The Anapanasati Sutra provides sixteen contemplations, or places to direct awareness. These are set into groups of four with the first group focused on the body, the second on feelings, the third on the mind, and the last group focused on wisdom. Larry Rosenberg suggests that, although the Anapanasati Sutra is used mainly in the Theravada tradition that he teaches, the Buddha’s teachings in this sutra can be of value to meditators following the Zen or Tibetan traditions. Those drawn to watching the breath, as the basis of their meditation, can benefit from knowing what may arise while they practice. The sixteen contemplations can be very briefly summarized:

  1. Breathing in long
    Breathing in short
    Sensitive to the whole body
    Calming the whole body
  2. Sensitive to rapture
    Sensitive to pleasure
    Sensitive to mental processes
    Calming mental processes
  3. Sensitive to the mind
    Gladdening the mind
    Steadying the mind
    Liberating the mind
  4. Focusing on impermanence
    Focusing on fading away
    Focusing on cessation
    Focusing on relinquishment

The process is breathe in and out, and focus awareness on each contemplation. For example, you may think “breathing in long” while you are breathing in long, and think “breathing out long” when you are breathing out long. When you master one contemplation, move to the next.

Along with a full description of the Buddha’s teaching, Rosenberg offers the following five, very mundane ways to practice meditation:

  1. When possible, do just one thing at a time
  2. Pay full attention to what you are doing
  3. When the mind wanders from what you are doing bring it back
  4. Repeat step number three several billion times
  5. Investigate your distractions.

You will quickly notice that this advice is something that need not be left on the mat or on the zafu. [1] This is instruction for everyday life. We practice doing all this while we meditate, or while we practice our yoga, but we practice so that it will be easier to do this at all times.

In Yin Yoga we have lots of opportunity to watch the breath, and investigate distractions. The asanas generate a lot of distractions. So what to do when the distractions are so strong that they take us away from the breath, and we just can’t come back? In these cases we switch the object of meditation to the sensations.

  1. — A zafu is a cushion used for meditation.