Anapanasati meditation, which literally means “mindfulness of breathing”, is one of the popular forms of meditation used in Zen Tianati, Theravada, and Tibetan Buddhism. You may have heard of the Western style of mindfulness meditation.
Many blogs and websites have introduced Anapanasati meditation, but I found that none that explain it in full. My mission on The Daily Meditation is to bring meditation to millions of people and to help them learn meditation properly. So I read through over 50 text on anapanasati breathing meditation to bring you this ultimate guide. I hope you find it helpful.
But first off, why would you want to practice Anapanasati meditation?
Anapansati has been practiced by Buddhist monks for thousands of years. But science has proven that it is very good for your health. So naturally, it is starting to be popular in the US, UK, Canada and elsewhere in the West. And it is used by celebrities, athletes, and anyone who wants to take care of their physical and mental health.
In this complete guide I’ll share everything you need to know about Anapanasati meditation technique.
The Origins And History Of Anapanasati Meditation
Where did you first hear about Anapansati meditation? (Leave a comment). You may have heard about Anapansati through your doctor, by a fitness instructor, or at a mindfulness meditation program.
Anapanasati actually stems from the ancient Buddhist systems. It is one of the most important types of meditation to Buddhists. It is particularly used in Tiantai, Chan, and Theravada Buddhism.
In Buddhism, Anapansati meditation is all about mindfulness (awareness) of breathing. When you practice Anapansati (as I’ll show you in a moment) you are mindful of your inhalations and exhalations. And traditionally, it Is believed that Anapanasati meditation is vital in the development of what Buddhists call the Seven Factors of Enlightenment:
- Sati (mindfulness)
- Dhamma Vicaya (analaysis)
- Viriya (persistence)
- Piti (rapture, which essential means that you are joyful and enthusiastic in meditation)
- Passaddhi (serenity)
- Samadhi (concentration)
- Upekkha (equanimity)
- And finally, Anapanasati leads to freedom from suffering.
So essentially, Anapansati will help you to achieve enlightenment.
But if all this sounds a bit serious, let’s consider the benefits of Anapanasati in layman’s terms.
- Anapanasati will help you to be calm and observant
- It will help you to analyse things logically and without prejudice
- It will help you to focus with a still mind
- It will increase your ability to enjoy the moments of your life
- It will make you less biased and less prejudice
Why I Personally Practice Anapanasati Every Day
All this tradition and science is one thing. But what really matters is how much Anapanasati helps you in every day life. That’s why I would like to share with you the story of why I personally practice Anapanasati meditation every single day.
When I was a teenager I went through a very rough time. I was bullied every day. Life and home was always difficult because of my dad’s drinking. And there was a lot of turmoil in my life.
It was at this time that I decided that my calling in life was to make other people happy. And I decided to do that first of all by being a performer. Problem was I was insanely shy. Being bullied and the trouble at home made me recline into my own shell. And that’ snot a good place to perform songs. So I had to come out of my shell.
The first time I went to perform on stage I was 16 and at school. I was so sick I throw up in the toilet twenty minutes before the show. And my mind was so full of negative thoughts I couldn’t even see straight.
I needed a miracle. But as Buddha would say, the way isn’t in the sky, it is the heart. I needed to conquer my demons. And thankfully I knew a very basic breathing meditation technique (a technique I had learned from singing). So I sat in the toilet cubicle for ten minutes before the show just focusing on my breathing. I forced my whole mind to focus entirely on my breathing. My thoughts began to quiet. The demons in my mind began to part. It was like my breath was Moses when he parts the sea so he could cross it from his assailants. My mind cleared its clouds and I could see straight. I hit the stage and I sang my little heart out. And that was one of my biggest personal successes.
Why do I tell you that?
I think it illustrates how thoughts can interfere with your life and how your breath can clear the way.
Do you have a similar story? I would love to hear it. Leave a comment.
How Buddha Taught Anapanasati Meditation
When the Buddha taught Anapanasati in the Satipatthana Sutta he said that monks should go into the forest and sit beneath a tree (you yourself could do this if you have a Zen garden). In the forest monks would sit and watch the breath. The Buddha told them to notice if the breath is long or short.
The Buddha would teach:
- To sit in the forest
- Be mindful of either: the entire body, rapture, pleasure, the mind, the phenoms of the mind
- Focus on: dispassion, relinquishment, inconstancy, or cessation
- Allow the mind to calm and become still
Another popular form of Anapanasati that is practiced today is a technique where you count the breath. This is based on “The Path Of Purification” (Visuddhimagga).
It goes like this:
- Count your exhalations in tens
- Count exhalations in tens
- Stop counting and just be mindful of your breathing
These are just a snapshot. I’ll give you the full guide in just a sec.
Doing Anapanasati Meditation Properly
Are you enjoying the guide so far? (Comment).
Your meditation practice is really important to me. I put hours into this blog because I want you to succeed. And because of that I’m going to go right back to square one.
Trust is, there are lots of people who have learned to meditate the wrong way (because, unfortunately, there is quite of bit of bad information around these days).
Let’s cut to the chase. You need to get meditation right.
That’s why I’ve written this in-depth guide to getting the basics of meditation right. Take a look at that link for the fundamentals.
But there are also a few tips that are especially important to Anapanasati meditation.
For starters, before you begin meditating you should have an idea of why you are meditating. For instance, is this meditation going to be a total chill-out session in which you want to float on cloud nine? That’s fine, stick with that. Or maybe you want to take a polaroid of what the heck is going on in that mind of yours. Again that’s totally cool, go with that. Tell yourself the reason you are doing this meditation. After all, it’s pretty hard to hit a target if you don’t know where the target it.
Is this going to be a stationary meditation? It is possible to do Anapanasati meditation while moving. And while I do not recommend this for beginners, It’s a pretty good technique for intermediate and advanced meditators. For instance, you might convert it into a walking meditation.
Where are you going to focus? You’ll be focusing on your breathing. But your breath moves around your entire body. So where precisely will you focus? It’s up to you, and there are benefits of meditating on different areas. But choose on place to focus and stick to it throughout that one session. Then try focusing on a different area.
These are different considerations you can make. Feel free to make your own choices here. And try out different styles. Do sitting Anapanasati one time, moving the next. See how the different approaches make you feel. Heck, variety is the spice of Zen… or something like that.
What’s in it for you? The health benefits of Anapanasati
Buddha pretty much hit the nail on the head (as he usually did) when we said that Anapansati will make you calmer, more relaxed, more aware, and will give you greater equanimity of mind. But Buddha did not have the benefits of modern science. And today we know that actually, there are quite a few more benefits to Anapansati.
By simply focusing your mind on your breathing you can actually change your brain. Research has shown that the brain actually grows in response to meditation. Meditation is actually an exercise for your brain. Like learning a new musical instrument, meditation will boost your smarts. That’s one reason why meditation makes you more intelligent.
Anapanasati meditation also makes you less explosive. No, not like C4. I mean emotionally explosive. When you practice Anapanasati you will be more in control of your emotions. Oh, and as though that wasn’t enough, Anapanasati actually slows down the aging process. In other words, if I do this those grey hairs of mine might slow down their relentless assault on my otherwise perfectly black hair. Which is awesome.
So obviously yo will now be busting at the gut to do Anapansati meditation, right? So let’s do it.
How to do Anapanasati Meditation technique (in-depth)
STEP 1: Preparation
I’m assuming that you have a good grasp on the basics of meditation. If not, click the link.
1: When doing Anapanasati meditation technique it’s important to select a good place to practice. (See our guide to creating a meditation space)
Your area should be quiet and peaceful. It is easy to get distracted when practicing Anapanasati Meditation technique, so make sure that there are as few distractions as possible. (In sutras it is recommended that Anapanasati be practiced in abandoned buildings, a forest or somewhere similar.) You should also consider lighting. The area should not be too light nor too dark and it should be of a comfortable temperature. You don’t want to be shaking or sweating profusely when you meditate.
2: It is possible to do Anapanasati meditation technique in various postures. You can do it lying down, standing, or sitting. Sitting meditation is the best types for beginners.And you will find it very helpful to have a good meditation cushion. You can use whichever pose you’re happiest with. Just makes sure you have good posture.
How to do Anapanasati Meditation technique: Beginning
3: After selecting your posture, take a few moments just to generally relax. The best way to do this is by practicing Nine Round Breathing or a few minutes. Or just Take a few deep breaths through your nose and release any tension in your body or mind.
4: Make sure that you’re relaxed and focused before continuing. Once you feel that you are relaxed, focus your mind on your breathing, specifically focusing on the sensation of your breath between your lips and nose.
5: Continue to focus on your breath on your lips and nose. You may find that counting your breaths helps you to concentrate. If so, count an inhalation AND exhalation as one count (Breathe in, breathe out, count one. Breathe in, breathe out, count 2 etc.)
If you find that you are struggling to concentrate, count your breaths up to ten (and then start over) or move your focus to a different part of your breathing, a part that appears more clear. You can also count for the entire meditation if you wish, but this is only for beginners.
How to do Anapanasati Meditation: Advancing
1: 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 practicing (try these techniques to go deeper in meditation).
To give you a few ideas of how to advance. If you are meditating in order to develop understanding of yourself, you may wish to observe your thoughts. If you are aiming purely for focus, keep concentrating on your breathing. You may also use visualisations and other techniques at this point.
Ways to develop Anapanasati Meditation technique
Now that you know how to do Anapanasati meditation technique, you may wish to vary it, depending on your reasons for meditating. Here are some of the best ways to adapt the basic Anapanasati meditation:
1) 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.
2) 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—the most elemental part of ourselves. When you connect with this part you will find immense freedom and power.
3) Meditate on the connection between mind and breath. You will find that the way in which you breathe alters your mental state, and vice versa.
4) Mindfulness: Observe your thoughts to discover the truth of yourself.
5) Impermanence: Notice how each breath is different, how body and mind continually vary. We are like liquid—always moving—and yet we may be inwardly still.
6) Try humming or reciting “Om.” This will tune your mind body into the frequency of the sound.
It is important to check you have the basics right while practicing Anapanasati meditation:
- Always be comfortable
- Have good posture
- You should become more relaxed and more focussed
- Your breathing should be slow and comfortable but no forced
I created this infographic to help show you how to do anapanasati meditation technique
All right my Zen-sational readers. That’s the end of this guide to Anapanasati. I truly hope you’ve enjoyed it and found it helpful. Please share this on Facebook / Twitter / wherever you like.
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