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How Can I Stop Controlling the Breath during Meditation?

Meditation Questions – Answers

How Can I stop Controlling my Breath while Meditating?

Whenever I am meditating I always feel that my breath is not natural and I am breathing forcefully/artificially. Meaning, I feel that I am controlling my breath instead of it being natural.

Could you please help me with how can I make my breath natural?

This is a great question. I don’t have a great answer. I haven’t suffered with the issue of feeling like I am controlling the breath during meditation very much, and people I’ve helped with meditation have very rarely asked this question.

That said, let’s take a look at it.

When focusing on the feeling of the breath at the nose, upper lip, or wherever it is your focus is at you sometimes become aware of the breath. When you do, and when I do now as I sit here and try it, it feels somewhat like I’m controlling the rate of breathing, and possibly the depth of breath coming into the lungs. It doesn’t feel so much like an automatic process when I’m looking at it closely, it looks like I’m consciously choosing some of the factors that go on during breathing.

Even if I’m not, it can feel like that. There is an idea in my head that I’m controlling it too much.

A meditation practice consists of looking at the breath to study it and learn about it. Sometimes while we’re doing this we have a stronger feeling that we’re controlling crucial aspects of the breath like timing and volume. In truth, sometimes we are. It’s a bit hard to remain a passive observer and watch the breath so closely, isn’t it?

I get this while running sometimes. I’m aware that I’m breathing in for 2-steps and breathing out for 2-steps. I tell myself that I’m probably controlling the rate I’m breathing because it doesn’t make too much sense that I’m breathing at this same rate regardless of how fast I go. It seems as if letting go completely of controlling the breath would at least sometimes lead to a 2.3 step per in-breath or out-breath. Right? If it was totally natural breathing, then yes, it probably would at some specific pace.

But we’re just sitting on the floor breathing and it seems like we’re controlling the breath.

What I did to resolve this issue when it surfaced was this…

I watched the breath at my nose for as long as I could, then when concentration got flitty, I’d look at the breath and what it was doing. I’d just be an impartial observer. I noticed that the best way to do this for me was to:

  1. Be completely relaxed. There can be no tension at all in your stomach, chest, shoulders, neck, arms, anywhere. When there is tension, it feels like you are controlling something. When you are flaccid, compeltely relaxed, the feeling of control is less. To me, this is the most important part. The others below are a bit nebulous and hard to grasp. If your body is completely relaxed then you don’t feel the muscles in your chest, stomach, and diaphragm and you won’t consciously or subconsciously attempt to control them by contracting or extending the relaxation phase of the muscles around the lungs.
  2. Be sure to sit in a way where you are not rocking forward or backward. If you are, this increases the feeling that you’re controlling the breath because your entire body is moving back and forth depending on the volume of air and frequency of breaths. It contributes to the mind wanting to take control of these aspects of the breath.
  3. Watch only the part of the breath right before and after the exhalation. As you’re breathing out, notice where the breath begins to inhale. It starts just as the brainstem (midbrain, the pons, and the medulla) part of your brain, tells it to inhale. Breathing goes on without your control whether you’re looking at it or not, and it does so at its own rate unless you’re controlling it. By watching that point where you are exhaling and then there is no breath leaving your lungs, and then suddenly you are inhaling because the brainstem started the inhalation, just watch it. Don’t force it yourself consciously at all. Just watch.
  4. Imagine your breath as circling through your lungs in a continuous track. It enters through your nostrils at the top of the circle or oval. It comes down your trachea and into the lungs where it bottoms out in the bottom of the oval and comes back up and out your nostrils, then cycles through again mixed with new air.
  5. Don’t breathe in much at all. Make sure you’re at your baseline minimum for breathing. Don’t ever add to it. Don’t breathe in deeper —ever—there is just no need. You’re getting plenty of air because you’re not doing anything. You’re just sitting there. You only require a fraction of the air you are getting in through your lungs if you’re breathing the minimum.

In #3, the reason I say to watch the breath at the bottom of the cycle – where the breath is almost exhaled and you’re waiting to inhale, is because if you look at the top of the breathing cycle, there is a tendency to choose the amount of inhalation by letting it go on a long time or short time.

Just be a passive observer of the breath at the nose.

What Else Can You Try?

One exercise you might do is to forcefully breathe in and out a couple of times. Do it at random times. Dramatically and consciously choose the timing and volume of your inhalation and exhalations. Then go back to watching without influencing them. Learn the difference. Exaggerate the difference so you can more plainly see how different it is.

Then when you’re meditating and breathing very gently, just waiting for the body to start/finish the exhale and start/finish the inhalation, it will be easier to overlook the idea that you are consciously influencing it.

I hope that helps.

Feel free to ask any questions below. I’ll add the comments section on this page.

2 thoughts on “How Can I Stop Controlling the Breath during Meditation?

  • August 8, 2020 at 12:43 am
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    Hi, this article really helped me with some ideas, i too have the same challenge at the moment, im still, calm, and relaxed but i cant get ‘past’ the idea im controlling my breath, i also notice a tightness in my chest which brings anger when i cant completely let go of my breathing. I would be really interested in your perspective of what comes next in the meditation process, ie once you get past the breathing challenge we talk to here, what is the experience? losing yourself?

    Thanks very much for your great work

  • August 8, 2020 at 6:44 am
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    Hi Rob,

    Glad it’s helping some. I think don’t focus on what’s next, just focus on the breath. 😛

    What’s next is to be able to focus on the breath in complete attention without the mind wandering at all. A very sharp focus on the breath at a tiny spot on the nose or on the upper lip. Wherever you feel the air coming in and out. I have a cheap book at Amazon that really details it in as easy a way as I know how to share. “Meditation for Beginners – A 22-Day Course.” It’s not a strict course, go at your own pace. It’s $3.99 at the moment. Here >

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