I keep controlling the breath as 'default mode'

Niclas, modified 1 Year ago at 1/7/23 4:22 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 1/7/23 4:22 AM

I keep controlling the breath as 'default mode'

Posts: 5 Join Date: 10/11/19 Recent Posts
Greetings everyone.

I hope you are doing well.

The past 1.5 years I have had problems with the habit of controlling the breath as my default state of mind. That is when I try to sleep, go for a walk, reading, sitting and doing nothing, etc. It increases my heart rate and make me feel stressed. I sometime feel tension in my diaphragm if I keep controlling it for too long. It challenges my ability to enjoy the activity I am doing and my ability to stay calm. I have tried focusing on sensations of the body and contact points but I feel that I keep controlling the breath "in the background". If I try to let go of the breath completly I find myself holding my breath.

I don't feel the increased heart rate or controlling the breath when my mind is occupied by something else like my thoughts or watching a movie (unless something in the movie reminds me of "being present")

I have been to two doctors and they said nothing is wrong. I should just "stop thinking about it and don't meditate". I did that for 1 year. Unfortunately, It did not work. I have tried doing loving-kindness and using mantras but it did not help me. Perhaps I have not tried this for long enough.

I generally don't feel stressed in my daily life or any anxiety so it is hard for me to imagine that this is the cause. Prior to this habbit of over-controlling my breath I had a very stable mediation practis.

I will kindly ask for help. I don't know how to deal with it and I can feel that it is slowly becomming too big of a burden to bare for me.

I wish you a beautiful day.
George S, modified 1 Year ago at 1/7/23 7:10 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 1/7/23 7:10 AM

RE: I keep controlling the breath as 'default mode'

Posts: 2722 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
I generally don't feel stressed in my daily life or any anxiety so it is hard for me to imagine that this is the cause.

Maybe you're just unaware of the anxiety in daily life.
Griffin, modified 1 Year ago at 1/7/23 8:22 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 1/7/23 8:19 PM

RE: I keep controlling the breath as 'default mode'

Posts: 271 Join Date: 4/7/18 Recent Posts
Here is how I overcame a similar problem in my meditation that lasted for years, I hope this could help you, I will copy my response from another discussion:

I had a similar problem. When I became aware of the breath, it would just stop, and I needed to control it in order to breathe. There was just a long pause after exhale that lasted until the feeling of suffocation made me take a breath by concious control. It's probably some kind of energetic issue related to anxiety and need for control.I have largely succeeded to minimize this problem, after much time and experimenting with many strategies. I could write about it in great detail, but here is the gist of it:Instead of percieving the pause after exhale as the "passive inactivity", I have started to percieve it as an active pressure that blocks the spontanious motion of breath cycle. As I became more and more aware of this pressure (subtle muscular contraction in the belly/diaphragm area), at some point the pressure seems to become a voluntary process. In other words, when the pressure is sufficiently illuminated by the light of awareness, it no longer seems like an autonomus involuntary force - on the contrary, it gradually becomes obvious that, in order for the blockage to continue, I have to semi-intentionaly keep the contraction going. At that point I could learn to gradually let go of this contraction, and then an in-breath would happen by itself (although in the beggining there was some feeling of "I am controling it" left, but that is an illusion that should be ignored).Sorry if this sounds confusing, and please ask for any needed clarification. Maybe you have a different variation of this problem, but try something alont the lines of the described basic process: 1. Stop breathing voluntarily and see what happens, whether breath starts happening spontaniously (without control) or it stops, 2. When the breath stops, scan the abdominal area of the body and eventually you will become aware of an active contraction which is keeping the spontanious breath from occuring. 3. At some point (probably at the peak of the pressure, accompanied with the feeling of suffocation), you will recognize that you are keeping this pressure, 4. Let go of the pressure and spontanius breath will appear, at least for a second, 5. Repeat.Sorry for many spelling mistakes, I am writing on the phone and in a hurry. You will probably also find this discussion interesting: /r/streamentry/comments/kjgnt8/comment/gh7mkp5Here are the steps of the method I have described above, that I have posted on another forum. I am copy-pasting it here for you, I explained the process more clearly there, and with some preliminary steps:
  1. Preparation: pranayama – inhale for 4 seconds, exhale for 8 (in order to make the body adapted to lower oxygen levels, so the feeling of suffocation is less intense later),
  2. Exhale by consciously contracting belly muscles, inhale by letting them go (feel the spontaneity of inhaling this way, relax into the pleasantness of letting go; it’s like doing progressive muscle relaxation with your belly),
  3. Stop controlling the breath in any way. In my case, after an exhale there will be no spontaneous inhale. Have this notion: it is not that the body is “lazy” to inhale, it’s not about lack of activity; on the contrary, the reason there is no inhale is that there is this subtle tension in stomach and chest that keeps it from coming. So, there is no effort needed for spontaneous breathing, but unconscious tension is blocking it. It is the same natural tension that is needed for the end of an exhale to happen, the problem is just that this tension continues instead of transforming into inhale.
  4. Become aware of this subtle tension. As you pour your awareness into it, and as it stops being unconscious/automatic, at some point you will get the feeling that the tension is not autonomous – you will feel like it’s there because “you” are maintaining it. Then, you will get the freedom of choice to let it go. The focus is passive (“I let this tension to come to me / show up”) and not active (“I will search/find/discover the tension”). It is important to have the attitude: “I will be aware of tensions, accepting them, and letting them dissolve on their own, maybe with gentle help”, not the attitude “I am focusing in order to get rid of those tensions by relaxing them”. Also, don’t think about spontaneous breath as a future goal in mind, your only goal is to focus on tensions in the present moment and gently allow them to relax.
  5. In time, with many repetitions, the breathing is going to become automatic – it is going to feel shallow but pleasant, spontaneous and intimate. The body will feel relaxed and at ease. From this place you can do samatha practice or any other meditation you prefer. Maybe there will remain some illusory feeling of guilt (“Did I control this breath? Did I made this inhale or did it happen spontaneously?”). Those doubts are irrational and false, just ignore them.
  6. In some cases, this spontaneous breathing won’t happen – instead, the feeling of suffocation is going to emerge and it may destabilize your concentration. In that case, don’t worry. The fact that you were aware of the tensions for some time is going to make it easier to dissolve them in the future. Just start again at step one (pranayama).
This method helped me, but of course, variations may be needed for different cases.​​​​​​
Niclas, modified 1 Year ago at 1/12/23 9:14 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 1/12/23 9:14 AM

RE: I keep controlling the breath as 'default mode'

Posts: 5 Join Date: 10/11/19 Recent Posts
@purple-griffin  Thank you very much for your reply. I will let you know that it is helping me a lot.
George S, modified 1 Year ago at 1/12/23 11:29 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 1/12/23 10:19 AM

RE: I keep controlling the breath as 'default mode'

Posts: 2722 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
 Are you focussing on the sensations of breathing at the diaphram? That could exacerbate control issues, because obviously it's the diaphram which is driving the breath. Try focussing instead on the sensation of air passing through the nostrils (the so-called anapanasti spot). The nice thing about this object is that they are very subtle sensations, because the nasal hairs are so sensitive as well as the skin around the upper lip, as well as being quite pleasurable, so you automatically find yourself getting calmer to better feel them ... but as the breath becomes calmer, the sensations become even more subtle and pleasurable, so you find yourself getting even calmer to detect them etc. It's a postive feedback loop of increasing calmness & pleasure, to the extent that eventually the physical sensations of the breath disappear completely and you are left with a bright point of energetic focus which is slightly outside the physical body, which is the basis for a purely mind-created object (nimitta).

EDIT: With this method, even if your breathing does become irregular or strained, you do not need to worry about it because your only job is to keep focussing on the sensations of air passing through the nostrils, which will naturally deepen concentration and calmness (eventually!) And actually, significant variation in breathing patterns is to be expected in the early stages of this practice: steps 1-2 of anapansati - awareness of when the breath is long (relaxed) vs short (labored).