This exercise takes anywhere from 9-12 minutes, depending on respiration rate. The goal of here-and-now training is to be fully present – not thinking about the past or worrying about the future, but gently focusing attention on where you are and how you are right now.
Counting your breaths requires this type of gentle focus. The basic exercise is to find a comfortable position sitting or lying. You can close your eyes – or – find a visual focal point in front of you. You will count your exhalations, up from 1 to 10, down to 1, up to 10 again, down to 1 again, up to 10 again, and down to 1, three times total, beginning and ending on 1. Breathe slowly and regularly, without forcing or control. If you can, let your breath return to its automatic, unconscious rate. Focus on the physical sensations of breathing in your nose, your throat, and your chest and abdomen. The counting is silent but regular. Once your breathing is settled, turn your attention to the physical sensations in your body, starting head to foot (or foot to head). When you have catalogued those sensations, focus on the sounds you hear in your environment. After the initial observation, switch focus between your breathing, your body, and your auditory surroundings.
If your mind wanders during the exercise (and it will), note whenever it happens by saying to yourself “mind wandering,” or “distraction,” or even “thinking.” Then resume counting your exhalations while focusing attention on your breathing, your physical sensations, and the sounds around you.
Counting can become automatic, and can allow the mind to be distracted from the here-and-now, but switching from 1, 2, 3… to 10, 9, 8… generally interrupts a wandering mind and brings you back to the present, at least briefly. You can make the rule that if you distractedly count past 10, you have to count backwards from wherever you noticed you had gone past the limit. I have had to count back from 25 when I was particularly anxious and distracted. I’ve not ever absent-mindedly counted lower than 1, but I suppose a mathematician who is used to thinking in negative numbers might do so!
At the end of the counting exercise, take a moment to note your state of mind and body. Are you relaxed? What physical sensations did you observe? Where did your mental distractions take you? – (these can be quite interesting as you deeply relax).
I find that it usually takes me about one cycle of 1-10-1 to become relaxed. By the time I finish the three cycles, I am (usually) deeply relaxed. There are times when I never make it to deep relaxation, and times when by the end I’ve fallen asleep. But I just do it again the next day. Ultimately, the cumulative effect of the practice is positive.