Thursday, November 13, 2008

Counting your breaths

Begin by finding a comfortable sitting position that you can hold for 10 or 15 minutes. Then take a few deep breaths and exhale slowly. Without trying to control your breath in any way, allow it to find its own natural depth and rhythm. Always breathe through your nose unless you can’t for some reason.
Now begin counting each inhalation and exhalation until you reach ten; then return to one. In other words, when you inhale, count “one,” when you exhale, count “two,” when you inhale again, count “three,” and so on up to ten. If you lose track, return to one and start again. To help you concentrate, you may find it useful to extend the number in your mind for the full duration of the inhalation or exhalation, instead of thinking the number quickly once and then dropping it. For example, allow “o-o-o-n-n-n-e” to last as long as the inhalation, “t-w-o-o-o-o” to last as long as the exhalation, and so on. You may also find it helpful to subvocalize the numbers, especially at first, saying “one” ever so softly to yourself as you inhale, “two” as you exhale, and so on.
As Mickey Mouse as this exercise may seem at first-read, you may be surprised to discover that you never manage to reach ten without losing count. You don’t have to stop your mind chatter in any way. But if you get distracted by your thoughts and lose track of your breath, come back to one and start again. When you get the knack of counting each in-breath and out-breath — say, after a month or two of regular practice — you can shift to counting only the exhalations. If your mind starts wandering on the inhalations, though, just go back to the first method until you feel ready to move on again. Eventually, you may want to simplify the practice even further by simply noting “in” on the inhalation and “out” on the exhalation.

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