Anapanasati Meditation Technique. How To Breathe Mindfully

Anapanasati meditation. Mindfulness of breath.

It’s a one of the most popular forms of meditation (click the link for more popular techniques).

And it is offers a whole universe of health benefits.

To get the full experience, you need to know how to do Anapanasati meditation properly.

That’s where I come in.

Here’s what I’m about to share with you. I think you will like it.

  • How to do Anapanasati meditation
  • The benefits of Anapanasati meditation
  • How to get the most out of the experience.
  • And much more.

Sounds good?

Let’s do this.



What is Anapanasati Meditation / Mindfulness Of Breathing?

Let’s start with the basics.

What is Anapanasati meditation?

Anapanasati meditation is a type of mindfulness meditation. The word Anapanasati literally means “mindfulness of breathing”. So it is a meditation in which we are mindful of the breath.

One of the most popular forms of meditation used Zen Tianati, Theravada, and Tibetan Buddhism, Anapanasati was originally taught by Buddha more than 2500 years ago. The original instructions are found in the Anapanasati sutta.

In the 6th Century BC, Buddha instructed his followers to go into the forest, sit under a tree, and mindfully observe how the breath flows through the body.

budddhist monk meditating under tree

It’s good advice still today.

Seriously. Go sit under a tree and watch your breath. I guarantee you will benefit from this experience.

Actually, there are lots of meditation retreats where you can do precisely this. One of the best meditation retreats for Anapanasati is Padmaloka in England.

Don’t feel like doing it the traditional way?

No problem. Anapanasati has evolved through the years.

Today it is not just a Buddhist practice but a medical and scientific practice too.

There are lots of different ways to do Anapanasati. We’ll look at how to do Anapanasati meditation in just a moment.

First let’s ask the important question:

What’s in it for you?

Here are the benefits of Anapanasati meditation technique.



What’s in it for you? Anapanasati meditation benefits

Buddha pretty much hit the nail on the head (as he usually did) when we said that Anapanasati will make you calmer, more relaxed, and more aware, and will increase equanimity of mind.

Actually, Buddha said a lot more than just that.

Let’s look at what Buddha said were the benefits of Anapanasati meditation.

Buddha taught that Anapanasati will develop the Seven Factors of Enlightenment:

  1. Sati (mindfulness)
  2. Dhamma Vicaya (analaysis)
  3. Viriya (persistence)
  4. Piti (rapture, which essentially means that you are joyful and enthusiastic in meditation)
  5. Passaddhi (serenity)
  6. Samadhi (concentration)
  7. Upekkha (equanimity)

And finally, Anapanasati leads to freedom from suffering.

So essentially, Anapanasati will help you to achieve enlightenment.

I created this little image to show the seven factors of enlightenment. Feel free to share it or to print it and put it somewhere you will be reminded about it.

7 Factors Of Enlightenment

Scientific Benefits of Anapanasti Meditation

buddhist lotus flower png transparent

Buddha didn’t have the benefit of modern scientific research. Obviously.

Today we know that Anapanasati meditation is very beneficial for our health.

Take a look at our list of 100 health benefits of meditation proven by science.

Impressive, isn’t it?

That list is for all forms of meditation, though. What about Anapanasati, specifically?

Here is the full list of Anapanasati meditatin benefits, as probenefiven by science.

  • Increases serotonin
  • Improves communication between hemispheres of the brain
  • Improve reactions
  • Prevents depression
  • Prevents anxiety
  • Anti-again for body and mind
  • Lowers heartrate
  • Helps balance blood pressure
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Improves airflow to lungs
  • Improves immune system
  • Helps with PMS symptoms
  • Helps us control our emotions
  • Decreases muscle tension
  • Improves energy flow
  • Reduces headahes and migraines
  • Improves motor performance
  • Increases productivity
  • Increases focus
  • Stops “Monkey Mind”
  • Makes you more intelligent

Amazing, isn’t it?


 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 at 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.

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’s not good for someone intent on getting up onstage. I had to come out of my shell.

getting out of your shell

The first time I went to perform on stage I was 16 and at school. I was so sick I threw 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.

Thankfully, I knew a very basic breathing meditation technique (a technique I had learned from singing).

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. 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.

Interestingly, Line Goguen-Hughes has written a great article about how meditation can help shy people.  So it seems I am not the only one who has overcome shyness by meditating.

Do you have a similar story? I would love to hear it. Leave a comment.



You want to learn how to do Anapanasati meditation properly.

Anapanasati is a very simple technique in principle. It is basically mindfully observing the breath.

Yeah, but:

It sounds simple but it needs to be done correctly. And there is, unfortunately, a ton of bad advice on how to do Anapanasati meditation.

That’s a real problem. Because this technique is so important you do not want to mess it up.

Take a look at my guide to 31 meditation techniques.

Had a look?

Notice how there are all types of meditation?

Guess what?

Anapanasati is possibly the single most important meditation technique to learn. So you want to learn it properly.

Here’s how.


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

That is the original teaching on Anapanasati.

Now let’s look at the modern way to do mindfulness of breathing.


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.

Here is the proper sitting position for Anapanasati meditation.

proper meditation position

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 for 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.

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. Alternatively, move your focus to a different part of your breathing, a part that appears clearer. 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.



Doing Beginners Anapanasati Meditation Properly

If you really want to learn meditation the right way do you know what you should do?

Read my ebook Journey To The Buddha Within You. It’s full of in-depth guides to all major meditation techniques.

Take a look.

Now I hope you’re enjoying this guide to Anapanasati.

We’re nearly done with the beginners Anapanasati meditation.

But first there are some tips that are especially important to know.

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 is.

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.



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


Traditional Development Through The 16 Stages Of Anapanasati

Traditional Anapanasati meditation progresses through 16 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 only so far as mindfully observing the breath. Once you have gained practice, progress through these sixteen stages.

We begin with the first tetrad.

The first tetrad is being simply mindfulness of breathing (physical sensation) and noticing 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 the body.

This then progresses to the second tetrad, which is contemplation of feelings.

This stage of Anapanasati is all about feelings and emotions.

Because the mind and body are relaxed we will experience the feeling of rapture (piti). The second stage of Anapanasti is to observe these feelings mindfully.

The Anapanasati sutta recommend maintaining mindfulness of breath while also observing these feelings. Mindfulness of breath is used as the anchor so we do not get drawn into the feelings and lose ourselves.

Like Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor”.

thich nhat hanh quote

We use the breath to keep the mind anchored while we mindfully observe our feelings.

You will notice that the mind tries to avoid negative feelings and is attracted to positive feelings. Once we are aware of this process we can label them as craving (the more wanting more positive feelings) and aversion (the mind wanting less negative feelings). We can then stop this perpetual to-ing and fro-ing.

Next, we come to the third tetrad.

This tetrad deals with emotions and with the mind. Because we have learned to stop reacting to our experience we can be more inwardly calm and happier.

The next step is to observe how the mind is filled with joy. Our more joyful mind is now more still. This leads to heightened concentration.

Next: the fourth tetrad.

This tetrad is all about freeing the mind by using reflections. Here, we reflect on the impermanence of experience and the continually changing nature of thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations.  This is done by mindfully observing how these elements change as we meditate.

16 stages of anapanasati

You can read more about the 16 stages of Anapanasati on WildMind.






I created this infographic to help show you how to do anapanasati meditation technique (beginners version) Click the infographic for full-size HD version.


All right my Zen-sational readers. That’s the end of this guide to Anapanasati.

I hope you’ve enjoyed it and found it helpful. Please share this on Facebook / Twitter / wherever you like.

Leave a comment.







Paul Martin Harrison

Paul Harrison is a meditation teacher, author and journalist based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Paul has helped thousands of people to discovery their true potential. Don’t miss Paul’s inspirational and enlightening book Journey To The Buddha Within You.

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