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Beginning Stages of Meditation

Singing at the Traffic Light
Singing at the Traffic Light
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Why Are You So Ugly

When we practice meditation it is often helpful to have a step-by-step outline of the path. Today I’m going to provide you with an outline of beginning meditation practice. It can help you with your sessions and hopefully inspires some decent progress. The steps I’m showing you below are onward leading to the deeper levels of meditative absorptions. This should definitely be a great resource for beginners and intermediate meditators. Have fun reading through the beginning stages of meditation and enjoy your practice.

Stage Zero – The process of settling and relaxing into your posture

The first thing before settling into deeper meditation is to settle into your posture and your breath. You should mentally and physically arrive on the meditation mat before doing anything else. Sit comfortably upright with your head gently suspended from above and your eyes either closed or half-open. You can sit on a chair or crosslegged as long as you’re not leaning or slouching into your seated posture. If you want to learn much about your posture I recommend to visit a professional yoga teacher nearby and ask him or her about a suitable meditation posture for you. It often takes time to adapt to the new posture so a little bit of pain should be normal in the beginning of your practice. Always make sure to do sufficient exercise everyday to counteract long hours of sitting – including the hours at work of course.
Once you have arrived in your new posture, take a few deep breaths to suffuse your whole body with fresh oxygen. I personally take 10 deep breaths and make sure to empty my lungs completely before I fill them again. After that I would slowly breathe in until I can fit no more air inside of my lungs. This does not only feel refreshing but it also has the function of providing your brain with more oxygen and empty your lungs of residual stale air. I recommend you to try it out and see for yourself if you like doing that or not.


Stage One – Present Moment Awareness

What we are cultivating: In stage one we are working on refining the mindfulness ever so slightly. We are directing it to what’s happening right now in the present moment. Bring your attention to the physical sensations while inhaling and soften or relax the feelings while you are exhaling. Here’s a progression I always use:

1. Breathing in I feel my legs. Breathing out my legs are relaxing
2. Breathing in I feel my belly. Breathing out my belly is relaxing.
3. Breathing in I feel my chest. Breathing out my chest is relaxing.
4. Breathing in I feel my arms. Breathing out my arms are relaxing.
5. Breathing in I feel my head. Breathing out my head is relaxing.
6. I rest my awareness on the sensations of the whole body

As we reach step six we are simply dwelling on all the physical sensations which are arising and passing within the body every moment. Every time you notice that your mind is wandering, gently bring it back. Once you’re fully mindful of how your body feels like right now you are aware within the present moment.

What we are letting go of: Once we are aware within the present moment we are automatically letting go of past and future thoughts. Like this we can taste the peaceful happiness of presence. It doesn’t take much to let go of the past and future and everybody can do it. I encourage you to try it out so you can enjoy the happiness of stage one whenever you want.


Stage Two – Silent Present Moment Awareness

What we are cultivating: Even though you are abiding within present moment awareness from stage one and it’s a lot of fun it can still be improved. Our mindfulness is still with the feelings in the body and occasionally there might be some labelling going on. Your mind might still comment on what you are experiencing. Here we are refining our attention and direct it to the silent gaps between the comments. Consciously notice the silent experience of physical sensations. You got it right when you feel the body without any inner talk whatsoever. In the beginning these moments will be rare but through sustained effort you will notice more and more of them.

What we are letting go of: In this stage we are letting go of all forms of verbalization. There should be no comments, no labels, no words at all while you are still feeling the body. As we are letting go of all the inner noise which is normally harassing us throughout day and night we will experience the exquisite caused by the cessation of inner talk.


Stage Three – Mindfulness of Breathing

What we are cultivating: While enjoying the silent and peaceful present moment awareness we are now strengthening our mindfulness further by singling in on the breath. In this stage we will become particularly aware of our bubbling mind. The mind is still buzzing and hovering around within our entire body. It lacks stillness and strength. So in stage III we are beginning to create real inner calmness. When your attention wanders to anything else but the breath you have to continuously bring it back. What’s important is that you don’t force the mindfulness though. See every inhalation as another chance to rest right there with it. We are also not focusing on any body part. Instead we abide with the simple knowledge of inhalation and exhalation. Breathing in I know that there’ s the inhalation – Breathing out I know that there’s the exhalation. We are also not forcing our breath to be a certain way. Let it flow naturally and comfortably.

What we are letting go of: In stage III we are letting go off the minds corse wobble. We are letting go of multiplicity and settling into a single-minded tranquility. As the mind slowly stops moving there arises the happiness of stillness. At first it is very faint and barely noticeable but it becomes increasingly stronger if we practice well.


Stage Four – Continuous Mindfulness of Breathing

What we are cultivating: This is simply a progression from the stage III. In stage IV we are slowly starting to notice the details of our breath. We are also establishing a continuous and unbroken awareness of the breathing process. The experience of breathing becomes really deep. At times it feels almost like diving into the universe of breath to the exclusion of everything else. In this stage our relaxed awareness is so acute that all our other senses and the experience of their various sense objects start to fade. Here the breath will become very gentle and slow down a lot. The body and mind are deeply relaxed and at ease. Every distraction is directly noticed as it disrupts the peaceful state of being significantly. Mindfulness will then quickly return to the far more pleasant and interesting experience of inhaling and exhaling.

What we are letting go of: It is here where we start to let go of our senses. Until this point there has been a continuous experience of all senses and their activities. From stage IV onwards most of these senses will fade into temporary nonexistence. By now there is only the mental sense and the sense of touch left. Hearing, seeing, smelling and tasting are now slowly disappearing. This will start to reveal the intense happiness which exists at the cessation of sensual activities. At the completion of stage four meditation will have become so interesting that mindfulness returns to its object automatically. It is here where making effort comes to an end in your meditation sessions.


Stage Five – Pleasant Mindfulness of Breathing

What we are cultivating: Once your practice is easing into Stage Five there will not be much hard work left. From now on your meditation sessions will be quite pleasant. Here is the cultivating part slowly comes to an end. Any further cultivation in the sense of “doing work” or “directing the mind” will rather disrupt the peaceful sense of presence. So in this stage it’s all about letting go of doing and wanting and learning how to rest deeply.

What we are letting go of: We are starting to let go of the “Will” and the “Doer” at this stage. It’s those two which are now mostly disturbing the practice. Once you feel a sense of comfort and happiness arising with your breath the will is trying everything to increase it etc. The doer follows the wish of the will and starts doing things to keep the pleasure. That’s when the pleasure goes away – when you go: “WOW – this is amazing!!! I need more of this!!!” The pleasant sensation arises precisely because we are at ease with no further things to do – we want nothing and it’s all good until you “want to get there” or “want to keep it” or “want to get rid of something”. In this stage it’s all about trusting the pleasantness of the breath… and YES! You are definitely allowed to enjoy this stage 😉


Stage Six – Fading and The Luminous Appearance called “Nimitta”

What we are cultivating: Here we are also mostly resting into the meditation object further abandoning “doing” and “willing”. There’s a high degree of mindfulness and it stays with the breath until the breath becomes very shallow and eventually fades more and more often. The bliss and the pleasure experienced at this stage are quite phenomenal – unlike anything the 5 senses could ever provide.

What we are letting go of: The object that is left behind at this stage are the five senses. We are letting go of sounds, sights, smells, tastes and eventually – with the fading of our breath – we abandon the sense of touch. All that’s left at this stage is an undisturbed and radiant appearance of the luminous mind. Stabilising the knower by letting go of doing and willing further increases the stability of the radiant appearance beyond send input.

Stage Seven – Entering Jhana

At this stage you are entering deep meditative absorption in which there is a temporary cessation of intent and activity often lasting for several hours. Having reached this stage in meditation is truly an amazing accomplishment. The higher stages of meditation have their specific causes and the most important cause is to rely on a qualified spiritual guide. After that it’s consistent work and a very well structured life based on kindness, forgiveness and abandonment of too much sensual distractions. This way leads up to the peaks of bliss and happiness.
This is the path to empower the mind for deep insight.


Feel free to leave some good comments (Everybody can benefit from your skillful contributions!) Spam and random self-promotion will simply be deleted – don’t even bother. I might post your links if they are truly relevant and contribute to the readers experience though. I am open for meaningful discussions and hope that this little contribution serves as a valuable source of inspiration for you.

Check out our Retreats in Phuket
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Tobi has been studying and practicing meditation since 2002. He stayed 7 years in a Tibetan Buddhist Temple and currently lives in Thailand where he founded the Dharana Meditation and Retreat Center in Phuket with his wife Parn. In Thailand he continued his practice and found a spiritual home within local Theravada Buddhism. Tobi is known for an open and relaxed teaching style focusing mainly on a practical application of mindfulness meditation within a modern society. The direct experience of what the practical teachings point to is of foremost importance to him.


  1. Peter says:

    Thank you. I found this interesting and affirming.

  2. Ken Childs says:

    Beautifully laid out step-by-step instruction for the beginner and intermiediate like myself. I find all my struggles with mediation to be lack of consistent and structured practice, much like my golf game used to be; expecting results when playing only randomly leads to disappointment. That’s why if don’t golf anymore:)

    As I’m investing more time everyday in my mediation practice, I hope to that it grows strong enough to simply be able to skip into the upper stages and start from there, is this too presumptuous?

    • Yes, it’s perfectly alright to start at higher stages depending on what your mindset is like once you sit down. If you have a very wholesome lifestyle this should be easier 🙂

  3. Melinda says:

    Thank you.

  4. Dave says:

    Thanks tobi – great inspiration!

  5. Ophelie says:

    Hi Tobi,
    It’s a great idea to breakdown the steps for us. I am a little confused though, are you describing how meditation sessions evolve through time or how a same typical session feels over time ?
    I might misunderstand as the only thing I know yet is kindness wishes + body scan + observe thoughts, so when you stop verbalizing there are no more “kindness intention for all living being” ?
    Thank you

    • Dear Ophelie,
      That’s a good question right there – actually it’s two good questions 🙂 Thanks for asking!
      First of all – this is how meditation practice should be done in one session and how it evolves – I will make a video on that soon! It’s a gradual transition. You actually should go from one step to the next. Every step can and should be practiced until one gains deep proficiency. So step one is the base for step 2 etc. You can’t access or master step two without the first step.
      And to answer your second question: If kindness is not your primary meditation object you will not go deep based on kindness but for example on the breath (as exercised here). If it is kindness you will also reach a state of nonverbal kindness – a warm and spacious awareness. Kindness is not in the words – it’s a feeling based on the wish for someone’s fulfillment and peace including your own.
      Hope this helps so far 🙂

  6. Akshara says:

    Thank you. I felt recognition in understanding your words. They were deeply restful. I identified my experience of meditation with what You described in Stage 4. The word diving especially resonated. I often feel like I’m being sucked into something. Sometimes it creates a sensation of pressure in my head which lingers for awhile afterwards.

    Also, after a while, my head lolls downwards, as if I have fallen asleep, but I know that I am not. I’ve not been able to understand this.

    But it feels so relaxing and quiet. And you’re right. Any little noise or hum or vibration or tinkling…feels interruptive….but once that sound passes, You are able to dwell in the pleasantness within yourself.

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