I can't find the breath (sometimes I can, but the majority of the time I can't)

  • I can't notice the rising and falling of the stomach even when lying and putting my hand on it and also to notice the breath in general is very hard for me.

Now I understand I can say if I don't notice it "knowing" or "breath" etc - but then I wait and wait and nothing - and in the mean time lots of secondary objects come up. If I follow them though its not good- because you should have a primary object to build concentration, so I need an "anchor"

So when I say "knowing" and then what should I do? Just focus on my belly? And if i don't feel anything? Not even in other areas like the nose - what should I do - focus harder? Follow secondary objects only?

I have practiced for a long time now (did retreats etc) and I thought this problem would fix itself, but I still have this problem. When I meditate I do 1 hour walking, then 1 hour sitting (mahasi style).

  • Hi and welcome to Buddhism SE. We have a Guide and a Resource section for new users that you might like.
    – user2424
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 9:54
  • Thanks - i used to ask and answer in the old format before stackexchange
    – breath
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 10:18
  • What kind of retreats did you attend?
    – user2424
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 18:40
  • 1
    Are you practicing strictly the Mahadi Sayadaw tradition?
    – Ryan
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 20:44
  • 1
    yes i practice just mahasi sayadaw style
    – breath
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 16:44

6 Answers 6


Hmmmm... interesting. Try this: do controlled breathing for a dozen breaths (count breaths on fingers and do a moderately-slow deliberate breath-ins and breath-outs), then for a dozen breaths let the breathing happen on auto-pilot (keep counting on fingers. I assume you have twelve fingers LOL).

When you breathe deliberately you can't possibly NOT notice the breath, right? After all, at that time you are deliberately using the muscles of the chest and diaphragm to suck air into your lungs. So you should feel yourself pulling pulling pulling not too fast, slowing down, then stopping, holding a little, then going down and out out out not too fast, slowing down again, a tiny pause. It is what you yourself are doing, so you can't miss it, right?

Then when you let it happen naturally, the same attention you used for deliberate breathing should continue on to natural breathing.

Also, do you sit in Lotus / Half-lotus? Try sitting in Vajrasana - it arches your back a little more and forces to open the chest and diaphragm. Perhaps (I don't really know but I'm guessing) your breathing is too shallow because you are in the habit of blocking your lower abdomen? Vajrasana is a good posture for this kind of practice, to penetrate the lower chakras.


That shouldn't be a problem. Putting the hand on the abdomen is acceptable and probably, after awhile, the rise and fall should be able to be seen without the hand. Also, it's ok to meditate while laying down were the abdomen is easier to experience.

If you really can't experience the rise and fall of the breath then another object can be used as the primary object as I mention below.

The question starts:

Now I understand I can say if I don't notice it "knowing" or "breath" etc - but then I wait and wait and nothing - and in the mean time lots of secondary objects come up.

If you are noting and are mindful that you are "knowing" then when are you waiting? Never wait while practicing. One meditation object is not better or worse than any other meditation object. One's attitude towards anything during practice should be nonjudgmental and impersonal. If there is a judgment or a reaction then try to catch that phenomena and note it. I mean, if one is waiting and waiting, one might notice that one dislikes the waiting. Then one should try to catch that feeling of disliking so one can be mindful of the disliking(as a secondary object) and note it as "disliking" or "aversion".

If I follow them though its not good- because you should have a primary object to build concentration, so I need an "anchor"

The knowing of the breath as undetectable is a fine anchor, you can change the anchor but maybe not if you can never detect the breath. It's commonly changed to the feeling of the body touching whatever it touches such as the feeling of ones bottom touching floor.

I have practiced for a long time now (did retreats etc) and I thought this problem would fix itself, but I still have this problem. When I meditate I do 1 hour walking, then 1 hour sitting (mahasi style).

If you have a teacher you should listen like you have never listened before. Everyone who meditates can cut out years of bad practice by getting good guidance from a good teacher and by listening very carefully.

  • i listen to him he told me to note "knowing" and than focus on the breath - but still the time that passes is too much - i can catch the disliking its there no doubt - but many more secondery objects arise as well - but not much of the rising and falling
    – breath
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 6:05
  • 2
    When you're as stubborn as, well, me, it's very hard to simply "listen better". However this answer makes some good points about technique.
    – Anthony
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 3:20

I would advise you to try the following:

1) You need to greatly decrease your sitting and walking time. If you aren't yet able to stay with the breath, you will be better off doing smaller sessions since , presumably, your ability to do walking is fine, this will help build concentration (/as walking does in general). There is also not much sense doing such long sessions if you haven't properly worked up to that level. It's far more beneficial to meditate mindfully for 10 minutes than to sit there unmindfully for 60. Start much smaller, and very gradually increase :)

2) I would try laying down if you find it this difficult to find the breath. Instead of sitting, lay on your back, and even place your hands on your stomach if need be. Lying is a more relaxed position and should put you more at ease, making it easier to focus on your breath. Once you find you are able to focus on the breath while lying, perhaps increase your time lying from 10 to 15 to 20 minutes, over the course of a couple weeks. And then from there you may consider to begin doing sitting again.

So when I say "knowing" and then what should I do? Just focus on my belly? >And if i don't feel anything? Not even in other areas like the nose - what >should I do - focus harder? Follow secondary objects only?

You should attempt to return your focus to the rising and falling of the stomach, however, it's more important to develop a clear comprehension of where the mind is and what state it is in at any particular moment. You don't HAVE to be with or stay with the breath. You will be better off letting go of the desire to have awareness of the breath, as this will only create suffering. Have no expectation of the breath being there for you. Instead, with compassion, just observe where the mind is and in what state it is in.

What you are experiencing here is the uncontrollable nature of all phenomenon :) As you can see, because you have an expectation that your meditation should be like X, and instead it is like Y, you suffer. You must let go of this, and instead, just know, "this is how it is for now".

I would also advise you read Ven. Yuttadhammos booklet : How to meditate

He also teaches in the Mahasi Sayadaw tradition, so this booklet will give you good instruction into your own practice, and should help clear up any confusion for you.

I hope this helps - best of luck

  • i do the time my teacher tells me to do . secondary object are fine- but if the are secondary if i just jump from one to another they become primary objects and that wont lead me far
    – breath
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 10:49
  • I have read his book (and others) - and i still dont know how to solve this problem
    – breath
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 12:08
  • There is no problem to solve :) Let go of your need to control your meditation, this is the only issue. If your mind wont go to the breath, do not force it. Just be with the mind wherever it is and however it is.
    – Ryan
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 12:12
  • 1
    Yes you can :) Concentrate and be mindful of where the mind is. If there is restlessness, just know "Restless, restless".
    – Ryan
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 12:40
  • 4
    There is nothing wrong with being restless, so long as you know that there is restlessness.
    – Ryan
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 12:40

I have practiced for a long time now (did retreats etc) and I thought this problem would fix itself

1)."I have practiced for a long time now (did retreats etc)" this sound like you are expecting something.(think about what is that? )

If you are willing to calmness - That is it.
Do not fear it. Let it be happening.

2). in question say ..because you should have a primary object...(to whom?)

so I need an "anchor"

3). Theoretically "The Anchor" is "Reality"(or any other similar word.)

4.) "Follow secondary objects only?" Can you explain them. (Are they same or differ in time).

5.) "So when I say "knowing" then what should I do?" Try to know "knowing" (Keep awareness what is happening, just see, no need to think).


You really do not have to feel the touch sensation of the breath to start with. Look directly into Lord Buddha's words in Anapanasathi Sutta. You have to establish your awareness at the center of the upper lip and you should be aware whether you are breathing in or out, long or short, etc. If you do feel any sensations at the center of the upper lip notice it also. If you cannot track whether you are breathing in out out, long or short few intentional slightly deep breaths are OK but you should stop making intentional breathing once you get to this.

Secondary objects (thinking and pondering) are verbal fabrications. Since you are trying to calm these and other fabrication you have to anchor your mind on an object which like the center of the upper lip (both Kaya and Vedana).


  • I Thought Breath was talking about the Mahasi Vipassana approach. In Mahasi meditation, a secondary object doesn't mean a defilment, it means any other object of experience other than the primary object of breath. Vedana would be a secondary object.
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 15:52
  • Secondary object is not a defilement. It is verbal fabrications if the secondary object is thinking and pondering (wondering mind) as per the Suttas or words of the Buddha. Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 17:37
  • If a Vipassana meditator changes objects from the breath when he feels it's appropriate mindfulness and momentary concentration to do so then that is wondering mind? If so, then how is the rest of experience besides the breath known? How is the Four Foundation of Mindfulness seen? How is wisdom gained? I thought you where saying that you recommend Anapana in the beginning to raise concentration and then at some point start practicing some kind of Vipassana. How is Vipassana practiced then?
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 19:01
  • Anapana has all the 4 Satthipatanas in it. The each of the triads correspond to the Satthipatanas. You can switch to something like scanning the body meditation as you want to make your self sensitive to phenomena throughout the body or whole body (Sabbakayapatisamvedi). Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 4:36

For this meditation one needs the sitting posture with a straightened upper body and legs crossed. The Blessed One always recommended this sitting posture for anapanasati meditation. The Blessed One had not advocated a sitting posture for any other type of meditation. However, a person who has gained mental development through anapanasati meditation, can then continue by maintaining any posture.

“Ujum kayam panidhaya parimukham satim upatthapetva” – “Holding his body erect, he sets mindfulness on the body.”

Then, the normal breath should be noticed and observed. It is essential to be mindful of the breath. But, are we able to at once focus the mind on the breath and eliminate all other thoughts? No, it is difficult to do so. The mind wanders to other thoughts. This is the nature of the unrestrained body and mind. That is why it is essential to first discipline ourselves in speech and action. Then, we can train our mind for meditation.

If you have performed an unskilful action with your body and speech, your mind gets agitated and keeps on repenting the act. To avoid this, one should have a strong determination to preserve mindfulness, and never act mindlessly. If we entertain various kinds of distracting thoughts, we cannot train the mind to concentrate on the object of meditation. That is why the mental calm through virtue is important.

The foundation is virtue or morality (sila). This is the discipline in speech, action and thought. Control of verbal and physical action is somewhat easy. The more difficult task is controlling the mind. Nevertheless, there is a technique for disciplining the mind. It is called the restraint of faculties. First, a person would abstain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and taking liquor or drugs that cause intoxication. Now, he is controlled with respect to physical action. Then, he would abstain from false speech, divisive speech, abusive speech and idle chatter. Now, he has anchored himself in refraining from unskilful actions with both body and speech. The next step would be controlling of mind. Having developed the virtues that purify speech and action, cleansing his thoughts is now a less difficult task.

What would be the process he adopts for mental development? He would go about it in the following manner. We have five physical sense organs – eye, ear, nose, tongue and body. The awareness or consciousness comes through these sense organs. He begins by preventing the cultivation of unwholesome thoughts. Let’s assume there is something that is unwholesome and blameworthy, yet we desire it very much. What should we do in this situation? We must be intelligent enough to think thus: ‘Although I am enjoying this at this moment, it will bring painful consequences throughout samsara’. In this manner, with the understanding of the misery and suffering of endless samsara, every effort must be made to prevent the arising of evil and unwholesome thoughts. This is the way to establish a solid base for developing the fourfold mindfulness.

The in-breathing and out-breathing we know is automatic, and this happens throughout the day. However, when we try to breathe mindfully it is indeed complicated. Some people face difficulties in breathing when they try to breathe consciously, or mindfully. Some cannot notice the breath. The breath flows freely in its own natural rhythm; and normally, this flow of breath is not noticed. However, it is not easy to be mindful of the breath.

Start your meditation on mindfulness of in and out breathing with your eyes closed. Merely allow the breath to ebb and flow freely under the light of full awareness. Your one and only aim is to focus the mind on the breath. You should not try to find the point where the moving air strokes the nostrils, but keep your focus at the nose breath. Breathe in and breathe out mindfully with full awareness. Your breathing should be very natural and effortless.

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