In Week 3 we come back to the breath and use counting as a framework or anchor to gently keep our attention with our breathing.
And that’s all the counting is for – adding some structure to the meditation while we strengthen our ability and resilience to keep our focus on something intentional – the breath – at the same time as noticing that thoughts come and go.
The trick with using counting in meditation is to reframe our usual experience of numbers – which is often in formulas, goals and metrics, and a black and white way of viewing things.
Eg. If I do this + this then that will = that.
Or in other words:
If I can count my breaths to 10 without getting distracted then I will be a great meditator.
When we come to meditation it can be tricky to let go of the idea that there are no goals in meditation. Or that the goal is not to have one. But bit by bit, with practice, it does get easier and it can be welcome relief to be able to just sit with our breath and not have to achieve anything.
Here is a breath counting meditation you can try for yourself. I liken it to counting sheep only see what it’s like to do this to stay awake!
This is Week 3 of Introduction to Mindfulness – Breath Counting.
Make yourself comfortable. Close your eyes, or keep them open, it’s up to you.
And have a little check in with your posture. We’re looking for a lovely straight back and relaxed belly. Hands in lap or resting on your thighs.
And we’ll begin with a few minutes transitioning from recent activities to the stillness of just sitting.
Breathing in. And breathing out. Taking a couple of long deep breaths.
And trying to let go of whatever kind of day or week you’ve had and whatever kind of thoughts you’ve had.
Releasing them to the past or to the future, and gently becoming aware of what’s happening in the present. Just here, wherever you are.
SOUND AND BODY AWARENESS
So, what is happening here in the present?
You can try to tune in to all the different sounds that you can hear. Faint ones and louder ones. Long monotonous ones and random sounds that pop up out of the blue.
You can also tune in to your body as it’s resting here.
Noticing with interest the parts that you can feel very definitely. Places where there’s tension, energy, twitches, aches and throbbing.
But also trying to notice or detect the parts that you can barely feel at all. Perhaps: your inside left elbow. Or right little toe. Or left earlobe.
And of course, remembering to breathe. In and out. In and out.
Now that you’ve given your body some attention and also expanded your awareness to things like sound, hopefully you’re feeling a little bit more relaxed than when we first began.
For our meditation, we’re going to be staying very close to the breath, and introducing the support technique of breath counting.
Which is paying attention to the sensation of breathing where you can feel it best – in the nose or the throat; chest or belly – and at the same time counting your breaths.
You can choose to count just on the out-breath: 1, 2, 3.
Or if you’ve got a really busy mind, you can count on both in-breath and out-breath. Like 1:1, 2:2 and so forth.
Either way is fine, it doesn’t really matter. Just choose one to try and see how you go.
It’s OK for subtle thoughts to come and go while you are counting and feeling the breath. But if you find that a very strong train of thought comes along and takes over from counting, when it’s burnt itself off, give yourself a little smile and a reset just start back up again at lucky number one.
So we’re feeling the breath, counting along, and starting back at one when we’ve gotten off track.
If you like, you can also choose a number to count to such as 10 and just keep repeating the cycle. If 10 is too big, too frustrating, because of distraction, bring it back down to something like four. You may find that that’s a little bit more gentle.
Because the idea of the counting isn’t to judge ourselves as a pass or a fail; we’re just using it as something structured for our minds to do – giving it some boundaries – while we get used to concentrating on our breath in this way.
So, as we head into the silent part of the meditation, continue training your mindfulness muscles; counting breaths and gently coming back whenever thoughts take over.
And if you do find yourself in a quiet, peaceful state, you can let the counting go and just rest in that space, however fleeting, and start back up once that moment passes.