Hong Sau: Who Is Controlling the Breath?

Question

I am a long time meditation who has a difficult time letting the breath go during hong sau. I can’t seem to let go. I have tried numerous recommendations!

—Garry Jenness, USA

Answer

Dear Garry,

Letting go of the breath means, of course, letting the breath go on its own without controlling it. Oddly enough, there are times or meditators who actually find they cannot tell whether they are controlling the breath or simply observing the breath! It sounds like this is your issue for the time being.

In fact, the more you focus on the question the more difficult it can be to know the answer! I suggest “a wee bit o’ humor” in such cases! In short, the answer lies in relaxing more deeply and forgetting about it. You’ve evidently been given other suggestions too, but I’ll offer what I can as well.

  1. Start Hong Sau by intentionally controlling the breath. (True, this is not standard practice instructions!) Be sure to mentally use the mantra as you gently work the breath in and out.
  2. Start by doing this and observing the chest and lungs: not the breath in the nostrils (yet). Do somewhere between six and twelve of these or as long as you like.
  3. Next: pause for a few moments. Relax.
  4. When the breath begins again, this time follow it in the nasal passages as we are taught. Don’t bother to decide or attempt to know whether you are controlling the breath or whether the breath moves on its own — not important (for now).
  5. Continue in this way: sometimes it may feel like you are controlling the breath; other times, you may be unsure.
  6. Continue this without any regard as to who or what is controlling the breath. Do Hong Sau in this manner for days or even weeks until your subconscious or conscious mind is no longer interested in the question itself.

Put it this way: Who, after all, is the Doer of all things? Is not God the Doer? So let God work through you to breathe. I think once you dismiss the question from your mind and as an item of concern, the naturalness of this wonderful technique will assert itself. You might think to yourself during the practice, “God is the Doer. It is not me breathing. God is breathing through me.”

You might even, as I have sometimes done, imagine that my breath is Yogananda’s breath and I, simply, am observing him breathing. I can feel that my body is his body or, I can imagine that he is sitting opposite me (or next to me) and I am watching his breath.

Okay? Try it!

Nayaswami Hriman