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Give me a break!: If you can’t be still, be counting

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I fail at sitting still and meditating.  

Being raised in a Buddhist family, I have been familiar with traditional meditation since a young age. I meditated once in a while. It’s hard to nurture my mind to a still mode and focus on my breaths without being distracted by any thoughts. I could sense the awareness after the meditation, but it was quickly replaced by the relief  that now it’s over.

Regarding the benefits of meditation, I know that I should practice more for the sake of my mental health. But I never sustain or try to commit to it regularly. My head is too cluttered with work, sensational news, COVID anxiety, several tabs on my laptop, Tweets of people I look up to, etc. Meditation doesn’t make it to my priority list and never will. 

The adjustment I try to do is, instead of sitting still and focusing on my breath, I count my breaths. I picture each number while inhaling and exhaling and focus on counting the number. If my mind wanders, I try to shift back to the count quickly. 

This method worked out better than the first one. I felt like I could sustain it longer, which motivated me to do it more often. I learned that it’s called Breath Counting Meditation. It’s a powerful meditation method that helps tame your mind effectively by counting your breaths.

Counting as meditation 

Breath Counting Meditation - cocoa powder & coffee painting
Gift Homsaen | The Seattle Collegian Breath Counting Meditation – cocoa powder & coffee painting

Dharma Master Hwansan Sunim, teacher of the Living Phrase Son Meditation of traditional Korean Buddhism commented on Huffpost that “Breath Counting Meditation is a strength-building exercise for the mind. It cleanses away distracting thoughts and builds concentration power.” 

I agree with that statement. When assigning my mind to a counting task, it has something more concrete to hold on to than simply breathing, which is an unconscious human instinct. It won’t lose a grip easily.

 The following three-minute video will help guide your practice of this meditation with simple steps:

Even though this is a great approach to meditation that I highly recommend, it becomes harder after a long day of working from home and being mentally and physically fatigued. I believe many of us feel the same. I’m sick of sitting. I’m done with trying to attempt another task of stillness. I want to get my blood flowing.

Fortunately, I moved to a new place with more space – away from the downtown chaos. It triggered me that I should take advantage of the space I have. What crossed my mind was the exercise that I used to do during my high school years at home with my father. Something we did for fun at our small court. Something that is close to meditating.

Passing the volleyball. 

Sometimes it’s called “under the volleyball”, it’s basically a kind of practice in the picture below.

Passing the volleyball - cocoa powder & coffee painting
Gift Homsaen | The Seattle Collegian Passing the volleyball – cocoa powder & coffee painting

What I do is toss the ball vertically with both forearms joined for about three feet high in the air and keep tossing it for as long as I want. My legs stay flexible – moving around to support my forearms. 

This video describes it well (skip to minute 1:17). 

This is just one way of practicing volleyball. There are many more practices that you can try. If you’re inexperienced at handling the ball or at any ball-oriented sport, try throwing the ball from one hand to another first to make yourself familiar with it before doing other practices. 

If you can’t be still, be counting (and passing volleyball!)

What I find fascinating about passing the ball is it’s so similar to Breath Counting Meditation. It trains my body and mind to be well aware of the surroundings. Because if I don’t set my forearms horizontal, mess up the leg position, miss the count, or get distracted by random thoughts, the ball could go to, who knows, a neighbor’s car or their house’s window. Shit can happen. 

This exercise, apart from giving me physical satisfaction like most sports do, also throws me into a hyperfocus mode automatically. I like to set a goal whenever passing the ball. Sometimes, I aim for 20 counts nonstop and have to recount it if I drop the ball. Sometimes, I do it till my forearms hurt. 

Either Breath Counting Meditation or passing the volleyball could be good alternatives and feasible mindfulness exercises for us at this time, when our brain is packed with information and an endless flow of thoughts. If you can manage to sit for a while, try Breath Counting Meditation. If you have been sitting all day, dying to move your body (and have some space), go for passing the volleyball. Experimenting with different meditation techniques broadens our perspective and helps us find what works best for us. Meditation is practical, approachable, and doesn’t necessarily need to be done in a traditional way. Like most things in life, you should try out a few different meditation approaches until you find what works best for you. The ball’s in your court. 

Gift is a Programming AAS-T student and a Web Manager at the Seattle Collegian. She covers the column, Give me a break!, as she believes that everyone needs a break once in a while during this stressful time. She enjoys improving the Collegian website as much as writing, baking, cocoa painting, and listening to podcasts.

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