The practice of anapanasati is categorized into four groups, known as tetrads. These four tetrads correspond to the main teaching of the Buddha regarding mindfulness-the four foundations of mindfulness. We begin by practicing with the first tetrad, or foundation of mindfulness-the body. When we speak about experiencing the breath we are actually regarding the breath as a subset of the body.
The first exercise, following the breath, helps train our attention to track the natural process of breathing. While tracking the breath we can reserve perhaps 10 or 20 % of our awareness to notice the qualities of the breath. For example, we may note in our mind if the breath is:
We can now add this component to our practice of following the breath-to be aware of the qualities of the breath as it is. We can add to this list of qualities of the breath with short descriptions of our own. Now we can proceed to
Step two: how the breath influences emotions
In step two we experiment with conscious manipulation of the breathing to see how the breathing affects the body and the emotions. We all have heard that when we are upset that we should “take a deep breath.” What is suggested here is to intentionally slow the breathing down to see for ourselves from within the meditative experience indeed how it is the breath influences our emotional life.
One technique that is often taught to help us experience a long breath is “counting.” We mentally count the duration of a normal meditative breath (for example we find we breathe to a slow count of four). We then consciously and slowly extend the count incrementally to five, then six, perhaps to seven or eight. The exhalations are always of the same duration as the inhalations.
The key to this exercise is to see and know in an intimate way how it is the breath affects our mind states. First we see what effect a conscious long breath has. Then we see what effect a conscious short breath has on our mind states.
The last two aspects of this first tetrad are to see how the actual breath we are breathing influences our mind states, and to contemplate the breath in order to deliberately calm the body.
As with most meditation instructions, they take on a fuller dimension when practiced over time.By: Tom Davidson-Marx