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Breath Counting - Simple Meditation Exercise

Updated on February 6, 2013

Meditation is a state of mind. It does not have to be associated with any religious or spiritual practice of belief.

Wikipedia defines meditation as ...

"Meditation refers to any of a family of practices in which the practitioner trains his or her mind or self-induces a mode of consciousness in order to realize some benefit."[source]

It is basically, mind training. Mind training to put the mind in a meditative state. Why? To realize certain benefits.

What benefits? The immediate benefit is to induce the "relaxation response" in the person and to reduce stress. In other words, to calm the mind. The long terms benefits of regular meditation practice have been shown in many studies. Some even go as far as to say that meditation is one of the keys to happiness.

Because it is a state of mind, anybody with a mind can experience it. And it can be experience during any waking moment -- with or without eyes closed, standing or sitting or lying, waiting in line, and so on. You do not need to sit in a particular position or be in any particular location.

Some advanced meditators experience this state often during the waking hours. Other people hardly ever experience this state at all in their entire lives.

Breath Counting

To get a sample of what this state of mind is like, try the following simple meditation exercise. Although the meditative state can occur whenever and where ever; if you are beginning then it is better to be sitting upright in good posture in a quiet alone location in order to best facilitate the coming of this meditative state. When first learning to meditate, it is helpful to comfortable so as to have the least amount of distraction as possible. As you become more experienced, you will find that you will be able to meditate in more varied environments.

With your eyes closed (although you don't have to), just notice your own breathing. Notice how the air comes into and out of your nose. Notice how your diagram moves up and down. Notice how your lungs fill and empty with air. Every time you notice a breath, count silently to yourself. One in and out cycle of breath is one count. Basically, you are counting your breaths. One, two, three, etc. When you reach 10, go back to the count of one and start again.

Try not to alter your breathing pattern. Breath normally. The book Fully Present gives two reasons why we should just breath normally:

"First, letting the breath be natural is a bit easier than trying to regulate it. ...Second, and more importantly, the ordinary breath teaches us to be mindful of things as they are. One of the main tenets of mindfulness practice is to be aware of things exactly as they occur. We learn not to try to control our experience in life, but to let it unfold, exactly as it is. This cultivates a quality of calm acceptance of life" [page 46]

When other thoughts arise, just notice that a thought has intruded into your consciousness and then return back to counting. If you lose track of your count, just start again at any number (starting back at one is fine). If the thought is particularly nagging, just say "Oh, well" to yourself and return back to counting. You are not suppressing the thoughts; you are in fact acknowledging (or noticing) the thought, but then go back to counting.

The book "The Cow in the Parking Lot" says ...

"If thoughts arise in your mind, simply observe them as if they were fluffy clouds crossing a blue sky and let them pass away." [page 85]

Do not critique yourself if you find too many thoughts intrude. This exercise may be simple, but it is not easy. That's because, as mentioned in Fully Present ...

"Modern society tends to condition us to be anything but mindful. The dominant American culture validates virtually mindless productivity, busyness, speed, and efficiency." [page 17]

Society has made us become so incessantly busy that it almost seems normal to be always doing something. But human nature sometimes needs to just "be" and not "do". Mindfulness meditation is an antidote to our fast-pace, anxiety-producing lives.

Whether you got a lot of thoughts or no thought during meditation does not mean that you are doing a good or bad job. The important thing to to remember to return back to counting.

Jon Kabat-Zinn said in his 2006 talk at MIT that there is no such thing as a good or bad session of meditation. He defines "mindfulness meditation" simply as ...

"Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally." [source]

It is the act of training the mind to go back to the counting that is important. The mind is like a wild horse that goes all over the place, we are training it to focus on the task at hand (counting).

It is like doing mental push-ups. The purpose of counting is the same as the purpose of doing push-ups pushing yourself off the ground. In the former, you are training your mind muscles, in the latter you are training your arm muscles.

Meditating with Breath Counting

This meditation technique is often known as breath counting. Here are some references of this technique...

Variations on This Technique

Meditation is not an exact science. You can count to ten and repeat. You can count to four and repeat. You can count backwards from 10. You can count from one up to one, such as one, one, one, one, one, an so on.

Sometime just focusing on the breath can help.  Another article "Best Ways to Relieve Stress and Anxiety" tells of a 34 year old office worker who relieves stress by simply focusing on the inhales and exhales of the breath.

There is no one right way to do it. That is why there are as many variations of meditation techniques as there are people doing it. And you do not need to follow the procedure exactly to get to this meditative state. Each person is different and you can adjust your technique to suit your particular preference or self.

There are many mediation technique that involves focus on a word or phrase. While others perfer to focus on one's body rhythm such as breath. Another technique might be to not count breaths at all, but count the intruding thoughts that come into your mind. Just count as each new thought comes into your mind. Watch it, let it pass, and wait for the next thought. Some people use visual imagery such as picturing the thoughts as bubble in a clear lake, logs flowing gently down a river, or smoke rising from a hut or campfire. Or the picture of fluffy clouds (as mentioned above) is a pleasant image to use.

When I mentioned that advanced mediators can meditate while doing other things, they are no longer doing the counting. Their mind is focused on whatever task they are currently doing. So if they are washing the car, their minds are focused on the spray of the water, the soap on their hands, the sun on their neck. Sure other thoughts will intrude into their consciousness. But when they do, the re-focus their mind back to the spray of the water. Mediation is being focused on one thing at a time.

Counting is just something for the beginner to focus their mind on during the meditation session. Walking meditation is meditation while walking and focusing your mind on your footsteps or breathing.

To Learn More About Meditation

If you want to learn more about the practice of meditation, the book Meditation for Beginner is a nice little book (only 112 pages) with a CD by Jack Kornfield. The CD contains several guided meditation sessions. It includes chapters such as ...

  • Connecting with the Breath
  • Working with Sensations in the Body
  • Working with Feelings and Emotions
  • Witnessing Your Thoughts
  • Forgiveness Meditation
  • Lovingkindness Meditation
  • An Eating Meditation
  • A Walking Meditation

Next time I breathe, eat, or walk, I'll have to remember to try some breathing, eating, and walking meditation.

It is not too early even for kids to learn meditation. A good website to get introduced to the concept of meditation can be found at

Illustrated cartoon piggies will show you how to meditation -- like "piggy meditation". Kerry Lee Maclean is the author of the book Peaceful Piggy Meditation.

If you like to explore meditation further, below are some products to try.

Audio CDs by Jon Kabat Zinn


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    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 5 years ago

      That's great that you started meditation. Thanks for the follow and fan mail.

    • pedrn44 profile image

      Sandi 5 years ago from Greenfield, Wisconsin

      I enjoyed this hub and all the great resources. I have begun meditating recently using a mantra. I will interject mindful counting meditation and see how that works for me. Thanks for sharing.

    • MoneyCreator24 profile image

      MoneyCreator24 7 years ago

      Good hub