What’s the counting for?

Home Mindfulness of Breathing Stage 1 What’s the counting for?

offeringsThe counting has a number of really useful functions (almost as useful as the breathing, really!).

It’s very easy just to “space out” instead of actually meditating. When we space out we get distracted without realizing it. The counting helps to give us a more objective sense of how much of the time we’re distracted, and how much we’re remaining aware.

Counting allows us to “measure” how long we’re maintaining our awareness. Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused on the breath even for three breaths. Other times we can be aware for several cycles of ten breaths. So you can tell if it’s a “good day” or a “bad day.”

Counting gives us something to aim for. It’s good to have goals. If you’re getting distracted before getting to the tenth breath then you can try hard to reach ten. If you make it that far then you can try to get to ten again. Without the counting it’s hard to have any sense of what you’re working towards.

The numbers help us to see if we’re making progress. If you put the effort into your meditation practice then you’ll see results. But how can you see results if there’s nothing to measure them by?

The numbers subtly alter your perception of the breath. When you count after the out-breath then that’s the part of the breathing process that you’re most aware of. So in the first stage of the practice you’re more aware of breathing out. We’ll talk more about this after you’ve done the second stage of the practice.

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Respected Bodhipaksa,

Firstly I want to thank you for this wonderful site, I have started doing mindfulness of breathing meditation as per the instructions given here. My problem is that my mind is very active sometimes even when I am inhaling and exhaling some back ground thoughts are working, please suggest how to calm them. second how long should I do stage one of this meditation, I am planning to stay at stage one for one month. Your opinion on this.



Respected Bodhipaksa,

Sorry one thing I forgot to mention in my last post is that when I am meditating few minutes later the area of my forehead and eyes becomes heavy, I feel that some kind of weight is put on there or a kind of force pulling. I try to be as relax as possible in meditation and don’t push it much but it happens regularly.

Please show some light on this issue , how can I get over it or should I do some changes in my meditation, I just follow the sensations of breath and do counting on each out breath.

Thanks And Regards


Dear Amit.

I wold recommend that you not try to get rid of this feeling of heaviness, but instead pay attention to it, and make it part of your meditation. Simply accept it without resistance. I suspect this will be a rewarding experience in a number of ways.

All the best,


What helped to remove what you are experiencing (Amit) was not having the sense desire for it to go away. Remember, these desires are one of the hindraces to meditation. The best way to do this (IMO) is to be mindful all day of the fact that what you are experiencing is pressure, the earth element*, and it is “not a soul, not a self, not I.”

It is also possible that you have a sensuous desire to “feel concentrated” and you expect this feeling to come near the mind – which you liken to the head. I know this is possible because it happened to me, haha.

*The elements aren’t actually physical properties, but just the feelings we have (I’m talking about our senses and not emotions). Earth corresponds to solidity and pressure, wind is movement, vibration, and even slight ticklish feelings, fire is
energy, “hot” pain, temperature, etc., and water is the feeling of fluidity and cohesion.


Do you have to count? I’ve been meditating without counting for awhile and now in questioning if it was in vein.


It certainly wasn’t in vain! The counting can be a useful tool, but it’s not essential. In fact in this progressive form of the practice we give up the counting after the second stage.


Does the counting have any effect on the actual organs of the physical body. For example when we count to 4 hold for 7 and exhale on 8. Why that combination? Does the heart get to rest?


Holding the breath in that way is not something that we do in this form of meditation. But counting our breathing in the way taught her does have an effect on the body. Counting the out-breaths emphasizes our awareness of that phase of our breathing, and boosts the parasympathetic nervous system (which calms the body). Counting in-breaths gently boosts the sympathetic nervous system, promoting alertness.


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