A BREATH COUNTING MEDITATION FOR BEGINNERS
The first style of meditation I ever learned was from reading David Michie’s Hurry Up and Meditate. A very simple exercise in focusing on the breath as it enters the nostrils, counting each out-breath, and when we’ve become distracted (when, not if!) starting back at 1 again.
And although I’ve since learned and practiced many flavours of meditation – from walking and eating meditations, to visualisations, mantras and body scans – I usually find when I first sit down for a ‘freestyle’ meditation, the good old breath-counting technique is one to which I naturally gravitate.
So whether you’re just starting out, or have come to call this technique ‘home’, enjoy my take on the classic breath counting meditation. xx
Let’s begin by getting into a comfortable yet alert position.
Elongating our spines so they’re lovely and straight. Not so rigid that we get ourselves into hyperextension. But just straight enough that we can also relax our belly.
Straight back, relaxed belly.
And if you’re sitting in a chair, shifting slightly forward so that there’s a bit of breathing room between you and the back of the chair. For it’s this self-support of our own straight posture that helps us get into the right mental state for focused awareness.
Let’s now take a couple of really deep breaths.
A couple of shoulder rolls. Maybe some neck stretches, tilting our heads from side to side.
Relaxing our hands into our laps.
And give ourselves permission – that whatever’s going on in our lives, that whatever was going on right before we walked into the room – that for the next little while, we’re going to take a deliberate break and allow ourselves to stop. To get quiet. And to focus on one simple thing.
Regardless of whether we’re beginners or seasoned meditators, the breath is perhaps the easiest and most useful thing we can reach for in our mindfulness toolbox.
It’s always with us wherever and whenever. It’s the one constant thing in our lives. For without it, we literally have no life. And it’s the one thing we can always rely on to ground us in the present moment – to what is actually happening right now.
So, for this meditation, we’re going to practice the simple technique of counting our breaths.
Paying attention to the sensation of breathing – in the nose, throat, chest or belly – and at the same time, counting each full breath.
Counting each breath on the in-breath or the out-breath – whatever feels right for you – 1… 2… 3… and when you’ve realised you’ve stopped counting and have latched onto some shiny thought that’s much more interesting, giving yourself a little smile and gently coming back to start at 1 again.
So, we’re paying attention to our breath, counting each one, and starting over when we’ve become distracted.
And we will become distracted.
If you like, you can choose a designated number to count to before starting over – 10 is a common one – although the frustration of not being able to reach 10 can be too much for some to bear. So, choosing a smaller number such as 4 can be helpful for beginners, or even, not having a number at all. Because it’s very likely at the beginning you’ll barely get past 2 – and that’s completely normal and completely OK.
Because the aim of meditation isn’t to be able to reach some arbitrary target we’ve set ourselves, it’s to realise the subtle yet powerful difference between what it’s like to live life through our thoughts and what it’s like to live a life that is actually happening right here, right now.
And by training ourselves to connect with the breath in this way, little by little, we start to notice that difference, and we start to experience the benefits of it – both in ourselves, and how we relate to those around us.
So as we head into the silent part of the meditation, continue counting breaths, continue coming back.
And if you find yourself in a quiet, peaceful space, you can let the counting go to rest in that awareness, however fleeting, and start back up once that moment passes.