Stage 2 The Energizing Effect of the In-Breathing

The second stage of the mindfulness of breathing practice is similar to the first, but instead of counting the out-breaths, as we do in stage one, we count the in-breaths. This subtly changes our experience, bringing more energy and alertness into our experience, as you’ll see.

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Set up your posture, as described in the posture guidelines, allowing the body to relax as much as possible while maintaining a sense of dignity in the way you sit.

Stage One

Then, spend a few minutes doing the first stage of the practice, counting after each out-breath in cycles of one to ten. Notice that each out-breath is accompanied by a sense of the body relaxing, softening, and letting go. In time you’ll notice that it also has a calming effect on the mind. (If you haven’t done the first stage of the practice, then we strongly recommend that you go back and review that section before trying it). When you feel you’ve begun to calm your mind down a little, move on to the second stage of the practice.

Stage Two

In the second stage of the practice we continue to count in cycles of ten breaths, the difference being that this time we count just before each inhalation.

So this time, the pattern is like this:

You count (internally) just before each in-breath, as follows:

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

… and so on until you reach ten.

Once you get to ten, start over again at one before the next in-breath.

Whenever you regain your awareness after being distracted, bring your attention gently back to the breath.

Really notice the sensations of the in-breath, in particular. Notice the upward movement, the sense of expansion, the sense of energy that accompanies the inhalation, and perhaps even a sense of alertness, energy, and mental brightness.


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

Getting to Know the Second Stage

Now you’ve tried the first two stages of the practice, I recommend that you spend a few days practicing them together and appreciating the subtle differences between them.

You can notice the difference in the body, observing the different movements and sensations that arise as you exhale and inhale. You can observe the different feeling tones that arise as you let go on the exhalation and as the body expands on the inhalation. And you can notice what effect these two phases of the breathing have on your mind.

The first stage of the practice has the effect of calming the mind and relaxing the body. This effect is partly to do with the fact that the out-breathing, being under the control of the parasympathetic nervous system, is naturally a phase of letting go and of coming to rest both physically and mentally. If we did nothing but that, however, the mind would tend to become dull, dreamy, and sleepy, and although we’d be relaxed we wouldn’t develop much mindfulness. Relaxation is great in the short term, but in the long term mindfulness gives us the power to change our lives for the better in many different ways.

So in the second stage, into our hopefully more relaxed and calm state, we bring more energy and alertness. Those qualities are inherent in the in-breathing, which is under the control of the sympathetic nervous system.

As you’re practicing stages one and two together, you can return to this page in order to answer any questions you might have. If you have a question that isn’t answered here, feel free to post a comment below.

You’ll discover that the techniques involved in these stages are valuable tools that can help you to work with your mind in daily life.

The Difference Between Stages One and Two

If you’ve tried the first two stages of the Mindfulness of Breathing, you’ll almost certainly have noticed that they feel very different from one another. Most people find that to be the case.

You might have enjoyed one stage more than another (although people differ about which is the most enjoyable stage).

And if you enjoyed one stage more than another, you might even have found there was one stage you really didn’t like (that’s most often the second stage, for reasons we’ll come to).

But the interesting thing is that both stages are structurally identical. How can that be! In the first stage you count after the out-breath, while in the second stage we count before the in-breath! It’s patently obvious they’re different! Let me explain.

The structure of the first stage

The first stage looks like this:
In – out – 1 – in – out – 2 – in – out – 3 – in – out – 4 – in – out – 5 etc.

The structure of the second stage

While the second stage looks like this:
1 – in – out – 2 – in – out – 3 – in – out – 4 – in – out – 5 etc.

The first two stages compared

Now, if you line both stages up, it looks like this

1 – in – out – 2 – in – out – 3 – in – out – 4 – in – out – 5 etc.
1 – in – out – 2 – in – out – 3 – in – out – 4 – in – out – 5 etc.

If your browser hasn’t scrambled that you’ll see they’re exactly the same.

So, how come they feel different?

Why the stages feel different

The reason is that where you place the numbers (or more accurately, where you think you’re placing the numbers) changes which part of the breath you’re most aware of. In the first stage, because you’re counting after the out-breath your mind links the counting with the out-breath.

Try taking a deep breath and letting it out. Go on, no-one’s watching. How does it feel? It probably feels like:

  • Letting go
  • Coming to rest
  • Relaxing
  • Downward movement
  • Calming

Taking a deep out-breath (known to us professional breathers as “sighing”) is what we do when we let go of tension — you know, that moment you go “phew” when you wake up and find that you don’t have to go back to school to take the exam you’ve just been dreaming about.

Now in the second stage, you’re counting before the in-breath and so your mind links the number more closely to the act of breathing in. So what does breathing in feel like? Try it. Do a big inhalation (remember to breath out at some point). It feels like:

  • Expanding
  • Opening up
  • Rising movement
  • Growing alertness
  • Energizing

So why is this important?

Relaxing before energizing

Breathing deeply in is what you naturally do when you wake up on the first day of vacation, step out onto the balcony of your luxury hotel overlooking the ocean, and it feels good to be alive (as opposed to being in the office).

So while the first stage is a stage of letting go, the second stage is a stage of energizing. The first stage is the perfect thing to do in starting a meditation practice — we let go (hopefully) of all the tension in our bodies and (even more hopefully) of all the crud flying round in our heads.

Once we’ve done that, the next stage (the second stage) is where you attempt to energize your relaxed mind and body. By encouraging your body to open up, and by feeling the energy that comes with the in-breath, you help to set up the conditions for being aware. Maintaining your awareness requires an upright alert body, and an open chest (see Posture Guidelines for more detail). That’s exactly what happens in the second stage.

Bored with the Counting?

Sometimes people find the counting boring, and want to drop it. Well, there can be good reasons and bad reasons for wanting to drop the counting.

Sometimes we’ve really developed a strong current of stillness and it seems natural to drop the numbers. If so, then just let go of the counting and enjoy that undistracted calmness. But often it’s just a resistance to structure, or the desire to be passive. We’d rather just daydream. Be honest about what your motivation is.

If the numbers seem mechanical, then bear in mind that this is not inevitable — it’s a product of the way your mind is working. If you approach the numbers mechanically, then they’ll seem mechanical. On the other hand, if you approach the numbers gracefully and creatively, then they’ll seem natural and fluid.

One way to contact that natural fluidity is to place the number very lightly before or after the breath. Imagine that you’re kissing the cheek of a sleeping child. You want to make contact, but you don’t want to cause any disturbance. Place the numbers tenderly, and with care.

If your mind is very distracted however, then make the numbers more definite and firm. But still try to do it with care. This time it’s more like giving a massage — making more definite, weighty contact — rather than kissing a child, which is a much more delicate gesture.

The firm count should still be done sensitively — like the firm but responsive pressure you would apply when massaging a friend’s shoulders.

Boredom more generally is a lack of emotional engagement. When we’re bored we’re not able to appreciate what’s in front of us and so we start to crave some new experience. In order to get beyond boredom we have to take action. Doing something — committing ourselves in practice to the meditation — helps dissipate boredom. Especially if we commit to paying attention, in detail, to the qualities of our experience we’ll start to feel more engaged.

An Alternative to Counting

I once heard a story about a famous Zen center. The main teacher had died but people kept on practicing under the guidance of his disciples. Meditation instruction at this particular center was very minimal, and mostly people were expected to “just sit.”

The expectation was that over time if you simply practiced mindfulness the mind would learn to be still. People didn’t discuss what they did in their practice, they “just sat.” In beginners classes people were told to “just sit.” Beginners sometimes would be very confused and not know what to do, but true enough, if you do just simply practice mindfulness the mind settles down.

So people kept on gathering in the meditation room and “just sitting” together. Anyway, after some time some of the senior disciples said, “Don’t you think it would be a good idea if we maybe talked about what we do in our practice? That way we might be more consistent in what we say and be able to give newcomers more detailed advice.”

This was generally thought to be a good idea, and one teacher said, “One thing I’ve been wondering about is when we introduce beginners to counting breaths.”

There was a silence, and then another teacher said, “You count your breaths?”

So the moral of the tale (or at least one moral of the tale) is that even within one school of Buddhism — even, apparently, within one teaching center — there are different approaches to meditation. In the wider Buddhist world, counting breaths is commonly practiced in some Theravada and some Zen traditions. But in some Vipassana or Insight Meditation traditions counting is not taught (while in others it is).

When I was on retreat with Joseph Goldstein at the Insight Meditation Society I asked him about counting, and whether he ever advised people to take up that practice as a way of stabilizing the mind. He said that this wasn’t part of the practice as he’d learned it, and that in the method he practiced the words “in” on an in breath and “out” on an out breath performed much the same functions. At the same time, he said, he practiced a “One Dharma” approach which involved taking tools from different traditions and this laid the way open for bringing counting in to the kind of meditation he taught.

Actually, other forms of Insight Meditation practice already do include counting, which is not surprising, since insight meditation comes from the Theravadin tradition, and the Theravadin scriptures include references to counting as part of meditation practice.

Anyway, the point of me saying all this is that saying “in” on the in breath and “out” on the out breath is another way of helping to support the development of mindfulness. This is a form of what Insight Meditation calls “noting,” where we place a mental note on the most prominent aspect of our experience in order to help stabilize the mind.

This technique has the advantage that the words “in” and “out” are directly connected with what’s going on in the breath. The words therefore help point the mind towards the breath and help to keep us connected with it. Numbers, on the other hand, have no intrinsic relationship with the breath and anyone who’s counted breaths will recognize that there have been times when they’ve been merrily counting along in perfect sets of ten while the breath has been completely forgotten.

A variation of the “in, out” method is to “note” only the in breath or the out breath. If you want to calm the mind then say “out” on each out breath and just experience the in breath without noting. If you need to bring more alertness into the mind then do the opposite, saying “in” on each in breath and making no note on the out breath. This replicates what’s happening when we count either the in or out breaths.

On the other hand, counting has the effect of maintaining and developing a sense of purpose in meditation because we build up a sense of continuity from the first to the tenth breath, while the “in, out” method only gives a sense of continuity that lasts the length of a breath-cycle. So there are advantages and disadvantages to each method.

Knowing those advantages and disadvantages can help us to use the method that’s most appropriate at any given time. So if you’re finding that the counting is becoming detached from the breathing (you’re counting but paying little attention to the sensations of the breath) then maybe it would be a good idea to try saying “in, out” for a while.

On the other hand, if you’ve been saying “in, out” and think that the mind is becoming a bit more stable then it might be good to switch to counting to help develop more continuity in your mindfulness.

Second Stage Feels Awkward?

The first stage is meant to be more relaxing, while the second stage is invigorating, and promotes awareness.

If you haven’t managed to develop enough relaxation, then the second stage can feel a little stiff and awkward at first. The problem is probably that you’re exercising some kind of subtle control over your breath. Breathing is one of these things that’s best done automatically.

In the first stage of the practice we’re just acknowledging the sensation, because we count after the out-breath. So there’s less possibility of trying to control the breath — you can’t control what’s in the past. But in the second stage there is a sense of anticipation — and it is possible to control what’s about to happen. When your desire to control events meets a sense of anticipation, then you find yourself taking charge of the breathing, rather than just watching it.

Since your unconscious is much better at regulating your breathing than your conscious mind is, you find that your breathing is a bit stiff.

This problem will sort itself out soon. You’ll find that you relax into the second stage if you just patiently keep working at it. At some point you’ll get a bit more concentrated and “forget” to control your breath.

However, if you need to, you can always drop back into the first stage of the practice, and return to the second stage when you’re more relaxed. Or you can consciously work in the second stage to develop more relaxation by really letting go on the out-breath.

Counting on your Fingers

This suggestion is not based on an assumption that you don’t know how to count up to ten unaided! This is a useful technique that I’ve used when my mind has been very distracted and I need a bit of a hand to get it under control.

What I do is very simple; in the first two stages I count on my fingers as my breath flows in and out. I don’t move my fingers but simply take my awareness into each finger in turn, starting with the thumb of my right hand, working my way through the fingers of that hand in turn, and then continuing from the thumb to the pinkie on my left hand.

This really does help to keep your mind more firmly anchored than when you simply follow the breath alone. So why not use this all the time? Well, you could, I suppose, but I find this technique mainly to be of use when I’m very distracted. Once I’ve managed to get my mind to settle down I let go of it.

The reason I do this is because I find that counting on my fingers is effective but slightly crude as well. I think that if you relied too much on this method it would stop you from developing more refinement in your practice. Perhaps it would be like never getting beyond using stabilizers (training wheels) when learning to ride a bicycle.

Although I said that I don’t move my fingers, I felt that I actually had to do so when I first tried out this method. Unless I physically moved my fingers a tiny bit I found I had difficulty telling which finger was which (and that’s despite spending years trying to learn the trumpet).

Perhaps you won’t have the same problem and can go straight onto counting your fingers without having to wiggle them. I stress that I don’t do this all the time – I only use this method when my mind is particularly unruly and needs to be, well, taken in hand.

Stepping Back from the Process

At this point it may be a good idea to step back from learning meditation and reflect a little on how it’s going. Learning meditation is not easy – in fact I think it’s one of the more challenging and heroic things that a human being can choose to do with his or her life.

Learning meditation involves learning to see ourselves – warts and all. It requires that we take responsibility for ourselves, rather than using other people as scapegoats for our own failings (“you made me angry”).

There are always ups and downs in learning any skill. Anyone who’s learned to do something like skiing, or roller-blading, or ice skating as an adult will remember thinking, “this is impossible”, and regretting that we ever started. It can be like that with meditation as well, and I’d like to encourage you by reminding you that you are not alone and that you are going through a process that many other people have been through – and come out of the other side of.

One process that many people have been through is the discovery that meditation seems to give you problems you never thought you had. Before, you just had an irritating colleague. Now you realize that you are responsible for your own mental states and that your irritability is a construct of your own mind. Of course, meditation hasn’t created this problem – it’s just made you more aware that you have it. This can be a shock initially.

At first it might seem that it would be more comfortable to retreat into unawareness – but that may not be an option. Once you’ve begun to realize that you are responsible for your own life and emotions, it’s hard to lose that perspective. You’ve looked behind the curtain, realized that the wizard is a little old man pulling strings, and can never again see him as the all powerful Oz.

The problem of self-awareness

A related problem is getting more in touch with emotions that you hadn’t previously fully acknowledged. Meditation can be a very accurate and unflattering mirror. Without meditation it can be very easy to delude ourselves into seeing ourselves as being purer, more patient, more socially competent, or kinder than we actually are. Meditation polishes the mirror, and this too can be a shock to the system.

Cynthia, a child psychiatrist from New England, commented: “I meditated today at the office and noticed that I can really slow down after meditating. I also noticed how irritable I was on arriving home when interacting with others. Ugh. I’m wishing I could be more mellow.” This is a fairly common experience – slowing down enough to be able to see yourself in the mirror.

Another student made the same connection: “It may be just coincidental but I have felt quite emotional in a negative sort of way. I don’t know if opening up in meditation has allowed an opportunity for my more repressed feelings to come to the surface (with some of the busyness out of the way).” This too is a phase that will pass. You’ll still have a more accurate perception of yourself, but it will be tempered by a sense of the progress you’re making.

In a way, the mirror becomes four-dimensional so that you not only can see yourself as you are, but also as you were and as you will be. Seeing ourselves changing, and realizing what we can become, is the greatest antidote to self-doubt that I know of.

In the short term we need to have a sense of trust in the process. The path at first may seem to be hard and rocky, the way may seem almost impassable, but over time your stamina and resilience will improve, and so will your patience and forgiveness of yourself. The path has its own rewards.

What’s Next?

If you’ve explored the first and second stages of the Mindfulness of Breathing, you may want to start exploring Stage 3. In Stage 3 we drop the counting, so that our attention is no longer directed toward either the in-breathing or the out-breathing.

Instead we can appreciate these phases of the breathing equally, and also begin to notice that the experience of the breathing is continuous. Our experience of the breathing is an unbroken series of moments of sensation, which we can observe in an unbroken series of moments of mindfulness.

You can learn more about Stage 3 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.

24 Comments. Leave new

  • Also, I’ve found it effective to say “out1, out2, out3, out4… ect.
    And; in1,in2, in3, and so on”.
    That way tou get a sence of order and purpose, and it is still connected with the actions at hand

  • Because I know American Sign Language, sometimes when my mind needs help settling down, I will count using sign language, and it is very subtle and very deep-rooted, as sign language comes from a more primal part of the brain. Also, we can count from 1-10 on one hand.

  • I am new at meditation (3 weeks) and I try to practice for 30 minutes weekdays. After a few breaths I find it impossible to distinguish beteween stages one and two; sometimes I forget which stage I am in. Should I worry?

  • In all my years of teaching I’ve never encouraged anyone to “worry” about anything :)

    I think it would be good if you paid more attention to the sense of letting go that takes place on the outbreaths that you’re counting in the first stage, and the sense of “inspiration” that takes place in the inbreaths that you’re counting in the second stage.

    But I don’t think you should worry.

    All the best,

  • isn’t “after each out-breath” and “before each inhalation” the same moment?

    • Of course it is. But what you’re doing is either counting outbreaths that have just happened, or inbreaths just before they take place. Experientially, the two actions are quite different.

  • I tried this practice in the A.M, after reading it the night before, and I’ve been doing it all week. However , I just realized that I have counting(1)before each inhale and then switching to(2) before each exhale. It definately is a different experience than just tring to follow the breath, but is this OK?

  • Hi, Rayna. This is actually another traditional way of doing the practice. It’s not a question of it being right or wrong. It just has a different effect.

    I’ve found that when I’ve tried it this way the effect is rather “busy” because there’s so much counting going on. Of course that can be helpful when you’re really struggling to stay with the practice, but once the mind is getting quieter the numbers can start to seem rather noisy!

    This way of counting also doesn’t force you to be more aware of either the inbreath or the outbreath, because you’re counting both phases of the breath cycle, while the way the practice is taught here makes you more aware of the outbreath in stage one, or the inbreath is stage two. There can be certain advantages to doing the practice this way.

  • Hi

    I tried calming down (meditation )past couple of months. but I just happen to see this site few days before and start doing stage 1 and stage 2. after that my breath in and out is less looks like I am not breathing at all. looks like surrounding environment has stopped. I can feel that I am alive. This experience stays in few minutes. Am I entering stage 3? or my breath is in control?

    • It sounds like you’re in either a high level of what’s called acces concentration, or even in jhana/dhyana. This is great, especially since you haven’t been practicing for long. See if you can just relax into the experience without getting into “oh, wow, this is cool, I want more of this” attitudes, which effectively kill the kind of experience you’re having. In fact don’t think about trying to make this state happen — just keep on with the practice and see what unfolds.

  • Thank you so much for your immediate response and kind advice. you are correct. This experience don’t happen all the time. I should control my excitement before doing that. I will continue practicing stage 1 and 2

  • Patricia Hughes
    July 3, 2011 4:43 pm

    Stage 2 feels quite different from stage 1. Sometimes it feels quite stressful, at least when I first switch from counting after to counting before. But it settles down after a few cycles and I find myself just as easily distracted as I was in Stage 1!

  • Often people are more distracted in stage two than in stage one. If this happens I’d suggest more consciously paying attention to the sense of letting go that takes place on the outbreath. So you’re majoring in the inbreath, with a minor in exhaling! Your experience is something like this:

    INBREATH outbreath INBREATH outbreath.

    The extra attention to the outbreath helps to counteract the stimulating nature of the inbreath.

  • Patricia Hughes
    July 19, 2011 3:52 pm

    Stage one feels like: inbreath outbreath count-something-that-just-happened. Stage two sometimes feels more like: count OMG-I’ve-got-to-breath-inbreath outbreath. This is why it feels stressful where stage one feels much more natural. I’m sure I’ll work it out :-)

    • I can see how that would be stressful. There’s an important lesson to be learned there about how we fear, and how we try to control. Fortunately “we” don’t have to remember to breathe, since it just happens, even when we’re unconscious and “we” are not there. We can learn to trust the process, and let go, and stop trying to control, and therefore lose that edge of fear that affects our experience of things.

  • Good morning again Bodhipaksa. I have a question. I have been using your mp3 recordings at the bottom of these pages to guide me through my meditations. I am finding that sitting in front of my computer to listen is a bit distracting and not ideal. Is the MP3 recording entitled Mindfulness Meditation the same as what’s here? Thank you.

  • Oops, I’m sorry, it’s called the Mindfulness of Breathing…

    • It’s the same practice. Every time I lead a meditation it’s different, so they’re not identical. Much better audio, though!

  • I am not finding it on iTunes. Is the “Wisdom of the Breath: Three Guided Meditations for…” also the same practice? Sorry to bother you with this!

  • Melody M Peters
    August 14, 2012 1:44 pm

    I am grateful for this site. I have been using this as a meditation guideline. I read a little more every few days then practice.

  • can you please make it so the guided meditations recordings on the site are working id like to try them but none work

    • Presumably you’re finding that the MP3 on this page isn’t working? I’m not sure why that would be. It’s working when I try it on my computer or iPad. Perhaps you could try another browser?

  • very fine and subtle analysis of the difference between the sensations in te first stage RELAXING and second stage ENERGISING!

  • i recall a story about an old Tibetan peasant on his death bed. He had been taught Meditation on Amida as a child and was faithful to daily practice though never had access to a teacher since then. His family asked for a teacher to be present during this mans last moments. A teacher arrived and asked if he was worried or concerned about death. The man said no since all his life he practiced his simple meditation on Amida. At this point the Teacher wanted to make sure about the technique so he asked the man about the color of his Amida visualization. The man said “Gray”. This response caused surprise in the teacher who responded, “No, Amida Buddha is RED”. The dying man laughed and said “All those years Amida was gray, why didn’t he know that!” and then died quite peacefully.

  • Hello Bodhipaksa,

    I have started mindfulness meditation few week backs. I am practising meditation daily for 20 minutes. I have started observing few things recently. While meditating some times all these common background noises and sounds like sound of heater suddenly starting, or sound of alarm clock is causing a sudden scare in me. In normal condition when we are reading or doing other activities we don’t pay attention to these sounds/noises or our attention/response to these noises are normal/limited. But when I am meditating these sudden noises is causing a sudden fear/fright-fight response (the response that normally occurs if some one tries to scare you suddenly). Is this normal or I am not focussing properly on breath. Please guide me.

    • Hi, Sandeep. All kinds of things can happen in meditation! I’d suggest that, first, you see this as normal and accept the startle response as much as possible. Let go of any thoughts of this being “wrong” and remind yourself that it’s OK to feel startled. Second, take an interest in the experience. Notice the different sensations involved in the startle response. It happens very quickly, so you probably won’t be able to observe it as it appears, but you can notice where the sensations are and how they change. With your mind involved in observing the startle response like this, there will be less opportunity for you to add to your discomfort by thinking that it shouldn’t happen.

      Paying attention to the movements of the abdomen might help you let go of the tension that arises when you become startled, as might being aware of letting go on the outbreath.

      I imagine you’ll find in time that the startle response becomes less strong, or even stops happening.

  • Dear sir, what if I use the prayer beads band as the anchor for my breath?

  • Saranasiri jenny
    May 5, 2015 7:16 am

    Dear bodhipaksha, is there a reason for counting on the out breath in stage one. I have been asked this several times. When asking others, more experienced than me, I have been given many different answers. Thank you saranasiri.

    • Hi, Saranasiri.

      I think the purpose of counting the out-breath in stage one is to bring a bit more awareness to the out-breath. Paying attention to the out-breath gently stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, bringing us toward calm and relaxation. Counting out-breaths focuses our attention a little more on the part of the breathing where we’re relaxing, letting go, and calming the mind. That’s pretty much what we all need to do when we first sit down to meditate. There’s all that turbulence, needing to be settled and calmed.

      In the second stage we focus more on the in-breath, and that helps to bring more clarity, vividness, and energy into our (hopefully) calm mind and relaxed body. Paying attention to the in-breathing gently stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, leading to alert mindfulness. If we continued to focus on the out-breathing we’d become dull and sleepy. The ideal is calm combined with alertness.

      In the third stage we can become more aware of the continuity of the sensations of the breathing, because the tendency to see the breathing as “chopped up” into out/in breaths creates the illusion of “gaps” and gives our attention opportunities to go wandering, usually starting from one of those supposed gaps—generally between an out-breath and an in-breath. In reality there are no gaps in the sensations arising from the breathing. The whole process is continuous. And if we pay attention to the continuity, then our mindfulness becomes continuous as well.

      But the third stage also combines calmness and alertness by focusing equally on the calming out-breath and the stimulating in-breath.

      • Bodhipaksa,
        Can you please explain a bit more on “In reality there are no gaps in the sensations arising from the breathing.”? Apparently I sense that there is a gap between the in and out breaths. This could be my conditioning. How do I proceed from where I am now? Thanks.

        • Sorry. I didn’t express myself very clearly. There are gaps between in-breaths and out-breaths, but there is no interruption to the sensations of the breathing. The sensations never stop. Nor do they remain the same for any two moments. We are conditioned to think that in these gaps nothing happens and there is no sensation. But at the end of the out-breath and in-breath there is still a lot to be sensed.

  • Saranasiri jenny
    May 24, 2015 7:26 am

    Thank you. Great help. Saranasiri.

  • Andrew masters
    June 17, 2015 8:10 pm

    Can’t thank you enough for the generosity of sharing this legendary knowledge ..

  • apoorva jain
    June 25, 2015 2:58 am

    whenever i meditate it lasts maximum for 5 minutes. i can sit for an hour what i judge myself to but i get scared. as if some ghost is coming to take me away or killing me or standing in front of me, being eyes closed. so, i stop meditating. i know its funny but i am not being able to cope up with myself & explain my self. please help. i am sure you must be having a way to get my fear out of this.

  • Hello Bodhipaksa,
    I am a 38 year old and just left my job because of lot of stress involved and affecting my life badly. Anyhow I gradually started meditating after reading in newspapers from this July onward, during night when my family is asleep. I generally sit for 30-45 minutes daily and focus on my breathe in and out. I have noticed lot of changes in my attitude like becoming calm, feeling to help everyone , not loosing temper as I used to do when working and many more good changes. I have some questions in my mind which have brought me to this website:

    Sometime I feel like my body is moving in circular motions and difficult to pay attention when I develop concentration. When I focus my attention on these circular motions they go for a while and return again in form of front and back motions and my attention is disturbed. Till now I have been able to work with my thought and emotions during meditation but I don’t know a method to choose to control/correct the bodily movements and move forward.
    Hope you will guide me.
    Warm Regards,

    • Hi, Sunil.

      I think the answer lies in here: “When I focus my attention on these circular motions … my attention is disturbed.” Your attention is only disturbed because you’re reacting to these movements. Just let them happen and accept them. There’s no need to treat them as a disturbance. As long as you’re aware of the movements, you can treat them as just another thing to be mindful of, like the breathing.

  • I often say a word on the breath instead of numbers. I like the word “quiet”. When I breathe out, mentally say “quiet”. It programs the mind to be quiet.

    It’s definitely helpful to have words or numbers early on. Just giving the wandering mind something to do means that it doesn’t bring up so many distracting thoughts.

  • I like counting (in =1, out =2, in =3, out =4, etc) & starting over when i lose count, to gently reward myself for not losing focus, or gently lovingly penalize myself when i get distracted. Once i hit ~200, time flies without me noticing

  • Gijs van Dalderen
    July 12, 2020 9:45 am

    I do the same “trick” . It feels very pleasant as if you were breathing through each finger in turn. After the ten fingers I sometimes do the same thing with my toes. It ensures you to have done ten or twenty breathings and you can use it instead of a bell if you want to control your time or want to switch the object of your meditation after a while (e.g. body awareness followed by compassion with all beings than with the earth as a whole ) . A mala or even a christian rosary also can help. I don’t see these object as something “holy” but on the other hand a christian rosary sometimes reminds me to my parents which is a nice source for contemplation

  • Gijs van Dalderen
    January 17, 2021 3:57 pm

    Thank you for your suggestion. I often make something similar: when breathing in, I imagine how the breath does not only enter my nostrils but also the tip of my right little finger and it feels as if a gentle cool stream enters my finger via my arm to my lungs so from two parts of my body at the same time. I continue with every finger until my thumb than the same with my other hand, it gives a nice feeling of relaxation and I can also be a little bit aware of the time. The first set of ten breathings I say to myself one (for in) – one (for out) and when I start with the right hand again it is ten times two – two so I can also keep some control of my time if necessary without an annoying alarm clock


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