The 16 mindful breathing exercises are at the heart of the teachings offered by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and the global Plum Village community. These exercises are ancient, systematic guides for sitting meditation and mindfulness of breathing according to the Buddha’s teaching in the Anapanasati Sutra.
The amount of questions we receive on this subject suggests that there may be as many ways to practice these exercises as there are people practicing them. Since there are already several relevant resources available on the Plum Village App and in the wider Plum Village community, below we have shared some answers to these questions. These range from explanations through song to in-depth long-form podcast episodes and Thich Nhat Hanh’s own video-recorded teachings on the topic for both beginners and experienced practitioners.
The Way Out Is In podcast: ‘The Heart of Meditation’
The entirety of this special two-part installment comprises a practical guide for those interested in the 16 exercises. Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and leadership coach/journalist Jo Confino, along with frequent guest Sister True Dedication (Sister Hien Nghiem), explain and break down the individual exercises over almost four-hours (divided into Part One and Part Two).
The episodes also include the exercises’ traditional texts, revised versions, variations, and adaptations, with extensive explanations given by the two monastics about how to apply each one to our daily lives. In addition, stories are shared about Thich Nhat Hanh practicing meditation, and the concrete steps taken and challenges faced over time by both Brother Phap Huu and Sister True Dedication in relation to their personal practice.
For those who would rather read about the topic, this book by Thich Nhat Hanh outlines the 16 exercises of conscious breathing as they were taught by the Buddha, together with commentaries and further exercises for practicing them every day and in any situation.
“Thich Nhat Hanh’s insights and explanation give the reader access to the profound nourishment available when we slow down and get in touch with our in-breath and out-breath. He walks the reader through the progression of exercises—from awareness of the physical plane, to the mental and spiritual planes—in a clear and concise manner that is easy to implement.”
This most recent addition to the Plum Village App (and the app’s YouTube channel) – an excerpt from a Dharma Talk given during the August 2013 Mindfulness Retreat for Educators – covers all 16 exercises, as explained by Thich Nhat Hanh.
This edited transcript of one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s talks, from a Mindfulness Retreat for Educators in August 2013, focuses on the first eight exercises, and was published on our blog in 2021. You can also watch Thay’s original talk on the Plum Village App or the App’s YouTube channel.
‘The 16 Exercises of Mindful Breathing’ – a song by the Plum Village monastic sisters
For those who would prefer to learn through music, this song by Sister Trang Hieu Duc should help. With words from the ‘Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing’ sutra (Anapanasati Sutta, MN 118), it was performed by sisters from Plum Village. Enjoy!
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