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.