Anapana is a preparatory practice for the powerful Vippassanna technique of Buddhist meditation. It is based on observation of the breath and the sensations around the nostrils and upper lip. The breath being the link between conscious and unconscious minds, observation of natural respiration is considered the obvious first step in developing subtle awareness.
The practice is simple, yet difficult to master.
To begin, assume a comfortable seated position and take some deep breaths. Consciously release tension from the body and gently bring the awareness to the area between the upper lip and the entrance of the nostrils. Observe the sensations in this area with diligence and without discrimination.
Stay present, stay aware. Observe all sensation in this area, heat, coolness, tickling or the flow of the air.The sensations will be in constant flux, changing with the inhale, changing with the exhale, changing even when there is no movement of breath. Do not give mental descriptions to the sensations, simply observe them. Describing the sensations will only draw the mind away from the practice and the purpose is to stay absolutely present. The practice requires mindful observation which in time becomes subtle awareness.
The mind will wander and seek distraction, that’s its nature. Every time this happens you must gently bring it back to the present moment and the task at hand, observation of the natural breath in the area between the nostrils and the upper lip.
If the mind is very distracted and it is difficult to feel sensation, then slightly deeper breaths may be used so as to better feel the brush of air. Then respiration should be allowed to return to normal, with natural soft breaths. Anapana is not a form of pranayama or breath control, manipulation of the breath or sensations is NOT part of this practice. In Anapana we adopt a patient and calm attitude of observation, simple observation of things as they are, not as we wish them to be.
With practice the mind will become still and focused. With this increased concentration comes increased awareness. With time sensations at the subtle energetic level will be noticed. These sensations will be observed with the same detachment as sensations on the grosser level, such as heat or cold. The aim of anapana is to be present and observant, acutely aware of every passing moment at the sensory level, without passing judgement or developing attachment.
When this practice is learned correctly and mastered then it is possible to begin learning the powerful Buddhist technique of insight meditation,Vipassanna. This is a demanding technique that requires a controlled environment and careful instruction. See http://www.dhamma.org/ for more information.
Though anapana is considered by many as a preparatory practice for vipassanna, it is, in its own right, a powerful and very effective practice. Anapana can be considered a gateway to awareness of the energetic body. It is an excellent tool for relaxation and concentration, both of which help in developing subtlety of awareness.