Just starting with meditation, I can't get the breathing right.

As soon as I concentrate on breathing (as there is not much else to concentrate on), I unvolunteraly assume concious control over when to breath in and out. That leads to either to little or to much breathing and makes me feel dizzy.

How ever, when I stop conciously breathing in and out, I don't breath at all - my breathing reflex wont kick in as long as I think about breathing. The result is an awkward cycle of holding breath, turning blue, conciously breathing like just surfaced from a freedive, holding breath again.

Not thinking about breathing works only so long before I realise that I avoid to think about breathing...

Is this common at all? How do you handle this?


8 Answers 8


I bicycle regularly so maybe I'm good at breathing (get a good amount of oxygen from each breath).

If I sit at rest I seem to need about 4 breaths per minutes. Apparently that's abnormal (maybe even pathological), the internet says that 12/minute is normal for adults, 8/minute for athletes. Also I've been diagnosed with sleep apnea so I have a CPAP machine for sleeping. I say this to warn you that "your mileage may vary".

Anyway, sitting at rest it takes me about:

  1. 5 seconds to inhale
  2. 5 seconds to exhale
  3. Pause for about 5 seconds, until my body feels it wants to begin to take another breath to avoid a shortage

So 15 seconds per cycle, 4 per minute, including a 5 second pause in each cycle.

I breathe continuously on a bicycle (i.e. during aerobic exercise), and don't try to breathe continuously when I'm at rest, i.e. at rest I do expect to pause between each breath -- and not take the next breath until I feel I begin to need it.

It doesn't have to be exact: if you start a breath a couple of seconds too late or too early, it doesn't matter.

By breathing deeply and continuously I can slow that to 3 breaths/minute:

  1. 10 seconds to inhale
  2. 10 seconds to exhale
  3. No pause between breaths

That feels abnormal though, an effort to breathe extra deeply and extra slowly.

Anyway, maybe what you're missing is the pause between breaths. IMO if I didn't pause (when I'm at rest) I'd hyperventilate. You can vary the duration of the pause. The trick is not to begin to inhale, until you begin to feel that you begin to need the next breath. If you wait until you just begin to need to breath, don't worry: because you're at rest you'll easily be able to satisfy your need with just one breath, maybe two at most.

Sometimes there's a sudden urge to take an extra quick inhale. If that happens then just let that happen.

Also you wrote, "an awkward cycle of holding breath", as if you're pausing with your lungs full. I pause after each exhale:

  • Inhale engages some muscular effort
  • Exhale releases that muscular effort
  • Pause/idle while the muscles are at rest (not breathing and the body held upright just by being balanced on an upright skeleton, minimum use of muscles to hold yourself in place).

See also How to breathe into your stomach and not get light headed during meditation?

I kind of recommend the book, Anapanasati -- Unveiling the Secrets of Life by Bikkhu Buddhadasa ... plenty of detail, adapt as necessary.


When I started meditation it was also a major problem for me.

Just as you described, when you are unconsiously controlling your breath while trying not to, you either breath too much or too little. The sensation is really unpleasant as, in addiation to the bad breathing, it feels like you are not doing the meditation right. This is a good thing to realize, because you will know that you are controlling your breath as soon as these symptoms arise.

So one of the reaction you may have is trying to force not controlling your breath, and to make all kind of mental effort. This is not a good solution, because it will create tension and hinder your concentration even more.

What tend to work for me is the exact opposite reaction: just relax, take a step back Think that this meditation is a skill that needs a lot of time and practice, and that you are not supposed to do everything perfectely when you are beginning. Maybe take a little break from the breathing, switch your object of concentration to the sounds in the room, or the sensation in your feets, while your breath naturaly comes back to it's own pace. Then, rather than trying on the breath as one single entity, you may try to break it down in several parts: experience what sensations arise on the inspiration, the expiration, what you feel in your nose, in the abdomen, what is the quality of air in the room, it is warm, cold, etc.

Rather than focusing on controlling or not controlling the breath, or trying to experience the pace of the flow of air, which can be very challenging at first, you might try to focus on other sensation that involve the breath, like those that I described above, which I believe are easier to meditate on at this stage.

As you progress, you will find it easier not to controll the breath, remember that it is a skill that you do not need to master right now. It is really easy to make wrong jugement about yourself because you feel like you are not progressing quickly enough, or because you feel like your meditation session is not working as intented. I think what really matters at first, is sitting through all of this, no matter what happens. The key is to relax and let the problems arise, notice them and let them disappear by themselves. No forcing, no jugement.

Good luck :)


Even trying not to control is a form of control. Trying not to control the breath is just further control of the breath.

The best thing to do is to just accept the breath as it is even when it seems we are controlling it. Our beginning mindful dealings with the breath often come with this confusion about trying not to control our own breath. When I accepted the breath and any control I might be exerting over it, there seemed to be no longer any problem with controlling my breath anymore. I just observed the breath in whatever state it was in and the perceived problem went away.

Here is a video of Bhante Yuttadhammo explaining this better than me:

https://youtu.be/HkgWBDwUtIM P0


Let me first assure you that nothing bad is going to happen if you allow yourself to stop breathing. Your reptilian brain is eventually going to demand breath and you will have no choice but to inhale. What you are experiencing is actually a very good sign and one that indicates that you are moving very close to what we in Zen would call shunyata or Mu. The trick here is to not get swept up in the feelings of agitation and frustration that these breath stoppage are causing you. Instead, sink into the blank spaces of non-breathing. Have complete faith in your body's ability to take care of its own breathing without your willful intervention. Relax.

As you do this, those first couple of inhalations may come deeply and sharply. That's ok. Let your body take what air it wants. As you keep relaxing and relinquishing control, you will start to notice those breaths become softer and more subtle. You exhalations will start to slow down. Eventually, you will reach a state where the breath is long, slow, and deep like a person sleeping. This is where you want to be. Trust in your body's ability to find its own way there.


Forget about breathing in and out and just focus on the sensation that arises and falls when the air hits the nose. If wanting to control arises, note it as wanting... wanting... wanting... until it goes away and get back to noting the sensation at the nose. If worry arises that you are controlling, note it as worrying... worrying... worrying... until it disappears and get back to noting the sensation at the nose.

Do not assume things like 'I','me' or 'mine' when there are only 6 senses and none of them can sense 'I', "I am", 'me' or 'mine'. They can only sense sense-objects.

  • +1, though maybe at this stage of the game, it might be better to watch the rise and fall of the abdomen. The nose might be a little too subtle at this point.
    – user698
    Jan 3, 2018 at 2:13
  • 1
    Abdomen or nose, just stick to one place. Jan 3, 2018 at 2:20
  • Thanks! Please not that I don't have an "urge" to control breathing, it's simply that as soon as I think about breathing I stop to breathing automatically. Jan 3, 2018 at 10:37
  • Welcome! Meditate on the thinking as thinking... thinking... thinking... or worrying... worrying... worrying... Jan 3, 2018 at 11:38

You are learning that breath is unstable, mind is unstable, you cant just look at the breath. There is a lesson here.


recommend to see my answer in https://buddhism.stackexchange.com/a/24514/10100

For disappearing breath issue, the practitioner is facing to...

  1. Fear of death because of the disappearing breath.

  2. Doubt wheather "how to manage disappearing breath situation" because the practitioner may be misunderstanding wheather "I am not breathing" although the fact is the practitioner still breathing but his concentration is not strong enough, weak, to find the breath.

So, the practitioner should resolves those issues by realizing that he is not the excepted person who can be alive without breath. By this way, the practitioner will leave those issues and be back to concentrate on the tip of the nose and wait for the appearing of the breath without fear, worry and doubt issues. See the path of purification]1 page 276:

  1. These are the means for doing it. The bhikkhu should recognize the unmanifest state of the meditation subject and consider thus: “Where do these in-breaths and out-breaths exist? Where do they not? In whom do they exist? In whom not?” Then, as he considers thus, he finds that they do not exist in one inside the mother’s womb, or in those drowned in water, or likewise in unconscious beings,58 or in the dead, or in those attained to the fourth jhána, or in those born into a fine-material or immaterial existence, or in those attained to cessation [of perception and feeling]. So he should apostrophize himself thus: “You with all your wisdom are certainly not inside a mother’s womb or drowned in water or in the unconscious existence or dead or attained to the fourth jhána or born into the fine-material or immaterial existence or attained to cessation. Those in-breaths and out-breath are actually existent in you, only you are not able to discern them because your understanding is dull.” Then, fixing his mind on the place normally touched [by the breaths], he should proceed to give his attention to that.

One should not resort to controlled or forced breathing as this practice is Pranayama one of the contemporary practices the Buddha tried and rejected in favour of Anapanasati as described in Ariyapariyesana Sutta, Mahā Sīha,nāda Sutta, Maha Saccaka Sutta.

In Anapanasati one just watchers the breath passively with no voluntary alterations.

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