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!