Breath Counting

Breathing basics

Start by finding a comfortable position – you can be sitting in a chair, on your couch, or laying down – whatever makes the most sense for you. If you choose to sit, keep your spine straight and let your shoulders drop.

Close your eyes. If you would rather leave them open, find a spot in front of you that you can un-focus your gaze on.

Place one hand on your diaphragm – this is the space right below your rib cage / on top of your stomach and one hand on your chest. Take a breath in and notice which hand rises gently as you breath in, and then falls as you breath out. If the hand on your chest rises more than the one on your diaphragm, take a moment to focus on “breathing from your belly” rather than your chest. This gets easier with practice.

Keep the focus on your breathing. Notice as your hand rises or expands gently on the in-breath and falls or recedes on the out-breath, “being with” each in-breath for its full duration and with each out-breath for its full duration, as if you were riding the waves of your own breathing.

Notice as your breath enters your body, how your lungs fill with air, and how your chest muscles stretch or expand. Notice as your breath leaves your body and the slight pause that occurs before you breathe in again.

For some people it helps to visualize ocean waves or wind gently blowing against the leaves of a tree with each in- and out-breath. Find the visualization that works best for you.

Breath Counting

Now as you focus on your breath, notice each time you breathe-in and make note of that by counting it starting with the number one.

Breathe-In (count 1) <pause> Breathe-Out <pause>
Breathe-In (count 2) <pause> Breathe-Out

Focus on each full breath. When your focus gets interrupted by a thought, simply bring your attention back to your breath and return to the number one.

Breathe-In (count 1) <pause> Breathe-Out <pause>
Breathe-In (count 2) <pause> Breathe-Out
<notice that you’re thinking about your shopping list>
Breathe-In (count 1)

Every time you notice that your mind has wandered off the breath and onto a thought, notice what it was that took you away and then gently bring your attention back to your diaphragm and the feeling of the breath entering and leaving your body. If you are counting breaths when you’ve come back to your breath you start over with one.

For some people it helps when they have a goal of a certain number of breaths to work toward, however it is okay if it takes time before you are able to count past one. Everything gets easier with practice.

If your mind wanders away from the breath a thousand times, then your “job” is simply to bring it back to the breath every time, no matter how it has become preoccupied.


When you first start practicing, you may find yourself trying to decide if something is a thought or not. Anything that takes you away from the focus on your breath counts as a distraction that you can simply note and then return your focus to the breath and start back at one.

Practice this exercise every day for 5 minutes over the next week. Five minutes is the amount of time it takes to get a cup of coffee or wait for your food to be done. If you have difficulty finding time during the day, perhaps it would be better to do these exercises right before you sleep.