Anapanasati, “mindfulness breathing” or breathing meditation is a common and core practice in Buddhism. It cultivates mindfulness and concentration through relaxation of the body, feelings, and mind. The ultimate goal according to Buddha is the attainment of Nirvana which means the extinction of suffering. However, this practice is not exclusive to Buddhists only. Much non-Buddhists practice breath meditation for its significant benefits such as getting in touch with your mind and body, learning to be fully present, and finding pleasure in the state of stillness.
PART 1. PREPARING TO MEDITATE
1. Select a calm and quiet place to meditate.
Look for a quiet place where you can fully contemplate. As breathing practices are focused on the breath’s subtle movement, it can easily be disrupted by stray noises. Abandoned buildings, deep forests, or even the foot of a tree are recommended by Buddhist instructional sutras or suttas in Pali; these are good places to meditate for extended periods. If you have no access to places like these, you can go to a quiet and peaceful room. Try using the same place or room daily until such time that it will be easier for you to enter a meditative state.
2. Make sure to use the correct posture.
Buddhist instructions indicate that sitting with your back straight is the ideal position for Anapanasati. Since this is a practice on body relaxation, inner feelings of pleasure, and stillness of mind, the more comfortable your position is, the better you are.
The most usual and preferred sitting position is the lotus position where you are seated cross-legged and your right foot tucked on top of the left thigh and the left foot on the other. This is common but if you are uncomfortable with this, try a more comfortable cross-legged posture or just sit on a chair if you want. You are opting for peace and for sure, an uncomfortable position would make you fidget or easily distracted.
Make sure that your back is straight. Sit upright, your spine straight and your head well-supported. If necessary, feel free to slowly lay your back against a chair, a wall, or a tree trunk. You can also tilt your head downwards if it feels more comfortable.
Any comfortable placement of your hands will do. A common one is to place them on your lap with both of the palms face upward and the left cradling the right hand.
Once you are comfortable and have chosen your perfect posture, spend time on relaxation whilst breathing through your nose. The more mindful you are, the more quickly will relaxation occur. Acknowledging this will help your mind and heart be inclined to further presence and stillness.
Expect your eyes to naturally and gradually close during the relaxation. You can also softly close them before beginning if it works for you.
4. Focus on your breath.
As soon as your mind has stilled and settled, focus your attention now on the point around your body where it would be easier to sense and concentrate on your breathing,
The tip of your nose or your upper lip would be a good choice since these are points in your body where you can feel the air as it passes. The inner nose airways, the back of the mouth, the chest, or the belly are also preferred by some.
PART 2. MEDITATING
1. Count your breaths to guide you.
This is an optional step but is especially beneficial for beginners since it helps prevent the mind from wandering. What you need to do is to maintain your focus on the point of breathing of your choice like your mouth, belly, or the tip of your nose. Count your breath as follows: 1(inhale), 1 (exhale), 2 (inhale), 2 (exhale), and so on until you reach the count of 10. You can then restart your count.
There are several techniques or methods in meditation. Others prefer to count from one to five or eight instead and others even count during each breath, with the final number landing on the last breath.
2. Follow your breath with your mind.
As soon as your mind is focused on your breathing, you can then stop counting. What you need to do next is to take a long breath, and by long, it means long. If it is a short breath, you still need to do the same. Observe your breathing pattern and its characteristics such as length, speed, ad pressure and track each of your breaths from beginning to end. This step trains your brain to be aware of the natural transition and relaxation of the breath during the meditation process.
Keep your focus on one point of your body. Track the beginning, middle, and end of your breaths. Do not attempt to follow the movement of air. Just observe and focus.
The instruction may sound simple, but you can spend years on this stage as you gradually improve your ability to focus. There’s no definite time frame for this.
3. Bring your mind to the contact point of your breath.
As you maintain your mindfulness breathing, you will notice how your breathing becomes fine and delicate, and that your body will feel more and more at ease. Do not be alarmed or distracted as sometimes your breathing may be difficult to detect. Keep practicing so you can learn to maintain contact with your breath more subtly. Maintain your awareness of the faint contact of air as your breath touches your lips or nostrils. If successfully done, you will free your mind of hindrances and will leave you calm and joyful.
4. Fix your focus on mental signs.
A mental image or sign may arise during the contract stage. This could be a bright light, mist, or wheel. This is a learning sign at first that is unsteady and wavering. Once you can notice this sign, maintain your focus on it while breathing goes on. The sign may be vague or unclear at first, but as you maintain your focus on it, it gets clearer. This is the stage of deep concentration which lasts for some hours, especially for an experienced meditator.
Do not attempt to shift your focus from breath to image as it will cause the sign or image to disappear. If you successfully maintain your contact with your breath, you may find the image stabilizing, and your mind can focus on it unconsciously.
These are steps that are subtle but have natural and overlapping transitions. Both the “contact” and “fixing” techniques assist you with “calming the bodily formation” as what the Buddha calls.
5. Observe your state of rapture.
This is a stage that is somehow difficult to attain as you are opening yourself to a deeper and unexplored part of yourself. According to Buddha’s instructions, this is composed of three parts: experiencing rapture (PITI), experiencing bliss (sukha), and experiencing the mind. The previous steps above will help you cultivate and bring about a mental state that is open to rapture and happiness. Many teachings and writings about the states of mind (jnana) are possible at this stage. Below are a few ways that you may observe during this stage:
Awareness of inner feelings of rapture and pleasure causes a gladdening of the mind, leading to stillness and peace.
You will notice how this stillness coming from inner happiness can give a different taste to your mind which is freedom and sufficiency.
6. Turn away from negativities.
Do not allow greed, conceit, and other negative emotions to take a toll on you. In the Buddhist tradition, these negative emotions that hinder your progress are called defilements. This sixth technique along with insightful stillness of your heart will be essentially beneficial for you in the last four final stages:
Understand that there is such a thing called impermanence. Contemplate its deepest implication in our experience of suffering.
Contemplate fading away.
Contemplate the need to cease or that there is always cessation.
Contemplate relinquishment. Understand that when you relinquish the usual manner and habit of seeking pleasure and happiness can lead you to more powerful and secure sources of inner happiness and experiences.
7. Cleanse yourself from these emotions.
As you continue to contemplate the above topics, you will notice how easy it is for you now to replace negative emotions with positive ones. One of the most important things to do is to detachment or (Viraga), which means emptying your mind from worries and thoughts that you have for both the past and the future.
Remember that you cannot quickly or easily achieve these stages as it requires deep and constant practice for you to be able to achieve the purification level.
8. Recollect the memories of what you have lost and gained.
Going through all the stages of Anapanasati, complete your meditation by looking back at what you have lost and gained. These can be losing the negative emotions you had before and gaining new insights. Consider that the breath-driven stillness of your body, your feelings, your thoughts, and your mind is achieved through the universal character of impermanence (anicca).
PART 3. WORKING ON MINDFUL BREATHING
1. Keep on practicing your breathing.
When you find yourself focused, maintain your focus on the object or image in your mind. Advancing in meditation allows you to do different exercises that can help you focus your breathing and its aspects. Below are some thought exercises that might help your breathing move to a higher level:
The flow of your breath as you observe it from a fixed point. One solid analogy is a saw. When you are sawing a log, you are paying attention to the point where the saw makes contact with the wood, not on the saw as it comes and goes. You wouldn’t know how far you’ve cut into the wood as you do so.
The flow of energy is created and used by the breath. Experienced meditators can use this energy to smoothly flow it around the body to soothe pain and refresh. This eventually creates a sense of pleasure.
Using your breath to relax both your mind and body help increase awareness as it becomes more subtle.
The experiences you have as your breath is formed relative to your state of mind. If the mind is tense, the breath is tense as well. Your state of mind is often a reflection of your breath. When you adjust your mind such as thinking of good things instead of being angry, appreciating things when you are unhappy, your breath is also adjusted to become more gentle and calm which in turn relaxes your body and mind.
You experience something due to how your state of mind is relative to your breath and your nose. One interesting fact is that we seldom breathe through our nostrils at the same time as one is usually closed.
The one that drives your in-breath and out-breath process in terms of voidness or emptiness (anatta) is your mental intention. Each breath is different from the other, so there are no same breaths at the same time. Meditation is like this as well. You never have two meditation processes at the same time.
Your breath changes as you fix your focus on different objects such as distractions, thoughts, feelings, or sensations that your body experience.
2. Develop a consistency of focus.
The moment you get into a meditative state, you begin to want to enter the same state each time. What you need to do is to work on developing that same level of focus every time. A simple but helpful analogy is the sound and how you aim to create the perfect middle pitch. Too much would turn up the volume, too little would turn the volume down. If you put too much effort into your mind, your mind aches and your breathing becomes unsettled. If you put too little on the other hand, your breath and your focus would keep dropping off.
3. Maintain consistent awareness of the breath.
While practicing, you may notice how your breath gets more and more subtle since your calmed body would require lesser oxygen. You will eventually feel a time where the breath seems to disappear. When you are practicing, you should keep your focus at the same point as breathing will return soon. However, moving away from that fixed point will break the concentration.
To help concentration further develop, you need to apply and maintain your focus until it becomes natural and gives you a sense of pleasure. This is what we often called the rapture. Without this sense of rapture, the mind is unlikely to enter into a deep state of concentration.
Awareness may come in different forms to every person. It can be a change in physical sensation, a mental image, a symbolic sense of movement, or another form. This is highly dependent on the practitioner’s temperament, experiences, and skills in meditation, location, and whatever potential distractions or priorities that may be occupied in the mind.
Should this mental image arise, focus your attention on it without judgment, without analyzing its color, characteristics, etc. If you don’t give equal and even attention to it, it can be easily lost. Again, breathing in a mindfulness manner is not easy to achieve, so it pays that you practice a little more.
PART 4. TAKING STEPS TO IMPROVE YOUR MEDITATION
As often as possible, do this regularly. You may also consider practicing yoga which pretty much incorporates many breathing techniques and ideas. This can be a part of a daily exercise routine or an active lifestyle. However, remember that your spine should always be comfortable, straight, and dropping with the tailbone area, and your stomach relaxed. You may also opt to sit in a lotus position rather than just sitting cross-legged.
2. Practice consistently.
By consistent, it means you do it the same way every time. Doing so can train your mind to keep a firm and applied focus. As a beginner, some experts recommend practicing for several hours a day for a week. A meditation retreat is ideal. It might take you several days, weeks, or months before you will be able to naturally relax your mind and put down the natural hindrances.
3. Do not meditate when you are either hungry or full.
Of course, the body requires energy when you meditate but chomping down food and then practicing meditation after several moments can easily promote sleepiness and distractions. When you meditate, you should be focused and alert, not thinking about what food to eat or the food you have eaten.