Before describing the structured approach to anapanasati which I learned in Thailand and Sri Lanka, please take some time and read or review chapter 14 of the indispensable book Mindfulness in Plain English by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana (pages 149 to 156) entitled Mindfulness versus concentration. This chapter is an excellent overview of vipassana meditation and it clearly describes the two principle skills of mindfulness (sati) and concentration (samatha).
There are many ways to approach the practice of anapanasati. I will present one of the ways that I was taught (in Thailand), which uses a structured, step by step method. Please try not to become discouraged by this fact: there are sixteen discrete steps. We will go through them all, but I will pay particular attention to the first four. At the end of our study and practice of the sixteen steps we will learn what has become known as the condensed form — an easy way to practice. But please try to practice each of the steps as best you can before attempting the easy form, as it will make more sense and be more fruitful this way.
Step One–following the breath
Sit in a comfortable posture. Allow yourself to settle into the posture. Now try to locate sensations in the body associated with the natural process of breathing in and breathing out. See if you can sense these sensations in the area around the nose or nostrils. Also see if you can feel the natural rising and falling of the abdomen in response to the natural process of breathing in and breathing out.
Now imagine or feel that the breath begins at the nose and “travels” down to the base of the abdomen. Don’t let any knowledge of anatomy interfere with this simple exercise. Just allow yourself to feel the breath originating at the nose and traveling down to the navel as one in-breath.
Now imagine or feel that the breath travels from the navel back up to and out of the nose as one out-breath.
We simply try to attend to this movement of one in-breath and one out-breath. We try to see if we can do this continuously, as if we were following the breath down to the navel and then following it back up and out of the nose. See if you can do this with smaller and smaller gaps in your awareness, so that after a while (a few days or a week) you feel you can stay with the breath more and more.
The breath goes in, we follow it down, we feel that it stops down there for a moment, it pauses, and then it goes back out. Our job is simply to stay on the trail of the breath.
That’s all. Practice this for the entire duration your meditation session. See if you can sit comfortably for 25 minutes per session (or a little longer if you wish).
We’ll discuss this first step at our next class.By: Tom Davidson-Marx