Mindfulness of Breathing

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The mindfulness of breathing practice as taught here is available as a CD or as an MP3 audio download.”

This meditation practice, in one form or another, is very widespread in the Buddhist world. The particular form taught here — in four stages — is found in the Visuddhimagga (Path of Purity) of the great Theravadin scholar, Buddhaghosa, who lived in 5th century India and Sri Lanka. It therefore has a long pedigree, even if there’s no description in the earliest Buddhist scriptures that corresponds exactly with this form of the practice.

This particular version of the Mindfulness of Breathing is mainly aimed to calm and focus the mind, and is therefore what is known as a samatha (Sanskrit, shamatha), or calming practice rather than a vipassana, or insight, one. The Sanskrit equivalent to the word vipassana is vipashyana and both words mean insight, or truly seeing the nature of reality.

The traditional name for this meditation practice is Anapanasati. This word simply means mindfulness (sati) of breathing (pana) in and out. This is a meditation practice where we use the breath as the object of attention to which we return every time we notice that the mind has wandered.

In a nutshell, this practice works mainly through us withdrawing our attention from distracting thoughts and redirecting our attention to the physical sensations of the breath. By doing so, we are putting less energy into the emotional states of restlessness, anxiety, craving, ill will, etc that drive those thoughts. Over time the mind becomes calmer and our emotional states become more balanced and positive, and our experience becomes more positive.

It’s important to note that the practice involves noticing that the mind has been wandering and bringing it back to the breath. Distractedness is an inevitable part of the process of meditating and not a sign of failure!

This step-by-step tutorial includes a number of guided meditation recordings that will help guide you through the practice. There are also readings for each stage of the practice , dealing with the most common questions and addressing the most common experiences that beginners tend to have.

Although the meditation practice as taught here takes a samatha approach it is easy to bring elements of insight into a samatha practice. Also, some degree of samatha practice is virtually indispensible as a basis for vipassana, or insight, meditation. The mind needs to be somewhat calm in order for us to be able to reflect on the impermanence of our experiences!

There are other traditional forms that are widely practiced, especially in the insight meditation traditions, but I’ve found this one to be particularly suitable for complete beginners. The first two stages especially, which involve counting, are very helpful in stabilizing the mind.

More experienced practitioners can feel free to adapt the practice to their own needs, shortening or even dropping some stages, and extending others.

242 Comments. Leave new

Sir, while meditation after 15 to 20 minfast. I found my body is moving very fast then I feel that my body parts are in different places then it’s hard for me to focus on breath because unable to decide my my exact position… Pls suggest me is it improvement something wrong in my practice….

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Hi, Deepak.

I’m not quite sure I understand your question. When you say that your body is moving fast you mean that you’re fidgeting? And I’m very unsure what you mean when you say that your body parts are in different places. It’s not unusual to have altered body sensations in meditation. The best thing to do is simply to accept that this is what you’re perceiving, and to continue with the practice. Perhaps you’d benefit from doing more body-scanning at the beginning of your meditation, before you turn your attention to the breathing.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Hello, while practicing of mindfulness I confuse sometime like when I go for marketing by feet at the same time I hear so many sounds and people passing around me in traffic its became difficult to decide that where I should focus. And can I concentrate to my heartbeat instead of breath while do sitting meditation. Thank you for your previous guidance…

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When you’re out shopping in a noisy place it’s best to keep your attention centered on something like your breathing. You’ll allow the noises to be there, but without paying particular attention to them (unless there’s something you really need to focus on).

I wonder why you’d want to focus on your heartbeat instead of your breathing. The breathing is a much more complete sensation, and one I think you’d be able to become more absorbed in.

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Thnx for your kind guidance….

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Dear Bodhipaksa,
I have been meditating for about a year. I recall when I had difficulty meditating for more than 15 minutes. At this point I can mediate with ease for 1-1.5 hrs. However, lately, I have noticed that even though I am in a calm and pleasant state, my mind is all over the place and very hard to control; more difficult than in the past. I just can’t stay focused for long and I forget to return to being mindful. It all feels good to be in that state even though the mind is busy with distractions. I just think I am on the wrong path. Fortunately, it has no negative effect on my motivation. I don’t get upset or frustrated. As a matter of fact it motivates me to mediate even more often. I just want to make sure I am not going in a circle wasting time and effort in the wrong direction.

In the past I have had episodes of deeper meditation, something I have not been able to experience for the past few months. What can I do about it?
As a side note, I have noticed I do much better when doing lying mediation. At the beginning I used to fall asleep at some point during the meditation but that has no longer been an issue. Sometimes immediately after sitting meditation, I switch to lying meditation. The depth of this mediation has been very profound, something I have not been able to experience in sitting position so far. But I keep hearing you should try to get used to sitting meditation, so I have been trying to avoid lying meditation.
Any suggestions how I should proceed?

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Hi, Sam.

Apologies for the late reply. I’ve been rather busy and haven’t had the time to reply to, or even read, blog comments. (It doesn’t help that a lot of them have been essay-length!)

You know, it’s not really possible for me to zoom in one specific thing, because I don’t know the specifics of your life, your mind, or your meditation practice. But in general, people get stuck when they’ve slipped into habitual patterns of meditating. It’s very easy for us to fall into the habit of doing the same thing over and over, even if it doesn’t work well. One thing that habitual patterns of behavior do is cut us of from certain experience that, since they’re being ignored, repeatedly make themselves known and “disrupt” what we’re trying to do. So you might want to relax a bit more in your meditation and see what you’ve been ignoring. Some of the principles in this article might be helpful — basically the gist is to notice what’s just outside what you normally pay attention to. It’s possible that you’re also shying away from unpleasant feelings (often people think of these as “negative” and to be eradicated), in which case I’d recommend turning toward them, compassionately.

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Hi there,

I find it really difficult to do the mindfulness of breathing in the morning during the working week – mostly because thoughts of what I need to do work-wise for the rest of the day are constantly bombarding my brain!!! Is it best to persevere with this…on the grounds that that’s probably where I’d get most benefit, or switch to the evening?

If I stay with the morning, how should I approach the various stages, i.e. should I spend longer in one stage or another, in order to try and work with this ‘problem’?

I meditate twice per day (metta bhavana and mindfulness of breathing) so can switch them if required.

Thanks in advance for your advice.

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I’d suggest staying with the morning, Gary, and learning to work with it. You could spend more time on the first stage of the mindfulness of breathing, focusing on the outbreathing, since that has a calming effect. You could also try my “mantra,” But right now … right now… and see how that works.

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I am getting a bit confused about meditation. So when we concentrate on breathing or focus on a fixed object, what is the next step when a deeper state of meditation is achieved? Keep focusing or start contemplated on certain thoughts. Further, when we stop meditating, do we start analyzing thoughts? I think that’s what I read somewhere.

There has been a few occasions where I concentrated on not thinking about anything which did have nice result achieving a much deeper state of meditation. Then I read in a book mentioning one has to be careful not to get lost in a state of void. I thought deeper states are empty of any thoughts. Am I misunderstanding? :-)

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Traditionally, Sam, once you have a reasonable degree of concentration, you apply that to notice the arising and passing of experiences, and observe that they are not one’s own, and not one’s self. This is the merging of samatha (calming, focusing) into vipassana (seeing the nature of our experience). But there’s also emotional development to be considered — we need to cultivate kindness and compassion, not just so that we behave better to others, but so that the arising of insight can be experienced as a positive development rather than as destructive.

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It’s my 6 to 7 months of doing meditation now a days I see that very old memories and dreams comes in a image form infront of my eyes. Is this a good sign?

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They’re just thoughts, Deepak. Just notice them and let them pass without jumping into the story as a participant. And keep coming back to your experience of the body, in order to ground the mind.

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Bodhipaksva,

I have been meditating almost daily for the past year. I have read extensively on the subject and your website has only deepend my knowledge and understanding. But i feel that after all this reading my mind is a bit overwhelmed by information, to the extent that is has left me in a state of confusion regarding how to continue my practice.

I feel that my meditations may not be focused enough to a specific goal. I tend to mix between vipassana and samatha..which you say is inevitable, but it seems to confuse me. I have experienced new depths in my awareness and have definitely become more aware of myself, my thoughts and my general experience of being. This, i believe, is because my meditations are centered mostly on observing my mind and the processes within it. But this observation is far from calm and centered, and i think this is because i have never fully devoted myself to cultivating samatha. My attention span is poor and i quickly loose my focus and get distracted, but i do notice it. I also do not seem to know exactly where to direct my attention (to my body, my mind, my breath, or all at once..this is a point of confusion).

I am writing here because i just feel i need some reassurance in my practice. Recently my mediations have been a bit chaotic. I don’t know how to continue effectively. I believe i should take the time to fully develop samatha using your step by step guide. In doing this, should i set aside what i have read about vipassana and focus fully on mindfulness of breath? Does this means focusing my full attention to the breath? You mention that some qualities of vipassana are inevitably present in the practice of samatha (and vise versa), so i wonder: how should i balance these two in practice, given my present capabilities?

Thank you(:

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Hi, Altan.

Sorry for the lateness of my reply. In the last month I’ve moved house, had surgery, and had several sites hacked, including this one.

I’d suggest, yes, that you set the vipassana approach aside and instead work with mindfulness of breathing in a more samatha way, and also take up lovingkindness meditation. I always recommend that people do both these forms, and that they alternate them daily. A year of meditation isn’t very long, especially if you’ve been doing more than one form of practice. Taking a more vipassana approach is something you could perhaps do on retreat, when your mind is more stable, or perhaps in a few years.

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Dear Bodhipaksa,
Om.
I have been practicing meditation (Theta Healing, The Silva Method and Buddhist Meditations preached by my Guru Chad Foreman) since July 2014. Last Saturday (21.02.2015), I came to know about the Anapanasati Meditation as taught by Zen Guru Thich Nhat Hanh… I love meditating and have always wanted to practice meditation 24×7.. So when I read about the Anapanasati Meditation, I knew that I have found the means to fulfil my spiritual dream.. I began practicing it from last Saturday… I love the feeling of peace and tranquility surrounding me at all levels… I Love it sooo much that I am practicing it even while I am in office… I required your spiritual guidance in that sometimes while I am sitting in my office chair & practicing the meditation I feel a dull burning sensation in my stomach… Is this okay? Thank You so much… Have a divine day… Om

Love & Regards,
Gunjika

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Hi, Gunjika.

I’m afraid I can’t say what your burning sensation is. It may be that you’re sitting in a way that’s putting pressure on your stomach, or it may be that there’s some vedana (feeling) being expressed there. Maybe you have an ulcer.

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Dear Budhipaska. This may not the perfect blog section to post this but it was the most appropriate one I could find. I assumed I have to post in a blog that was started by you in order to get a response from you as well. Though I may be wrong.

I keep reading about the importance of being mindful of our daily activity. Sometimes I wonder how truly important it is to be mindful of every simple task such as brushing my teeth or making breakfast. I keep asking myself if it is truly that crucial? So I started to contemplate and came to conclusion that maybe the reason behind it is the fact that it will ultimately help to become mindful about situations that really matter, such as speech, thoughts, or bodily actions, where we could end up accumulating some serious unwholesome karma. After all, negative karma is created when we commit actions while being totally oblivious and not mindful.

What’s interesting is that when I started developing interest in buddhism two years ago, all of the sudden I became so mindful of my speech, actions, and thoughts as if it was second nature to me. It felt like a switch was turned on in my head without any intervention. I can’t even get a sentence out of my mouth without making sure it has no negative impact in any possible way and it amazes me how I automatically get reminded to become mindful before words are spoken. I am not always right about the outcome of words chosen but I sure am doing my best. Interestingly enough, I have been having all kinds of difficulty being constantly mindful of other non-critical daily tasks such as the ones I mentioned before. So do I really have to strive to be mindful about every single task? It seems to be mission impossible!!!

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Hi, Sam.

I’m certainly not mindful in every activity I undertake. I guess I’d like to be, but sustaining mindfulness in every waking minute is a very hard thing to do. It does seem though that there’s some kind of monitoring going on in the background most of the time, so that I notice when my thinking is becoming unhelpful in some way. That seems to be enough for now…

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Dear Bodhipaksa, I quit drinking alcohol 9 months ago because of meditation now sometime my friends force me to drink but I don’t which makes them unhappy. Is alcohol is harmful for meditationer if I take it ocassionaly please suggest me. Also I do breath meditation on regular basis without fail.

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Hi, Deepak. I think it’s great that you’ve given up alcohol, and I commend you for resisting the pressure your friends are putting you under. I do believe that alcohol can have very subtle effects on us. I found that after a couple of years abstinence I felt a sense of clarity that I couldn’t remember experiencing before. My meditation practice also became much more stable and my mind was much calmer in meditation.

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Thnx a lot master…

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You’re welcome, Deepak.

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Sir, During Meditation i should concentrate on breath or should aware on breathing because there is a little bit difference between two. In my case being aware is much comfortable to be in present moment.

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You can do either, Deepak, but for most people being mindful of the breath (i.e. the air moving through your body) is harder to do than being mindful of the breathing (i.e. any and all of the physical sensation connected with the process of breathing). So these days I recommend the latter, until mindfulness is well-established, at which point you can focus more on the breath, or just part of the breath, such as air touching the rims of the nostrils.

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Saranasiri jenny
May 11, 2015 2:47 pm

What is the reason for beginning the mindfulness of breathing with the out breath. I have asked those more experienced than myself and am given different answers.
Please advise. Saranasiri.

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Hi, Saranasiri.

You asked the same question a few days ago on another page, and I replied here. I hope my reply is helpful!

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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I’m still a bit confused as to technique regarding the Anapana Sutta. I’ve been meditating twice daily 20-30 minutes each sitting. Focusing on the first tetrad (stages 1-4), in each sitting. Is this a recommended approach, at least in terms of cultivating fundamentals? Or, is it advisable to move on to the remaining three tetrads, mix things up. I suppose the question is whether each tetrad should be practiced separately. I hope I’m not being redundant, the harder I try to keep things simple, the more complex they become!

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Hi, Kurt.

Sorry for the very delayed reply. Sometimes the comments get backed up and it becomes a bit daunting to do more than nibble at the edges of them.

I don’t actually follow the anapanasati stages in any strict way—and I suppose there are many ways of actually interpreting the sutta anyway. I’ve noticed in my practice, however, that there’s a natural tendency over time for the things described in the sutta to arise in my experience. So at first the practice is mainly about taming the mind’s basic unruliness (Tetrad I). Then there’s a natural tendency to notice how piti (physical pleasure/energy), sukha (joy), and calm arise (Tetrad II). Jhana starts to arise quite naturally (Tetrad III). And then finally the mind turns to noticing the transience of our experience (Tetrad IV).

I think it’s always useful to experiment with pushing forward into the tetrads, but I think this should be done with a due regard for our own capabilities. The Buddha said that the danger of trying to push on in our practice prematurely is that we become like a cow that leaves its familiar pasture and becomes lost in the hillside. It’s best to gradually extend the range of your practice, which means taking things a step at a time, and retreating to familiar territory when your practice disintegrates around you.

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I have never meditated but after reading this article I will give it a shot; I am easilly stress since I was young.

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Hi Bodhipaksa,

Thank you for all the time and effort you put into this website. Please forgive me if I’m asking a question which was already answered at some point… I’m wondering about your perspective on an experience which I encounter now and again in one of the deeper stages of my meditations. When I get to the state where the only background is one of stillness, tranquilly and feeling of expansion, a thought arises (or an impulse?) which doesn’t seem like an ordinary, fleeting thought. Sometimes it’s clear, other times it is more of a subtle hint about mySelf/my spiritual direction. I tend to let such ‘thoughts’ guide me, i.e. I try to interpret the ‘message’ it contains and use in in my outer life.

I guess my question is about the actual nature of these kind of thoughts. Are they recognised in any meditation practice as being in a different category? What’s Buddhist view point on them (if any)? Can you personally relate to my experience?

Thank you,
Nat.

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Hi, Nat.

First, I’m very glad that you’re having that kind of experience. It’s not exactly common but not uncommon either! What’s happening is that parts of the brain that operate outside of consciousness (and most of the brain’s activity is outside of conscious awareness) have learned something and are passing the message up into conscious awareness so that the rest of the mind can be affected by what they’ve gained. There isn’t really a word for this in Buddhism for this, although many practitioners will call this “insight with a small i” in order to distinguish it from deeper spiritual “Insight with a large (i.e. capital) I.” They’re intuitions, effectively, and they can be very useful, although it’s always wise to check out their validity, since they can occasionally be misleading.

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Hey Bodhi, I asked you a question you removed it without answering it, not done friend, I am keeping my calm as I have started the meditation…else I was a very angry man…not done bro

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You posted the same question twice, and I’ve deleted the duplicate, so technically you’re correct, Mohit. The original question is still sitting in moderation. At the moment I’m on vacation and since you posted a long comment with more than one question I haven’t had time to reply.

However, I’m under no obligation to publish or answer any question asked here and will use my time as seems appropriate. Understood?

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Freedom - Functional Wellness Nutrition Coach
July 4, 2015 10:08 pm

[…]  I wish for us #freedom! To learn how to cultivate peace in our lives. Meditation — especially mindfulness meditation and lovingkindness meditation — is a simple tool I use to help me find peace. Combine that […]

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I have been sitting at a desk for many years which causes me neck and shoulder tension that I normally don’t feel during the day, but always feel it when I do my mindfulness of breath meditation.
At first I thought this was a hindrance because it disrupted me from focusing on my breath, but now I believe it is my body wanting me to feel this tension that I may be subconsciously suppressing during the day.
I tend to feel this tension about halfway through my 30 minute mindfulness of breath meditation.
My question for you is should I switch from being mindful of breath to being mindful of body when I feel this tension, or is this allowing a distraction.
When I allow myself to spend the 2nd half of the meditation on my shoulders and neck, I feel like I do let go of some of this tension. But I also feel that I didn’t honor my intention to follow my breath for 30 minutes.

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Hi, Mike.

I suspect you’re over-thinking this. Sitting in meditation is uniquely hard on the body because of the lack of movement. If there’s anything about your meditation posture that’s not quite right, then you’re going to experience tension. It’s your posture that I’d suggest looking at first of all. I can do a fair amount of diagnosis if I can see photographs of you meditating, taken from in front and the side. Of course I’d invite you to make a donation. You can email photographs to me at “bodhi” at the domain name of this site.

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Dear bodhipksa, pls sort out my confusion. I breathing meditation a meditator should whd where concentrate, at nosetip , at abdomen(up and down) or in the middle of heart. In my case i feel much comfortable to concentrate on abdomen breathing(up and down)..is it ok or i should change my concentration area. According to me Meditation can happen on any object only the matter is to be in thought less state. Pls suggest me….

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Hi Deepak.

In principle you can pay attention to any part of the breathing. In practice, it can be very useful to focus on the abdomen if you need to calm the mind, and to focus on the tip of the nose if you need to develop more alertness. The technique here involves starting with being aware of the breath lower down to begin with, in order to develop calmness, and then shifting the attention up toward the rims of the nostrils as the mind becomes more malleable.

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Thank You Bodhipaksa. I suppose it’s a reflection of the untrained mind, the linear approach, trying too hard to make things happen by adhering too strictly to method, opposed to relaxing into meditation and allowing things to unfold naturally. I’ve learned that trying to satisfy each stage of the 1st tetrad in one sitting is futile, particularly when mindfulness hasn’t had the opportunity to grow. So now I take it slowly, relax my body, ease into present moment awareness, simply watch what’s going on, mindfulness expands, the next thing I know it’s as if my breath is inviting me to watch it, and only it! So, in essence I’m learning, as you mentioned, that things seem to fall into place naturally, we just have to let them. It’s amazing what happens when we learn to be kind to ourselves. Thanks!

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You’re welcome, Kurt. I think the balance comes from letting our practice unfold naturally, while having in mind an awareness of where it’s possible to go. When we have both of those things together, our practice moves though the tetrads (as best it can) without any sense of force or conscious control.

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Hello, I tried to access your guided meditation recordings today for the Mindfulness of Breathing, and the links to the various stages that usually appear on the top left of this screen are absent. Were those links removed intentionally? I do rely on Bodhipaksa’s lovely voice to guide me through my daily meditation, and if the links could be replaced, that would be wonderful! Thank you.

Sincerely,

Annie

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The site’s in the middle of a major redesign, Annie. Full functionality will be restored as soon as possible.

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