Help Request: Breath-Focused Meditation Tips or Alternative Focus Strategies?


I have a problem with my breath focusing technique even though I’ve had success according to the Muse app.

Here’s the problem, when I start a session, everything feels normal. Once I start focusing on my breath in my chest, I feel a growing knot of sensation in my diaphragm that I normally associate with greatly increased anxiety.

This becomes an increasingly uncomfortable sensation that I’m able to get through in a 10 minute session. I score many birds and calmness in the 30-75% range.

I’ve tried focusing on different parts of my breath like stomach and nose, but I don’t feel it there.

Can I focus on something besides breath even though the the Muse app exercises are all breath-centered? Maybe I can do a mental replacement of “breath” with .

I’ve been using Muse for 13 of the past 16 days. I’m a little concerned that I’m entrainining really bad meditation habits!

Suggestions besides talk to your Dr? He doesn’t have a lot of time to discuss things like this during our 20 minute meetings.

Thanks in advance!

Newb Meditator


Hi Matt,
There are many types of meditations. Bringing your attention to the breath (I like this term more than focusing) is only one. You can be attentive to sounds (external, in-house), your feelings, your sensations (you are already doing this!), your thoughts, mantra, etc.
I started using Muse in my meditations and currently alternate between mindful meditations (either bringing my attention to the breathing or to anything I do, ex. unloading the dishwasher) and mantra meditation.

Hope this helps.


A common problem with new meditators is trying too hard. Your feeling anxiety suggests that’s the case here.

There is nothing particularly magical about the breath–it’s just convenient. As Jos said, you can bring your attention to any sensation in a mindful way. But having a sitting meditation practice, a time of relative stillness, is helpful to learn what the experience of mindfulness feels like.

Meditation practice is simply feeling what you are already feeling, and bringing your attention back to that when you notice that your mind has wandered. Holding mind tightly on the breath is concentrating–which is very different than mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness practice feels like continually starting over, again and again, throughout the session.

The effort you use in mindfulness meditation is very light. Almost no effort. Just recognize when your mind has wandered, and lightly bring your attention back. No big deal.

Generally, if you put too much effort into meditation, your mind will get agitated. Not enough effort, and mind becomes dreamy, or sleepy. The practice of meditation is finding the balance between not too tight, and not too loose. Which changes every session.


Thanks! Some useful feedback!

I have to say, each meditation session feels more like a workout than anything…meditative. I’m doing it wrong.

Knowing that I’m doing it wrong is confounding when I see high calm scores, birds and recoveries in the Muse app.

Just to be clear Jos, While I’m using Muse, I could possibly be mindful of something else about my body besides breath and breathing? Like sounds or feelings? Can those sounds/feelings take the place of breathing which seems to be inextricably linked to the relaxation response?

My question is more about how to meditate while using the Muse app and sensor as opposed to how to be mindful in general throughout the day. I don’t know if that changes the answer.

My hope is that using the Muse will have the effect of making me more mindful when I’m not using the neurofeedback system. Is that a realistic expectation?



Part of the feeling of meditation practice being a workout comes from the attitude behind it. Your effort flows from that.

My current favourite meditation teacher is Mingyur Rinpoche. Here is a 3 minute clip from him on “being vs. trying” in meditation. This might address your experience:

Looking at the old meditation texts, there are about 30 variations on sitting meditation practice. The most common is to bring your attention to breathing, and return to it when you get distracted. But you could also bring your attention sequentially to each portion of your body (the classic “body scan” meditation). Or rest your attention on your whole body. Or bring your attention to either a persistent sound, or the the entire sound field–all the ambient sounds around you.

The Muse headset with it’s near-instant feedback is great. But it’s also a bit too easy to get goal-oriented with it. I’ve enjoyed sitting with the Muse, turning off the birds, and not trying to get anywhere specific. Just notice that sometimes there is a lot of wind, and sometimes it’s still. It’s more interesting, than instructive.

You could just rest your mind in the present moment, but that is difficult. It’s helpful to come back to something persistent–body, breathing, sounds, sensations. The point is to train mind to be present, and to return to that sense of presence each time you discover that you are distracted.

Bringing your attention to the breath has lots of options. The tightest is to count your breaths, as a way to remind you to come back to the experience. Or, you could feel the sensations in your belly/diagphram as you breathe in and out. Or you could notice the sensation of only the outbreath–letting your attention disolve into the room at the end of each outbreath, and letting mind rest during the inbreath.

You might want to experiment with meditating with eyes open, to bring in more a sense of awareness of the room, while also lightly attending to the breath, or sound, or body sensations. In my experience, it doesn’t seem to work so well to bring your attention to a visual object, or to let your eyes wander around the room. Best to let them rest, and notice the whole environment using peripheral vision.

Sometimes it’s helpful to talk to another person about meditation. You can learn a lot from YouTube and books, but talking to a human demystifies it. Depending on your city, there are probably several places, usually Buddhist, that teach meditation for free or a nominal charge. Google “meditation in xxx” to see who is teaching mindfulness meditation near you.

… Geoff



You nailed it! Just the guidance I needed. Thank you!