Mindfulness of Breathing is a widely practiced meditation designed to cultivate a fuller awareness of the present moment. By focusing intently on each breath or cycle of breathing, practitioners learn to relax the body and slow the mind, resulting in greater understanding of one’s thoughts.
Originally rooted in Buddhism, Mindfulness of Breathing is also known as Anapanasati – an essential meditation practice across many eastern schools and traditions. The process of awakening to each breath is thought to enable meditative concentration (samadhi) leading to a state of full absorption (jhana) – the stage in which Buddha attained enlightenment.
Mindfulness of Breathing generally consists of four stages of breathing, which can be completed sitting, standing, or lying down, in variation with personal comfort and environmental space. It is recommended to begin with 5 minutes of practice at each stage.
Stage 1: Begin by counting after each breath until you reach ten. Breathe in, and breathe out – after the first “out breath” you would count “one.” Breathe in and out again. After the second “out breath” you would count “two.” Continue all the way until ten, and you will have completed one cycle. You can move on after one cycle, or repeat three more times for a total of four cycles.
Stage 2: Begin counting slightly before the “in breath” during the second stage. Count “one,” breathe in fully (try to breathe slower and deeper than before), and let your “out breath” flow outwards in gentle anticipation of the next “in breath.” Again, you may complete one cycle of ten “in breaths” or you may complete four cycles total.
Stage 3: Continue breathing with a focus on the in breath and the out breath – however, in this stage you can drop the counting altogether, focusing only on the breath itself. This stage of breathing allows the mind to focus only on the process of each breath as an individual life – you can use a timer or a bell to signal the end of this stage, which can last anywhere from 5 minutes to as long as you wish.
Stage 4: The final stage of basic Mindfulness of Breathing Meditation involves intense focus and concentration, centered on the sensation of breath entering and leaving your body. Breathe in and out through the nose only, and allow the mind to focus on the sensations of the nostril and the tip of the nose. At this stage (with practice) your concentration should be on nothing except the sense of breathing. You may complete this stage whenever you feel sufficiently relaxed.
Mindfulness of Breathing has been viewed as an effective way to combat fatigue, anxiety, and stress. By calming the body and calling attention to each breath, we enable a deeper sense of relaxation and peaceful stimulation of life force which awakens the mind and prepares us for deeper meditative practices. Alternate and more complex versions of Mindfulness of Breathing involve precise meditations upon the body, the mind, and concepts such as release, impermanence, and relinquishment of the self.
However far you choose to take Mindfulness of Breathing, even a few minutes per day spent in each stage can be a valuable way to increase mindfulness and peace in your physical and mental states.