Wildmind Buddhist Meditation

Mindfulness of Breathing

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Overview of the practice

candle flame After you’ve read this you can work your way through the practice one stage at a time, reading the background information we offer, and listening to the guided meditations.

The Mindfulness of Breathing practice is in four official stages, plus some important preparatory and concluding work, which I call “Stage Zero” and “Stage Omega.”

Stage Zero: After setting up your posture you become aware of the physical sensations of your breath. Whenever your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the breath. Then:

Stage One: Count after each out breath. Start at one, placing one number after each exhalation. When you get to ten, then start again at one.

Stage Two: Do the same as in the first stage, but counting just before each in breath.

Stage Three: Drop the counting, and just follow the breath as it flows in and out.

Stage Four: Narrow your focus until you are concentrating on the sensations of the breath flowing over the rims of your nostrils. Stay with those sensations as best you can.

Stage Omega: Gradually broaden your awareness so that you’re first aware of the whole of the breathing process, then of the whole body, then your thoughts and emotions, and finally your environment. And then, when you feel ready, open your eyes.

Each of these stages is a kind of mini-meditation in its own right. Each is a tool for achieving a different aim. Each has a slightly different purpose, and together they form a progressive series that can help us to develop states of deep calm and joy. At first it’s good to stick to the stages, but as you learn more about them and how they work, you can make the practice your own and whichever of the “tools” are most appropriate to your situation.

You can use the links in the sidebar to the left to help you explore each of the stages in turn.

Comments

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Comment from Sanya
Time: January 27, 2011, 6:32 am

I find quite difficult to focus on breath flowing over the rims of nostrils. I can easily concentrate on rise and fall of the abdomen but i can’t feel breath over the rims of nostrils. Will it take some practice to develop the minute sensations?

Thank you,
Sanya

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: February 2, 2011, 11:58 am

Yes, it can take some practice. One thing you could try for a few seconds (while meditating or right now) is to place your fingertips on your nostrils so that the openings are mostly blocked. This makes the breath flow more strongly, so that you can train your mind to notice that area of the body. When you take your fingers away, you may still be able to notice the breath flowing over the rims of the nostrils, even though the breath is now back to its normal, gentle flow.

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Comment from Marvin
Time: February 7, 2012, 8:55 pm

What I tried is putting a Vicks (eucalyptus menthol oil) in my nostrils so that when I inhale I can feel a cold sensation of air running through my nostrils.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: February 7, 2012, 10:41 pm

That’s creative response, Marvin. I like mediating in cold rooms for the very reason that it’s easier to feel the breath. The only reservation I have about the Vicks method is that it may not lead to greater long-term sensitivity. Of course perhaps it will. Maybe having definite sensations to pay attention to will help your brain to strengthen the pathways that deal with noticing sensations in the nostrils. I’d be interested to hear how it works out when you’re not using Vicks — especially after a few months of practice.

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Comment from satish
Time: April 12, 2012, 4:05 pm

Do i need to completely quit my smoking and drinking habits, or is it possible to practise meditation with reduced no of cigars and occasional drinking???

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: April 12, 2012, 4:39 pm

I think you’ll find a lot of meditators enjoy the occasional drink. A lot of meditators find they’re less drawn to alcohol than they were before. Perhaps they don’t need the stress release so much, and perhaps they enjoy the clarity.

I don’t know so many who smoke, although that’s usually for health reasons rather than because of intoxication. If you do lovingkindness meditation it starts to seem very incongruous to do something that’s causing harm to yourself.

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Comment from jo
Time: April 24, 2012, 5:11 am

Every time I begin to focus on the breath – i start to control my breathing, can’t seem to help it. Sometmes this makes the breath feel quite uncomfortable. The more i try not to do it, the worse it seems to get. How do I let go of controlling the breath – or maybe I’m just a control freak in the making?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: April 24, 2012, 8:58 am

Hi, Jo.

We have an article about letting go of controlling the breath. One other thing you might want to try is to only pay attention to the out-breath. I’d be interested to hear how you get on.

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Comment from Deepanshu
Time: February 15, 2013, 6:37 am

First of all thank you very much for putting this valuable information on meditation online. I had some questions regarding this meditation:
1. Does it help in curing obsession with certain types of thoughts.
2. Should we practice it in the association of others or we can do it alone as well?

Thanks again for your kindness.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: February 15, 2013, 9:57 am

Hi, Deepanshu.

Mindfulness helps with any kind of obsessive thinking. And it can be practiced alone, and in fact much of our practice has to be alone, but it’s also beneficial to practice with others. We gain support and encouragement from others, and we can also learn from their experience.

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Comment from Deepanshu
Time: February 15, 2013, 11:32 am

Hello Bodhipaksa, Thank you for your reply. How much time do you recommend one to practice? And is there any special time of the day which is ideal? I travel daily almost 2 hours in the bus and I try to practice it in the bus. Is that ok ?

Thanks.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: February 15, 2013, 2:34 pm

Hi, Deepanshu.

How much time you spend depends on your needs, desires, and schedule. Any amount of meditation is better than none, and generally more meditation is better than a shorter amount, but many people struggle with finding the time to meditate for more than 20 minutes. Forty is better if ou can manage it.

Practicing in the bus can work very well, although I’d recommend not making that the only time you meditate.

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Comment from Deep
Time: March 23, 2013, 8:13 am

Hi Bodhipaksa,
Firstly thank u for your continual support. Its been some time I’ve been practising mindfulness of breathing. Although Im unable to focus for a long time but still I’ve begun to experience some results: more control over oneself, the ability to remain balanced in unpleasant situations.
However, many a times while meditation, I have lusty thoughts and sometimes its very tempting to indulge in those fantasies. Infact till now I’ve been struggling with a sexual obsession. In the past I’ve tried to artificially supress those (and infact even now subconsciously it is done) but it doesn’t work and I start getting a headache whenever I attempt to supress my sexual desires. I wanted to know your opinion on how should i deal with these thoughts. I would very much appreciate your advise.
Thanks again, Deep.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: March 23, 2013, 11:17 am

Hi, Deep.

This is the kind of thing that’s probably best dealt with in a face-to-face discussion with a therapist. Reaching out on the Internet is a good sign that you’re open to change, but you’re going to have to take a further step. To face up fully to your feelings about this area you need talk to someone in depth about what you’re experiencing.

All the best,
Bodhipaksa

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Comment from caleb
Time: March 7, 2014, 12:25 am

Bodhipaksa ive tried to meditate but it seems nomatter how badly i want to meditate my mind wont rest any tips on how to calm my mind?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: March 7, 2014, 12:30 pm

First I’d suggest that you just relax about the idea of making progress. You say your mind won’t rest, but actually what you’re saying is that you’d like progress to be happening faster than it is. If you just keep letting go of your trains of thought when you notice that you’ve been distracted, that will make a difference. Most of the change that’s happening is taking place out of sight, in your subconscious. Often people don’t even notice the change when it does become observable (for example it’s common for other people to notice that we seem calmer, when we ourselves haven’t noticed any change).

So just keep going. Just meditate, and don’t be concerned about progress. The progress will take care of itself.

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