In this article, we’ll look at how to do Anapanasati meditation technique (mindful breathing), a wonderful Buddhist meditation described in the Anapanasati Sutta.
As a meditation teacher, this is the meditation technique I teach the most in my online meditation lessons.
Buddha said this meditation technique bears “great fruit” (meaning great benefit) when practised regularly. And scholar Bhikkhu Analayo states that it is the most used method for contemplation.
When you practice Anapanasati meditation, (pronounced “An-a-pan-a-sah-tee”), you will calm your mind and boost your concentration. Plus, monitoring the movements of your mind will help you to develop insight.
You might like to practise this method alongside other breathing meditations.
How to do Anapanasati Meditation Technique
1: Where to practice Anapanasati Meditation
You will want to meditate in a relaxing space.
Your area should be quiet and peaceful, which is why Buddha instructed his monks to go into the forest in the Anapanasati Sutta. It is easy to get distracted when practising Anapanasati Meditation technique, so make sure that there are as few distractions as possible.
Also, consider lighting. The area should not be too light nor too dark. And it should be a comfortable temperature. You don’t want to be shivering or sweating profusely when you meditate.
2: Choose a posture
You can do Anapanasati meditation lying, standing, or sitting. Just make sure you have good posture.
To practise Anapanasati meditation sitting, place your feet at shoulder-distance apart, make sure your spine is straight but with a natural curve, place the tip of your tongue on your hard palette, slightly lower your chin to lengthen your spine, and close your eyes.
Make sure your mind is relatively calm before continuing. You might like to count breaths, stretch your body, or just take a few moments to let go.
4: Start mindful breathing
Begin to focus on your breathing.
You may find it helpful to count your breaths. If so, count an inhalation and exhalation as one count (breathe in, breathe out, count one. Breathe in, breathe out, count two etc.) This connects us with the breath.
As has been noted by Alan Watts, in Anapanasati meditation we move from passive breathing (the idea that breathing is happening but we are not the one doing it) to active breathing (awareness that we are creating the breath).
If you struggle to concentrate, count your breaths up to ten and then start over. Spiritual teacher Nan Huai-Chin states that counting breaths helps us move into peaceful contemplation. Alternatively, move your focus to a different part of your breathing, a part that appears more apparent.
You can count breaths for the entire session if you wish, but this is only for beginners.
Once your mind is fully focused, maintain that focus for a minimum of five minutes. After this, you may wish to adapt your technique depending on your reason for practising.
To give you a few ideas about how to advance: If you are meditating to develop an understanding of yourself, you may wish to observe your thoughts. For focus, concentrate on your breathing. You may also use visualisations and other techniques. Indian Buddhist Kamalaśīla is said to have recommended combining Metta Bhavana (Loving Kindness) with Anapanasati.
5. Advanced Anapanasati Meditation Technique
Now that you know how to do Anapanasati meditation technique, it is time to advance your practice.
Here are some of the best ways to adapt the basic Anapanasati meditation technique:
- Focus on the entirety of the breath. Imagine the breath as one. There is no in or out there is just breathing. Meditating on the oneness of breathing helps develop inner stillness.
- Focus on the energy behind the breath. There is an energy, or a lifeforce, behind the breath. When you meditate on this, you will find what I term Infinite Creativity. This is the most elemental part of ourselves. When you connect with this part, you will find immense freedom and power.
- Meditate on the connection between mind and breath. You will find that the way you breathe alters your mental state and vice versa.
- Mindfulness: Observe your thoughts and emotions mindfully.
- Impermanence: Notice how each breath is different, how body and mind continually change. We are like liquid—always moving—and yet we may be inwardly still.
- Try humming or reciting “Om.” This will tune your mind-body into the frequency of the sound.
6. Development through the 16 Stages of Anapanasati As Described In The Anapanasati Sutta
Traditional Anapanasati meditation progresses through sixteen stages broken into four tetrads (groups of four practices). These stages of Anapanasati are not for beginners. If you are a beginner, practice Anapanasati meditation by just mindfully breathing. Once you are experienced, progress through the next steps.
7. First Tetrad
The first tetrad is simply mindful breathing (observing the physical sensations of the breath). We notice whether the breath is long or short. This then leads to mindfully observing the breath through the whole body. We then use this to relax.
8. Second Tetrad
This stage of Anapanasati meditation is all about feelings and emotions. Because the mind and body are relaxed, we will experience the feeling of rapture (piti). Observe this state of rapture mindfully.
The Anapanasati Sutta recommends maintaining mindfulness of breath and observing feelings. Mindfulness of breathing is used as the anchor. It stops us from getting lost in emotions and thoughts. Like Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor”. We use the breath to anchor the mind. Meanwhile, we mindfully observe our feelings.
Buddha instructed monks to notice if the breath is long or short. Then, to be mindful of either the entire body, rapture, pleasure, the mind, or mental phenomena. He advised monks to focus on: dispassion, relinquishment, inconstancy, and cessation, and to allow the mind to calm and become still.
You will notice that the mind avoids negative feelings and is attracted to positive feelings. Once we are aware of this process, we can label the movements of the mind. We say to ourselves “craving” (the mind wanting positive feelings) or “aversion” (the mind wanting fewer negative feelings).
9. Third Tetrad
The third tetrad deals with emotions. Because we have learned to stop reacting to our experiences, we become calm and happy. Observe how the mind is filled with joy. The joyful mind is still. Hence, we can concentrate.
10. Fourth Tetrad.
Here, we use reflections to free the mind. We reflect on the impermanence of experience and the continually changing nature of thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations. We do this by mindfully observing the mind.
Zen master Katsuki Sekida states that in some forms of Buddhism (mostly in Tibet and Mongolia) there is also an active form of Anapanasati meditation that uses throat singing.
Anapanasati Meditation Benefits
Life is better when you practise Anapanasati meditation every day. I’ve learned that through personal experience.
When I was a teenager, I went through a very rough time. I was bullied every day. Life at home was always tricky because of my dad’s drinking. And there was a lot of turmoil in my life. I decided to learn meditation. I knew some basic breathing methods. When I was stressed, I would focus my mind on my breathing. As I focused, my thoughts began to quieten. The demons in my mind started to part. My mind cleared. And I found calm.
Meditation helped me get through a very rough patch in my life. Now I practise every day, so I stay relaxed and stress-free.
And science shows it works.
Scientific Benefits of Anapanasati Meditation
- One of the best techniques for relaxation.
- Increases serotonin.
- Improves communication between hemispheres of the brain.
- Improves reactions.
- Prevents depression.
- Prevents anxiety.
- Anti-aging for body and mind.
- Lowers heart rate.
- Helps balance blood pressure.
- Lowers risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Improves air flow to the lungs.
- Improves immune system.
- Helps with PMS symptoms.
- Decreases muscle tension.
- Improves energy flow.
- Reduces headaches and migraines.
- Improves motor performance.
- Increases productivity.
- Increases focus.
- Stops “Monkey Mind”.
- Makes you more intelligent.
- Promotes activity of the parasympathetic nervous system [Research from Guru Deo at the Department of Bioenergy, Division of Yoga and Physical Sciences, S-VYASA Yoga University]
- Affects levels of a neurotransmitter called noradrenaline, a stress hormone that is involved with the formulation of new brain cells. [Research by Michael Melnychuk, Ph.D [Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience in Dublin, Ireland]
- Reduces the “fight or flight” response [Harvard Medical School]
Spiritual Benefits of Anapanasati Meditation
There is a reason why this is a primary method used in Zen Tianati, Theravada, and Tibetan Buddhism, because it helps us develop the Seven Factors of Enlightenment:
- Sati (mindfulness).
- Dhamma Vicaya (analysis).
- Viriya (persistence).
- Piti (rapture, which essentially means that you are joyful and enthusiastic).
- Passaddhi (serenity).
- Samadhi (concentration).
- Upekkha (equanimity).
Finally, Anapanasati leads to freedom from suffering.
I hope you enjoyed my guide and found it helpful. If so, you might like to book an online meditation lesson with me today.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Anapanasati: A form of breathing technique devised by Guatama Buddha.
Theravada: One of the most popular forms of Buddhism, with 100 million practitioners. It’s principal teachings come from the Pali Tipitaka or Pali Canon. And its basic instructions begin with the Four Noble Truths.
Meditation: The act of focusing the mind. Used in Buddhism, yoga, and health practices.
Buddhism: One of the most popular religions in the world. Based on the teachings of the Buddha.
Sati (mindfulness): The Pali word for mindfulness. Translated, it means “awareness”.
Dhamma Vicaya (analysis): This means analysis. Dhamma Vicaya is connected to discrimination, examination, investigation, and wisdom.
Viriya (persistence): A Buddhist term. Viriya means energy, the effort of perseverance.
Piti: Rapture, which means that you are joyful and enthusiastic in meditation.
Passaddhi (serenity): Passaddhi is a Pali term. Translated, it means repose, peace, or calmness.
Samadhi (concentration): A state of intense focus and concentration
Upekkha (equanimity): Equanimity is one of the sublime states in Buddhism. It means stability in the face of worldly fluctuations.