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.

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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

  • Things I wondered, Angela: How long are you meditating, what time of day are you meditating, and what kind of meditation are you doing?

  • Hi, thanks for your response.
    When I meditated before I would meditate before bed for between 15 and 30 minutes. I practice mindfulness meditation almost exactly as you have it here on the site. I practiced nearly every night for about six months. It was about four months in that I started having the dreams. I would not say that they were traumatizing, it was just annoying to wake up in the middle of the night. Also, it felt strange to walk around during the day thinking about the dream from last night. When I stopped meditating I stopped having the vivid dreams.
    I find that I almost always go into a dream-like state when I meditate. Flashes of dreams always seem to bubble up when I get focused. I am proceeding with the practice again and have been at it for about three weeks now with no issues, so I will continue on and see what happens.

    Thanks for helping me out.

  • Hi Angela.

    There’s something not quite right if you’re consistently experiencing dream-like states while meditating. Obviously that kind of thing’s going to happen from time to time — we call it the “hindrance of sloth and torpor” — but it shouldn’t be a consistent state. The fact that it is consistent suggests that you’re inadvertently doing something that’s creating that experience.

    The most likely causes are postural. You may be sitting too low, or not have your seat at a sharp enough angle, or you may be habitually slumping, or it may be something as simple as holding your head at the wrong angle. I’m assuming you’re not lying down to meditate, which is a posture almost guaranteed to cause dreaminess.

    I’d be very happy to take a look at your posture, if you can arrange to email me photographs of you sitting. The best photographs would be full body, taken from the side — preferably in mid-meditation, although that last part isn’t always possible. If you’re tech-savvy, one way to achieve this is to video yourself meditating, and then to capture an image from mid-meditation.

    Anyway, it’s good to hear that the problems you previously had haven’t been recurring.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa

    I am practicing the mindfullness of breathing meditation as described in your website, and I would like to ask something regarding ‘stage 4’.

    In ‘stage 4’ I observe the sensations of the breath at my nosetrills. Sometimes, I find it difficult to hold my attention on this relatively small area. Therefore, I tend to ‘extend’ it a bit (I hold my attention on a little bit larger area than the rims of my nosetrills. I include just a few millimeters above and bellow it).

    As I do this, I pay attention to the sensations where they first enter my nose (at my nosetrills). (This seems also a bit difficult. Sometimes, I am unable to distinguish these sensations from the ones I feel at other parts inside my nose. Sometimes, I can not detect anything at all. Is this a problem?

    Is it all right, if I do the exercise (stage 4) in this way? (Sometimes holding my attention on a little bit larger area than the rims of my nosetrills).

    In stage 4, when I reach calmer and deeper states, I often feel certain sensations, like feeling of lightness or expansion. In addition, I feel much less that I am in my phisical body. Therefore, I find it more difficult to locate the parts of my body and hold my attention there. I am only vaguely aware of the position of my nosetrills and I can only ‘approximate’ its position.

    Is this normal?

    Once more, thanks for answering, and happy New Year.

    • Hi, Nasdor.

      This all sounds fine. You might want to try seeing if you can notice the sensations in each nostril as simultaneous experiences, separated in space. It’s a good test.

    • I decided to combine your two comments, since the follow-up was posted on a different page…

      Those feelings of lightness and expansion are good signs. At that point, where you’re finding it harder to sense the body, you might want to switch to focusing on any emotions of joy or happiness that may be present, or to the sense of spaciousness itself. At this point any sensations from the breathing may be quite peripheral.

  • Thanks for the quick reply.

    I just have one question left. As I have said, sometimes I find it diffcult to locate the position of my nosetrills exactly.

    Therefore, although I try to focus on sensations which occur where the breath first enters/leaves my nose (at the rims of the nosetrills), I still might be aware/focusing on sensations, which are not exactly at my nosetrills (maybe a litlle bit above it).

    Is this all right?

    • Yes, that’s fine, Nasdor. Just focus on those sensations that are closest to the rims of the nostrils, and see if you can, over time, move closer in.

  • Hi,

    I joined the mindfulness meditiation today in my city and we had a 3 hrs class, but all throughout the class, where we had to observe our breathing, I found it difficult. I felt an inability to discern my breathing, when I closed my eyes and started to observe my natural breathing, I did not feel like breathing. I know the breathing happens, but I’m not able to feel it unless I take conciuos effort to inhale and exhale. But I have been told not to forcefully inhale and exhale always. But if I dont do it, I dont feel like breathing and am not able to observe anything. This makes me feel agitated and worried about how to practice. Would you help me please?

  • Hi, Palaniappan.

    Are you saying that you’re unable to feel, for example, your ribcage moving as you breathe? Are you not able to feel the muscles in your belly moving? These are, for most people, I would imagine. sensations that are not difficult to detect.

    If that is indeed what you mean, then I’d suggest just persevering. As we practice paying attention to the breathing, we gradually learn to notice more subtle, less obvious, sensations, and the experience of observing the breath becomes richer. If you’re starting from basically not being able to sense the body at all, then this may take a little longer. But the gentle and patient effort to notice sensations in the body will be helpful in many ways.

    But I wonder if in fact you’re ignoring the more obvious sensations of the breathing, and making it harder for yourself by trying too early to find the more subtle sensations. In that case, just stick with what you can feel, and in time your experience will become richer.

    All the best,

  • Thank you, my dear Bodhipaksa for prompt response and time. I feel glad to have recieved your guidance.

    To explain it in detail (please apologize if it is long enough):

    I sit cross legged with erect spine and close my eyes. Now that I have closed my eyes, there are two things possibly that can be performed, one – take effort to inhale and feel the sensation of the body. But I was advised not to take effort inhaling but just observe the natural breathe. This I’m not able to feel. When I close my eyes, I dont feel the breathe going in and coming out UNLESS I take the conscious effort to inhale by myself and feel the breathe. But if I dont do this, I hardly could feel the breathe going in and out.

    Not sure if the explanation did help you understand my problem. As you suggested, I will keep trying and stick with what I can feel and may in time, I might be able to feel it?

    Thanks in advance once again,

    • Hi, Palani.

      Yes, controlling the breath by deliberate breathing is not recommended. It leads to tension and hyperventilation. But you could start your meditation with two or three deep breaths, and then let your breathing return to normal.

      So, it sounds like you’re not able to feel the ribcage or the belly moving as you breathe (you didn’t mention this explicitly, but I’ll take the omission to mean that you don’t). You might want to spend some time, perhaps when lying down, placing one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest, breathing normally and noticing the sensations of those movements. Then try taking your hands off, and seeing if you can still find the sensations in the body. You could also try with one hand at a time, in order to isolate the sensations in the belly and chest.

  • Thank you Bodhipaksa. Yes you are right, am not able to feel the belly moving. I sometimes wonder if i breathe at all :)

    But if I inhale by taking a deep or medium breathe, am able to feel the ribcage and the belly moving.


    • Well, if you try out the exercise I suggested, then start off with a few deliberate breaths, and then let your breath return to normal. Every so often, try taking a few deeper breaths again. Once you’ve found it easier to notice the breathing, then this article on exploring the breath might be useful.

      Good luck!

  • Sure Bodhipaksa. I shall definitely try and let you know. Thanks once again for your continuous help.

  • Hi Palaniappan,

    I am just writing because I had the same problem and wondered for a while if something is wrong with me, as no one else seemed to have this issue. Then I tried to follow Bodhipaksa’s advice (you can find it somewhere above) and focused on ANY sensations that are connected to breathing, not only in the belly. Then I noticed 2 things: if I focus on the nose, I do not control my breathing so much, and if I try to relax and accept that I just cannot feel breathing the way others do, then I started feeling some other sensations (not in the belly, but I guess that is not important) that are not too vivid, but detectable. So while I still think there is something bizarre about the way I breath (sometimes all I can feel is some subtle pain), I can definitely feel some sensations.

    I am not sure if this helps at all, but at least you can see that you are not alone with this thing.

  • Thank you Tom for providing your experience to me. What you have said is what I had been going through as well. Because it seemed for everyone they are able to feel the breathe and count but I couldnt sense anything and yeah I also had the subtle pain while trying my mind to focus on the breathe.

    Well I will try the advices given by Bodhipakha and guess at this time what I need more than breathe is to keep my mind positive and not give up the practice.

    Thanks again Tom, appreciate your time for me.


    • The pain probably happens because you’re trying to control the breathing. Control prevents the normal pattern of movement of the intercostal muscles, which can lead to discomfort. Sometimes the pain can be quite intense.

  • That is true Bodhipaksa. May be I should just let go off my breathe control and try relaxedly to see whatever I can feel.

    By the way I did try lieing down flat and then kept one hand in the belly first, I could sense the breathe movement for just sometime and gradually it becomes subtle and disappears and the same happens for the chest region too. I could sense the breathe movement for sometime and then gradually it disappears and becomes still.

  • hi bodhipaska..
    thankyou for a reassuring article. i seem to have a problem where i find myself controlling my breathing 24 hours a day.. it’s very tiring and distressing. it has been going on for about 4 months now without even a day off. my body and concious mind won’t seem to just let go of controlling the breathing. do you have any advice or exercises for me. i would like to have my life back on track asap.


    • I’m the same way. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It’s like I don’t have the urge to breathe. It’s so scary and I hate that I have to manually breathe. It’s awful.

  • Hi Dan.

    You don’t say whether you’ve put into practice any of the advice from the article and, if you did, what the effects were.

    All the best,

  • hi, i have been practising daily for a few months now, a few hours a day. probably because i misread instructions, but at the beginning of each session i would purposefully slow my breath down – I found it quite a useful calming mechanism, and it fit into the definition of ‘calm abiding’. after a few weeks, i began to notice, that at times I would keep on looking at the clock, or after a session i’d immediately want to get up and snack. My sensitivity also decreased dramatically. My guess is that the slowing down of the breath was actually a suppression, because once i stopped slowing it down, my sensitivity came back, and things began to take a ‘texture again’.

    My only problem now is to discern what exactly is ‘normal’ breathing. I’ve got it down to two ‘modes’ of breathing. One is continuous – almost immediately after the outbreath the inbreath starts. The other has a delay in between the outbreath and inbreath. Although the latter feels calmer, I notice I also lose sensitivity. Would I be write in thinking the latter probably has some very subtle levels of control and force going on? And that perhaps it’s normal to breathe in almost as soon as you’ve breathed out? many thanks

    • How rich and varied human experience is!

      “Normal” breathing varies a lot, depending on what mental and physiological state you’re in. If you listen to someone who’s asleep, for example, you’ll be surprised often how long the gaps are between breathing. And some people, when they get deeply into meditation, find that the breathing slows a great deal. I don’t generally keep track of exactly how long the breaths are.

      I’d suggest that you distract yourself from paying so much attention to the length and the rhythm of the breathing. Try seeing how many sensations connected with the breathing you can notice at the same time. There’s much more going on than most people notice (I have some pointers here), and it’s a real challenge to experience all of this. Actually, you don’t have to notice everything, just to pay attention to so many sensations that it’s a “stretch” and so that your mind becomes quiet. If you give your mind enough to do, it won’t be fretting about whether you’re breathing correctly, and at some point you’ll probably realize that you’ve not been controlling the breathing at all.

  • I am benefiting from Buddhism, embracing truth when I find it wherever I find it, no longer defending or trying to understand it.

    Thanks for the help on this site from your meditation education.

    :) aka borg

  • Hi, thank you for all the great information on your site. I have recently started this meditation but, I have been having trouble with getting very sleepy and less concentrated as the meditation deepens. Almost as if I was some where between being awake and dreaming. Also after meditation I feel very numb and dull to my external environment. It’s like just waking up from too long of a nap. Do you have any suggestions about this? Thanks!

    • Hi, Jason. This could be due to any number of things, from sleep deprivation, to your posture, to where you’re placing your attention during meditation. I’m afraid it’s really not possible to tell from your description, and without seeing how you sit and without hearing more about what you actually do in meditation.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,
    First of all I’d like to say what a wonderful resource the site is. Thank you so much for sharing all of your insight.

    I’d like to bring to attention an app I find essential (for me) for meditating. It’s a free download which can be configured to ring bells at different intervals and can be set up with different profiles for different practices.

    I hope this provides some help for people.
    With metta,

  • Hi,

    Could you please advise me on the most skillful way in which to deal with the problem of a chronically, at least partially, blocked nose.

    In particular I find it much harder to feel the sensation of the inhalation in comparison to the exhalation at the tip of the nose, but I am unsure if this is a manifestation of the nose blockage.
    Many thanks in anticipation.

  • Hi, Jeremy.

    I rarely have a blocked nose, even when I have a bad cold, so this isn’t something I have any direct experience with. I have as an experiment, though, tried meditating through my mouth, and I’ve found that it works well. The sensations on the lips are a bit stronger than those on the rims of the nostrils, but I think they work quite well for the fourth stage of the practice.

    For the first few stages I’d suggest paying more attention to the movements of the body — abdomen, chest, shoulders, etc., — as well as the sensations in the air passages, rather than at the rims of the nostrils.

  • Good morning Bodhipaksa. I have found your website to be an invaluable resource in my Buddhism and meditation journey. I would be what they say is “just entering the stream.” I am encountering a road block in my my meditation practice. Maybe this sounds silly, but when I am meditating, I am now distracted by thoughts of whether or not I am going to have a successful session. In the back of my mind, I am turning over these thoughts and worrying myself about it. I am now feeling stress about meditation! I am finding that I am pressuring myself to move forward rather than living in each moment and breath. I suppose that is a constant theme with the rest of my life as well. Meditation is getting in the way of meditation. Any advice??

  • Hi, Meghan.

    Thanks for your kind words.

    Actually, “entering the stream” refers to the first stages of enlightenment, but I know what you mean.

    I’d suggest paying a bit more attention to where you are, and a bit less to where you want to go. Here are a few resources that you might find helpful: one by me on appreciation, and another on experiencing the breathing more fully, and one by Rick Hanson, again on appreciation.

  • Hello, Id just like to ask you a quick question or two regarding my meditation practice. When I focus on my breath, I’ve noticed that a lot of what I’m focusing on is a mental image of the “flow of my breath” if that makes sense. I can’t really describe what it looks like but it’s a defined image that sort of exists as a loop connecting my inhalation and exhalation. Is there any harm in this? And of so, would you have any suggestions for how to avoid it because this far, it’s been tough to do.

  • What helped to remove what you are experiencing (Amit) was not having the sense desire for it to go away. Remember, these desires are one of the hindraces to meditation. The best way to do this (IMO) is to be mindful all day of the fact that what you are experiencing is pressure, the earth element*, and it is “not a soul, not a self, not I.”

    It is also possible that you have a sensuous desire to “feel concentrated” and you expect this feeling to come near the mind – which you liken to the head. I know this is possible because it happened to me, haha.

    *The elements aren’t actually physical properties, but just the feelings we have (I’m talking about our senses and not emotions). Earth corresponds to solidity and pressure, wind is movement, vibration, and even slight ticklish feelings, fire is
    energy, “hot” pain, temperature, etc., and water is the feeling of fluidity and cohesion.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa

    I have a question regarding stage 4 of ‘mindfulness of breath’. During the exercise, I hold my attention at the nostrils, andf observe the sensations there. Sometimes, I find it difficult to hold my atention on this relatively small area, and if I try to concentrate too hard to locate its position, I often end up loosing track of the actual sensations caused by the breath. However, I believe that to be aware/observe the actual qualities linked to the breath (the tactile sensations, the duration of the in/out breath, the pause between them,…) is essential. I think, it is more important to to observe these subtle sensations than to be aware of the exact position of my nostrils.

    Therefore, I only approximate the position of the nostrils using a mild effort, and do not concentrate too hard to hold my focus there (even if it means that I am only vaguely aware of the exact position of the nostrils). Rather, I focus more on such details: tactile sensations caused by the airflow or the duration of the breath.

    Could you tell me if it is all right to do the exercise this way?
    Thanks for answering.

  • Hi, Nasdor.

    I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean when you talk about “being aware of the exact position of the nostrils.” Do you mean that you’re not able to detect sensations on the rims of the nostrils? Or something else?

    But generally, the rims of the nostrils is a good area to focus on. It’s very defined, so you can work on narrowing your field of attention, and the sensations are quite refined compared to most other senstations of the breathing. If you can’t find those sensations, then pay attention to whatever sensations are arising that general area, and see if you can relax into noticing the rims of the nostrils. It is a question of relaxing into noticing those sensations. The sensations are always there, it’s just that when we try too hard our effort sometimes stops us from noticing them.

  • Dear Bodhipaksa

    Let me explain what I mean when I say that “I find it hard to be aware of the exact position of the nostrills.”

    During stage 4 of the breath awareness, I try to hold my attention at my nosetrils, so that I can distinguish the sensations (of the breath) which occur at this small area form those sensations which happen elsewhere (above) in my nose. However, in order to “narrow down” my atention to my nosetrils, I need to be aware of its position. ((( What the later means, I demonstrate with an example: For instance, if you scratch your left toe, in virtue of the resulting sensation, you can easily distinguish it(or “its position”) from the other parts of your left foot: this is what I mean when I say “to be aware of its position”. )))

    During stage 4 of the exercise, due to the “smalness” of the area corresponding to my nosetrils, I often find myself concentrating too hard to locate its position, and concentrating too hard to hold my atention there, which prevents me from being aware of the actual sensation caused by the breath.

    Therefore, I only approximate the position of the nostrils using a mild effort, and do not concentrate too hard to hold my focus there (even if it means that I am only vaguely aware of the exact position of the nostrils). Rather, I focus more on the actual sensations of the breath: tactile sensations caused by the airflow or the duration of the breath.

    Is it all right if I do the exercise thi way?
    Thanks once more.

  • I’m afraid I still don’t understand what you’re asking. You say “Rather, I focus more on the actual sensations of the breath: tactile sensations caused by the airflow or the duration of the breath” but I don’t understand what you mean by that “rather.” Noticing the actual sensations of the breath(ing) is what you’re meant to be paying attention to throughout the mindfulness of breathing practice. In the fourth stage we do this at the rims of the nostrils, or as close to them as we can get. So if that’s what you’re doing, then that’s great.

    Those sensations are always present. The nerves in that part of the body are continually senting signals to the brain. Noticing these signals results from balanced effort. We need to relax and open up to what is actually present, rather than trying to force our attention. And at the same time we need to make a gentle effort to narrow the field of attention. I find that what works best for me is to gradually narrow my field of attention. At first I’m noticing many sensations of the breathing, and then I focus more on the chest, throat, and head. Then just the head and throat. Then the head. Then the nostrils as a whole. Then the rims of the nostrils. As my attentional field narrows, the sensations in the nostrils are experienced more strongly. I’m just throwing this out there, despite not quite understanding what you’re asking…

  • Sorry for being a bit vague. I’ll try to explain it diferently.

    During stage 4, I try (gradually) to narrow down my field of attention to the rims of the nostrils, and keep on holding my attention there, so that I can distinguish the sensations (of the breath) which occur there from the sensations which occur at other parts (above) in my nose. This act of ‘holding my attention at the rims of the nostrils’ (sometimes) requires too much effort, and prevents me from being aware of the sensations themseves.

    Therefore, I only use a ‘mild’ effort when holding my attention at the rims of the nostrils, and concentrate more on the sensations themselves.

    Because I use only ‘mild’ effort when holding my attention at the rims of the nostrils, sometimes my focus is a bit vague: I might hold my attention on a bit larger area or a bit elsewhere that the rims of the nostrils

    Is it all right if I do the exercise this way?

  • Greetings bodhipaksa
    After a long time away from meditation I’ve taken it up again on a regular basis. It seems that I need that freedom that only meditation can provide me, I guess its time for a life change. I have a couple of question please kindly clarify them for me.

    What is the purpose of mind fullness of breath meditation and repeating a mantra meditation? What kind of affect will these meditation have on the mind?

    In your opinion what is the difference between transcendental meditation and traditonal mantra meditation?

    Finally Is there any problem in meditating too much? I’ve been meditating 15 minutes 3-4 times a day?

  • Hi, Kayos.

    These are rather large questions, and I’m just going to give brief replies.

    I think of mantra meditation as being good for calming the mind, and also for developing a devotional connection with the ideal of enlightenment. Mindfulness of breathing can, I believe, take you much further.

    I’ve never done TM, so I can’t really compare the experience of TM versus traditional mantra meditation. TM strikes me as being mainly a business built around mantras, however. The mantras they use are also from a Hindu tradition, which may not be important, but I prefer to use Buddhist mantras.

    And lastly, 15 minutes, three to four times a day, is not really a lot of meditation to be doing :)

  • Hi, I was just searching the internet trying to find answers to my meditations and the connection to breath when I found this site and have a question. I find when I meditate my relationship with breath changes totally. Each breath becomes conscious to take or not to take. I lie still and once the air finally leaves my lungs I experience no tension or hyperventilation and feel no pressure to take the next breath. I have no intention to see how long I can stay this way for and choose to breathe but I do wonder. Last week after a meditation this experience stayed with me for a peroid of time even during a trip down to the local town. I kinda felt detatched but driving the body. Is this a common experience. John

    • Hi, John.

      It’s not uncommon for people to find that they control their breathing during meditation, but it’s not what we’re aiming to do. What you describe sounds rather peculiar, and even concerning. On a purely physiological level, there should be a desire to take another breath after exhaling, so I’m puzzled about what’s going on there.

      I’d strongly suggest just allowing the body to breathe, and simply observing. If you do find yourself controlling the breathing, then see if you can just let it be.

    • Hey, I have tried to meditate on the feeling of the breath on my nostrils, but wasn’t sure if I could feel a continuous stream during each in and out-breath.
      This leads to me questioning whether I am actually watching the sensation of breath or my mind is fabricating it.
      Also sometimes I am nearly certain that I really cannot feel it at my nose. I would like to be able to use this technique for the reason stated above and because it sometimes recommended for insight meditation. How can I make this work?

      • Hi, Jon.

        Id actually suggest taking a more body-wide approach to experiencing the breathing. You might want to take some tips from this article and then this article.

        If you’re struggling to find sensations in the nostrils then your mind will get bored and create distractions. Paying attention to the whole body as you breathe will help keep your mind engaged. Our interoceptive ability (sensing what is going on internally) gets stronger with practice, so you’ll start to find that the sensations in the nostrils become more prominent over time.

        All the best,

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,

    Thank you for your reply and comments. There still is a desire to breathe but the relationship with this breath changes. Maybe it simply slowes but I wondered about the lack of pressure to grasp that breath as I would if I ceased breathing during normal activities. And also this senstation did remained after comming out of the meditation last week with the same lack of obvious pressure and I was still connected to breath and choosing when to breathe but carring on normal actitivies. I don’t feel concern just a little puzzled also.

    • It could be that you’re somehow expecting that you will control the breathing consciously, while it’s actually (as is normal) being handled by your autonomic nervous system. So you exhale, there’s a pause (which is normal), then you expect that you should be experiencing a “hunger” to breathe in, even though your body doesn’t actually need to at that moment, then your autonomic nervous system causes you to inhale. All that’s happening is that you have an expectation that’s out of line with physiological reality.

      If this is what’s going on, then that would explain your sense of being “detached” from the process of breathing.

  • I’m having this problem right now and I’m finding that I take hours to get to sleep because I keep gasping for air and going into a panic. I also can’t honestly say that I have ever been aware of my breath (or related sensations) without feeling like I was controlling it at the same time. I always feel like I am breathing, never ever that breathing is happening.

    I’m finding it a big enough problem that I might drop the counting/following breath sensations completely.

    • That sounds like a good plan, Adam. You can focus on lovingkindness or some other form of meditation for the time being.

  • Hi

    As most people seem to write, I a new to meditation but have found this site insightly and extremely helpful. I do, however, sometimes find your comments at odds with site and at times, quite rude and blunt. I would have thought someone who was as exerienced as yourself would have been much gentler in your remonstrations such as your reaction to a person accidentially calling you Kim, or someone writing in text.

    • Hi, Sammy.

      I’m glad to hear that you find this site useful. I certainly have “off days” and I’m sure that my communication could be more skillful at times. I try not to be rude, though. When you talk about me being “blunt” and “rude” to someone writing in text, do you mean this?

      May I share a pet peeve of having people writing in “txt” when it’s not a text message? Is it really that much extra work to type “you” instead of “u”?

      I find it hard to see how this can be read as either rude or blunt, but those things are subjective, I guess.

      Anyway, all the best with your practice. I hope you can forgive my poor communication skills.

  • Dear Bodhipaksa,

    I can 4give u for ur rudeness 2 .if u cn 4give my txt spk ( It a joke ha ha.)

    I don’t think you are rude , just direct . dealing with a difficult subject to communicate with the written word. Which can sometimes be taken the wrong way.

    • Oh, I’m sure sometimes I’m rude :)

      I found the “Kim” affair, here. I was a bit concerned that I might have said something awful, but again this comment strikes me as direct rather than “rude.” But again, we all read these things differently, and perhaps have a different sense of what’s considered acceptable in communication. Sometimes these differences are cultural.

      But electronic communication seems particularly prone to misunderstanding. A study found that “Not only do e-mail senders overestimate their ability to communicate feelings, but e-mail recipients also overestimate their ability to correctly decode those feelings.”

      What’s true for email is, I’m sure, true for web comments. So one the one hand I’m sure that I overestimate my ability to be friendly in writing, but on the other it’s likely that at least some people’s decoding of my writing introduces a tone of aggression that wasn’t originally there (at least sometimes!). I’ve noticed that we assume a tone of voice when reading, and depending on what tone of voice we impose on what we’re reading the piece may seem jocular, neutral, or even hostile.

      Still, sometimes I’m sure I’m rude :)

  • Hi I have trouble controlling my breath also, but I have a another problem which seems to be linked with it and seems to really have disrupted my practice. I focus on the breath, my mind doesn’t think to much about other topics, however I notice that most of the time I”m actually thinking about the breath and evaluating, and trying to to get to the breath and not actually experiencing it. I try to notice that I am “thinking” about the breath, and then go back to the actual experience, and then I either end up controlling, or saying “there it is” which leads me to just it or I just go back to thinking about the breath. Its all very confused :-)

  • I think it’s good to remember that you don’t need to make the sensations of the breathing happen. Sensory data from all over the body is flooding into the brain all the time, in every moment. The reason we don’t notice this is because (sensibly enough) we tune it out in order to focus on those few things that we think actually need our attention. Since those sensations are already arising naturally, there’s no effort involved in finding them. What’s involved is a non-effort, simply seeing what’s there. You don’t need to make an effort to see the scene in front of your eyes, do you?

    Trying to find the sensations of the breathing is often counter-productive. The trying in itself can get in the way. Just relax. Allow yourself to notice what’s there.

    If you find yourself thinking about the breathing rather than experiencing it, just let go of the thinking, without judgment. Do this as many times as you need to.

    It can take a while to unlearn this habit of “over-doing” in meditation, so keep going and be patient with yourself.

    One more thing. Consider it “the breathing” that you’re noticing, not “the breath.” I’ll leave you to figure out the difference :)

  • Hi,
    I have been practicing mindfullness for a month now. Today when i was practicing after about 15 minutes i felt dizziness, like my head was moving and i will vomit. What can be the reason of that ?

    • Hi, Naveen.

      I’ve no way of knowing. Perhaps you’re coming down with an illness, of your blood sugar was low. Perhaps it’s something to do with your meditation practice. I’d suggest that you just continue and see if it’s a recurring pattern.

      All the best,

  • Hi,
    Thanks for replying so fast :) .
    I fasted today and this session was in night after 8 o clock, but i was fine all other time . This is the first time it happened. Lost focus from breath, focus went to something very fast moving inside my head(difficult to explain) and soon was feeling like i will vomit. Then i took some deep breaths and finished session in some time.
    Maybe it was because of fast or because of me focusing on fast movement inside head, let’s see if it happens again.


    • The fact that you were fasting may well be significant. That quick movement inside your head may also be significant. But as you say, let’s see if it happens again.

  • Hi Bodhipaksa,
    I can recognize it early when it’s beginning to happen, so i don’t think its going to be a problem in future :) .
    My morning mindfullness practice session is about 1 hour after i wake up (after bath e.t.c) but in that one hour my mind is all over the place, worrying, planning … should i shift my practice session right after waking up ? how soon you do your morning practice ?

  • Hi, Naveen.

    I no longer meditate in the morning because I have two young children who need attention early on. In fact it’s usually they who wake me. So I meditate in the afternoon or evening.

    But when I did meditate in the morning it was usually quite soon after rising.

    All the best,

  • Hi,

    Is it advisable to watch automatic breathing as if you were watching a stranger? At some point during my meditation, I purposefully try to watch my body as another material. This helps me to notice my breathing better, but I’m not sure if this should be done or avoided?

    • To do what you’re doing, Will, is very much in tune with the Buddha’s teaching, which encourages us to recognize, with regard to every experience we have, “This is not me; this is not mine; I am not this” (Taṃ netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā). So as long as there’s no unhealthy depersonalization, then I think this is fine. In order to avoid depersonalization, it’s important to practice lovingkindness. The unhealthiness of depersonalization seems to lie in the lack of a positive, caring, kindly awareness of our experiences, and in fact there’s often anxiety and a deadening of feeling.

      I don’t want to stress depersonalization as a danger, because it seems to affect only a small number of people. Overwhelmingly, studies of meditation show benefits, and most of these studies involve forms of insight meditation which encourage us not to identify with our experiences, along the lines of the quote I gave above.

  • Dear Bodhipaksa,

    I have a question who is very silly but I am not sure I am doing it correctly. When doing breathing exercise, you say: breath in, breath out, count 1 etc. Should the counting be ‘quick’ and at the very end of the breathing out? I find that I am actually starting counting from the beginning of the exhalation thus producing a long oooooone, twoooooooo, threeeeeeeeeee that goes on during all the exhalation. I am afraid this is not correct and try to say it just at the end but am not sure whether either way is correct or not. Also the number is pronounced only mentally? I find I move slightly my tongue as to pronounce the number.

    Many thanks and thank you for your very in-depth website. It is refreshing to find so much information without getting asked for money for once.


    • Hi, Max.

      You’re welcome for the instructional materials. I just wish I had the resources to do more…

      Anyway, what you’re describing is quite common, and it’s not exactly “wrong.” The number technically should be “quick” and in the gap between the out and in breaths, but I see the purpose of the counting as being to focus your attention more on the out-breathing, and counting during the out-breathing does the same thing. The one benefit you’re not getting is giving yourself something to focus on when the breathing isn’t really doing much, and when there’s very little sensation to pay attention to. That’s when the mind is going to start wandering, so placing the number at that point helps stop us from getting distracted as often.

  • […] we have a ton of meditation instruction on this site. Here’s a link to our guide to the mindfulness of breathing practice. This is the most basic form of meditation, where we simply pay attention to the physical […]

  • Hi Bodhipaksa
    Like Meghan I am a beginner and looking for the way and like her I have managed to (almost) stress myself out of meditation.
    But I consider the outcome to be a (small) victory of incipient mindfulness and am actually rather happy with myself.
    If I say that it took me 2,5 years of DAILY stretching exercises to touch my toes you will understand that position is a very big issue for me.
    I found myself worrying that if I get used to meditating in a chair (the only pain-free option so far), I will not be able to meditate everywhere in every condition, which is particularly important as I am going on a five-week trip where chairs will not be in abundance.
    Of course this only worsened the problem. Until I realized what I was doing, told myself to meet that bridge when it comes up (who knows? I might get more supple!) and recovered enough clarity to carry on practicing – incidentally following your very clear and very welcome instructions.
    So, Megan, if you’re still follwing: distraction has many faces, don’t stop at the first one.
    Greetings to everyone.

  • Hello

    I have been looking into using meditation to help alliviate my constant depression and self loathing, this is tehy first site I have come accross that explains it in clear easy to understand terms. I have been practicing stage one for about 5 days but can only do more than a minute if a delibrately control the breath is this ok?

    • Id really recommend not trying to control your breathing. You can trust that your body knows how to breathe (it does it while you’re asleep, right?) and just let it happen. The desire to control the breathing isn’t terribly helpful, especially if it’s coming from a place of anxiety, which is what I suspect. if you find that you’re involuntarily controlling your breathing, then that’s another issue, and you can learn to work with that. But please don’t try to initiate this habit.

      One thing about depression and self-loathing is that these are states in which we do not appreciate all the positive things that are going on (such as the fact that we have miraculous bodies and brains that know how to breathe without any conscious intervention). Developing the quality of appreciation and gratitude is a powerful way of training the mind to become more positive. I’d suggest reading this article about gratitude, and perhaps others that you’ll find here, and putting what you read into practice.

  • Thank you for your reply and suggestions

  • Hi

    I would like to ask something concerning mindfulness of the breath exercise.

    During stage 4, I observe the sensations at my nose-trills caused by the breath. As far as I know, I should just simply ‘notice’ them without thinking about them or analyzing them. For instance, when I feel something during in-breath, I shouldn’t start to think: “Where was it (the sensation) exactly?” “Was it longer than the last one?,… ((( I believe, even if you don’t begin to think about the experience, you could still ‘be aware of’ / ‘comprehend’ the qualities of the sensations (their position , their length,…))))))

    As I know it, during the exercise, one should refrain from thinking the above questions, and just simply/silently notice whatever occurs at the nose-trills.

    Am I right?

    • Hi, Nasdor.

      As you observe, there’s a difference between “thinking about” and “analyzing” the sensations. To me “thinking about” them implies that there’s an internal conversation going on with regard to the sensations. You’re basically talking to yourself about what you’re experiencing. And while that can sometimes, and to an extent, be helpful, it’s often going to take us further away from our actual experience. If a thought comes up, then just let it go. If it’s a useful thought — one that takes you deeper into your experience — then by all means act on it.

      Analyzing, though, isn’t necessarily a verbal activity. The anapanasati sutta, for examples suggests that we know whether a breath is long or short. Similarly, we can notice whether the breath on the nostrils is long, short, warm, cool, more to the left or right, etc. There’s a kind of enquiry going on, but it’s not necessarily a verbal one. Even animals — presumably non-verbal creatures — have this kind of analysis going on. They’re curious about their surroundings, for example. So yes, as you say, “even if you don’t begin to think about the experience, you could still ‘be aware of’ / ‘comprehend’ the qualities of the sensations.”

      If the analysis presents itself as words then, as I suggested in the first paragraph, use the curiosity that lies behind the words but let go of the words themselves, and be wary of them leading into more extended discursive thinking.

      By the way, if you’re in a position to help support the kind of support we offer meditators, feel free to make a donation here.


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