We have received various email
inquiries about Anapanasati. Some of the questions
& our responses are included here.
How important is
How often and for how
long should we meditate?
What is the best
time of day for meditation?
Do you encourage a deep in-breath on every breath?
What kind of time frame there is for completion of step 0?
Am I correct in remembering that
each step is indeed a conscious step?
I have been noticing that I
cannot just fall into the 'natural rhythm' of my breath, and
watch it as it occurs automatically. Instead, I seem to have
a difficult time disengaging my Will from the process.
When certain feeling bodily arises,
if it is not too intense, I can still fix my mind on the
breathe. But what do I do if it become too intense?
Do you have any advice for when I feel my head pounding
while bowing after sitting meditation (or any other
uncomfortable experiences such as getting dizzy upon arising
More on Lessons 5 thru 8 (Breathing &
More on Lessons 9 thru 12 (Breathing &
More on Lessons 13 thru 16 (Breathing
posture helps a lot, but a practice of non-attachment should
not get too wrapped up in it. With time, and help from
yoga asana (for example), gradually adjust to and
develop a good posture, whether one sits on the floor, uses
a kneeler, or sits on a chair.
thing is to find a healthy balance between being relaxed and
comfortable, on one hand, and sitting up straight, on the
other. Slouching interferes with the breathing and natural
flow of energy within the body. Forcing an upright posture
creates tension. Neither are beneficial or pleasant.
It may be
necessary to accept that we haven't taken very good care of
our bodies over the years and that some pain and discomfort
is the price for that negligence. Don't torture yourself and
don't pamper yourself. learn and let go.
things, it depends. Fixed, one-size fits all answers don't
usually help much.
rule of thumbs is that most people will have a fair amount
of progress, keep learning, and deepen their practice with a
regular hour of meditation each day. The hour may be divided
between one or two sessions, depending on personal
course, some may not be able to manage that much. Appreciate
what opportunities one has & make the most of them.
depends on the details of your life. Many of us enjoy
meditating first thing in the morning, or after some
loosening up with yoga. The mind is generally rested &
fresh, has plenty of energy. As Tan Ajarn put it, "our tea
cup hasn't overflowed yet."
the end of the day is another favorite, as it helps us
process & let go of whatever may be troubling us from the
day's experiences. Better to recognize & let go of the
stuff, than let it mess up our sleep.
Nonetheless, the "best time" is any time that we are able to
do a little meditation. This includes the many minutes
scattered throughout the day that we spend waiting for
somebody to pick up the phone, waiting in line, etc. Better
to wit on the breathing rather than impatiently
Personally, I (skb) like to start with intentionally deeper
breathing -- but not forced -- to loosen up the body and
focus the mind. I do this strongly for a few minutes, then
increasingly gently. Later, it's deeper by itself.
deeper or longer breathes may involve some intention, at
times, the intention need not be heavy or forced. Work with
the body & breathing as they are, not as you want them to
be. Play around. Make deeper breathing a game rather than a
I follow the breath at
the tip of my nose, and return each time I'm distracted. I've
always wondered what kind of time frame there is for
completion of step 0 (or attaining an unfaltering and
continuous awareness of breathing). On a good day I can stay
with the breath for 3 to 5 breaths without being pulled away.
Most books I've read suggest months to weeks for gaining
continuous awareness of breath. Recently I've been
experiencing the long breathings effect of the body more
I am wary
of fixing numbers or lengths of time on meditation practice.
They can be OK as rough guidelines, but should not be taken
more seriously than that. Also, not so useful to compare the
experiences of one meditator w/ another until the whole
system & its dynamics are thoroughly understood.
"Attaining an unfaltering and continuous awareness of
breathing" may be asking too much. Did we teach you that at
Suan Mokkh? Or is it in one of our books? If so, it can be
taken as an ideal, but practice needs to be reasonable &
realistic. I advise meditators to start exploring the long
breaths as soon as they can "pretty well" stay with the
breathing and fairly well aware of it. The mind may be
wandering off a bit, but still one comes back to the breath
readily and quickly.
"Lesson 0" is my (skb) own terminology, not the Buddha's or
Tan Ajarn's. I know think I overdid the emphasis on it 5 or
7 years ago. Sorry about that ;)
Ajarn suggests practicing in a step-by-step, systematic way.
Other teachers -- for example, Thich Nhat Hahn & Larry
Rosenburg -- take a more freestyle approach. I would use the
word "intentional" here to express that Tan Ajarn felt one
should know what one is practicing and choose it with
awareness and intelligence. However, don't let the Sutta's
wording mislead one to think that "I" am aware of the
breathing or "I" am breathing.
approach the lessons step-by-step, one at a time, &
systematically fit Tan Ajarns's understanding and
personality. (It may not fit everyone's.) This approach
makes it easier to notice when one is distracted and may
decrease the tendency some of us have to wander around on
whims or due to boredom. He also thought it was a more
comprehensive approach, better suited to fulfilling all the
lessons well. Don't forget: the purpose of anapanasati
is the quenching of dukkha through letting go of all
attachment to "I" and "mine." Developing the "Dhamma tools"
needed to experience and contemplate the vipassana
of the last four lessons (experience not technique) doesn't
happen by wandering around.
What are the benefits to setting each
stage versus letting it come naturally and noticing? I guess
my reason for asking is because I have such a hard time
consciously forcing the short breath. I want to get away as
quickly as possible from it. Is that part of the gig, watching
the aversion? What do you suggest?
to force it! Nudge it, encourage it, play with it, but no
need to force. Of course, trying forcing a while and notice
the tension created. Relax, take it easy, and notice the
difference. But the breath keeps changing and the mind can
influence the direction the change takes.
The long (deep, easy-going, relaxed, healthy) breath is the
main thing. Short breaths are more for comparison; don't get
hung up on them.
you can't really force any of the lessons. You can't do them
until the reality which they work with has happened, i.e.,
the piti of lesson 5 or the impermanence of lesson
You can't just leap to a lesson (step) because you want to.
Each requires a fair amount of proficiency in the previous
lesson. That is, if we aren't able to calm the breathing
(4), there won't be much or any rapture to work with in 5.
What does it mean to "let a step come naturally"? Does one
just slide into it? Then, is one really mindful?
think, a facile question. Although this is extremely common
in anapanasati practice, and perhaps all forms of
meditation, it also leads us to explore what attachment is
all about. So both very common and very important.
1) In the
early stages of practice it isn't really a problem. When the
mind is distracted, busy, confused, dull & sluggish, or
whatever, the main task is just to keep attention on the
breathing. That the mind will end up controlling the
breathing at the same time is of secondary importance.
However, as the mind is able to stay w/ the breathing more
consistently, the control of the breathing -- in other
words, clinging to the breathing -- is increasingly in the
way. Notice the sense of "I who am breathing" or "I who am
observing the breathing." Notices how this "I" is trying for
something, has some goal or objective, and consequently
clings & controls to get it.
2) I don't know of any magic bullets. Rather, one (the mind)
catches oneself (the mind) controlling the breathing in one
way or another; then, ease up & let go of that control. Part
of the mastery of meditation is learning how to do this
through one's own experience = trial & error. In the past,
when this sort of thing sometimes drove me crazy, I found it
useful to take my attention off of the breathing for a
minute or two by listening to a natural sound like the wind
in the trees or birds singing. This gave the breath a chance
to go back to its "natural" (unwatched) rhythm. Then I would
bring attention back to the breath & try to notice how it
was just then. Later, when the controlling took over again
-- sometimes very quickly -- I would repeat the process. W/
time, I started to learn the difference between "just
breathing" and "breathing with a breather."
main thing is SATI (mindfulness), that some feelings enter
into awareness is just part of life and that some of these
are strong enough to grab our attention is also part of
life. What we do about these events is a matter of choice,
experience, and wisdom. I don't think that there is one
single proper response.
If we are working with Anapanasati systematically --
one lesson at a time -- such an intense feeling (or memory,
thought, whatever) may seem like a distraction. But that is
probably more of a judgment than a reality. It is more like
a perch (arammana) for consciousness, an experience,
and an attachment. So the question becomes, what to do so
that it isn't a problem (= attachment) any more.
Focusing direct attention on the source of the feeling --
the mosquito bite is not the feeling itself -- is one
approach. Contemplate the feeling & its components --
itchiness, discomfort, whatever -- until the attachment
dissolves. Btw, drawing on some recent models in cognitive
science one might recognize that the feeling is
co-dependently originated among skin, nerves, consciousness,
and memory (at least).
Another approach is to stay with the breathing -- as far as
intention goes -- yet note as the intensity of the feeling
pushes in & later subsides. Note the mind's tendency to
react to the sensation & its unpleasant feeling (dukkha-vedana).
Come back to the breathing as a way to let go of that
tendency & other reactions.
If this episode has gotten in the way of whichever lesson
one was working on, it may be necessary to start over with
lesson one. If one was able to carry on w/ that lesson, then
no need to start over.
ending your meditation as follows:
eyes slowly, blink until vision is comfortable, look
massage legs, then slowly stretch them;
you feel full present in the room & in your body, back to
"normal" awareness, then do the bows gently & comfortably;
the bows, if you prefer, then arise patiently.
You mention that you don't "force" the long
breath, but nevertheless coax it skillfully, somehow. I have
a heck of a time trying to follow the breath in daily life,
but perhaps if I could create long breaths it might ease the
problem some. Since reading your lines, I have commenced
doing so -- creating long breaths, that is. This is probably
"forcing", but is this nevertheless a worthy objective?
Yes. By "forcing," I mean excess force or
will that creates tension, that strains. I prefer
"nudging" it, gently massaging areas of breathing w/ the
breath. Gradually deepening the breath in a way that helps
everything relax & doesn't cause more tension. Takes some
learning & practice, but the body & breathing will show
the mind how to "do" it by not doing its usual games.