to strong a focus on it and interfering with it. I found that if I generalise my focus by easily feeling the whole body at once with my awareness and then just “noticing” the breath allows me to be aware of the breath without interfering with it. Hope this helps.

    Reply
  • I have some images and weird scenarios that pop up and I feel like being in a dream like state after 2-3 min of doing the breathing exercise. And during those times, my mind gets pretty active (I use a Muse headband that tells when my mind gets active, neutral or calm), but I didn’t feel like it was. I felt pretty relaxed and happy afterward, but I don’t know if I should…What do you think?

    Reply
    • Hi, Annie.

      It sounds like in your meditations you’re relaxed and dreamy, but not actually very mindful. I’m guessing that you’re basically just going with the flow of your rather dream-like thoughts, and not really paying much attention to the physical sensations of the body. See if you can really notice the breathing vividly. Really pay attention to them. And notice whether when you’re more attentive to the breathing, your level of thinking goes down.

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
  • do i get a certification after i take all you courses because i want to be able to give classes in the future

    Reply
    • We may set up a teacher training course in the future, in which case we’d give certification for that, and also for any classes that we regarded as re-requisites. Taking our courses alone, though, wouldn’t give you the skills necessary to teach effectively. That’s a whole other bunch of skills!

      Reply
  • Dear Bodhipaksa,
    I have been trying sitting meditation for quite some time. I think I used to do better in the past than I am currently. The mind wanders and I forget that I am supposed to primarily focus on the breath. Before I know it 10 minutes goes by. Fortunately, I am not discouraged or upset at all.

    What I find interesting that I am very mindful about my speech, actions, and thoughts. It amazes me how it takes no effort to be mindful in those areas. It all happens automatically. Yet, I have difficulty with sitting meditation. So I thought I must be doing something wrong. One can’t possibly be mindful in one area and not in another. I always thought mindfulness is more or less balanced across the board.

    Any advise would be greatly appreciated.
    Sam

    Reply
    • Hi Sam.

      I’m glad you’re not beating yourself up about the mind-wandering that you’re experiencing in meditation. I don’t see any reason, however, that mindfulness has to be an “across the board” faculty. It would seem natural that in some circumstances the mind wanders more than others. Your mind would be less likely to wander during an interview, for example, and more likely to wander while showering. Routine and undemanding tasks call forth less in the way of attention, don’t they?

      It may be that your meditation has become one of these routine and undemanding tasks. Perhaps you need more clarity about what you’re doing. You don’t say what you’re actually doing in meditation, so it’s hard to say anything specific, but in general terms the gentle effort to move closer to jhana creates a sense of purpose, as does the aim to observe the impermanence of our experience. Even something as simple as counting the breaths and aiming to move toward unbroken attention presents us with a goal that stretches us.

      Reply
  • apoorva jain
    June 23, 2015 2:45 pm

    Whenever i meditate i feel very scared. As if some negative souls are coming nearby me to harm me or to distract me from meditation. I really dont understand why it does happens but my heart asks me to stop meditating because of this extremely scared attitude. Please help me. How to get rid of these negativity and build trust on my self..

    Reply
    • Hi Apoorva.

      It’s important to separate the feelings you’re having from the stories that you’re creating around them (and which in turn intensify the feelings). Fear is a feeling. The idea that “negative souls” are trying to attack you is a thought — and a very unhelpful one, because it leads to more fear. If you just experience the fear and relate to it with kindness and curiosity, it’ll be more manageable, and eventually it’ll pass. But the question of how to get rid of your fear reflects what may be an unhelpful approach, because it may well be rooted in a fear of feeling fear. Acceptance, kindness, and curiosity can help you overcome fear. Having an aversion to fear simply pushes the fear away.

      You also, like almost everyone who writes to me, don’t mention what kind of meditation you’re doing! It’s like telling a sports coach that you get a sore knee when doing exercise, but not mentioning whether you’re swimming, running, or doing yoga. You’re probably not doing lovingkindness practice, but I’d highly recommend that you do.

      Reply
  • Lately I have been controlling my breathing and its so bad it’s actually depressing. I don’t know if that is ridiculous or if I’m over exaggerating but I don’t want to deal with it. It’s especially hard in loud places or bumpy car rides where I feel like I can’t concentrate on it and I feel as if when I don’t it won’t happen at all and I’ll die. They also cause me to have severe panic attacks that make me feel as if I am certainly about to die. This comes back in flares. I have suffered with it for a while but especially when Im stressed out. I’m pregnant now and worry about it in a whole new way. I. Need. Help. Please!

    Reply
    • I’d be interested to hear what a hypnotherapist could do, Anonymous. What you really need is to help the part of your brain that’s become obsessed with “controlling” your breathing to develop amnesia, and to let the brainstem do what it does very well. Hypnotherapy is very good at bypassing conscious mental functioning, so I suspect it would be a good place to start. I’m assuming you haven’t actually tried any of the suggestions you’ve read here, since you don’t mention them.

      Reply
  • I find myself yawning right after very intense moments (1-3 seconds long) of focus. Usually this focus requires a great deal of resources and is emotionally challenging. The purpose of the focus is to be mindful in the midst of a very emotionally disturbing thought. The mindfulness then brings acceptance to this thought never experienced before. A great yawn follows. To me it is a sign that I am doing something right. I could yawn 2-3 times per minute, maybe even more frequently. Comments, questions? I’d like to hear if anyone had similar ideas about why they yawn during mindfulness meditation or during any kind of intensely focused moments!

    Reply
  • thanks for ur great article!! it also happen with me during meditation.. I think that only I feel this kinds of experience but many more are there.. it all starts with meditation then afraid to practice more and focus on daily routine stuffs..
    YOUR above suggestions helps me a lot and feeling very effective and practical.. but small bit experience like controling breathe happens when I try to remain in present moment or when I am talking with other people
    I m this much aware of the breathing sensation that it intrupt my focus on daily basic stuffs and I just feel that sensation all the time and feeling joyful and relaxing enough that not know what to talk or reply to other person.. it feels good but it like cut my connection with the outer world.. please reply me what sensation is this and is it normal to feel like during meditation ? your comment is very valuable for me.. thanks again for this great article and please reply me I m waiting for ur suggestion…

    Reply
    • Hi, Sooraj.

      This might sound like a small thing, but when you “try to remain in present moment” you’re probably making too much effort and not actually being with your present moment experience very deeply. All you have to do is let go of the mental activities and behaviors that prevent you from being in the present moment. Being present isn’t, in the end, something we can get to by trying. Perhaps you could think more about “resting in the present moment.”

      It’s certainly not desirable that you’re becoming unable to communicate with other people. I’d suggest that you start doing lovingkindness practice at least every other day, alternating it with whatever other form of meditation practice you’re already doing.

      Reply
  • 2 things that worked somewhat for me so far:

    1. Holding my breath for 20 seconds (sometimes we’re actually getting too much oxygen when it feels like not enough). Or working at learning to breathe out more than in.
    2. Pretending to sleep. Pretend there’s someone in the room you want to avoid. Pretend you are sleeping and try to be convincing. The act distracts you while your breathing naturalizes itself.

    I find as soon as these start to balance out the suffocating feeling, breathing becomes less of an issue and I can forget it more easily. Sometimes I alternate when one becomes less effective.

    Reply
  • Hey,

    Ive been to the doctor several time and they always say im just fine and my lungs are good. I smoke ive been smoking since i was 15 and im 25 im going to quit now but I feel like i cant breath i have no trouble breathing but i feel like im not taking in oxygen like there is a brick siting in the center of my chest i feels better when i burp but several hours later of being conscious about my breathing any suggestion on what my be the cause of this or how to stop it

    Reply
    • I’d definitely suggest that you stop smoking, Rachel. This is probably your body’s way of telling you you’re killing yourself.

      Reply
  • I am following what u have told above.The suggestions are helping me.I just wanted to know whether it will get alright by practice.I am following your first instruction ie to observe our breathing amd dats improving..i want to know whether it shud get alright soon or will it take somr time.

    Reply
    • Hi, Jennifer.

      I’m afraid I’ve no way of knowing how quickly your habit will fade away. One other thing you might try is to repeat a phrase like, “My breath rises and falls like waves on the ocean.” It’s kind of “self-hypnosis lite.” Why not give it a go and see how it works out?

      Reply
  • I too have a problem of conscious breathing.When i am standing its worse.I feel my ribcage is not expanding and i am forcing my abdomen to expand.This is worrying me so much for the past 3 months.Will this be fine if i try to allow my body to breath even though i experience throat and chest tightness at such
    situations.Will i be able to come over this?

    Reply
    • Hi, Jennifer. This is outside my area of expertise, I’m afraid. I’m not an expert on the physiology and psychology of breathing — just a meditation teacher. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help beyond offering the meditation suggestions above.

      Reply
  • Thank you so much Bodhipaksa.
    Untill recently I’d always believed that the severe risistance of my rational mind to problem solving was a personal fault.Now,on good authority, I know that’s not true.
    “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift”..Albert Einstein .

    Reply
    • I think it’s good not to confuse “conscious mind” with “rational mind.” A lot of the processing that goes on unconsciously is perfectly rational, while a lot of our conscious thought is deeply irrational. (Tried having a conversation with a climate change denier, recently?)

      Reply
  • Hi Bodhipaksa,
    Your web site is really informative.Can mindfullness of breathing meditation help me to strenghten my”rational” mind.As I am a very intuitive person I go to pieces whenever I’m faced with a difficult mental task that has to be done…I.e…the washing machine..DVD player.Thank you

    Reply
    • Oh, yes, Paddy. With a more mindful approach it’s easier to avoid panicking in the face of challenges. It’s also been shown in one study that meditation helps people to make decisions more rationally.

      Reply
  • thank you, i really appreciate this article and have learned some helpful tips. i too experience difficulty with consious control of my breathing for several reasons, and it feels great to know that I’m not alone and there are several solutions.

    Reply
  • Hi
    In my 9th month of pregnancy I started noticing my breathing pattern. I started taking breaths consciously. Earlier it was only during night but now its been 2 months, I have been back into shape but now I notice my breathing every second. Its getting tough for me day by day as it is interfering in my routine work for my baby and husband. I m studying also. When I don’t notice it I feel something is missing and I start breathing again. It is very tiring n frustrating. I want to have fun vd my baby but this thing is pushing me nowhere. I seriously want to be back to my older life. I consulted psychiatrist but he was of no help. I m very worried. Please help me.

    Reply
    • I can only imagine how distressing that would be, Shweta. Unfortunately I don’t have any suggestions beyond what’s on this page, and even that is more aimed at people who experience this during meditation. Perhaps a good hypnotherapist would be able to help you to “forget” to pay attention to your breathing?

      Reply
    • This is called somatic or motor sensory condition from of ocd ….I have it too and it’s a pain sometimes….it disappears at times and comes back ,but finding cognitive behavior able that’s familiar with this can help.Thousands of people deal with this good luck

      Reply
  • Thanks for your response. I was afraid I would receive a new age-y reply like “It’s your chi forcing negative energy out” lol.

    Reply
    • It’s your chi forcing your negative energy out :)

      The itch is possibly some part of your mind that doesn’t want you to settle down and become mindful, messing with you. You can turn the tables on it by becoming mindful of its shenanigans.

      Reply
  • First of all, thanks for your wonderful website! I started breathing meditation a few moths ago and wanted to share a couple of interesting experiences. First, I noticed that I get physically warm during the practice (even my feet, which are always cold). Sometimes, I even get a little sweaty! I assume this is due to increased circulation.
    Second, during meditation, I notice an intense itch, which seems to move from place to place during the meditation. I try to ignore it, but usually scratch it, then a moment later it pops up somewhere else. This only happens when I meditate. Any thoughts?

    Reply
    • I’m glad you like the website, Roland.

      The warming is almost certainly due to your parasympathetic nervous system becoming more active and increasing your peripheral blood flow. That may well settle down in time.

      That kind of itch is very common. If you can ignore it by becoming absorbed in something else, then that’s great. If you can’t ignore it, then take it as the object of your meditation. Don’t scratch! Notice the qualities of the itch, perhaps even naming them (buzzing, heat, prickling, tickling, etc.).

      Reply
  • Try this: to release your respiration, say ´´bud´´ after expiration 1, ´´ddho´´ after expiration 2, ´´bud´´ after expiration 3, etc.

    It helped me a lot – dont know why, but, for me, this is easier than do the couting the breath; maybe because its a sacred word or whatever.

    This can help too:

    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/phut/sao.html

    Happy new year for everyone.

    Reply
  • i have lost my love life and not able to concentrate anything than this and i m developing suicidal tendancies , i tried to do mediation but not able to do it properly , even atmosphere is not suitable for it , can you please help me to live happy and peaceful life

    Reply
    • Hi, Piyu.

      This isn’t really a good place to seek counseling, I’m afraid. All I can advise is that you work on accepting that your relationship has come to an end. It’s painful to do this, but it’s the only way you can move on. Although it’s hard to believe, there is plenty of opportunity for finding love in the future, but you can’t open yourself up to those opportunities without letting go first.

      At the same time, your happiness doesn’t depend on you finding the right romantic relationship. It comes from having the right relationship to your experience: practicing mindfulness, seeing that every experience arises and passes, having kindness and compassion… You can be happy, right now, in this moment, if you stop clinging to your pain and instead stand back and observe it with mindfulness.

      Reply
  • Could it be that it’s an issue of overall control? Feeling less like I was suffocating seemed to come with reducing my need for control in other areas of my life. When I realized I was chronically trying to force unnatural emotions and behaviours to please others, and started to stop forcing just those, I automatically stopped having as many problems with my breathing. Has anyone else noticed anything similar?

    Reply
    • That would be my guess too, Jessie, that we control our breathing because of a general need to feel in control.

      Reply
  • Hi, I would like to know your opinion about what is the relationship between the natural breathing, where you simply observe your breath, and techniques related to the martial arts, according to which we must above all use the power of the Tanden (or hara). How does one practice both natural an abdominal breathing ? Thanks You

    Reply
    • Hi, Nicola.

      I’m not familiar with the martial arts, so I’m not really in a position to comment about them. But since the aims of the martial arts are different from the aims of Buddhist meditation, you’d expect them to use different methods. With regards to abdominal breathing, I recommend nothing more than taking awareness to the belly. There’s no need to actually change the pattern of our breathing consciously; just pay attention and your unconscious will take the hint so that your breathing changes naturally and automatically.

      Reply
  • Hi prakruti
    My experience with meditation is the following. If you are getting tired maybe it’s because ur relaxing ur body is letting go of held tensions. Another reason can be that ur trying to hard and causing ur self anxiety. I suggest you start with Metta meditation to sooth ur energies in to a more pleasent state so u attention can just settle. You can even try yoga and then meditation. Often times we are so hard on our selves thay we forget to be tender. Do metta and ones ur mind feels pleasent ur attention will settle 2. Look ajahn brahm retreats on YouTube.

    Reply
  • I have started to feel a bit depressed when I meditate and it’s putting me off practising. I have been meditatino daily for 5 weeks using mindfulness of breathing. Do you hAve any suggestions? Thank you

    Reply
  • Hello sir.

    i have a query regarding meditation. i have been trying for sometime now but I am not being able to focus my attention on one thought or just my breath. moreover, I keep yawning for some strange reason. My eyes get filled with tears as a result and I get distracted.
    I can not sit for more than 10 mins at a time and I feel like a failure.
    Please give me tips as to how to reduce the yawning at least.
    I meditate indoors. in a dimly lit air conditioned room and I use a meditation tape which makes my focus better.

    Reply
    • Hi, Prakruti.

      I don’t know why you find yourself yawning, but the important thing here is to just accept that it’s happening. It’s not a distraction unless you obsess over it.

      Reply
  • I am confused in doing mindfulness of breathing when I realized to remove my un concious feelings using mindfulness of unconscious feelings.Can u plz tell me how to handle them separately?

    Reply
  • Please please help me D: I’ve become aware of my breathing and can’t stop its been going on for the whole day and now my chest really hurts as do my lungs. I feel like I’m going to die and im really scared. Please help me I tryed the exercise and helps but as soon as I forget about It I remember it and can’t find any peace please please please help me, I’m suffering

    Reply
    • I’m sorry to hear about this, Marshall. You certainly won’t die! Even if you passed out, your breathing would return to a normal pattern. Nothing bad can happen — just discomfort.

      Hopefully you’ll start “forgetting” to control your breathing in this way. In the meantime, I wonder what would happen if you tried holding your breath for as long as you can? I’m wondering if by the time the air hunger forces you to start breathing again, your normal physiological breathing would kick in and override the rather silly desire to control the breathing consciously…

      Reply
  • Just discovered your site after listening to a guided meditation on another site. I would love to take one of the classes. Also dealing with chronic insomnia. Any suggestions. Thanks, Reanna

    Reply
  • Does the counting have any effect on the actual organs of the physical body. For example when we count to 4 hold for 7 and exhale on 8. Why that combination? Does the heart get to rest?

    Reply
    • Holding the breath in that way is not something that we do in this form of meditation. But counting our breathing in the way taught her does have an effect on the body. Counting the out-breaths emphasizes our awareness of that phase of our breathing, and boosts the parasympathetic nervous system (which calms the body). Counting in-breaths gently boosts the sympathetic nervous system, promoting alertness.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Menu