Is Breathing the Only Thing I Can Watch in Meditation?

I’ve been sitting for over 4 years.  Recently anxiety has been making me feel suffocated and like my throat is closing up.  I’m working on the underlying issues, but this has made it difficult to focus on my breathing any longer than 15 minutes.

Try shifting your attention away from your breath to other sensations of the body.  You might begin your sitting with a survey, head to heel, of just what sensations are present.  Then move the attention systematically from one point to another, or stay with predominant sensations.

You may discover that paying attention to some areas increases anxiety more than others, so adjust accordingly.  Just like you do with pains that make you want to shift your sitting posture, explore it a little first to determine if an adjustment is necessary.  You may discover that your reaction changes and passes away.  If not, then go ahead and move your attention elsewhere.

Perhaps you’d do better switching from mindfulness (Vipassana) to metta practice until your anxiety decreases.  Wishing yourself and others well can be a wonderful antidote to anxiety.  It’s what Buddha taught monks to do when they were afraid of meditating in the forest.

Another possibility is to do walking meditation.  Also, a daily task can be turned into meditation by doing it mindfully.  Combine these suggestions in any way that works for you.  You may feel attached to the way you’ve been practicing and hate to give it up, but don’t worry.  You will definitely still be “really” meditating.

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