"Following the Breath" is a millennia-old method for mindfulness meditation. ("Anapanasati") Some just relax and attend to the breathing; some count out-breaths, numbering them 1 through 10, over and over again; some count both inhales and exhales; some just maintain an awareness of the air going in and out through the nostrils, or the belly rising and falling. If the mind wanders and you suddenly realize you've lost count, join the club and calmly start over again, without blame or self-criticism. No Worries, Mate!
Recently I've been experimenting with another way to count breaths and maintain awareness: counting down to zero. It has some attractions, not the least of which is the opportunity for entertaining and perhaps-useful mental calming. In brief: start with a nice small number like 6 (which happens to be the first perfect number for those who are mathematically inclined). Count the first exhalation as "6", the next as "5", then "4", and "3", and "2", and "1", and finally "0". Then start the count again, but one less, at "5". Proceed again, 4-3-2-1-0. Then do 3-2-1-0, then 2-1-0, then 1-0, and finally just count 0.
That procedure, counting down from six to zero, then five to zero, etc. adds up to 28 breaths (and 28 is the second perfect number, an amusing coincidence). It takes five minutes or so if you're breathing slowly. You can repeat it, or just settle in with "0" and enjoy trying to increase the space between thoughts. You can visualize an image or sound for each number, perhaps a geometric shape or the tone of a gong being struck. The lower numbers in particular seem to have fruitful associations: 2 can be a yin-yang symbol or other duality; 1 can bring to mind a unison chord or an all-encompassing light; 0 can be a Zen circle, or a void of sheer nothingness.
In fact, the countdown-breathing process of simply, slowly, settling-down on 0 is a fascinating opportunity to empty the mind. Sometimes I try not even saying the word "zero" to myself, and just enjoy the quiet when I get there. Om!
(cf. Being with Your Breath, Breath and Awareness, Breath as Vehicle, Calm Technique, Carpe Spiram, Coming Back to Your Breath, Just Sitting, Mind Over Exercise, Try It for a Few Years, ...) - ^z - 2013-12-18