wikiHow to Practice Breath Meditation (Anapanasati)

Four Parts:Taking the First StepsFollowing the Eight StepsWorking on Mindful BreathingTaking Steps to Improve the Meditation

Anapanasati, “mindfulness of breathing,” or breath meditation is one of the few meditations that can be used for a wide range of purposes. A Buddhist practice, It can be used to build mindfulness, concentration, body knowledge and insight -- it is truly a versatile type to study. In order to gain the most benefit from this meditation, consistency of focus and effort is the key because it is hard for the mind to stay focused on the breath for very long.

Part 1
Taking the First Steps

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    Choose to meditate. The Buddhist practice of anapanasati can be used by anyone -- you do not have to be Buddhist to benefit from this kind of meditation. Breath meditation is a way of getting in touch with your body and your place in nature. It is also a way to keep yourself focused on the present. By focusing on each breath, you stay in the moment, not letting your mind stray to the past or future. Finally, anapanasati can help move you away from expressions of selfishness and bring you peace.[1]
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    Select a place to meditate. Look for a place that is as quiet as possible. The practice of breath meditation focuses on the subtle movement of the breath, so it is easily disrupted by stray noises. Buddhist instructional sutras (or suttas in Pali) recommend using abandoned buildings, deep forests, or the foot of a tree for an extended period of practice. For those of us without access to places like that, a quiet and peaceful room is a good choice. Try to use the same place daily until you become advanced enough that it is easy to enter a meditative state.[2]
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    Use the correct posture. The Buddha gave instructions for the best way to sit and become mindful while breathing. Keep in mind that it might not feel comfortable at first, but you will gradually get used to it.[3]
    • Sit in the lotus position, with the right foot tucked on top of the left thigh, and the left foot on top of the right thigh. If your body cannot accommodate this, use a comfortable cross-legged posture.
    • Sit upright, with your spine straight and your head well-supported.
    • Place your hands on your lap, with both palms upward, the left cradling the right.
    • Your head should be slightly tilted down, and your eyes softly closed.
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    Relax. Once you have chosen your posture, close your eyes and spend some time relaxing any tension that may be present, while breathing through your nose. Spend time observing and letting go of tension to help you become mindful. This will help you begin to focus and increase concentration. When the mind has stilled and settled, start focusing a point around the head where the breath is most visible. It might be the lip, the nose tip, or the inner nose airways.

Part 2
Following the Eight Steps

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    Count. The first of the eight steps that lead you to fully mindful breathing meditation, counting, or ganana, is especially helpful for beginners. Choose a point related to your breathing to focus on, such as your lips, your nose, or your lungs. Keep a consistent focus on that one point that you have chosen. Count the breaths with each in and out breath movement counting as: 1 (inhale),1 (exhale), then 2 (inhale), 2 (exhale), and so on up to 10. Then, restart the count.[4]
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    Follow. This second step, following or anubandhana, means that you need to follow your breath with your mind. If you take a long breath, mentally note that it is long. If it is a short breath, do the same. Think about all of the breath characteristics, including length (long /medium/short etc), speed (fast or slow), pressure (high or low), depth (deep or shallow) and natural or forced breathing.[5]
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    Practice the contact (phusana) and fixing (thapana) steps. These two steps, taken together, bring your meditation to a new level. After focusing so profoundly on your breath in steps one and two, it’s time to allow your mind to turn inward, your breathing to become more relaxed, and your body to feel any aches and pains melt away. Stop counting and focusing on your breathing. Let your mind begin to focus on a particular object or image in your mind.[6]
    • Direct your attention to the point where your breath contacts the skin inside your nostrils. This is contact (phusana). You may find yourself with a mental image of a sign, such as a bright light, a mist, or a silver chain.[7][8]
    • Once you have seen the sign, fix your attention on it. This is fixing (thapana).[9] At first, the sign may be appear vague or unsteady, but as you continue to focus on it, it should become clearer.[10]
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    Observe (sallakkhana). This is part of "insight" meditation.[11] Essentially, you are looking deep within yourself and healing any distress or pain you might have. Observe your knowledge, attainments, and life so far, and recognize that they are impermanent.[12]
    • Next, you should "turn away" (vivattana) from worldly attachment. This means separating yourself from your knowledge, attachments, etc. and acknowledging that those elements are not your "self."
    • Finally, embark upon a form of purification (parisuddhi) of the self (the eighth and final step). To turn away and purify yourself means emptying your mind of daily worries, any thoughts about the past or future, and keeping your mind completely in the present moment.
    • Keep in mind that these stages do not come quickly or easily -- it requires deep and constant practice to be able to make it to the level of purification.[13]

Part 3
Working on Mindful Breathing

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    Keep practicing your breathing. When you become focused, keep focusing on the object or image in your head to build concentration. As you advance in meditation, you can do different exercises to help you focus on your breathing and its various aspects. Some thought exercises that might help bring your breathing to a higher level are:[14]
    • The flow of the entirety of the breath as observed from a fixed point. A good analogy to consider is a saw - when sawing through a log, you keep 100% of your attention at the point the saw makes contact with the wood while it goes back and forth, but you don't follow the saw as it comes and goes as you wouldn't know how far you have cut into the wood.
    • The flow of energy that the breath creates and uses. A more experienced meditator can use the energy to flow around the body to soothe pain and refresh the body, eventually creating a sense of pleasure.
    • The use of breath to relax both the mind and the body and increase awareness as it becomes more subtle.
    • Your experiences of how the breath is formed in relation to the state of the mind. If the mind is tense, the breath is often tense. The state of the mind is often reflected in the breath. By adjusting the mind, such as considering thoughts of goodwill when angry, or appreciation when unhappy, you can adjust the breath to be more gentle and calm, which helps relax the body and mind.
    • Your experiences of how your state of mind forms in relation to the breath and your nose. We seldom breathe through both nostrils at the same time, as one is usually closed. Breath coming in the left nostril activates the right hand side of the brain and the right nostril activates the left.
    • The mental intention that drives the in-breath and out-breath process in terms of voidness or emptiness (anatta). The mental process and body processes of breathing do not stop when we cease paying attention to them.
    • The impermanent, changing nature of the mind and body. Not only is each breath different from the other, so you never have two breaths the same, the meditation practice is always different, so you never have two meditation periods the same.
    • How the breath changes when we fix on a different object such a distraction, a thought or feeling, or sensations in the body.
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    Develop consistency of focus. When you get into a meditative state, you want to enter the same state each time – neither more nor less intense. Work on getting yourself into the same level of focus every time. A simple analogy to consider is sound and the aim is to create an even, middle pitch. Too much effort is like turning up the volume, too little is like turning the volume down. When too much effort is applied the mind aches or the breath becomes unsettled, and with too little effort the breath and focus keeps dropping off.[15]
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    Maintain consistent applied awareness of the breath. As you practice, you may find the breath getting more and more subtle as the calmed body requires less oxygen. Eventually there may be a time where the breath seems to disappear. In practice, it's best to keep focus at the same point as the breath will return soon, but it may break concentration if you move away from that point.[16]
    • For concentration to develop further, maintain applied focus until it becomes evident to you in some form and a sense of pleasure is present. This is often called rapture. If there is no sense of this rapture, it is unlikely the mind will enter much deeper into concentration.
    • The form it appears in is different to each person. It may be a change in physical sensation, a mental image, a symbolic sense of movement or another form. This is not a thing the majority of practitioners experience often or sometimes at all. It is highly conditional on the temperament of the practitioner, experience and skills in meditation, location and potential distractions or other priorities that may be in the mind. Should it arise, you should focus all attention on that without analyzing its color, characteristics etc. It can be easily lost when you don't give balanced and even attention to it. Mindfulness of breathing is difficult to develop so it requires practice to do well.

Part 4
Taking Steps to Improve the Meditation

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    Stretch. Do it often and regularly in your day to day life. Consider practicing yoga, which incorporates many of the same breathing techniques and ideas. This may be part of an exercise routine or an active lifestyle, but the spine should be comfortable and straight, dropping and relaxing the tailbone area and stomach. You also want to be able to sit in lotus position rather than just cross-legged for meditation.[17]
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    Practice consistently. Do it the same way every time -- think about even sitting in the same place. This trains and familiarizes the mind with keeping a firm applied focus. To begin, some experts recommended spending up to a week or more practicing for several hours a day without duties, so a meditation retreat is ideal. It can take several days and, for some, weeks or months before the mind has relaxed and let go sufficiently for a person to put down the mental hindrances and their mind to become bright.[18]
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    Do not meditate when hungry or on a very full stomach. The body needs energy to meditate, but food eaten recently also promotes sleepiness or distraction. You need to be alert and focused, not thinking about food.

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Categories: Buddhist Meditation