Watching the Breath: Detrimental to Meditation Advancement?

Updated: Jun 23

During meditation this morning, after asana/breath infusion, a few things occurred to me.

inSelf Yoga practitioners, past and present, notice the abundance of oxygen coursing through the fused physical/subtle system when you end your exercise session and sit down for meditation.

We sit in the midst of the results of putting the respiratory system to work to detox and infuse the system. That is the function of utilizing the respiratory system in this method of kundalini yoga.

Once I was comfortable in my meditation posture, awareness touched back upon past group style meditation sessions I experienced. I remembered the common theme among them all – watching the breath. There were different methods for watching it - but they all boiled down to watching it.

New Age meditations, TM, all the Buddhist meditations I’ve ever done in a temple setting, even the meditation instruction I received from the monks at the Sivananda Yoga ashram during teacher training was based on this idea of observation of my respiratory function.

I'm a cooperative student so I did it all those years, watching my breath, as instructed by those, who at the time, I thought must be "authorities" of meditation.

Yet this morning, seven years after abandoning breath watching as a meditation procedure, and taking up inSelf Yoga, I thought, what would happen if I watched the breath today?

So I tried it out. I shifted my observing consciousness from what is now its reflex position in the center of the head and directed it down into the lungs and started watching my breath.

I was only a few breaths in and my vibration lowered - my awareness felt trapped. Limited. My brain felt it couldn't fully detach because it had to stay with the breathing. I quickly understood why I was so ready seven years ago to never hear the words watch your breath ever again.

It’s the attraction to the body. Watching the breath endears you to the body. Connects you to it's most basic rhythm. When I’m watching the breath, the focus is physical, mechanical. Despite the subtle-ness and perceived wondrousness of breathing, it’s still such a grounding, physically based thing. Why not watch the heart beat? Why not tune into an even more subtle rhythm like the cranial sacral pulse? What do we want to focus on a physical pulsation of ANY kind beyond a very beginners level? What would be the point?

Don’t get me wrong, watching the breath has VERY important benefits that are incredibly usable in our lives. It can certainly help you relax, It can quiet the mind down from to much action.

But could it also inhibit you from making progress in meditation?

I think so.

The exercise of stopping the regular thoughts and mind functions is just the first rung on the ladder of climbing up into one’s head center, and then eventually above one’s head, and then far beyond ones’ head, into higher meditation activities – like awareness projection and inter-dimensional encountering with higher beings and vibrations.

Years of being told to watch the breath kept me from doing those amazing things in meditation. Things that now I understand the teachers themselves were not doing, things they knew nothing about. Still so challenged themselves by simply keeping the mind quiet, they couldn't offer more. Juvenile instruction coming from supposed authority figures kept me from letting go of myself all those years, cutting the ties within my self that caused me to stay in my body instead of soaring toward the sky of consciousness.

Watching the breath, for me, was not a long term answer to the challenge of progressive meditation.

What I observed this morning is that watching the breath keeps you in the body. It keeps the mental/spiritual energies engaged with the body. It keeps the brain in a semi-tense state of pressure to observe. It keeps the vibratory level of one's awareness lowered.

The essence of the feelings I get when reading the past times of Lord Krishna is a major inspiration in my meditation practice. This morning the power of His essence came to me again when I recalled Chapter 15 of the Bhagavad Gita.

It’s kind of depressing when I think about it.

In Chapter 15 Lord Krishna describes the creation as being like the banyan tree, with imperceptible roots spreading in all directions. He encourages the listener to cut down this tree with the strong axe of detachment.

In Michael Beloved’s commentary on verse 15.3 he says:

"The destruction of the roots of one’s materialism requires the special individual action of cutting down the connection between oneself and the material world……..The living entity imperils himself by relying on them. Since he developed a taste for the satisfaction gained through such tools of experience, he becomes attached to those tools and the exploitative situations. The supernatural tree of the material world is enduring. And therefore it can only be cut down symbolically by detaching ourselves from its facilities."

Krishna goes on in the next couple verses to describe His supreme residence but then states in verse 7:

My partner is in this world of individualized conditioned beings. He is an eternal individual soul but he draws to Himself the mundane senses of which the mind is the sixth detection devise.

Verse 9:

While governing the sense of hearing, vision, touch, taste, smell and the mind, My partner becomes addicted to the attractive objects.

These verses, looked at anew by my consciousness during morning meditation - and in regard to the popularity of watching one’s breath instruction - caused me to wonder.

I'm sure He takes it in stride, He is God and all, but it seems sad that God’s partner is a causeless addict - drawing to him/herself the mundane elements.

So few of these addicts find recovery and are able to qualify as residents in the supreme abode. But, I guess that's just the way it is.

If there is any point to be extracted from this write up it is that if you use the practice of breath watching beyond a healthy beginners level, it can keep you from being able to lift up your inner energies and connect them with any higher dimensional energies...much less the Lord who speaks to us through the Gita.

Watching the breath keeps you in your body - unable to fly free. At some point, we don't need it to focus on, if we ever even did. There is a magic to detachment - an alchemic energy that literally travels through the brain during this style of Patanjali/inSelf Yoga meditation we practice.

Awareness and practice of this alchemy must be tended to and completed in order for the upward rise of spiritual awareness to happen within us.

I call it a 'complete meditation' - if the energy of detachment travels all the way through from the front to the back of my brain. It's something tangible you can gauge by paying attention to the results of meditation and how the head feels due to the experience. While the meditation does not have to be perfect, if there is such a thing, it needs to be complete. This is something inSelf Yoga helps us develop sensitivity toward.

Even the breath is something that if we pay too much attention to, as little more than a tool for meditation preparation, can keep us connected to the material world, imperiling us through reliance. We must detach from the breath during meditation. Don't let anyone convince you you shouldn't. At least give it a try!


Erinn Earth ~ devaPriya Yogini

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