This exercise will help increase concentration by using the breath as a focal point for meditation. It should take between 10-15 minutes depending on your natural pace of breathing. This is a great technique to use in the morning before you start your day, or during a break at work.
Posture can be very important to help minimize discomfort and/or avoid falling asleep. Sit on a comfortable cushion or rug, and try your best to keep your spine straight and head level. The Half Lotus position is when you have your left foot above your right leg, and hands folded a couple inches below the navel (see below). The Full Lotus position is when you have both feet above both legs.
If you find either of these positions too uncomfortable, you can choose to sit in the traditional cross-legged form (so called “indian style” that many of us learned in grade school) – where both feet are tucked under the knees or thighs. It’s up to you. Over time you will discover what works best.
Your eyes can be opened or closed during the exercise, but it is probably best to start out with them closed so there are fewer distractions.
Focus your attention on your breathing and countdown each breath from 100 to 0. Let your breathing happen involuntarily, without force. Don’t try to breath faster or slower, deeper or shallow; just let your breathing unfold naturally, and remain focused on the sensations of your breath. Inhale and exhale. Use your internal dialogue to guide the counting from “100, 99, 98, 97….etc.” until you’ve reached 0.
- When you first start out practicing this exercise, you will probably experience many distractions. Just make a mental note of these in a matter-of-fact, non-judgmental tone – say “I got distracted” – and then continue with the exercise until you’re finished. As you practice more, distractions will become less frequent.
- If you start to forget to count, make a note of the distraction, and continue where you left off.
- At points you may have to adjust your posture if it becomes too unbearable. Again, don’t be discouraged. Just note the distraction, adjust yourself, and continue.
- If your eyes open or close at any point during the exercise, make a note, then go back to your breath.
- You’ll sometimes notice your breathing has a naturally steady rhythm to it.
- If you notice your breathing change (faster, slower, deeper, shallow) just make a note and continue.
- All distractions – sounds, aches, pains, memories, daydreams, etc. – should be non-judgmentally noted and then let go of. The key is to consistently bring your awareness back to your breath until the exercise is complete.
Breathing is like an anchor.
Metaphors can often be very helpful in describing the meditative process. I sometimes like to think of our breathing as an anchor to a ship. No matter how far away our minds drift, we can always bring awareness back to the breath to keep ourselves centered in the present moment.
Breathing is the cornerstone of life; and as conscious beings, it is our direct connection with the external world. Without it, we wouldn’t have the capacity to keep our bodies and minds functioning. So wherever we are, the breath is never too far – this makes it one of the most reliable focal points for meditation.
Learn more about psychology and self-improvement in my new e-book The Science of Self Improvement (bonus meditation guide included).