Mindfulness and the Breath

Friday May 11, 2007


I wrote a few days ago about meditation as a process of developing an intimacy with experience, and since I wrote that, I’ve been finding this way of looking at the process of meditation helpful in my own practice, so I thought I would expand a little bit upon the way I’ve been going about this. At the class I was teaching, I drew from one of the oldest texts on the meditation on the breath, the Anapanasati Sutta, which gives a whole range of ways into using the breath as an object of meditation. What I did was to take some, but not all, of the suggestions made in the Anapanasati Sutta, to make a list of my own of ways to approach the breath; and since I put together this somewhat abridged and slightly modified list, I’ve found it very useful in giving my own practice of meditation a bit more flexibility and subtlety (if, incidentally, you want an overview of the practice, the article on Wikipedia gives a fairly good introduction).

So here it is, in the hope that it might be helpful. Think of it as eight different ways of looking at the breath.

  1. Breathing, noticing the quality of the breath. Is it long or short? Deep or shallow? Steady or unsteady? Not trying to force the breath, but merely noting what it is like.
  2. Breathing sensitive to the body. How does the breath feel in the chest? In the stomach? In the mouth and nose? How do the rhythms of the breath reflect the rhythms of the body?
  3. Breathing to calm the body. Allow the breathing to steady and still the body. Notice how on the in-breath the body comes to life, and how on the out breath the body settles. Have a sense of balancing the body through the in-breath and the out-breath.
  4. Breathing sensitive to pleasure. Notice any sensations of pleasure or of ease. Notice how these sensations change with the coming and going of the breath.
  5. Breathing sensitive to thoughts. Notice also how your thoughts respond to the breath. Keep the focus of your attention on the breathing, but with sensitivity to the coming and going of thoughts.
  6. Breathing to calm thoughts. Let the breath steadily calm your thoughts, noticing how on the in-breath your thoughts gather pace, and how on the out-breath they become steadier.
  7. Breathing to release thoughts. Have a sense, as you are breathing, of releasing or letting go of any difficult thoughts – particularly on the out-breath.
  8. Breathing with attention to change. As you breathe, notice how thoughts, feelings and sensations are continually changing, arising and passing away. Without trying to hold on to pleasant experiences or to push away difficult experiences, simply pay attention to this rise and fall.

Happy meditating!

# · Peter

Thank you! It is very very nice to sit at the computer reading your 8 points whilst breathing. And then to read them again as the experience becomes nicer still! Thank you very much!

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