Breath Counting Meditation

"If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few."

 Shunryu Suzuki, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind"

"The very essence of meditation is one-pointedness and the exclusion of all other considerations, even when these considerations happen to be enticing."

 Meher Baba, "Discourses"

Developing concentration is fundamental to meditation. Persistently practicing a concentration technique over a period of time is traditionally the way to develop meditative concentration. A simple yet effective tool for deepening concentration is the meditation technique of counting the breath. Breath counting gives the mind something to focus on so that when distracting thoughts arise you have a base thought to come back to. The method is easy to understand. Perhaps not so easy to do. The goal is to do this one thing with full mindfulness. Success comes from patient repetition.

Breath counting is so simple that, after you get comfortable with it, it can be done just about any place and any time when you don't have to be concentrating on something else, on a bus or waiting in line for instance. It is a great way to center yourself and return to a state of mindfulness. You may find that this meditation form helps you to manage your stress. It allows you to let go of the negative thoughts and worries that create tension. It also induces the relaxation response, which has many physical and psychological benefits.

We suggest that you practice this technique once or twice daily for 15 to 20 minutes. Use shorter periods if you must. The key is to do it, and do it regularly, rather than to follow some arbitrary schedule.

Begin by finding a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Dim the lights if possible. You may wish to have your eyes closed or partially closed and cast downward. Sit in a comfortable posture that will allow you to remain still for about 20 minutes. Since our intent here is not to go to sleep we suggest sitting upright. (Hint to insomniacs: counting breaths is not unlike counting sheep. It can put you to sleep).

 Bring your attention to your breath. Counting up to four, count each out breath. After the fourth exhalation begin again at one. Inhaling...exhaling "1", inhaling...exhaling "2", inhaling...exhaling "3," inhaling...exhaling "4," inhaling...exhaling "1"...

 Try to keep the count, but if you lose track, start over at "1." Give your full attention to the count. If you have stray thoughts, just let them go and return to the counting. Don't intentionally alter your breathing pattern. Let your breath find its own pace and depth like a stream finds its course.

Once you have become comfortable with counting to four, you may want to experiment with counting your breaths up to ten. The number you use isn't so important. The clarity of your concentration is what is important.

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© 2002 Tom Barrett