Mindfulness of breathing is a fundamental meditation practice that calms the mind and can be used as a basis from which to explore more subtle mental processes.
Originally taught by the Buddha, mindfulness of breathing (Pali: Anapanasati), is essentially non-sectarian and can be practiced by people of any religious persuasion, or none.
- Sit comfortably and upright (on the floor, cushion, or chair), with your eyes closed or partially open.
- Breathe normally and gently through your nose. Allow your breathing to follow its natural course. Do not try to force or change the natural pattern of your breathing.
- Now, as you continue to breathe naturally, become mindful of the sensations at the tip of your nostrils as the breath moves gently in and out.
- Keep the focus of your attention at the tip of the nostrils, or at the area between your nostrils and upper lip (whichever sensations you find easier or more comfortable to focus upon). Do not allow your attention to follow the breath down into your lungs.
- As you are aware of these sensations of breathing at or beneath the nostrils, wordlessly realize "I am breathing in", "I am breathing out". Simply be with the sensations of breathing.
- If you are distracted, or find yourself becoming lost in a "thought story", or daydream, or start dozing off, don't get annoyed or upset, but simply acknowledge what has happened and gently return your awareness to the sensations of breathing at or beneath your nostrils.
- You will probably find yourself spontaneously taking longer or shorter breaths at different times. Allow this to happen and wordlessly be aware of these changes as they occur.
- Continue this practice for as long as you wish (about 10-15 minutes is a good period to start with).
- You can practice mindfulness of breathing whenever you have few minutes when you do not need to engage in any other activity. Most people find that the early morning, immediately after rising, is a good time to practice.
If you find this meditation difficult because your mind wanders too much, you may find it helpful to include the following additional instruction until you become more familiar with the practice.
- Try silently counting your outbreaths: "One", "Two", "Three", etc.
- Try counting the outbreaths up to 21, and then reverse the count, returning to one. (You may use 4, 5, 7, 10, etc., if you prefer).
- If you find that you have lost count, have stopped counting, or have become carried away in a thought-story, return to one and start again.
- Don't get upset or annoyed if you keep getting distracted. Simply acknowledge what has happened.