Just relax! Sounds like great advice, but easier said then done. What we often lack are simple tools that we can fall back on when life get too intense and our mind spins out of control. Fortunately, you don’t need years of training like a nun or monk to regain some composure. 

Anapana meditation and its numerous variations are an exceedingly simple and efficient way to calm and ground your mind. Practice makes it even better, but you’ll benefit straight from the first time.

A Little Background:
Respiration As A Meditation Object

Respiration is one of the most popular meditation objects, and for good reason. From our first to our last breath, the cycle of inhaling and exhaling is one of the very few constants throughout our lives. Interestingly, it’s also under the control of both subconscious and conscious processes.

From a scientific point of view, practicing even a few minutes of Anapana meditation can tip the balance from the “fight-or-flight” sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system towards the parasympathetic  “rest-and-digest” branch.  And with some practice deeper states of relaxation and concentration can be reached.

Anapana is a meditation technique traditionally based on the Anapana sutta discourse attributed to the historical Gautama Buddha. It is practiced with many small variations by most branches of Buddhism. However, many contemporary secular mindfulness techniques have also incorporated the practice. Or have been heavily inspired by it.

Anapana Meditation:
Seeking A Suitable Environment

forest sunset
Nature offers us many peaceful settings

Find somewhere calm and quiet. That means if possible get away from any distractions. Especially music and conversations. Ideally an empty room or somewhere in nature. We all know how sitting by a river or in a forest alone already has a calming effect.

Obviously, finding such a safe haven is often wishful thinking when a really stressful event arises. But you might be able to find a relatively peaceful heaven nonetheless. Maybe just outside the building’s entrance. Or simply  at the edge of the madding crowd.

The good news is that your mind becomes more tolerant of distractions with training.

Anapana Meditation:
Step-By-Step Instructions

Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Cross-legged poses are traditionally preferred. But a chair or even lying down is fine, as long as you find a good balance between excessive discomfort and dozing off. It can even be quickly practiced while standing.

Bring your full attention to your spontaneous, natural involuntary breath. Without trying to control, judge or otherwise influence any aspect of it. Shallow respiration is prefect. So is strong breathing, or anything in between. Just observe.

Time to relax

Try counting every respiration from 1 to 10. And then count back down from 10 to 1.

Don’t be disappointed or frustrated if your thoughts are still racing. This happens regularly even to more experienced meditators. Simply acknowledge the fact, and return to counting your breaths.

If your mind is still constantly wandering, take a few voluntarily deeper breaths until your attention to breathing is fully restored.

Once your mind is calm and steady, you can stop counting and simply remain aware of your breath.

Keep observing your breath for as long as you like.

Anapana Meditation:
One Technique, Many Uses

The beauty of this technique is both its simplicity and efficiency. Some meditation schools use it as foundation for more advanced techniques such as vipassana. Your plane is running late and you are getting nervous? No problem, close your eyes and practice for a minute. Need to wind down after an intense, emotional day? Take 10 minutes to sit down and recenter your mind. Anapana is a truly amazing and versatile tool.