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Mindfulness of breathing

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Mindfulness of breathing (ànàpànasati) is the most basic and also the most popular form of Buddhist meditation.

The Buddha said, ‘When mindfulness of breathing is developed and cultivated, it is of great fruit and benefit’ (M.III,82). Someone doing this meditation will sit in a comfortable posture, usually cross-legged and with a straight back, and try to gently focus his or her attention on the in-and-out movement of the breath.

As he or she gradually proceeds, they will more quickly notice when their attention strays and be able to return it to the breath. Thus they will develop enhanced concentration, mental discipline and physical and psychological relaxation. As the practice matures, concentration should be allowed to give way to mindfulness, i.e. rather than trying to control the attention, one simply becomes aware of what it is doing from moment to moment. This physical comfort and mental alertness is the first step in controlling the mind so that it can be understood and eventually freed. The Buddha said, ‘Just as in the last month of the hot season when dust and grit blow about and an unexpected shower of rain immediately settles it, so too mindfulness of breathing, when developed and cultivated, is peaceful and sublime, a pleasant way of living and it dispels and settles evil unskilful thoughts immediately’ (S.V,321).

Focus your attention, your awareness, your mindfulness at the tip of your nose where the breath comes in and out at the tip. Try to keep your mouth closed, but if you need to open it for better breathing, that is okay. Keep your eyes closed, not tight, just in a relaxed closed state. This helps to center your attention inward. If you feel that you are falling over or that you might be leaning too much to one side, that is okay, it is normal. Just open your eyes slightly and if you feel comfortable in closing them again then do so. It is important not to “push” things or to try “too hard,” just let things happen. Notice your breaths, such as a long breath, notice it as a long breath, a short breath as a short breath, etc.

Since we keep our eyes closed to help us turn inward, another technique you may want to try is to wear industrial ear phones or muffs. They block out the noise to your ears. They can be found in hardware stores. Construction workers wear them to block out the very loud noises. This helps your mind to turn inward too in the same way closing your eyes works. Wear the muffs only when you meditate by yourself at home. At a Dhamma center, you may need to hear the gong for the end of the sitting session. Some famous writers have been known to use the industrial muffs so that they can concentrate on their writing. Another benefit to wearing the ear muffs is that you can hear your long breaths from inside your body and it can really help you focus on each breath.

The Buddha describes the great benefits from mindfulness of breathing as being very relaxed, that one “gains at will, without trouble or difficulty, that concentration through the development and cultivation of which no shaking or trembling occurs in the body, and no shaking or trembling occurs in the mind.” Samyutta Nikaya 54.7

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