Anapanasati - A Meditation On Mindful Breathing


A core element of mindfulness meditation is anapanasati, which refers to mindfulness of breathing-essentially meaning complete awareness of the inhale and exhaled breath. The simple act of breathing can actually be rather daunting when looked at from a mediation focused perspective. For newcomers to the act of meditation becoming fully aware of the breath can prove a difficult task. Yet this fundamental act lays the foundation for mindfulness and connection to your inner source.

Zen master Thich Nat Hahn is a world-renowned Vietnamese monk whose teachings surrounding mindfulness and spirituality consistently transform lives across the globe. I invite you to practice this simple mindfulness breathing meditation inspired by the work of Thich Nat Hahn as you continue down your path of spiritual awakening.

You can start this meditation exercise by sitting comfortably on a mediation pillow, chair or simply on the ground. Ensure you are in a peaceful, quiet state with the ability to focus your thoughts inward and direct your attention to your breath. It can be helpful to visualize soothing images such as a balloon floating effortlessly in the sky.

Please, when you breathe in, do not make an effort of breathing in. You just allow yourself to breathe in. Even if you don’t breathe in it will breathe in by itself. So don’t say, “My breath, come, so that I tell you how to do.” Don’t try to force anything, don’t try to intervene, just allow the breathing in to take place.

What you have to do is be aware of the fact that the breathing in is taking place. And you have more chance to enjoy your in-breath. Don’t struggle with your breath, that is what I recommend. Realize that your in breath is a wonder. When someone is dead, no matter what we do, the person will not breathe in again. So we are breathing in, that is a wonderful thing.

Breathing in I know I’m alive, it’s a miracle. We have to enjoy our in-breath. There are many ways to enjoy your in-breath. We want you to tell us how you enjoy your in-breath, whether in a sitting position or in a walking position. But if you don’t enjoy breathing in, breathing out, you don’t do it right.

This is the first recommendation on breathing that the Buddha made: When breathing in, I know this is the in-breath. When breathing out, I know this is the out-breath. When the in-breath is long, I know it is long. When it is short, I know it is short.  Just recognition, mere recognition, simple recognition of the presence of the in-breath and out-breath. When you do that, suddenly you become entirely present. What a miracle, because to meditate means to be there. To be there with yourself, to be there with your in‑breath.

So you now understand the two sentences [from the Anapanasati Sutta] , “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.” And a few minutes later, “Breathing in I know my in-breath has become deep. Breathing out, I know my out-breath has become slow.” That is not an effort to make the in-breath deeper or the out-breath slower. That is only a recognition of the fact. After having followed your in-breath and out-breath for a few minutes you will notice that your in-breath and out-breath now have a much better quality, because mindfulness, when touching anything, increases the quality of that thing. The Buddha when he touches something, reveals and increases the quality of being of that thing. Mindfulness is the Buddha, therefore it plays that role.

When you look at the full moon, and if you are mindful, “Breathing in I see the full moon, breathing out I smile at the full moon,” suddenly the full moon reveals itself to you maybe one hundred times more clearly. It’s more beautiful, it’s clearer, it’s more enjoyable. Why? Because the moon has been touched by mindfulness.

So when you touch your in-breath and out-breath with your mindfulness, your in-breath becomes more harmonious, more gentle, deeper, slower, and so does your out-breath. Now you enjoy in-breathing and out-breathing. Naturally your breathing becomes more enjoyable, the quality of your breathing increases. So “In/Out” is for the beginning. Then “Deep/Slow” is the next step: “Breathing in, I know that my in breath has become deep and I enjoy it. Breathing out, I see that my out-breath has become slow and I enjoy it.”

During that time you have stopped, you have allowed your body and your mind to rest. Even if you are walking, you are resting. If you are sitting, you are resting. You are not struggling anymore, on your cushion, or walking. Then later on you will try this. These words are only to help you to recognize what is happening. “Calm/Ease: Breathing in I feel the calm in me.” This is not autosuggestion, because if you have enjoyed In/Out and Deep/Slow, calm is something that is established. Resting. If you touched your calm, your calm rose. It’s like when you touched the moon. “Breathing out, I feel ease in me.” I don’t suffer anymore. I will not make it hard anymore.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Allow yourself to be at ease with yourself. Don’t struggle. All of these can be done even if lots of suffering is still in your body and in your soul. Doing this, we are taking care of them. We are not trying to escape the pain in us. We are giving our body and our consciousness a rest.

Excerpt from a Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on July 30, 1996 in Plum Village, France

Art work by Federico Picci