The mindfulness of breathing – a 4 stage beginner’s meditation
In a comfortable position, allow yourself to relax and let the mind begin to drift away. After a few minutes, begin to count your breath cycle to yourself as you exhale. For example, breathe in, breathe out and count “1” in your head. The aim of the first stage is to work from 1 to 10 for about 10 minutes and if you lose count or find the mind wandering simply return to the count and begin again at 1.
Possible hindrances in this stage are frustration at losing count, just accept you are losing count and return to 1. It’s not a test, or a challenge, just an indication that you are on the right track.
We now reverse the counting cycle and count just before the inhalation. So in a way you anticipate the breath which requires a slight shift in focus and awareness. Count “1”, breathe in, breath out and then continue with the aim of working in cycles of 10. The breath/count cycle will be very similar but the mental focus has slightly changed.
Possible hindrances are exactly the same and usually revolve around either losing count or worrying far too much about the timing of the breath and the count – “should there be a gap?”, “how long is the pause?”, “do I count and breath at the same time?” forget all of this and come right back to the basics: count and breath.
Stage 3 is best approached when you are able to work with the counting for continuous cycles of 10 without interruption or distraction from excessive mental noise or activity. The count is simply a minor distraction to keep you on the right path. However, when you learn to ride the stabilisers come off and we now drop the count completely. It is recommended not to jump straight in at this stage as the benefits of using and then dropping the counting will result in a deeper level of meditation and better results for you long term. In this stage the count is removed and you simply focus on the breath entering and leaving the body as a continuous cycle.
Possible hindrances here are usually having no focus and either falling asleep or letting the mind take over with tomorrows shopping list or constant reminders that you didn’t lock the kitchen window properly. For this reason I have personally found it beneficial to view the breath as a sort of mist or fog. This gives you a visual representation of the breath and aids as a slight distraction to prevent the mind wandering. It’s quite similar to the counting but very subtle in comparisons and with less mental activity required.
Here we focus on the exact point where the breath enters and leaves the body. We are looking for the tiny sensations on the base of the nostrils or the upper lip and acknowledging these with the breath cycle.
The only real hindrance here is actively seeking the sensation rather than letting it make itself aware to you. If it is not there, be patient and relax. There is no rush and after all, the aim is relaxation without expectation. Allow your experience to unfold and accept what you learn about yourself.