Here’s a meditation practice I’ve really been enjoying this month. Practicing counting meditation is simple and only takes a few minutes.
First, before beginning any meditation practice, sit down in a comfortable position with a straight back, adjust your clothing so nothing’s irritating you, and arrange to be left alone for a few minutes; consider doing some stretches or pranayama breathing exercises to calm the mind. To begin counting meditation, close your eyes and inhale deeply. On the exhale, say the number 50 to yourself. Exhale fully and deeply. Inhale again, and on the next exhale, think the number 49. Continue counting backwards on your exhales. As you relax into the practice, your breaths may become shallower, and that’s okay, just keep breathing slowly, continue to observe the breath, and count down. When you get to 20, you can begin counting both inhalations and exhalations (i.e., inhale, exhale 21; inhale, exhale 20; inhale 19, exhale 18, inhale 17…). When you get all the way down to 1, exhale and open your eyes.
I like this practice because it gives my mind something to focus on. I have trouble sitting in meditation and simply thinking the words “inhale” and “exhale” with each breath; I find that I get distracted very easily. Counting meditation is a little more interactive and gives the mind something to do. The other plus is that it’s a self-timing practice. Meditation takes only as long as it takes you to count down from 50. If you have trouble sitting still for a long time, doing counting meditation may help you to stop looking at your watch every 23 seconds; if you’re on a schedule trying to fit in meditation in the morning before work, this is a practice you can do without having to set a timer (as long as you can trust yourself not to fall asleep).
You’ll still get distracted during counting meditation just like in any other meditation practice, but as long as you can keep bringing it back to your awareness of the count, you can continue counting down. If you get so distracted that you lose your place in the count, then you should stop and start over from the beginning. (I’ve never had to start over, although I’ve become amazed at the number of thoughts I can have between exhales.) You can also swap the order around and count both inhalations and exhalations from the beginning, and change at 20 to counting only exhales. Or you could count only exhales the whole time, or count both inhalations and exhalations the whole time. Give the practice a try and see what works for you!
Rox, could you post a very basic how-to for pranayama breathing, and maybe talk a little bit about how it can be used with meditations?
Totally! There are a number of different techniques for pranayama breathing. The ones I typically do are diaphragmatic breathing, three-part breathing, and alternate-nostril breathing. It’s said that alternate-nostril breathing in particular is very good to practice before meditation, since it supposedly equalizes the flow of energy in the body by equalizing the breath in and out of the nostrils. I linked my past posts about these techniques so you can check ’em out.
What I typically do is to do some yoga exercises or basic stretching, then sit down in a comfortable cross-legged position. I close my eyes and do some pranayama, usually either alternate nostril breathing or (if one nostril is annoyingly clogged) I’ll just do three-part breathing. For alternate nostril, I’ll do 6 or 9 rounds of breath; for three-part breathing, I’ll do maybe 10-15 slow deep breaths. At the end, I exhale, and keeping my eyes closed, begin to breathe normally and move on to my meditation. Focusing on the breath first usually has the effect of calming my mind and my heart rate and getting me ready to meditate.
[…] your duty as well. To cultivate self-knowledge, work on concentration exercises (like, for example, counting meditation), and yoga asanas that require concentration, like balance poses. Pranayama breathing exercises […]