Panic over breath stopping

A commonly asked question about meditation

Q: As I practice Hong-Sau, my breath slows down, and sometimes it seems it’s going to stop completely. That’s when I start to get more and more anxious. I feel like I’m going to die, and I start gasping for air. Am I doing something wrong? What can I do about it?

A: (from Nayaswami Gyandev, Ananda Village)

It sounds like you’re doing everything right, not wrong at all. In correct practice, the breath should slow down, more and more. In deepest practice, it will actually stop for a time, and you will experience a highly enjoyable, deeply rejuvenating state of awareness.

Because the mind is so accustomed to breathing, it sometimes equates breathing with life itself, in which case approaching breathlessness can feel a bit scary at first. But have no fear: When your body needs to breathe, it will breathe, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. So you will not die! That alone should begin to set your mind at ease. Over time, you will be able to stay more and more relaxed as the breath slows down.

Besides, your breath naturally slows down when you concentrate. For example, if you’re utterly absorbed in a good novel or movie, your breath might even stop for a while without you being aware of it. So it’s not dangerous: You’ve done it before, it was part of an enjoyable experience, and best of all, you’re still alive.

In general, when I help an individual with an issue like this, I also offer one or more of the following additional ideas:

  1. If you feel anxiety creeping into your meditation, notice whether physical tension is creeping into your body. If that’s happening, stop your practice briefly, and gently tense and relax your body a few times, especially the area(s) where you feel the tension. As long as tension is there, it will reinforce the anxiety; without tension, it is easier to let go of the anxiety. So inhale and tense, then exhale and relax, feeling that the exhalation is carrying away the released tension. Then return to your practice.
  2. If anxiety arises, give extra attention to your exhalations and the “Sau” part of the mantra for a few breaths. Exhalations help cleanse the body of carbon dioxide; feel that they also cleanse body and mind of anxiety. “Sau” is a soothing sound; feel it soothing your mind, relaxing you, as anxiety departs with the exhalation.
  3. From the outset of your practice, notice the natural pauses between the movements of the breath. Consciously enjoy those pauses without trying to prolong them in any way. If you get into that enjoyment when the pauses are brief and not at all threatening, it will be easier to continue that enjoyment — even deepen it (more enjoyment!) — as the pauses lengthen.
  4. Keep God with you as you meditate. Cultivate confidence that, as long as God is with you, you have nothing to fear. And the good news is that God is always with you. So if anxiety arises, offer it to God: “God, that’s your problem. I give it into Your hands. You are my Protector and Sustainer. I give myself into Your hands.”

For those of you who are devotees of Paramhansa Yogananda (or curious) you may want to check out this archive blog posting from Nayaswami Diksha.

I am afraid to go breathless in meditation

“Master,” said a disciple, “I am afraid to go breathless in meditation. What can I do to overcome this limitation?”

“What you are facing is a normal obstacle on the path,” replied Yogananda. “’False notion,’ it is called. You are fearing something that, to the soul, is perfectly natural: deep stillness…   Read More


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