Stage 1: Relaxing and Calming With the Out-Breathing

Stage One of this practice involves counting our out-breaths. The reason for doing this is that counting our exhalations subtly brings our attention to the out-breathing, helping to accentuate the natural relaxing and calming effects of this phase of the breathing.  We count silently, just after the end of the exhalation, ten breaths at a time. I’ll say more about that in a moment.

Before we start on Stage 1, it’s helpful to do some preparation — what I call “Stage Zero,” which you can read about here. Stage Zero involves setting up and settling into your meditation posture, then taking your awareness through your body, letting go of any tensions as best you can. To help you do that most effectively, you might want to check out our posture guidelines, then come back and read what’s next.

Okay, now we’re sitting comfortably, we’ll begin…

Sometimes it can be beneficial to take a few deep, long, breaths, or to breath more fully using the abdomen. This is done to encourage the body and mind to slow down. But if this is done it’s just for a few breaths, after which we let the breathing return to a natural rhythm. This is the only time we control the breathing. After these initial conscious breaths, we let the breathing follow its own pace.

Jump to a section:

Once you’ve taken a tour of your whole body, begin to notice in particular the physical sensations of your breathing. Let yourself become absorbed in the sensations of the breathing that accompany the breath flowing in and out of your body.

This includes not just the experience of the breath — the contact your body makes with the air flowing in your passageways — but any sensation anywhere that’s related to this. That includes the movements of muscles, joints, and bones, the build and release of pressure in the abdomen, the touch of your skin moving against your clothing. Absolutely any sensation connected with the process of breathing.

Notice how the sensations are always changing.

This meditation is not a breathing exercise, and we don’t control the breath in any way, simply letting it flow naturally in and out. Generally we inhale and exhale through the nose, unless perhaps the nose is blocked.

It’s natural for there to be a slight pause between the end of the in breath and the start of the exhalation, and a slightly longer pause between the end of the out breath and the start of the in breath. Again, we allow the breath to flow naturally, and there’s no question of deliberately holding the breath or controlling it in any way.

Then begin counting (internally) after every out-breath:

Breathe in – breathe out – 1
Breathe in – breathe out – 2
Breathe in – breathe out – 3
Breathe in – breathe out – 4
Breathe in – breathe out – 5

… and so on until you reach ten. If you get to ten, start again at one.

If your mind wanders, just come back to experiencing the physical sensations of the breath, and begin counting again.

Keep following the breath, and counting, for at least five minutes.

Really notice the qualities of the out-breathing. Notice the sense of letting go, the downward movement in the body, the feeling of relaxation as your body releases, and perhaps even a sense of mental calming. The exhalation phase of the breathing has a natural relaxing and calming effect.

Bring as much patience into the process as possible. It’s normal for a lot of thoughts to arise, and from time to time you’ll completely forget you’re supposed to be following your breath. Distraction is a normal part of the meditation process.

You can listen to an MP3 guided meditation that will lead you through the First Stage of the practice by clicking on the player below:

Exploring the Relaxing and Calming Effect of Stage 1

Just tried the first stage of the Mindfulness of Breathing?

Kind of anxious about getting on to stage two?

Okay. Why not consolidate what you’ve already learned, rather than rushing on to do the whole practice as quickly as possible? Heck, the chances are you want to learn to meditate because life is so rushed and hectic, so why not start to relax. What’s the rush? Hang loose!

Try doing the first stage of the practice for a few days. Maybe even try to do it more than once every day. Why not take a few minutes now to plan exactly when you’re going to do it?

I suggest you try five to ten minutes in the morning, and the same in the evening, just before you go to bed. Or maybe a few minutes on your lunch-break? There’s no right or wrong time to meditate, so see what suits you.

Remember that this isn’t an exercise in counting. Counting your out-breaths, specifically, is a way to pay attention to the exhalation phase of the breathing, which has a relaxing and calming effect on the body and mind. There are other reasons for counting our breaths, which you can learn about below.

So try that for maybe three days, and then come back and learn the second stage. Give that a few days (doing both stages) and then come back again. And so on.

You can also think about touching base with your breathing at various times throughout the day. This could be as simple as taking one full, mindful breath in between activities. Or you might stay in touch with your breathing while you’re having a conversation or listening to a presentation. Instead of sitting on the train or bus, letting your mind wander, or (since we don’t like inactivity these days) checking your text messages, try just paying attention to your breathing. If you’re walking — even if it’s just from the car to the building in which you work, or from your office desk to the bathroom — pay attention to your breathing. The breathing is always there for you to notice. And noticing it will always help calm your mind, at least a little.

Play around with the out-breath. Any time you become aware of the breathing during the day, explore the relaxing and calming qualities of the out-breathing. Notice how the body lets go every time you exhale. Notice how emotions like relief and contentment relate to exhaling.

While you’re exploring stage one, you can try to answer any questions you have by exploring the site, and explore the links on this page that deal with stage one.

What Does This Practice Do?

In the short term, the Mindfulness of Breathing practice helps us to become calmer and also to become more energized, refreshed, and alert.

It’s not just about inducing a temporary calming and relaxing effect, though. In the long term, it helps us to develop more awareness so that we have more freedom to choose what our responses are going to be in any given situation. This means, for example, that we can find ourselves in a situation that would normally make us anxious, but we can choose instead to cultivate patience and calmness.

Practicing mindfulness is enormously enriching. Instead of being half-aware of what we’re doing, we can fully and richly experience every moment of our lives. The mindfulness that we develop in this practice will help us to enjoy our food more, will help us to concentrate better at work, and will help us to be more present when we’re talking to our friends. And many people who do this practice last thing at night say that it helps them to sleep and that their dreams are richer.

Mindfulness helps us develop the ability to pay sustained attention, and this is valuable in many ways. Ultimately it’s because we’re able to pay sustained attention to our experience that we’re able to gain spiritual insight. Without this ability we simply skim over the surface of our experience without really learning anything. With it we learn more and more about how to become happier and more fulfilled.

What’s the Counting For?

Flowers have a calming and relaxing effect on the mind

The counting has a number of really useful functions (almost as useful as the breathing, really!).

It’s very easy just to “space out” instead of actually meditating. When we space out we get distracted without realizing it. The counting helps to give us a more objective sense of how much of the time we’re distracted, and how much we’re remaining aware.

Counting allows us to “measure” how long we’re maintaining our awareness. Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused on the breath even for three breaths. Other times we can be aware for several cycles of ten breaths.  In this way, counting gives you a more objective measure of how your mind is, so that you can tell if it’s a “good day” or a “bad day.”

Counting gives us something to aim for. It’s good to have goals. If you keep getting distracted before getting to the tenth breath then you can make a little more effort to reach ten. If you make it that far then you can try to get to ten again. Without the counting it’s hard to have any sense of what you’re working towards.

Often you’ll find that you get distracted at exactly the same point in the counting, over and over again. Maybe it’ll be after the third breath, maybe after the fifth or sixth. It varies. But knowing this, you can prepare yourself by really paying attention to what goes on in the mind and body as you approach the point where you tend to get distracted. Once you’ve made it past the “danger zone” once, you’ll find it starts happening naturally afterwards.

The numbers help us to see if we’re making progress. If you put the effort into your meditation practice then you’ll see results. But how can you see results if there’s nothing to measure them by?

The numbers subtly alter your perception of the breath. When you count after the out-breath then that’s the part of the breathing process that you’re most aware of. So in the first stage of the practice you’re more aware of breathing out, which has a calming and relaxing effect on your being. In the second stage of the practice our attention is moved more to the in-breathing. We’ll talk more about this after you’ve done the second stage of the practice.

Keep Getting Distracted?

Everyone gets distracted during meditation — even people who’ve been meditating for years. You’re in good company.

The first stage in creating a beautiful garden is to realize how many weeds there are to be cleared up. If you feel a bit daunted by the sheer volume of trivia that your mind seems capable of creating then it’s good to remember that you need to know it’s there before you can do anything about it. Also bear in mind that dealing with it will bring you happiness.

It’s as if you’ve just inherited a beautiful garden, which is full of weeds. You can’t just pretend that the weeds aren’t there — you have to do something about it. With a real garden you could always just get rid of it or hire someone to look after it. With your mind you don’t have that luxury. Leave it alone and it will just get worse. The best thing to do is get started as soon as possible on clearing those mind-weeds.

If you ever feel frustration with your distractions, then remember that when you realize you’ve been distracted in meditation you have a choice — you can choose to exercise patience and gentleness with yourself. Getting mad or getting despondent will only make things worse. It’s a bit like kicking the dandelions because you’re annoyed with them; all you’re doing is spreading the seeds even further.

So chill, and patiently continue working at clearing the weeds from your wild mind.

The moment that you realize you’ve been distracted is actually a very valuable one. This is the point at which our natural tendency may be to get annoyed, or despondent, or frustrated. But it’s also an opportunity for us to practice patience, and to be accepting of imperfection, and to be kind to ourselves. And it’s bringing those qualities into being that’s as important, in the long run, as returning to the object of the meditation practice.

It can be reassuring as well to know that there are tools that help us reduce the level of distraction we experience. Simply returning our attention to the breath every time we realize the mind has wandered is very effective in the long term. Counting the breaths is another way to bring more stability to the mind in meditation. Knowing that the out-breathing has a natural calming and relaxing effect on your body and mind helps to accentuate those effects. We’re not helpless. We have all we need in order to calm the mind. We just need to keep making a gentle effort, intelligently using the tools we have available to us.

If the Numbers Won’t Stay Put

Many people find that the numbers won’t stay put. They merge with the out-breath so that you’re sort of exhaling the numbers. This can be a source of worry, but I think that’s fine when this happens with the counting.

The first stage is more connected with the out-breath anyway, and the fact that the number has a way of integrating itself into the exhalation just reinforces that association. The number sliding into the exhale may even accentuate the calming and relaxing effect that naturally accompanies that phase of the breathing.

It’s all too easy, especially when first learning meditation, to find that we get caught up in wanting to do things “perfectly.” We look at our current experience and compare it unfavorably to some imagined state that we tell ourselves we “should” be experiencing, and of course we feel unhappy. There’s no quicker way to make ourselves miserable than to make unfavorable comparisons between how we are and how we think we should be.

So we need to learn to let go and to accept that sometimes things don’t happen the way we expect them to.

In fact it’s probably a good idea, when something like this happens — the numbers not going where we expect them to go — to take a sense of gentle curiosity into the experience. Perhaps the fact that the numbers are merging into the relaxing, calming out-breath (which is all about letting go) is helping us to meet a need to let go more.

Having said that, I think it’s good to work gently at getting the number to go where it’s “supposed” to go — in the space between the out-breath and the in-breath. There are good reasons for this that we’ve gone into elsewhere. But don’t force it. Be gentle. Be patient. And in the meantime, enjoy the calming and relaxing effect of observing your exhalations — wherever the number ends up.

Timing the Stages

Beginners often assume that timing how long they are meditating for will be very distracting. They sometimes wonder if they should use an alarm clock, or some other mechanical method.

Actually, an alarm clock or beeper might be rather jarring and unpleasant, undoing the any calming and relaxing effect the meditation practice may have had. But timing the meditation is not that hard: most meditators just have a clock or watch sitting in front of them. They’ll open their eyes from time to time and see how long they’ve been sitting.

It really isn’t a great distraction. Just make sure to place your clock or watch somewhere that you can see it without having to change the angle of your head or move your eyes. Also choose a device that doesn’t tick, and that has a face large enough for you to see without straining.

If you find that you keep wanting to open your eyes to check the time to an excessive degree, then start observing that urge without opening your eyes. Notice the breathing, and the desire to open your eyes. What happens to that urge as you continue to observe your breathing for four or five more breaths? Probably it loses some of its strength, and so when you do open your eyes to check the time it feels more conscious and deliberate.

There are many specialist timers and apps available that make it even easier to keep track of the time without having even to open your eyes. Often those can be set to ring the stages (if you’re meditating in stages) and mark the end of your chosen time period using a pleasant recording of a bell or chime.

Often I just use my phone’s clock app (with no audible alert). I just have to remember beforehand to change the length of time after which my phone’s screen turns off, and then to set it back afterward.

When You Find You’re Controlling Your Breathing

I recently received an email from a visitor to the Wildmind website. Ken asked:

When practicing breathing, I find that I can not seem to *not* control it to some extent. How can I feel more comfortable with the breath and prevent myself from controlling it? Should I just be aware of the fact that I am doing this and continue on?

This is a very common experience. We get so used to being in control, or thinking that we’re in control, or simply thinking that we ought to be in control, that the conscious mind starts to interfere with the act of breathing — something that’s normally handled unconsciously by the autonomic nervous system.

For most animals the breath is controlled entirely by unconscious parts of the brain. Dogs and cats don’t think about their breathing as far as we know. In a few creatures — such as whales and dolphins — breathing is entirely under conscious control and they have to take each breath as a deliberate action. These animals have a clever way of sleeping with only one half of the brain at a time so that they don’t drown. In humans breathing mostly takes place unconsciously (we don’t stop breathing when we fall asleep) but we can also take conscious control of our breathing when we need to. This is a handy talent — it means for example that we can hold the breath when we’re submerging ourselves in water or walking past an obnoxious odor, and that we can consciously take deep breaths when necessary.

In mindfulness meditation we don’t generally aim to control the breath consciously. Certainly there are times when we may wish to do this for short periods — for example taking a few deep breaths at the start of the practice in order to settle the mind, or slowing the breath when we realize that we’ve become excited — but the words to emphasize here are “short periods.” We only control the breath for a specific purpose and for few breaths, and then we let the breathing return to autonomic control.

Ideally we simply let the breath flow in and out of the body at its own pace, and the job of the conscious mind is to observe the sensations of the breath. Ideally. This doesn’t always work out as we’ve planned, and sometimes beginners to meditation find that they’re controlling the breath. In its mildest forms there may be a slight sense of stiffness or awkwardness about the breathing, but in more extreme cases the muscles involved in the breathing, such as the intercostals (the muscles between the ribs) may become very sore indeed. People sometimes hyperventilate and feel dizzy. None of this is particularly dangerous, but it certainly doesn’t help our meditation practice and can cause distress. So much for meditation being calming and relaxing when that happens!

So what can we do if we find that we develop a habit of controlling the breath?

As Ken suggested in his email, we can just be aware of the fact that we are controlling the breath and simply carry on with the practice. Eventually if we do this we’re likely to find that we’ve forgotten to control the breath consciously. But this can take a long time and this isn’t a very effective approach.

One time, when I was very new to meditation, I found that I was controlling my breathing. The more I noticed that I was controlling the movements of my rib cage and abdomen, the harder it was to let go and simply breathe. My chest muscles were working against each other and as a result they became very sore. The more sore they became the harder it was to just let go and breathe. I was caught in a vicious cycle.

Luckily I had a creative realization that I didn’t need to focus on my chest at all, and I started to pay more attention to the breath in the nostrils, and particularly to the sensation of the breath as it passed over the rims of the nostrils. It occurs to me now that it’s possibly to be aware of the breath in the nostrils but not to control it there. Anyway, I noticed that the more I directed my attention to the nostrils, the less I noticed the pain in my chest. From time to time my focus would slip down to my aching rib cage and I’d sense the discomfort there, and this experience became an incentive to notice the nostrils even more keenly. Eventually I became very concentrated indeed and my chest muscles began to relax and return to unconscious control.

Another approach that can be very useful is to lighten up by bringing more of a sense of playfulness into our experience. One way to do this is to imagine that you’re floating on warm, buoyant water that’s rising and falling in time with the breath. You can really enjoy the rhythm of the waves as they rise and fall.

A similar approach is to imagine that you’re sitting on a swing that’s moving in time with the breathing. You can call to mind the enjoyable, but calming and relaxing sense of enjoyment that you may have got from this activity when you were a child, and get a sense of pleasure from the rise and fall.

One thing that’s going on here is that we’re allowing a sense of enjoyment and playfulness to arise in the practice. This can be very helpful if we tend to take a dry, dutiful, and willful approach to meditation. Another thing that’s happening is that the driving force for the breath is being imaginatively located outside of ourselves, in the waves or in the motion of the swing, and so we’re learning that we don’t have to have conscious control of the breath. Just as the motion of the water or swing is outside ourselves, so the control of the breathing is outside of the conscious mind.

So these are a few approaches to dealing with the difficulty of simply observing the breath without consciously controlling it. There are no doubt other approaches but these are ones that my students have found to be most useful.

Dealing With Ups and Downs

Diane, one of my students, reported the following:

“This morning it was not as easy to concentrate; I had to make more of an effort to keep myself on track. I handled the situation quite easily, noticing that I was more distracted and being aware that it would take a bit more work today to keep myself out of distraction. I did not judge myself or get scared that my practice is falling apart, just acknowledged that it was not one of my better days and went on from there.”

Your meditation practice will always have its ups and downs. This is inevitable in developing any skill. You’ll have good days and bad days, and at first both good and bad experiences may seem to arrive randomly, as gifts – welcome or unwelcome – of the gods. At first this can be dispiriting. You think you’re doing so well; your meditation was so enjoyable, calming, and relaxing yesterday, and here you are today struggling to count to three and feeling that it’s all hopeless.

Diane’s approach to her ups and downs is exemplary. Instead of getting lost in the distracted, reactive states of self-pity or fear, she simply observed what was happening, realizing that the conditions in her mind, for whatever reason, had changed, and that the kind of effort she would have to make had also changed. Change is unavoidable. Life gives us that challenge. And it isn’t helpful to us to mourn the inevitable or to fight change. We have to learn to embrace change, accept that it is a part of our lives, and then respond as creatively as we can: no condemnation, no self-recriminations, just a patient sense of working with whatever comes up.

As Diane went on to say: “I guess I always got the good and the bad, and perhaps now just have more awareness of my state of mind whatever it may be. I remind myself to be especially gentle with myself, that the ‘bad’ is really no different than the ‘good’, it just is.”

This is an excellent observation. Meditation is, above all, the art of dealing with what is.

What’s Next?

If you’ve explored the first stage of the Mindfulness of Breathing, experiencing the relaxing and calming effects of the out-breathing, you may want to start exploring Stage 2. It’s similar to Stage 1 in that it too involves counting our breaths. Yet it feels very different and has a different effect. You can learn more about Stage 2 of the Mindfulness of Breathing practice by clicking here.

You can also learn more about this meditation practice in my book, Wildmind: A Step-by-Step Guide to Meditation.

362 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi again,

    I just noticed the page on tips for the above question. I’ll try them. Thank you.

    P.S. Have you heard of anyone else having trouble with controlling the breath when counting or doing mantras?

    PPS: While meditating, the question of ‘who am I’ keeps coming up, and I recount the 5 aggregates. We contain each of them, they work together, but we are not only this. Is this correct? I go through each & identify that I have form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations & conciousness, but that I am not those things- as a separate indentity. I’m getting slightly confused. Is it correct to say- I have a consciousness but I am not my consciousness?

    Thank you.

    • HI Diane,

      Im glad you spotted the tips… (I take it you mean this page?)

      It’s very common for people to control their breathing, more so with mindfulness of breathing, but it can happen in any meditation. It’s something that passes, eventually. At some point you get more absorbed in the meditation and you “forget” to control your breath.

      The question of “who am I?” is a very interesting one. The fact that we want to have an answer is also interesting. My take on what the BUddha was saying in regard to each of the skandhas as being “this is not me, this is not mine, this is not my self” is that he was saying: Stop trying to define yourself. When you define yourself you’re clinging to something, and that clinging separates you from your experience and fro other people. So just be. Be content with being. Let go of al the mental activity that goes into defining who you are, and just experience your experience.

      Your question , is it correct to say “I have a consciousness but I am not my consciousness” is problematic. Who has a consciousness? In what way to you have, or won a consciousness. What’s the nature of this entity that possesses a consciousness? We end up tying ourselves in knots.

      What we’re working towards is a radical simplicity in our experience. As the Buddha put it, “in the seen, only the seen, in the heard, only the heard, in the cognized, only the cognized — thus there will be no “in here” or “out there.” This is the Buddhist approach to non-duality — not creating a split in our experience by continually referring to ourselves. Of course that’s a hard thing to attain, and it means rooting out a lot of negative emotions, since they all have the function of strengthening our false sense of having a separate self.

      Baby-sitter’s about to leave now, so I’ll have to call it a day!

  • Thank you!

    This morning, I recognized that I was judging & chattering (mentally), always trying to manipulate the experience. Constant comparisons & analyses, instructions on how to meditate ‘properly’ dominated the session. Now that I realize what I’ve been up to, how to proceed? I’ll take your advice and ‘just be’. This evening’s session will be the first time I’ll be giving myself this sort of compassion.

    Thanks again!

  • For now, I’d suggest just noticing the chatter, perhaps mentally labeling it as “chatter, chatter,” and keeping going with the practice. As soon as you notice the chatter as chatter, rather than simply engaging with it, you’ve moved into a freer state of mind. Thereafter it’s a question of having patience with yourself, because the habits that give rise to the chatter do not go away overnight. You’re going to have mindfulness present, and lots of thinking. That’s just how things are, and we need to accept it. Eventually the patience and mindfulness win over, and the mind quiets down.

  • Thank you. Last night & this morning were very peaceful sessions. I read Thich Nhat Hanhs’ book “You are here” & have been incorporating his suggestions, as well as yours & have found them to be very effective.

    Peace & blessings of happiness to you & all sentient beings.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,

    Firstly i would like to re-iterate what has already been said and congratulate you on a very well organised, interesting and helpful website on meditation. I think the way you have tackled so many of the small issues on meditation, that are necessary to be understood, in order to progress shows real dedication. Well done and keep it up!

    I am relatively new to meditation. This time around i have been practicing mindfulness of breathing for 3 weeks or so…previously i practiced dynamic meditation that involved physical movements creating energy in the body that was then the focus of the meditation…following this i practiced So hum mantra meditation for a while and now anapanasati. I am enjoying it and feel excited about this journey inside, as i have, only fleetingly, experienced the stillness that exists behind my thoughts. I have a question if you would be so kind: when i exhale through the nose i often feel a little uncomfortable in my abdomen where i assume the breathing process begins and ends…it feels as though i am slightly forcing the breath out and it carries a little bit of anxiety in this feeling..not easy to explain! Any idea what it is? Also i was keep hearing about when one is deeply in the meditation there should be only 3 breaths per this true as i often feel like my in breath and out breath and quite short and frequent…like i’m grasping a bit for air? Any thoughts very welcome

  • Hi, Tommy.

    It sounds like you’re controlling your breathing, and that this is leading to that sense of gasping for air. I’d suggest that you spend more time at the beginning of meditation, scanning the body and allowing tension to fall away. Eventually you’ll find that you just “forget” to control the breath, and realize that it’s happening naturally and doesn’t need “you” to control it.

    You might want to listen to the talk and guided meditation in “Calmness, Contentment, Concentration: Part 1,” over on my personal blog. This focuses on meditation methods that help us let go of the anxiety that leads us to controlling the breath.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa, thank you for this wonderful website. I started a week ago stage 1 of mindfulness of breathing and only two days later my husband asked to join me. The experience as been a positive one. I’m not new at meditation but I felt an urge to go back to the basics as I felt stuck and not being able to move forward. I miss a spiritual community to support and encourage my practice. But in Ghana, Africa, I haven’t found any so far. Would you have any references for meditation in this country? I’ve searched the Internet and asked around but so far I only found christian or muslim cults. Thank you ahead.

  • Hi, Lucy.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’m afraid I don’t have any Buddhist or meditator contacts in Ghana! Perhaps you could start a group? If you can find people who are interested in meditation I’d be happy to donate some CDs that you could listen to together.

    All the best,

  • Hi Bodhipaksa, thank you for the quick reply and suggestion. I will contact some people to find about their willingness and availability to start a group, which would be wonderful! After that, i’ll get back to you.

  • Good luck!

  • I’ve tried meditation before with little success. This site has helped me persist because you describe the traps and pitfalls one might experience along the way. Instead of getting angry, or despondent and giving up, now I watch those feelings come and go with understanding. There are still moments of frustration which I realise are part of the journey and not part of my personal failure. I am looking forward to the progress to come, even though I think I still have a long way to go.

  • Hi, Mickey.

    I’m glad you’re recognizing that meditation is a process. It’s a kind of exploration, really, and one in which we often find ourselves falling into pits, walking into walls, stumbling into ditches, and marching confidently up dead ends. But all of this is, believe it or not, progress, because we’re learning the landscape of the mind, and — most importantly — learning to recognize how we crave results and thereby cause ourselves pain, and how we respond to the experience of not getting that we want.

    There’s no way to learn patience without putting ourselves in situations that provoke impatience. Over time, we find ourselves in situations that used to provoke impatience, but find that we’re fine with them.

    And we all have a long way to go! You’re not alone.

  • Hello Bodhipaksa,

    Thank you for this website where you give such kind, practical help about spiritual matters. I’ve started doing mindfulness meditation (all of three days ago). I know I’ll continue.

    Several people ask here about yawning, and I wanted to mention that with horses, it’s a sign they’re letting go of tension. Sometimes you’ll work with a horse a while and if you’re fair and clear and all, he’ll start to yawn and just keep yawning, letting out the butterflies. Then the horse is calmer. He can be more open to what’s next. Maybe this applies to human yawning too?

    Best, and thank you again.

  • I am taking the mindfullness course and find it helpful. I still find i control the breath though i am focused on the in and out breath. Is it ok to control it if you are focusing on the in and out breath.

    • Controlling the breath, especially if it’s not done completely consciously, is not ideal. Even controlling the breath consciously, even though it’s done in the Yogic pranayama tradition, isn’t something I’d advocate. I’d suggest just keeping at it until you find that you just “forget” to control your breathing. There are also things you can do to help you let go of this controlling tendency, such as visualizing yourself floating on buoyant water, which is rising and falling in time with the breath. But more widely, you can notice how much of “you” is not under your control. You can catch yourself walking and realize that you’re not consciously giving instructions to the dozens of muscles involved in that action. Notice how thoughts and feelings arrive unbidden. Notice that while you’ve not been paying attention to your breathing your body has somehow managed to keep you alive. The conscious mind likes to think it’s in control and running the show. Rather, it’s a bit of a jackass, always plagiarizing by taking the credit for actions it isn’t responsible for. It’s a good practice to notice how little the conscious mind actually does.

      By the way, there’s no need to post more or less the same comment multiple times. Once is enough, and the others have been deleted.

  • What about focusing on the breath? Doesn’t focusing on the breath even though your manipulating a little help.

    • I don’t think I fully understand your question, Mike. Do you mean is it still beneficial to be meditating on the breath even though the breath is being controlled? I’d say that except in extreme cases of control (you do get some people who can make themselves sick by almost suffocating themselves or by hyperventilating) there are still benefits from the meditation. In fact they may not be able to get beyond controlling the breath without learning to relax and let go — through continued meditation practice. So it’s a question of just keeping going, and working through those control issues.

  • Thanks for the answers. I don’t control it to the level that i get pulled muscles or hyperventilate. I am aware of the in and out breath. I guess i don’t control it as bad as i thought

  • hi i just wanted to say that i find this very intresting and i am going to try it. thankyou for sharing this with us all.

  • I figure the best way to look at breathing is to compare it to the heart. Your heart beats without yourself thinking about your heart beating. If you view the lungs with the same thought as how you view the heart, you can start to imagine your lungs as just another organ, that functions on it’s own without any type of intervention. You don’t count the breath to literally keep count, but you use the count to remove yourself away from the breath; to observe the breath objectively, as a function to pull oxygen into the lungs. Once you see the team work between the heart and the lungs, you realize that it’s a team that doesn’t need the help of the conscious brain. It’s all about realization, even to the most simplest parts of the body.

  • Respected Bodhipaksa,

    Firstly I want to thank you for this wonderful site, I have started doing mindfulness of breathing meditation as per the instructions given here. My problem is that my mind is very active sometimes even when I am inhaling and exhaling some back ground thoughts are working, please suggest how to calm them. second how long should I do stage one of this meditation, I am planning to stay at stage one for one month. Your opinion on this.


  • Respected Bodhipaksa,

    Sorry one thing I forgot to mention in my last post is that when I am meditating few minutes later the area of my forehead and eyes becomes heavy, I feel that some kind of weight is put on there or a kind of force pulling. I try to be as relax as possible in meditation and don’t push it much but it happens regularly.

    Please show some light on this issue , how can I get over it or should I do some changes in my meditation, I just follow the sensations of breath and do counting on each out breath.

    Thanks And Regards

  • Dear Amit.

    I wold recommend that you not try to get rid of this feeling of heaviness, but instead pay attention to it, and make it part of your meditation. Simply accept it without resistance. I suspect this will be a rewarding experience in a number of ways.

    All the best,

  • Thank you for the work you do to maintain this website. I’ve had one of your audio CDs for a while & have also embarked on many introductions to meditation but I never managed to sustain practice steadily for a long time. Now I’m moving house & city & all sorts of other changes are in process. I can’t carry a CD or drive & listen but I can log on, hear your voice & remember to focus on the breath or simply look at the website for several minutes-as and when. It’s really helpful in a time of transition.

  • Hı Bodhıpaksa

    I am practıcıng breath awareness medıtatıon. Lately, the act of ‘swallowıng’ has become a bıt dısturbıng. Sometımes I am not aware of ıt, and I swallow automatıcly.The problem ıs that often I do not do ıt automatıcly, but I become conscıously aware of the ‘need to swallow’. I try to pay no attentıon to ıt, but ıt´s not always workıng.

    1, Should I swallow whenever I feel the need?(Thıs could lead to too frequent swallowıng)

    2, Or should I resıst the ‘need to swallow'(only a lıttle), and when ıt becomes a bıt uncomfortable, do the swallowıng? (Thıs way I mıght be able to avoıd too frequent swallowıng) Thıs ıs the same approach, whıch I use when my body ıs ıchıng somewhere. I resıst ıt a lıttle, and when ıt becomes unconfortable, I scratch ıt lıghtly.

    Could you please tell whıch of the 2 above ıs better, ıf I want to cultıvate a calm/deep medıtatıve state.

    Thanks for the reply

    • This is a fairly common problem. When people are meditating together it can even become an epidemic, where people become conscious of their own swallowing because they can hear other people’s swallowing. It’s always a passing phase, and at some point you’ll just “forget” to be conscious of swallowing.

      Until then, when you do become aware of the need to swallow, try to swallow as loudly as possible. I’ve found that to be more helpful than trying to swallow quietly. I’m not quite sure why!

  • hi.i have panic disorder when i stay how can i practice your meditation?

    • It’s hard to say. It may be that if you’re listening to a CD, you won’t feel alone. Or perhaps you could meditate with someone else, or be meditating, listening on headphones while someone else is present. Of you could find a meditation center and sit with others.

      All the best,

  • Hi Bodhipaksa

    I have one more question regarding breath awareness meditation. In one of my exercises, I observe the sensations of the breath as it fills my abdomen (I finds this more natural for me than to follow the whole course of the breath).

    I focus on different sensations caused by the breath:

    1, the sensation of movement as the air enters/leaves my abdomen, the pause between the in/out breath,…

    2, In addition, I am also aware of some more “physical” sensations as well: the pressure of the air during inbreath, which causes a little strain in my stomach. Sometimes I can even detect a slight pain (its hardly noticable, more like a little sting).

    Is it all righ if I focus on all these sensations including these later (2,) more “physical” ones?

    With this exercise, my aim is to reach a calm meditative state. Is it possible to reach this state if I do the exercise the above mentioned way?

    Thanks in advance

    • Hi, Nasdor.

      Yes, it doesn’t particularly matter at this stage exactly what sensations you pay attention to, as long as they’re connected with your breathing. Even the discomfort you’re experiencing is fine as an object of attention. And paying attention to these things — as long as you’re simply accepting the sensations and not mentally fussing about them (as sometimes happens with discomfort) will help you calm the mind.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,
    I would just like to thank you for the support you have given this community, and advice. I have in the past suffered from anxiety and panic disorder, particularly waiting for things – queuing, in a traffic jam , waiting to board an aircraft !
    All things I would usually avoid (and hate ) , and make excuses for. Impacting my life greatly, now I BREATH in queues and practice breathing or concentration meditation or try to every day. It is changing my life ! not an instant cure, but just 30 mins per day or more if I can . These small changes to your day like small hinges , they can swing big doors , and change your life for the better !
    Thank you again , Metta. Love to all !

    • Hi, Adrian.

      It’s a real pleasure, especially when I hear how people are benefitting by practicing meditation.

  • Dear Bodhipaksa

    Thank you for the quick reply. I have attented one of your online courses (which was great and informative), but for some reason these questions did not occur to me at that time.

    I have one last question. My aim is to reach a reasonably deep meditative state.
    I hope focusing on these more “physical” sensations (mentioned in point 2., above) will not prevent me from getting into a deeper meditative state. After all, the sensation of the “movement of the air” is also a “physical” sensation (albeit a bit different).
    Am I right?

    Thanks once more


    • Hi, Nasdor. I’m glad you brought that up. I didn’t comment on this previously, but I thought your distinction was a bit odd. Both the movements of the body and the contact with the air are physical sensations. The latter are a little more refined, and I’d say that as our mental stillness grows there’s generally a shift from the grosser movements of the body to the finer sense of the air moving through the airways. But this is a natural process, and not to be rushed. There are days when the mind is restless and it’s hard even to keep our attention focused on the movements of the body. But obviously that’s a good place to start. As the mind settles, we can move to more subtle sensations connected with the breathing.

      There are other subtler physical sensations that can be paid attention to as well: there’s one called piti (in Pali) or priti (in Sanskrit) which is a sense of energy in the body. This starts to arise as we relax the body more deeply, and it can be experienced often as tingling or as a sense of flowing, or even rushing, energy. It’s subtler in the sense that it’s not part of the external five senses, but it can be very powerful. Generally, as the mind quiets and the body calms, piti becomes more prominent, and we find ourselves following the breath as well as noticing the piti. Once piti is well established, we can switch to being aware of the breath and feelings of joy (which by this time are becoming more prominent), and we let piti fade from our attention. The experience here is of the breath surrounded by joy. And if we continue, we end up simply noticing the breath, and even the joy fades from our experience. There’s at this point nothing in our experience but the sensation of the breath (the air in the passageways, not the movements of the body). This is a very “cool” state, and one that’s deeply peaceful. It’s also a quasi mystical state, because the sense of self has become completely merged with the object. You are the breath.

      Basically what I’ve just give you is a tour of the four jhanas (dhyanas in Sanskrit), or at least my experience of them. Other people may experience them differently, or describe the experience in different ways. These are definitely deep states — I’m not sure how deep you’re aiming to go when you say you want to go “reasonably deep.”

      I hope this is helpful.

  • I have also experienced the energy surge you mentined (“piti”) several times. Once this surge subsides, it leaves me in a quite different mental state than my waking state. I would like to learn to maintain this blissful, calm state for longer periods.

    If I understand your words correctly, in deeper meditative states, one focuses on the “movement of the air itself” rather than on the “movemet of the body”. However, one can only preceive the air throught the bodily sensations caused by the air’s interaction with the body (the nerves which detect the movement and temperature of the air). Consequently, anything you can detect is some form of bodily sensation.

    Is it all right if I do the exercise in the following way?:

    I begin with simply observing all the sensations caused by the breath (whatever I can detect with a gentle effort at the time).
    When I reach a calmer and deeper state, I become aware of the more finer sensations (the feeling of the air touching the inner surface of my body). Then, I began to focus on these as well. However, I also keep focusing on the other more grosser sensations caused by the breath (the rise and fall of my abdomen as the air enters and leaves, the little strain in my stomach during in-breath…). In other words, I focus on everything casued by the breath without making any conscious distinction. In addition, I observe the breath only around the abdomen (this feels the most natural for me): Here, the movement of my abdomen during in/out breath is quite apparent, so I probably stay aware of this movement even in deeper states.

    Is it all right I I do the exercise in the above mentioned way? Or should I drop the more grosser sensations and focus only on the finner, less detectable ones when I begin to feel them? (I find it very difficult to feel the actual “touch” of the air inside my abdomen, thats why I would prefer to keep focusing on the rise and fall of my abdomen as well)

    Thanks for clearing things up

    • Yes, obviously when I say to focus on the “movement of the air” I mean to focus on the physical sensation of the movement of the air. I thought I’d already said that.

      I can’t say there’s any one right way to pay attention to the breath, but personally I wouldn’t take the approach you outline. I’ll go through your method step by step. Although this rather muddies the waters in some ways, I do want to point out what I think are some misconceptions.

      I begin with simply observing all the sensations caused by the breath (whatever I can detect with a gentle effort at the time).

      More or less. I wouldn’t necessarily try to observe all the sensations of the breath at first. It would be best initially to pick the one sensation that’s the most prominent. However, it can also be very calming to focus on two separate sensations. You can also pay attention to the movements in the abdomen when you need to calm the mind, and to the breath in the upper chest to head when you need to wake yourself up a little and develop sharper focus. These are preliminary tools, to help you calm the mind and develop alertness.

      Once the mind’s a little calmer, it can be useful to notice the sensations of the breathing throughout the body, right down to the fingertips and feet. But this is optional. You can just stick with following the breathing in one (or two) places until the mind settles. And then…

      When I reach a calmer and deeper state, I become aware of the more finer sensations (the feeling of the air touching the inner surface of my body).


      Then, I began to focus on these as well.

      It would probably be more useful to drop any focus on the grosser sensations, and just to stick with the sensation of the air in the airways. So once the mind has settled, move to the more subtle sensations.

      However, I also keep focusing on the other more grosser sensations caused by the breath (the rise and fall of my abdomen as the air enters and leaves, the little strain in my stomach during in-breath…). In other words, I focus on everything casued by the breath without making any conscious distinction.

      If you’re going to do this, do it earlier on, as a way of calming the mind. Then make the switch to the more refined sensations.

      In addition, I observe the breath only around the abdomen (this feels the most natural for me): Here, the movement of my abdomen during in/out breath is quite apparent, so I probably stay aware of this movement even in deeper states.

      Well, I’ve already covered this in my earlier comments. I don’t think you’re going to get terribly deep in meditation paying attention to the movements of the abdomen. That’s more of a preliminary step.

      One last thing. You say, “I find it very difficult to feel the actual ‘touch’ of the air inside my abdomen,” but that’s physically impossible. Air doesn’t flow into your abdomen, just into your lungs. There are nerve cells in the bronchi, I believe, so we can feel at least a general sense of the air moving as far as the chest. With the abdomen we can only feel the movements of the diaphragm and of the muscles on the abdominal wall, and a general sensation of pressure and release.

      I’d suggest that you download and listen to some of the guided meditations I recorded on a recent retreat. They cover the general approach I take, which I’ve found to be effective for getting into jhana. There are about 20 recordings in total.

  • Thanks for the guided mediation files, they were useful in giving me a general idea about how to do my meditation.

    If I understand correctly, after the mind is sufficiently calm, one should focus more on the subtler sensations of the breath (the air touching the passageways,…)

    Therefore, I decided to reshape my session in the following way:

    1, Firstly, I adjust my posture, and relax my body (I tense and release each muscles in turn). I skim through my body for any residual tension.

    ((-I skip the part when one focuses on the outside enviroment and on the sensations of the whole body, because I have already done my relaxation by this time))

    2, Then, I begin to focus on the whole course of the breath (follow breath in the whole body). At this stage, I pay attention to any kinds of sensations not just the finer ones ( the movements of my abdomen, the duration of the in/out breath, the pause between them,…). I focus on more than one sensation at a time.

    3, When my mind is calm enough, I gradually narrow down my focus to the sensations of the air in my whole nose. Then, to the tips of my nosetrills (stage 4 of the practice). Here, I began to focus on the more subtler sensations (the feeling of the air touching my nosestrills). In addition, I focus on (or notice) other qualities of the breath as well (the begining/end of the in/out breath, the pause between them, the temperature of the air,…).
    I keep noticing these, and end my session with the gradual widening of my focus.

    Is it all right, If I focus on(notice) more than one qualities of the breath in (3.,)(only the finer ones around my nosestrills)?

    I hope it is possible the reach a reasonably deep meditative state this way. (I do not expect to go very deep in the begining)

    Thanks for your help once more.

    • That’s all good. You can definitely go very deep in meditation using the method you’ve outlined. Given practice, some time on retreat, and the intelligent application of mindfulness and ethics in daily life, this can take you to fourth jhana, which is as deep and focused as you can go. It might take a few years…

  • Thanks for all the help. Now, I have a general idea how I can practice so as to reach a calm and deep meditative state.

    With respect to the preliminary stage (stage 1-3). Can I observe the sensations of the breath in my nosestrills from the beginning (not the whole course of the breath), and do the counting as an addition in order to calm the mind?

    Then, when my mind is calm enough, drop the counting and simply observe the subtle sensations/qualities of the breath around my nosestrills.

    When I try to follow the whole course of the breath, there are so many different sensations to observe. In addition, the sensation of the movement of my abdomen is so prominent that it tends to dim the other sensations occuring elsewhere.

    Therefore, I would prefer to observe the area around my nosestrills only, and use the counting so as to allign and calm my mind.

    Is it allright, if I do the preliminary stage this way?

    Or should I try to observe the whole course of the breath with all its sensations: those in my nose and chest, the movements of my abdomen, the sense of ‘fullness’ during inbreath,…)? In addition to these, there are such qualities like the duration of the breath and the pause between each breath and so on.

    I am asking this, because as you have pointed out earlier, it is not easy to focus on to many sensations in the beginning.
    In addition, I have read that in Anapasati meditation, the breath is usualy observed at the point where it enters/leaves the body.

    Thanks for the help once more

  • I’m a firm believer in “whatever works.” Paying attention to several sensations at the same time can give the mind so much to do that there’s little space in the mind for inner chatter, and so this can contribute to calmness. But if that doesn’t work for you, then just pay attention to one sensation.

    Precisely which sensation to observe is up for question. You say that it’s “usually” where the breath enters and leaves the body, but my impression it’s usually recommended to pay attention to the sensations where they’re most prominent. On the other hand, going with my “whatever works” method, paying attention lower down in the body tends to calm the mind, while paying attention higher in the body creates alertness. So you can alter where you’re paying attention in order to bring about more balance (depending on whether you have a greater need for calmness of alertness).

    Anyway, it’s fine just to go straight to the nostrils. If it works for you.

  • Thanks Bodhipaksa. You’re suggestions are really practical & effective. I would like to post it in my blog if you don’t mind.

    • Sure, although please remember to link back. If you could include the word “meditation” in the link I’d be most grateful. It helps with Google.

  • If I understand what you said correctly, during preliminary stage (1-3), one has 2 choices:

    1, to observe the whole course of the breath (observe all the places where the breath goes. Here, one focuses on many sensations at different places (the sensations of the head and chest, the movements of the abdomen,…). In this case, when making the transition from stage 3 to 4 (if the mind is sufficiently calm), one gradually “narrows down” his focus to a smaller area (the nosestrills) and observes the finner sensations there. In other words, one observes a larger area (the whole course of the breath) then ‘homes in’ to a smaller area (the tip of the nose) within that larger area.

    2, You have also suggested that, during the preliminary stage, a particular area (not the whole course of the breath) can also be observed. For instance, in the preliminary stage, one can focus on the sensations in the lower part of the chest (the movements of the abdomen included). Here, the sensations are prominent, which makes them a good ‘tool’ for calming the mind.

    However, in this case, when making the transition from stage 3 to 4, one needs to shift his or her focus (not the narrowing down of focus as in (1,)), and begin to observe the breath at a different place (around the nosestrills). For instance, in the beginning, I can observe the movemets of the abdomen to calm my mind. Then shift my focus and observe the finer sensations at a different place (at the tip of the nose).

    Are both the “shifting of focus” and the “narrowing down of focus” a valid method to make the transition from stage 3 to 4?

    Is it all right, If I begin observing the movemets of the abdomen to calm my mind. Then shift my focus and observe the finer sensations at a different place (at the tip of the nose).
    (I can even make this gradually, moving away from my lower chest (and the movements of the abdomen) to my head and then to the nose)

    Thanks once more

  • This is fairly close to what I’ve said, although I’d probably have to diagram everything in a flow chart in order to make sure that what I’m saying is coherent!

    But yes, generally at the start of the practice it’s generally advisable to pay attention to the breath where it’s most prominent (not, usually, as you say, to the whole breath). But if the mind is overactive then you can pay attention to the breath in the belly, or if the mind is dull then pay attention to the breath higher up in the body (especially the head).

    Alternatively, instead of paying attention to one single sensation at the beginning, one can pay attention to two (which can help to keep the mind more engaged), or even to the sensations of the breath throughout the body. This is something I tend to reserve for when my mind is over-active, and so it’s an alternative to paying attention to the movements of the abdomen.

    In moving from stage 3 to stage 4, there is a narrowing of attention to the nostrils.

    Is it all right, If I begin observing the movements of the abdomen to calm my mind.

    Absolutely. Unless you’re already tired, in which case paying attention to the movements of the abdomen will promote mental dullness.

    Then shift my focus and observe the finer sensations at a different place (at the tip of the nose).

    Yes indeed.

    I can even make this gradually, moving away from my lower chest (and the movements of the abdomen) to my head and then to the nose

    Indeed. This isn’t strictly necessary, but I think it’s best to act elegantly and to make a smooth transition in the practice, otherwise it’s as if we’re unceremoniously “dropping” one stage in order to “snatch up” the next.

    The other thing is that while stages one and two focus more on either the in breath or the out breath, stage three is an opportunity to experience the continuity of the breathing process, and to observe in particular the transitions between in and out-breaths, and out and in-breaths, as well as the in and out breaths themselves.

  • Dear Bodhipaksa

    Thanks once more for answering my questions. I was supprised that I had so many things to clarify (At first glance, meditation might appear to be simple, but looking at it more closely one can see that it involves quite a few factors). I think I finally understand how I should put together my session so as to reach a deeper meditative state.

    • Hi, Nasdor.

      Meditation is really an art, and it’s not possible to predict exactly what’s going to work. What works for me may not work for you. Or it may be that even I’m not aware of exactly what’s working for me, so I’m unable to explain it. What seems to work one day may not be appropriate when the mind’s in a different state, and so we need to constantly learn what works for us in different circumstances.

    • Hi, Nasdor.

      Meditation is really an art, and it’s not possible to predict exactly what’s going to work. What works for me may not work for you. Or it may be that even I’m not aware of exactly what’s working for me, so I’m unable to explain it. What seems to work one day may not be appropriate when the mind’s in a different state, and so we need to constantly learn what works for us in different circumstances. I’d suggest that rather than thinking that you have the answer, you have a clearer starting point for working in your practice.

  • Dear Bodhipaksa

    I would like to ask something about stage 4 (mindfullness of breath)

    In stage 4, I observe the sensations around my nosestrills. Due to the subtleness of these sensations, I sometimes loose track of them and do not feel anything for a while (this varies with each session). When this happens, I continue to observe the same spot (the nosestrills). I do not move to elsewhere, where the sensations are more prominent, and easier to follow, since these are to observed earlier in stage 1-3 so as to calm the mind.

    Is it normal to occasionaly loose track of the (touch)sensations in stage 4 ??(I might still be aware of the other qualities of the breath: its duration, the pause between the breaths,…)

    Is it all right, if I continue to observe the area around my nosestrills even when I do not feel any (touch)sensation there??
    (usually this is only temporal and the sensations ‘return’ after a few minutes)

    Thanks for answering

    • Hi Nasdor.

      Everything you say sounds fine. Experiencing the sensations is just a support to help you maintain attentive awareness. Even if the sensation you’ve been paying attention to vanishes, you’re still being attentive, which is the real point. I’d suggest just continuing doing what you’re doing.

      Incidentally, it’s not uncommon for sensations to disappear like this. Often, when observing a even a strong sensation such as physical pain, it will simply vanish for a while.

      As the mind stills, often the breath as a whole becomes almost imperceptible, at which point we can pay more attention to less directly physical experiences, such as piti (feelings of energy in the body) and sukha (happiness, joy). This leads to the intensification of those factors, and what we call jhana.

      All the best,

  • I have 2 questions regarding ‘piti’ and ‘sukha’.

    1,When the mind settles, and the ‘piti’ becomes perceptible. At this stage, in addition to the ‘piti’ and ‘sukha’, one should still observe the breath at the nosestrills. As you have put it the experience is more like the “breath surronded by joy (sukha)”.

    Am I right?

    2,Unlike the the breath which is observed at the nosestrills, the ‘piti’ (the energy) can be experienced in the whole body. In other words, at this stage, I observe the breath at my nosestrills, while noticing the energy ‘piti’ across my whole body.
    After the feelings of ‘piti’ and ‘sukha’ fades, one simply follows the breath (since everything else fades from his or her experience).
    Is this right?

    Thanks for answering

  • Hi, Nasdor.

    Yes, one pays attention to the sensations of the breathing throughout. Piti is sometimes experienced over the whole body, although sometimes it’s quite localized. But wherever and however it’s experienced, keep the sensations of the breathing in your experience.

    Piti can get rather intense, in which case you should start to pay more attention to the sense of sukha, or joy.

    In a way I see progress through meditation as involving various “shells” around the breath, which drop away. First we have the breath surrounded by a shell of thoughts (without either piti or sukha), and in fact we have trouble staying in touch with the breath, because the thinking is emotionally loaded and compelling (I’m talking about the hindrances here).

    As the thinking settles down, we have shells of (and I think of these in order, from the center out): the sensations of the breathing, sukha, piti, and thought.

    Thought is the first to go, so that we have the breath surrounded by piti and sukha. Then we shift our focus more toward the breath and sukha, and the experience of piti in the body is (I think) tuned out. Then eventually the focus shifts even more into the breath, there’s a sense of “being” the breath (i.e. there is no sense of a gap between subject and object), and at that stage there is only the breath and a deep sense of peace.

    I’m still clarifying this for myself, as I get more used to jhana. For a long time I had a kind of roadblock in my practice because I misunderstood how to deal with the piti, which would often get to be completely overwhelming. Fortunately a friend put more right, and I now know to move my attention from piti to sukha when this happens.

    Anyway, you now have more of a roadmap!

  • Hello Bodhipaksa

    I have been meditating pretty consistenly now for a year or so. I understand that meditating is not really about achieving goals but i seem to have reached a sort of block. I can happily count my breath wihout losing track, although i still have thoughts while doing this, and i can simply focus on the breath but it still feels as though my brain is sort of split ie. one part is focussing on the breath while the other half is watching and commenting on how well (or not !) i am doing it.

    There are moments where i do feel fully immersed in the breath but these only last for seconds before i start evaluating again. So it’s kind of a constant struggle to fully concentrate on just the breath which then leads to frustration and restlessness.

    I think part of the problem is that i just don’t find the breath that interesting. I’ve read a few books which say that means you are not really paying attention enough but i think where i struggle the most is the level concentration i should be using vs a more “soft” awareness if you see what i mean.

    Any insights would be much appreciated.


  • Hi, Jon.

    Yes, I’d guess that you’re not really paying attention to the breath, but just to a few selected sensations. I’d suggest you try listening to the guided meditations I led on a recent retreat. They may help you get a fuller sense of the breathing. Here’s the link:

    All the best,

  • Dear Bodhipaksa

    I would like to ask some questions regarding ‘piti’ and ‘sukha’ (joy).

    1, I often feel certain energy sensations (which could be linked to ‘piti’) quite early on, when my mind is still restless and I occasionally drift of into my thoughts. If it is possible to experience ‘piti’ with a still busy mind, when should I start observing it?:
    -Should I wait until my mind settles more and begin observing the ‘piti’ then?
    -Or should I start observing the ‘piti’ as soon as it becomes perceptible?

    2, You have suggested that when piti gets intense or more prominent, one should stop observing it and switch to observe sukha (joy) in addition to the breath. Is it possible that rather than intensifying, ‘piti’ fades away from one’s experience?
    If this later happens, can I move to the observance of the ‘sukha’ (+breath)? (just as I would do in the case when piti intensifies)

    3, Regarding ‘sukha’, should I ‘handle’ it in a similar manner as I would do with ‘piti’?
    In other words, does the feeling of joy also intensify like ‘piti’? (in this case, should I stop focusing on sukha?)
    Or does sukha fade away by itself? (in this case, I end up observing the breath only, since both sukha and piti have subsided)

    Thanks for answering. (With these you have indeed provided me a ‘roadmap’ for meditation for which I am very grateful.)

    • 1. Yes, piti can exist outside of jhana or even access concentration. It’s quite a common experience, actually. You can experience piti when you’re being tickled, or when being massaged, or when listening to music. It’s a good idea to pay attention to piti when it arises, since this gives the mind something positive and pleasant to become absorbed in. It’ll help you get more concentrated, in fact.

      2/3. Yes, often piti will simply fade away. You know, when you’re talking about letting sukha fade from your awareness, you’re talking about moving from third to fourth jhana. If you’re there, then that’s great. If not, then just keep working with what’s arising. My experience with fourth jhana is limited, and somewhat accidental (it’s a case of “how the heck did I get here?”) but what’s happened is that the sukha has been “tuned out” of my experience in a natural way, as my mind has focused more and more on the sensations of the breathing. Because this has happened naturally, there’s been no need to actually make a conscious decision to move past the sukha. But from my understanding of the suttas (Buddhist discourses), we may well have to consciously decide that we need to move through the sukha and enter fourth jhana. This is the kind of thing I’m working on in my practice at the moment.

      I’m glad to be of help. I’m glad you’re asking these questions, since it helps me articulate the map.

  • As hou have suggested, when ‘piti’ arises, I wait a little, then I begin to observe it in addition to the breath. However, I find it difficult to observe both simultaneously with full attention.

    Therefore, I do the following: I focus primarily (more) on one thing, while I try to be aware of the other.

    I foucus more on the breath (because its sensations are subtler and less noticable) and focus less on ‘piti’, which tend to be stronger and hence easier to follow. (especially in my arms and legs)

    Is this a good way of handling the ‘piti’?

    Thanks for your insights.

  • The phrase “with full attention” is a bit ambiguous. If you mean that you’re not able to notice both the piti and the sensations of the breath in as much detail as if you were paying attention to them one at a time, then that’s fine. That’s just how things are.

    I think that’s what you’re saying, given that you go on to talking about focusing more on one, and then on the other. That’s also fine.

    I suspect that this is one of these things like driving, where at first you can’t pay attention to steering and changing gear, but later your ability to handle these two tasks simultaneously becomes automated. A bit of oscillation from one to the other is to be expected at first, but things should settle down so that you’re aware of both at the same time.

    All the best,

  • What I mean is that when I focus on both piti and the breath I find it difficult to be aware of all the sensations ( I am less aware of them than when I focus only on the breath). That is especially true for the subtler sensations of the breath.

    Thats why I focus more on the breath (in order to be able to notice these subtler sensations) and less on the piti.

  • That’s what I thought you meant. It’s inevitable that if we pay attention to two things, we won’t experience either of them in as much detail as we would if we were paying attention to each alone. Focusing more on the breath is a good approach. There can be a certain amount of switching the focus from one experience to the other, but in the long term the breath is the most important thing. As we move from second jhana to third, we simply “tune out” the piti, and our awareness of the body becomes more peripheral. The same process happens with joy (sukha) as we move from third to fourth jhana (although I have to say that’s only happened to me a few times).

  • Hi,

    I started practicing mindfullness meditation about half a year ago, and I practice about 40-45 minutes a day. I would expect that by this time I should be able to breath and feel the breath properly, but unfortunately none of them is true. I do not have particular issues with focusing on anything else, but I cannot focus on something that I do not feel at all.

    My question is that is there anything else that could replace the breath as being the main anchor? I have read several books about minfullness meditation and they all recommend having the breath as the main anchor, as if nothing else could replace it. What is your opinion?

    Thank you,

    • Hi, Tom.

      Don’t think about the object as being “the breath” but as being “the breathing.” There are a gazillion physical and easily noticed physical sensations connected with the process of the breathing, and I’m sure you’ll have no difficulty noticing them. If by “the breath” you mean “the experience of the air touching the inside of the air-passageways as it moves in and out of the body,” then this is just one particular sensation connected with the breathing. I wrote an article recently about the various sensations connected with the breathing, and you might find that useful.

  • Thank you very much for the quick reply! Very useful article, it does help a lot!

    I was a bit hesitating to ask this question, as it seems a rather silly one: if I really did not feel the breath, then how would I know if I am inhaling or exhaling? And yet, I just stubbornly tried to focus on my belly, instead of the other areas that you mentioned in your article.

    Thank you!

  • Hi, glad I found this website.

    I have a question about the effects of mindfulness meditation. In the past I have had bouts where I practiced mindfulness meditation for around six months. I am getting back into it now but I am having a problem which I had before. I get very vivid dreams. To the point where I wake up once or twice a night. My dreams are so vivid that I have trouble letting them go through the day. How long does this phase last? I stopped meditating before because I could not handle this effect. A professor at the time told me at the time that it could last as long as ten years? I am already beginning to have more vivid dreams this time and I am almost nervous about this.
    Any thoughts?

  • Hi, Angela.

    It’s not unusual to get vivid dreams when learning meditation, or when doing more meditation than usual (e.g. on retreat), but I’ve rarely heard of them waking people up (much), being intrusive during the day, or the period of intense dreaming going on for a prolonged period. So this sounds rather unusual to me, and I’ve seen literally thousands of people learn to meditate over the years.

    Have you found you can interpret these dreams? It’s possible that if you do, you’ll find that they have less of a hold on you. There may be some message there that’s been repeating and, if you’re not getting the message at a conscious level your unconscious is trying harder and harder.

    It’s not that common for this kind of thing to repeat exactly, and this effect may not play out the same way this time as it did last time around, so I’d suggest continuing and seeing what happens. If you’d like to keep writing to me privately (you can use the email address this notification came from, and if you didn’t sign up for notification of replies I can send you my email address) I’d be happy to bounce ideas around.

    All the best,

  • Hi Bodhipaksa, and Angela,

    This is really interesting as I have found stages in my wakeful state seem to sometimes take a dream like quality, Its as though my experience of reality or the day to day is expanding in some way , a thought, a colour , a feeling provokes a link to a dream state , although usually always a good feeling or profound, something timeless. Its difficult to explain !
    But I think what you are feeling is a deeper part of you wanting to be heard or experienced , and that usually is not a bad thing , as long as its not totally overwhelming.
    Let it in to your day and practice , isn’t it a goal to ‘Live our dreams’ ? and add meaning to our lives.
    On the other hand how ever this could also be part of a trauma once experienced , and may need counselling or therapy to work through , I am not trained in that , and you may wish to seek professional help.

    Either way thank you for sharing this.
    Love . Metta


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Explore the benefits of becoming a supporter.