Wildmind Buddhist Meditation

Mindfulness of Breathing

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“Stage Zero” – the importance of preparation

three flowers With any meditation practice, it’s important to do a certain amount of preparation in order to help things go well. But all too often, this preparation is seen as an optional extra and is not done thoroughly, or at all. That’s a bad idea.

Imagine you’re baking a cake, and you want it fast. You want results. You want to get straight to the eating stage with as little time spent on fussing around with ingredients as possible. So you throw some flour and eggs and sugar into a cake tin (Hey! Who’s got time for measuring!) and slam it in the oven. Oh, the gas isn’t lit. Okay, let’s just turn it up full now so that it cooks faster. Yum! Looking forward to your cake? I thought not.

If you want to get certain results (whether a delicious cake or a calmer, clearer mind) you have to set up the right conditions for that to happen. This is an important Buddhist principle called “conditionality,” which states, in part, that if you want x, you have to provide the conditions that allow x to arise. There are no short cuts.

The preparation that we do in meditation is the stage of setting up our postures, deepening our awareness of our bodies, and relaxing as deeply as we can. This preparation is essential if we want to provide the conditions for the arising of a calmer, clearer, less stressed, more peaceful mind.

I call this preparation “Stage Zero” to emphasize that it’s not an optional extra. Setting up the right conditions for your meditation practice to go well is an essential and integral part of your meditation practice.

In a way it would be much better if we called Stage Zero “Stage One” instead. That way there would be less of a tendency to think that you can drop the preparation and just plunge into the practice. Unfortunately, that would be rather confusing, since the stage of counting after the out breath is universally known as Stage One.

Comments

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Comment from Jeff308
Time: March 17, 2007, 12:45 pm

I am in Atlanta, Ga. And I am a beginner. Can you suggest any individuals or centers in the Atlanta area?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: May 28, 2007, 9:01 am

A quick search of Google showed that many kinds of Buddhist meditation are available in Atlanta. I’d suggest finding an Insight meditation or Zen group, but it all depends on what kind of meditation most interests you. There’s an online meditation meetup group that you may find helpful.

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Comment from Dawna
Time: June 19, 2008, 4:27 pm

I literally make cake that way. :P

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: June 19, 2008, 8:33 pm

Interesting!

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Comment from Luca
Time: August 8, 2008, 5:50 am

Hello there,
I am an unexperienced beginner who is using your (now maybe quite old, but fantastic) book “Wildmind” for introduction to meditation. On page 65, you made reference to an AudioFile (mob_0) which offered guidance for a simple form (stage 0) of the Mindfulness of Breathing.
I could not find it on the site, though. Is there any way I can get it? I will understand if it has been permanently removed.
Thank you anyway for your wonderful books and spectacular site! :)

Luca

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 8, 2008, 12:52 pm

Hi Luca,

I thought we’d put up redirects to all the new locations, but that was one we missed when we redesigned the site. The new location is http://www.wildmind.org/posture/bodyawareness.

And many thanks for the kind comments on the book and the site.

With metta,
Bodhipaksa

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Comment from Annica Rosén
Time: April 10, 2010, 5:05 am

Hello, to meditate gives me so much but …..
I have to start again at “Stage Zero” and what ever my life have for me I will not let go of the meditation again. Could you please give me some advaice, how to think when I have to meditate lying down. I have problems with my back, a slipped disc. It´s not the same feeling, when I sit down I reach something else , I can´t explain the big different but I think you know what I mean.

If you have any advice I would appreciate that.
I hope you can read my english even if the spelling is not so good.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: April 10, 2010, 10:43 pm

Hi, Annica.

I’ve sometimes had to lie down myself in order to meditate. I don’t have anything as serious as a slipped disc, but sometimes I’ve had injuries or pain that has come and gone. It’s hard to stay awake at times, and I never feel I’m quite as clear as I am when I’m sitting upright.

I find, when I’m focusing on my breathing, that it helps to stay focused on the sensations in the upper chest and in the head. If I focus on the belly I’m certain to feel sleepy.

Apart from that, I’m afraid I don’t have much advice to offer. I haven’t had to lie down for a long time now, and I don’t think I ever really got the hang of it anyway!

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Comment from Annica Rosén
Time: April 12, 2010, 4:38 am

Thank you so much, this can not be for ever and I feel it is better to do the best than don´t meditate at all.

I just thought when you wrote abut focus in the upper chest or the head that I will try to make “a picture” in my head of me sitting in position.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: April 12, 2010, 4:15 pm

Hi Annica,

Oh, one of my favorite sayings is “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” Meditation is so worthwhile that it’s still very much worth doing even if we’re not able to do it perfectly. Think of it as being like taking up running, but where you’re only allowed to run uphill for some reason. It’ll be very hard to do, and you’ll be exhausted every time you go out for a run, and you’ll wonder if it’s worth doing. But you’re really building up muscle, and when you are able to run on a flat road you’ll find it so very, very easy. It’s like that when you have to meditate lying down. It’s much harder to pay attention, but you’re having to make an extra effort to remain mindful, and that extra effort will help you develop stronger “mindfulness muscles.” When you’re able to meditate sitting up, you’ll notice the benefits from the practice you’re doing now.

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Comment from Annica Rosén
Time: April 13, 2010, 3:14 am

Thank you for your this, this will help me not only with my meditation it will help me with everything in my life in situations you really don´t want to have but you can´t take them away.

Reading this was like a sunrise, a beautiful sunrise

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Comment from David
Time: April 6, 2011, 12:25 am

Hello,

I’d like to start off by saying this website is tremendously helpful. The explanations are so clear, and I can tell a lot of effort went into it :)

I have had allergies and asthma ever since I was a small child, and as a result I have developed two bad habits: quick, shallow breathing and mouthbreathing.

The allergies have tapered off, and I have clear nasal pasages as of right now.

My problem is, that even when I open my chest, I can barely feel my breaths expanding my lungs. I’ve been avoiding mouthbreathing because it dries out my throat, and instead rely on trying to feel the air flowing in and out of my nostrils.

Could the shallow breaths be a relaxation issue? Are there any breathing exercises you could recommend?

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: April 6, 2011, 9:52 am

Hi, David.
Thanks for your kind comments.

Shallow breathing can definitely be a relaxation issue, and even a major health issue. Hypopnea, as it’s technically known, can result in mood disorders, poor memory, and a variety of cardiovascular problems. It’s something I think you should seek medical advice on.

I have to say that I’m not qualified to either diagnose any breathing problems you may have, or to recommend any specific breathing exercises. I’m really just a meditation teacher, and I don’t have any specialist medical or physical therapeutic knowledge.

If you’re looking for exercises, I’d suggest starting with seeing a physical therapist, who can assess the degree of hypopnea you’re experiencing and who would be on hand to make sure you were doing the exercises properly. Sometimes when people have disordered breathing, the problems actually get worse when they try to exert more conscious control over the breathing process. Sometimes, in the case of physical causes, like an overly narrow palate, there can be non-invasive corrections that stretch the palate.

I wish you all the best.

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Comment from Hazel
Time: August 18, 2012, 1:34 pm

Hello,

I am just a beginner and I want to know the frequency for meditating with the stage zero and also for how long. Because if i have meditated for only 10 minutes I start dozing off and think 10 minutes are ok for the initial level.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 18, 2012, 4:18 pm

If your doing just this, then 10 minutes is fine. But build up the time as you add more stages. And daily practice, or close to daily, is good as well.

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Comment from clarice
Time: February 13, 2013, 10:48 am

Is stage zero a period of mOb?

Also thank you for the running analogy Bodipaksa. Having been a serious runner that is a perfect analogy.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: February 13, 2013, 11:03 am

“Stage Zero” is one of my things, Clarice. The “official” instructions for MoB start with Stage One, but everyone recognizes that there’s important work to be done in order to be ready to start Stage One. I call it “Stage Zero” so that it’s not thought about as an optional extra, but as an integral part of the practice.

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