Question: I realised that I tend to hold my breath when I practise meditation on mindfulness of breathing (Anapanasati meditation, as a kind a Samatha or calm-abiding meditation). But when I breathe, I would be controlling my breathing, while holding my breath seems natural to me. Why is this so? How can I overcome this?
Answer: Even if holding your breath seems natural, you must realise that it is unnatural – for the simple reason that it leads to shortness of breath and death (though the latter is difficult unless done with an external ‘aid’ forcefully). Holding your breath during meditation can be due to two possible reasons – (1) unmindful tension about meditation itself, with ‘fear’ that it is going to be challenging. (2) At the same time, there might be subconscious thinking that holding your breath helps you to calm down; though it is deep breathing that aids relaxation.
Just as excitement about anything else can make us hold our breath or become short of breath (thus the term ‘breathtaking’), this can happen during meditation too. The irony is that being excited about meditation’s ability to bring us calmness makes us more agitated. The solution is to settle and forget your body and mind, for resetting to your normal breathing mode before starting your actual meditation, by not doing anything special in the moment, to blank out in a relaxed way, by not even watching the breath, which could prove too ‘exciting’ at first.
True relaxation comes from letting go of your body and mind – before watching the breathing process, and doing nothing else, such as becoming excited about the above. If there is tension that makes it hard to relax physically and mentally, take a few deep breaths before normalising your breathing naturally. This itself is a form of preliminary meditation. When breathing has become calm, watch it just as calmly. Being mindful but not interfering with it is how calmness arises. Holding of the breath happens only unmindfully, which interferes with the calm.
The breath is an aid for mindfulness training for calm focus. Even if mastered, it as a clutch has to be let go of eventually, because the breath will run thin and out when dying. If it is attached to, but can’t be found, there will be tension and unhappiness. This is when a steady and everlasting refuge for mindfulness is more fruitful – Amituofo (Amitabha Buddha) – whom, when connected to via sincere Nianfo (mindfulness of his name), eases all tensions with his blessings and bridges us across to his Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss.
Pure Land Practice with Samatha & Vipassana Meditation
How to Ease Tension When Practising Mindfulness of Buddha