‘Counting the breath’ is the technique that I started with when I first started on my Buddha journey. While I have learned other techniques since than, I find myself using this technique as the root of all my practice. When most people think of meditation they usually visualize a bald monk in the classic lotus position with eyes closed and an erect, chest-up posture. While this is a form of meditation, it is not what meditation is. It is not some spiritual or zany practice. It is a technique for clearing your mind. That is all.
Meditation is the act of clearing the mind of all thoughts.
You can do this anytime, anywhere, and in any position. The goal is to empty the mind and enter a supremely conscious state of the now.
You can meditate in the shower, on a bench, at the park, walking around, at the beach, in school, wherever. In fact, let’s try it right now:
Close your eyes (after you read to the end of this paragraph). Focus on an a single object in your minds eye or nothing at all. Now, Breathe in through your nose and then out through your mouth in a steady, controlled manner.
Count your in breath as 1 and your out breath as 1.
Then, when you are finishing each out breath, you start to visualize the next number in the sequence. Focus 100% on this number in your mind’s eye. This will help keep the thoughts from creeping in. Just keep focusing on that number.
For example, as you are on breath 6 and you are breathing in and out counting 6 each time, you are visualizing the 6 and then moving on to the 7 in your mind as you find your attention lacking. This usually happens at around 12-15 where your mind gets bored and you need to start focusing on the next number in the sequence.
Let's try a 20-breath count: Close your eyes and count your in and out breaths to 20. Ok, go!
How was that? Freaking awesome huh? You are now more relaxed and aware. You just meditated. Cool huh? That probably seemed easy enough right? Well, the first few breaths will always be easy, it’s the 20-50 and 1000 breaths that are difficult. Each extra breath you take becomes that much harder to stay focused. Your mind will constantly try to drag you back to distraction. Your mind is like a toddler that is hellbent on getting your attention; it will kick and scream and beg and nag until it gets his way. This is where the practice of mediation comes in.
Meditation is a practice, and just like a sport or the piano, you have to deliberately focus on improving the skill through deliberate practice. To practice you should pick a goal number of breaths and work to constantly improve this number. You will start to notice how long it takes before your mind gives into distraction. Aim to improve this number of breaths consistently. Just make sure you don’t let your determination to improve stress you out and distract you. That would be counterintuitive.
How to Count Your Breath
- Close your eyes and take a moment to relax and calm yourself
- Bring your attention to your breath. Notice the rise and fall of your breathing.
- Count 1 in breath as you inhale and 1 as you exhale. Continue counting 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, and so on until 100
- When your mind begins to wander picture the next number in your head and return to feeling your breath
- Let your thoughts come and go. They will inevitably invade your mind; the key is to not get frustrated.