Counting the breaths

One of the first things you will notice when meditating is that the mind wanders away easily. This is perfectly normal, and this phenomenon is often called “monkey mind”. When you notice that your mind has wandered away, remember to take a moment to enjoy the fact that you are aware, without feeling frustrated or disappointment. The monkey mind can only be tamed by positive reinforcement!

If you notice that your mind is particularly agitated, meaning that it wanders away after a few breaths, counting the breaths will help you. Counting the breaths will give your mind an additional task, and this will make focusing easier. If you lose track of the count or miss a breath, restart counting from one.

Your initial goal is to be aware of ten consecutive breaths. If you succeed in counting up to ten, you can drop counting and continue watching the natural breath sensations at the nose. There’s not point in counting beyond ten, as counting is only a temporary aid to stabilize the mind ; we’re trying to watch the breath, not numbers!

At this stage, it is normal to experience many forms of distractions. For now, we will consider attention to be continuous if we don’t:

  • Miss an incoming breath
  • Miss an outgoing breath
  • Lose count of our breaths

Pay particular attention to the pause between one breath cycle and the next. During this short pause, the mind tends to naturally wander away as the breath sensations become more subtle. By remaining attentive during this short pause, your mind will grow sharper and be less prone to mind-wandering.