Question by M: What are alternatives to mindfulness of breathing meditation?
I have been practicing meditation sporadically for several years, and in recent months have been motivated to practice more deeply and consistently. However, when I try to observe the breath – I find I stop breathing! I can’t simply be with the breath without exerting control, and I inevitably experience sensations of claustrophobia/suffocation. Could someone suggest an alternative method? Thanks.
Answer by Lisa
What you are experiencing is not unusual, and there is no reason to try and avoid it. If you can’t be with the breath without exerting control, then notice you are exerting control at that very second, do your best to let it release, and go back to the breath. If you again notice you are exerting control, again, try to release and go back to the breath. If you experience sensations of claustrophobia or suffocation, then notice them, and go back to the breath. If you experience extremely negative emotional states based on this sense of claustrophobia or suffocation, then notice that. None of these things will last forever. If you try to avoid them, all that will happen is they will find other ways to come back again and again.
In other words, the alternative method is to go right into the experience you are really having.
The other thing I would highly recommend, if you have not already done so, is to go on a meditation retreat (ten days or longer if you can) with an experienced teacher in the type of mediation you are most interested in. It is very wise to have someone to guide you when you experience very unpleasant mindstates. Everyone experiences such things, of course, but the mind can get very tricky with them, so it is excellent, if you can, to have a guide.
I hope this helps!
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