Counting Breaths in Zhan Zhuang

Up until recently, I was mainly ‘the observer’ during my zhan zhuang sessions, that is, merely observing and witnessing any arises thoughts without attachment. However, this has become increasingly more difficult as a lot of changes are happening right now in my home life.  For example, we are preparing for a move out of our current home into another house. Sometimes during zhan zhuang, I would think about a task that must be completed and then would think of another associated task, then another; until, I would finally realize that my mind has been running around like a mad man.  This would often result in not being very relaxed and feeling a bit agitated at the end of the session.

Previously, I used to practice breath counting and would work my way up to 100 without losing focus.  Lately, I have modified things a bit and now do sets of 25 breaths.  How does breath counting work? Here’s a nice summary:

We begin working on ourselves by counting the breath, counting each inhalation and each exhalation, beginning with one and counting up to ten. When you get to ten, come back to one and start all over. The only agreement that you make with yourself in this process is that if your mind begins to wander – if you become aware that what you’re doing is chasing thoughts – you will look at the thought, acknowledge it, and then deliberately and consciously let it go and begin the count again at one.

Source: Zen Mountain Monastery – Zen Meditation Techniques

Easy, eh? The key practice about this one is to start back at 1 if the mind drifts away from the counting. I can honestly say during my last standing session, I did not start over once!  Right now, I am employing this technique in 3 zhan zhuang postures: (1) wuji, (2) universal post, (3) hold the belly. Over time, I will incorporate all 8 yiquan postures, but 3 works well for me now.

The really cool thing I noticed instantly about the breath counting is that it really brought to my attention some tension spots on my body.  I carry quite a bit of tension in a small spot about the size of a tennis ball in the back side of my right shoulder and right lower back.  Additionally, I felt quite a bit of tension in my right wrist.  A lot of these make sense for me as I sit and work at a computer a majority of the day and I am right handed 🙂

Another cool thing is that after I finished the 3 postures, 25 minutes had passed! Instead of using a timer or a clock to gauge my training, I use my own body.  I am sure that over time, this may extend even longer as my breathing deepens.


About wujimon

taiji, meditation and health
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10 Responses to Counting Breaths in Zhan Zhuang

  1. silkreeling says:

    Also started counting breaths during standing recently and am still doing it for the same three postures, but for only 15 mins.

    It has made a big difference to my taiji practice. I feel more at ease and relaxed even after 40 mins of chen forms practice.

    However, i have to observe progress a little longer to identify any other factors that may have caused the same effect i.e. general ambient temperature and humidity etc.

    good luck

  2. taijiquestion says:

    Enjoying your last few posts and still trying to come up with any questions… but you explain it well. Good luck with the upcoming move! 🙂

  3. wujimon says:

    @Silk: Thanks for sharing some of your own experiences. I do feel that standing zhan zhuang PRIOR to taiji makes a huge difference for me too.

    @TaijiQ: Glad you’re enjoying the post. No need to come up with questions. Comments or sharing some of your own experiences will suffice 🙂 Thanks for the comment.

  4. Shang Lee says:

    incidentally, i was actually counting the breaths of my push-hands partner. I pushed when he was breathing in. it worked… 😉

  5. Tom says:

    Hi Wujimon
    I’m 51 years old and practice one hour of zhan zhuang in the early morning and 45 minutes to one hour of yang tai chi in late afternoon. I use my fingers to help me count my breaths. You can use, for example, the fingers of your right hand to tick off 25 breaths on each. That’s 125 breaths right there, which facilitates keeping track of time. Some yoga schools even use individual joints of fingers, but that might be difficult in zhan zhuang as you want to keep your fingers spread and slightly tensed, prohibiting touching individual joints of one finger with another finger. Good luck with your training. Tom

  6. Hi

    I have been using and teaching a simple pre-school version of ‘counting breaths’ since last 6 years. Made a beginning when I was 57 years old. It is amazing how children as young as 8 years to the seniors as old as 86 years, spontaneously take to the method. This form of practice is not from any particular school.

    I advise beginners to practice at Level 1 by feeling the slight coolness inside the nose during the in-breaths and counting only during the out-breaths. This helps hold the mind on breath and also on a concrete easily sensed body sensation. Level 2 is focusing on body sensations and breath sensation. Level 3 is formal sitting meditation. To start with, one should practice when LYING IN BED AND NEEDING TO SLEEP. This way the great resistance to this new practice is least. Gradually one likes it and extends the practice to other times of day and night.

    There are full details and plenty of feedback from people of all ages – Relief from Hypertension, Migraine, Smoking, Stuttering. Anger etc. in my web site Hope this helps some visitors.


  7. wujimon says:

    Wow, CS. Thanks for commenting and providing some instruction on the Counting Breaths method. I had a peak at your website and really found it insightful and interesting. I will definitely read up and work on integration into my own practices!

    One thing is that I often counted on the out breath and thought about breathing in in the inhale, however I had never focused on the ‘cool sensation’ inside the nose! This subtle shift really made a difference!

    Thanks again!

  8. Pingback: Counting Breaths and Complimentary Practices « wujimon

  9. CS says:

    I invite you to see this brochure describing six different modes of 'Focusing on breathing' tailored to children of 2 years to adults of any age,including sick people lying in bed. From my experiments with beginners (children and adults), I found that using the finger tips or segments mode, tremendously enahnces the anchoring of the mind on the breathing process. Practically no thoughts enter the mind when using the segment mode described in this brochure, even for abosolute beginners.

  10. wujimon says:

    Hi CS. Thank you for sharing the brochure. I like how you outlined thevarious modes that can be used for meditation. They seem so simple, yet thepractice is not easy.

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