Anapana Sati – Buddhist Meditation Technique

Anapana Meditation - Buddhist meditation techniqueIn “Anapana Sati: Meditation on Breathing” Ven. Mahathera Nayuane Ariadhamma explains the meditation on in-and-out breathing.  This breathing technique was the  first subject of meditation that the Buddha explained in the Maha-Satipattana Sutta, the Great Discourse on the Foundation of Mindfulness.

I have done 5 10-day Vipassana mediation retreats and have learned the Anapana Sati Meditation from S.N. Goenka, a Buddhist meditation techniques teacher.  In this article, I will use both my own experiences, the teaching of S.N. Goenka and an explanation from Venerable Mahathera Nayuane Ariadhamma.   In Vipassana Meditation retreats by S.N. Goenka,  Anapana Sati Meditation is practiced for the first 3 days followed by Vipassana meditation.

The Purpose:

The Buddha stressed on this Buddhist meditation as a gateway to enlightenment, Nibbana (in Pali or Nirvana in Sanskrit). This is a Buddhist meditation technique that precedes Vipassana, insight meditation, which allows the meditators to begin the ‘stream entry’ and further purification of mind.

The Method (How To):
  1. Sit cross-legged or on a chair in a quiet room.  (No background music – silence is the utmost important).
  2. Close your eyes softly or keep them half closed
  3. Place your left hand with palm facing up on your lap and place your right hand (palm up) on top of your left palm.
  4. Bring your attention to the upper lip or below the nostrils.
  5. Observe the breathing in and breathing out in the fixed area of the upper lip or below the nostrils
  6. Maintain your attention in this area and gently bring your awareness back to this area if you are distracted.
    NOTE: If you are not able to maintain your awareness in the fixed area, you can count one and one while breathing in, two and two while breathing out until ten and ten  and start again.   Or follow your breathing in and out.  If you are too overwhelmed take ten deep breaths (conscious breathing) to calm your mind and bring your awareness back to the fixed area.  Make sure to return to regular breathing after the conscious breathing.
  7. Be a neutral observer.  Notice the temperature of the breaths, sensations below the nostrils or upper lip, and the rhythm while simply observing them.
The Frequency and Duration:
  1. Week 1 –   15 minute meditation – 2 times per day (morning and evening)
  2. Week 2 -  30 minute meditation -2 times per day (morning and evening)
  3. Week 3 –   1 hour meditation – 2 times per day (morning and evening)
Detailed Steps:
The Anapana Sati mediation can be done in 4 different ways: sitting (cross-legged), walking, standing or reclining. For the beginners it is advised to start with a sitting meditation. The Buddha indicated that suitable dwelling might be an isolated empty space (or meditation hall, or your room), the foot of a tree, the forest. In our urban situation, a room or even a balcony would be sufficient. 

The posture should be overall relaxed in a cross-legged position. You can use some little pillows to support your knees if your knees don’t touch the floor.  You can also sit in a comfortable chair.

It is very important to keep the body upright to allow the energy of flow naturally and ensure no problems with postural misalignment. Though you could start with a 15-minute meditation you would gradually extend to 1 hour or 2 hour meditation intervals and the right posture is important to avoid any muscle aches.

The Yoga students might prefer half lotus or full lotus positions. For the purpose of the meditation is not important that you sit in a full lotus position. Rather, the erect spine and concentration on the fixed area are of the utmost importance.

The hands are gently placed on the lap with the back of the right hand resting in the open palm of the left hand.

The eyes can be half closed or closed softly. The closing would allow your eyes not wonder and be easily distracted.

The main focus is to have a fixed attention on the in-breath and out-breath above the upper lip or below the nostrils. The breathing is a natural autonomic process and therefore is used as a tool to cultivate concentration and mindfulness.

As you become mindful of where incoming and outgoing breath comes and leaves at the nostrils, you will cultivate Anapana Sati.

During the meditation it is important to bring your awareness to this location and observe the quality of the breath, the sensations on top of the upper lip or below the nostrils as a result of the in-and-out breathing.  Be mindful of the temperature of the breath and the natural rhythm of the breath.  Note the perspiration, cold, tingling sensations as the breath touches the upper lip.

Naturally, your mind, like a monkey mind, may be jumping around and trying to take your awareness to any other part of the body in the form of subtle aches or itching.  It will try to highjack your concentration by tempting you to delve in to thoughts of the past or what you have to do in the future.   It is important that you gently bring your awareness back to the in-and-out breath around the fixed area.

As a beginner, it might be difficult to keep your awareness of the breath in the fixed area.  Don’t worry about it.  Do your best and if your mind strays,   gently bring your awareness to the fixed area.

Some people find it easier to use counting: for example as you breathe in count One and One, as your breath out count Two and Two and so on until you reach Ten and Ten and start counting again.  This might help to calm down your mind and keep your focus on the fixed area while observing your breathing.

Another way of focusing your attention is to fully concentrate on the beginning and the end of the each breath.

In some cases, even counting one to ten might not be enough.  Try taking ten deep breaths in and out (so-called conscious breathing) to calm down your mind from any distraction and/or irritation.  Then,  come back to regular breathing and simply observe the in-and-out breathing in the fixed area.  Use conscious breathing as a temporary tool to calm your agitated mind.

Being earnest in your meditation schedule is the most important aspect at the beginning.

To ensure that you meditate at least 15 minutes,  set an alarm clock, stop watch or oven timer to let you know when the meditation is over. Our minds come up with thousands of reasons for breaking the meditation since the mind is bored and wants to keep us entertained.  Using a timer free you from having to think, “How long have I meditated?”

While some meditation techniques suggest having a background relaxing music, Anapana Sati Meditation is best done in a quiet room to allow you to observe the breath going in and out in the fixed area.

As you meditate regularly and maintain the mindfulness of breathing, the breathing will become more and more subtle and tranquil. Your overall body will become calm and relaxed. The numbness in the leg will disappear and you will become comfortable.

“The mind then becomes free from the five hindrances — sensual desire, anger, drowsiness, restlessness and doubt. As a result one becomes calm and joyful.” (Venerable Mahathera Nayuane Ariadhamma.)

I experienced a sense of spaciousness and equanimity during Anapana Sati meditation. Everyone has different experiences and it might take different amount time for each person to achieve equanimity. Be assured you will feel equanimity if you keep meditating.

S.N. Goenka during his video discourses for his students indicated that 3 days (30 hour meditation schedule) allows each student to achieve mindfulness and concentration and allow the students to start practicing Vipassana for 7 more days.

If you are not doing the 10-day Buddhist retreat, you will determine yourself when you are ready to move from Anapana Sati Meditation to Vipassana (Insight Meditation).

It might take 30 hours cumulatively or less or more. It is not important how much time you have meditated.

Rather, I would suggest a benchmark for you to know when to graduate to Vipassana (insight meditation).

If you are able to maintain awareness of breathing above the upper lip or below the nostrils for 1 hour for at least 1 week (5  one-hour meditation sessions), you are ready to graduate to Vipassana meditation.

If you are not ready yet, do not be discouraged and continue Anapana Sati meditation a bit longer. The meditation is not the end, but the journey and everyone walks his/her own path.

If you find that it is difficult to do meditation by yourself, find a meditation buddy or a few buddies creating a community (‘sangha’). This could help you to be disciplined and do meditation regularly.

It is often recommended to do the meditation at the same time in the morning and/or evening. Though it is not the actual requirement of Anapana Sati meditation, doing it at the same time daily helps you to develop a sense of discipline and accomplishment.

As you become proficient doing Anapana Sati meditation you will be able to be mindful of your breathing at any time and anywhere and you can do Anapana meditation while walking, standing, or washing dishes.

Alternatively, you can go for a FREE – 10-Day Buddhist Meditation Retreat – Vipassana by S. N. Goenka and have a foundation in meditation. You can check out his website for the schedule, locations and centers near you.

After you ready to do Vipassana (Insight meditation), please read my articles on my experience in Free 10-day Buddhist Meditation Retreat – Vipassana as taught by S.N. Goenka.

Also, I would suggest reading how to do Vipassana (Insight meditation) at home.

The Benefits:

You will achieve a calm and joyful mind. Anapana Sati meditation will prepare you to have one-pointedness concentration and will to start doing Vipassana (insight meditation) to gain deeper realizations and observing complex truths such as ‘impermanence’ (Anicca), no-self (Anatta) and Dukkha (suffering).

Start your meditation today and, step-by-step, you will achieve your goal and become the master of your mind and not its slave.

Related Articles:
Further Reading:

With loving-kindness,
Spencer, a.k.a. the Urban Monk