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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

5 Steps to Improving Concentration for a Better Meditation Practice

5 Steps to Improving Concentration for a Better Meditation Practice

When I was a teenager, I always thought that I have a strong psyche. I have no idea why, I only felt this inner voice telling me that my mind is amazingly elastic. Just a few years later when I started with the first meditation lessons, I couldn’t believe my inability to concentrate. I was just asked to sit still and not move for 5 minutes and see what happens.

Guess what, I couldn’t last for even 2 minutes. In the second minute something inside of me just drove me crazy. The meditator who was instructing me, said: “concentrate.” I tried again but I couldn’t. I spent months trying to understand and feel the difference between concentration and meditation and to experience the moment of transition from the former to the latter. My mind was elastic, but mostly in thinking and not in concentrating, as it couldn’t stay fixed on one point.

Most of us, who are new to meditation live the cliche of going to meditation sessions—the so called guided meditation—trying to meditate by spending time in trying to stay concentrated. Then they’re confused and think that meditation doesn’t work. And worse is that they think that you can practice meditation for improving concentration—not knowing that meditation is only possible when the mind is permanently concentrated.

Concentration as a Prerequisite for Meditation

Concentration is fixing the mind on one object or subject, like when you look profoundly into the eyes of a loved one for a longer time, or when you gaze on a candle light for a longer time without thinking about anything else but the flame.

It’s one of the basic mental skills for setting goals and achieving any kind of results in life. Whatever you want to accomplish, you can get it done quicker and easier when you fully concentrate on the goal and the tasks that aim to that goal.

As the mind is this restless monkey that jumps around all the time—ruminating about the past and imagining the future on almost permanent basis (even in sleep)—it is hard to tame it and make it a tool to serve us efficiently at all times. Like the hand with its five fingers that is serving us inexhaustibly, so the mind is supposed to serve us in the same way.

The mind has only one purpose: to find the solution to any problem and to deliver happiness in the life of a human being.

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However, unlike the hand and its five fingers, the mind and its faculties and fluctuations vary in a vast spectrum of complexity. For managing that complexity, the mental skill of concentration is imperative here.

Therefore a science of how to use the mind properly has been developed—the yogic science for mastering life—called Raja Yoga. This structure consists of the eight limbs of Yoga—Ashtanga Yoga, and we will have a look at how this science takes us to achieve an optimum concentration of the mind.

The 5 Steps for an Optimum Concentration

Although it might seem like these steps are too much of a prep work for concentration, they are truly necessary, some of them indispensable. The five steps consist of:

  1. Yama—Restrain or Self Control;
  2. Niyama—Observance;
  3. Asana—Body Posture;
  4. Pranayama—Breathwork
  5. Pratyahara—Withdrawal of the senses.

Now, be aware of the fact that some of them you can skip, without including them in the prep work. I suggest all of them and I believe that most of them you already have.

Let me show you how I have mastered the prep work for getting concentrated and ready for a meditation. Try to apply this blueprint and I am sure you’ll reach a level of making your mind sharp like a scalpel. Remember, these steps that I am numbering can be achieved in a matter of seconds once they become part of you. But until this happens, it may take a while.

1. Yama—Restraint or Self-Control

The first thing I do for concentration is to restrain from generating harmful thoughts towards myself and others (ahimsa); I practice silence which is always the biggest truth to me (satya); I control all sorts of desire and my sexual energy on physical and mental level (brahmacharya); I don’t cling to worldly things in life—being free from greed and focus on the subtle values within me (aparigraha).

All this makes me get in touch with myself and in control of my surroundings; it makes me very still and quiescent.

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2. Niyama—Observances

Here, I further deepen my self-discipline by practising contentment (santosha)—appreciating everything I have, like health, proper shelter and fresh food and everything I don’t have, like sickness, anguish or hatred. Simultaneously I sink deeper in my concentration by knowing that I work on myself—learning myself better (svaadyaaya).

Knowing also that there is a higher intelligence within me, taking meticulous care about my digestion, my respiration and the function of my mind, I surrender to it (ishvara-pranidhaana) and feel even stronger the intensity of my being (tapas).

All these observances strengthen my concentration, inwardly and outwardly.

3. Asana—Body Posture

Here, I just make sure I physically sit still and comfortable, being n’sync with my body.

4. Pranayama—Breath Control

This one is probably the pillar for each and every aspect mentioned so far and at any time.

The whole of life is concentrated at one activity only: the breathing, thus controlling the breathing is having the concentration of the mind under control.

The power behind the breathing goes beyond the skill of concentration. I devoted most of my life exploring this subject and wrote a book on it: The Life Force[1].You can acquire the book if you find this subject of importance to you.

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5. Pratyahara—Withdrawal of the Senses

This fifth step is crucial and highly beneficial. It helps balance any emotion and is a must-have for achieving an ongoing concentration. After having applied the previous four steps, I now make sure that I tune my senses within me, cutting off all contact with the outside physical world.

That means:

I see nothing but a depth of darkness behind my closed eyes that implies stillness and peacefulness of my being.

I hear nothing but the streaming of my breath and no other sound but that one can penetrate or disturb the intensity of my being—the stillness, the peacefulness and the balance created within me.

I taste nothing but the flavour of tranquility and equanimity that circulate within my whole body.

I smell nothing but the freshness of my physical, mental and spiritual energy—a freshness that is part of the world and the whole universe.

I feel no weight or tactile impression, but the softness and lightness of me, being an expression, an embossment of pure energy into an individual body with an individual mind.

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I let my senses work within me, improving my concentration without any help from the external stimuli. This is the best prep work for making concentration concentrated within every single cell of the body. Even the thought is trapped and concentrated within.

Final Thoughts

Searching for improving your concentration has one purpose: being capable of the best performance in life. It is natural that we thrive to be successful and prosperous in life. To be prosperous and successful, one must be concentrated on the particular accomplishment. And all the qualities that are needed to establish a concentrated mind are within us. They need to be well bred and well developed, in order to perform concentration as a mental skill in the outside world.

Use these five steps as a blueprint to create your own individual design for improving your concentration. Put your focus on your goals and pay close attention on how the aspects I mentioned are strongly connected with the process that makes your mind concentrated toward that goal. All this work of focusing, paying attention and creating concentration is a work of mental activities—the building blocks for an elastic and concentrated mind.

The moment these mental activities are established, you’ll be able to dwell within you and reach a meditative state of mind where all the so-far-mentioned attributes and qualities will amplify and improve your character, your intrinsic values and you as a human being in general—you achieve a perfection of personhood.[2]

Through the work of the above five steps, the mental activities slowly diminish, turning into a mental state of mind called meditation, which not only strengthens the mental activities of focus, attention and concentration as a result, but also sheds light on many deeper levels of your psyche, giving answers on all the mind-boggling questions about life and existence.

More Tips for a Better Meditation Practice

Featured photo credit: Matteo Di Iorio via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Gil Teachings: The Life Force
[2] Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Japanese Zen Buddhist Philosophy

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Marcin Gil

Marcin is a spiritual being just like anyone challenging to uncover what we already have โ€“ spiritual freedom.

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Published on March 2, 2021

How To Not Stress: 10 Stress Management Techniques

How To Not Stress: 10 Stress Management Techniques

It is not easy to decipher how to not stress, as stress is a part of life. Stress is the wear and tear of our mental and physical being as we continue to find soothing ways to cope with the constant change in our surroundings.

People often think of stress as related to work, chores at home, illnesses, and trying to beat rush hour traffic—which is not wrong—but it is more. Several factors trigger stress, but stress is the body’s internal reaction to fight or take flight in the presence of adversity.

In simple biological terms, stress is the state of increased arousal necessary for the human body to defend itself from a clear and present danger. Whenever we feel anxious, angered, tired, frightened, happy, excited, sad, or afraid, we are undergoing stress.

From minor challenges to major issues, stress is an acceptable and unavoidable pressure of human life. Stress is normal until we are incapable of controlling and coping with the overwhelming effect that stress becomes a problem.

Three in every four adults American suffer from stress—that is about 77 percent of the population.[1] Stress is triggered by anything from the economy, jobs, home front, kids, illnesses, and so on.

Types of Stress

In learning how not to stress, you must understand the types of stress and how you encourage it in your life. The causes of stress (stressors) are varied and multiple, but I am grouping them into two sectors.

External Stressors

These are external triggers that affect your immediate ability to stay focused or composed. They are:

  • Physical environment – confined spaces, light, noise, heat, brightness, and even darkness
  • Organizational – rules, regulation, deadlines, office gossips, pressure from work, etc
  • Social interaction – bullying, bossiness, disregard, harassment, aggressiveness (general human behavior towards you)
  • Life crises – death, relocation, new baby, marriage, losing your job, divorce, etc
  • Daily hassles – late in catching the bus, misplacing your car/house keys, mechanical breakdown, etc

Internal Stressors

These are stressors that emanate from our thoughts, mindset, and attitude. For example:

  • Your lifestyle – not getting enough sleep, busy schedules, caffeine or alcohol
  • Negative thoughts – pessimism, self-criticism, overthinking, feeling incapable.
  • Mind traps – being too personal about issues, unrealistic expectations, exaggerated or rigid mindset, etc
  • Personality traits – workaholic, OCD, perfectionist, etc

These factors contribute heavily to mental and physical stress leading to fear, anger, unforgiveness, and depression.

Stress and You

To consider stress as an ailment of modernity and technology is misinforming. Yes, our fast-paced lives and lifestyle are stressful, straining, and under relentless pressure. But we have actually created these triggers on our own. This is due to a desire for intense competitiveness and to match up with our peers. Stress is different for every individual, even if they are in the same situation.

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For example, a couple going through a bitter divorce will see the man enjoying himself while the lady suffers from bouts of emotional ups and downs. What is distressing to you may be nothing to another.

Take this example: a man works effectively in the comfort of his home yet finds working in a team or office stressful and overwhelming.

It is necessary to know that most of the stresses we experience are self-generated and self-induced. How we perceive (life)—whether a situation is threatening, sad, or happy—depends on how we see ourselves. The ability to recognize the stresses we create is the first step toward preventing stress.

Symptoms of Stress

Excessive, prolonging, and denying the existent of stress in our lives is detrimental and affects our entirety—and if left unresolved, results in a feeling of fear, anger, frustration, and depression.

Stress contributes to simple illnesses like headaches, skin diseases, ulcers, insomnia, and digestive problems. In severe cases, stress can lead to suicidal thoughts and death. The following are the symptoms of stress grouped into four categories.

Physical Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Change in sleep pattern without any obvious reason
  • Unstable digestive system resulting in diarrhea and inability to hold down food
  • Low sexual libido
  • Headaches and body pain
  • Dizziness, unnecessary sweating, and feeling faint
  • Palpitations, breathlessness, quickened heartbeats, or missed heartbeats

Mental Symptoms

  • Inability to focus
  • Memory lapses
  • Indecisiveness
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Fear/panic attack

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Eating disorder and appetite
  • Increase smoking and alcohol intake
  • Restlessness, fidgeting, and nail-biting

Emotional Symptoms

  • Depression
  • Easily irritated
  • Anger, rage, cry easily
  • Deterioration in hygiene habit and appearance

The primary triggers of stress are lack of financial stability, job security, family responsibility, personal relationship, health issues, and safety. Now that we have successfully categorized stress, it is time to recognize the one you are suffering from and choose a simple technique to manage it.

Remember, stress can be controlled, allowing you to live a fulfilling life.

10 Stress Management Techniques

The most common stress management techniques are eating right, exercise, yoga, and meditation. However, some stress is beyond these four techniques, so we will try to list out as many as possible to help you beat that stressful situation.

A set of simple yet effective techniques to help individuals identify, understand, and effectively deal with the stress in their lives to minimize the impact.

1. Change the Perspective

How many times have you replayed a negative situation and outcome in your head that never happens? We are all human, and as crazy as it sounds, negativity is appealing and more creative than positive things. However, stress is tied to negativity and our inability to break free from them.

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Changing your perspective is not as simple as ABC. However, you can start by analyzing the feeling, removing all exaggerated parts, pick out the truth (be honest here) and discard the rest. Phew, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Now, take the truth and work on it from a positive angle. You will immediately feel less stressed, disoriented, and angered. It will take some time, but never judge an issue from an exaggerated point of view.

2. Create a Journal

A problem shared is half solved. While we cannot all go about blabbing our predicaments to others, an effective way of sharing and solving is journaling. There is really nothing difficult about journaling—it is just you writing the day’s events and how they made you feel.

Stress takes clarity, focus, and awareness of our immediate environment from us. Well, journaling restores them back to you. When you write down your feelings, you can identify, understand and deal with them better than replaying them in your head. It allows you to separate your feelings, accurately define emotion connect with your internal aura for better clarity.

3. Mindful Breathing

Stress takes peace and stability away from your life. Breathing is held in high regard by Buddhists, Hindus, and Taoists who believe breathing is a system of reintroducing peace into a troubled soul.

Mindful breathing is breathing that comes from the pit of your belly. It is, deep consistent, and stress relieving breathes which calm you down.

Mindful breathing can be done anyway in two easy steps:

  • Gentle inhale air to fill your lungs and stomach while slowly counting to 3 or five through your nose
  • Hold for a second or two and gradually exhale while counting 1 through 5

Repeat this as many times as possible until you feel your power returning to you. As you exhale, imagine that you are breathing out the stressors and tension.

4. Positive and Guided Daydreaming

We all daydream—some are good, and others run wild with our imagination. Using guided images and thoughts, you can avert a stress situation from escalating.

For example, you just had a heated argument with your spouse on the phone, and you are at work. Two things can happen: have your mood down all day, or you can identify the stress and calm dissipate it with happier images—daydreaming.

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Close your eyes and imagine a happy memory. Use good thoughts to counteract negative ones ad build your confidence from deep within. Also, forgive the situation and yourself, else you will keep playing the thought in your mind.

5. Go Back to Your To-Do List

If you cannot complete the chores, let it be. Remember that trying to squeeze in more than you can handle is actually killing you gradually. Even superman rests once in a while, so you should, too.

Reducing or prioritizing your workload could be the solution to the constant headaches, backaches, and shoulders. If you are a mom, learn to delegate duties to your kids or allocate time to work for yourself.

6. Yoga It

Yoga is an Indian form of meditation that combines simple poses, deep breathing, and relaxation techniques to ward off stress and stressors. Yoga is an effective stress relief technique because it deals with the physical, emotional, and mental organs that stress hacks into. The immediate benefits of yoga are felt immediately, but the long-term impact is also beautiful.

To get started, you can follow simple yoga programs online or enroll in a class to help you to master the poses at your own pace. Yoga enables you to breathe easily, improves the clarity of thoughts and mind, relaxes the body and mental health. However, if the twist and turns of yoga are not for you, then you will enjoy the next technique.

7. Add Exercise to Your Routine

Our body is like a car engine, if you do not maintain it, it will crash when you need it most. Regular exercise builds a strong body, no doubt. However, it also builds a strong mind to deal with stresses that affect us daily. You do not have to HIIT or do any strenuous exercise, choose something simple and for 7 to 15 minutes every day.

Joining a gym or community fitness center is outstanding, but you can choose to walk, run, jog, swim or go dancing. The idea is to keep your body moving for fun. Furthermore, if you are the outdoorsy type, indulge in your passion and watch the stress melt away.

8. Massage and Detox Therapy

When your insides are unclean, it can lead to stress. Equally, tired and over-working can double the stress effect leading to illness and mental breakdown.

There are many reasons to go for a massage, and stress is one of them. Massages are an ideal tool for maintaining physical and emotional health. While detoxification is a way to relieve the stress on your internal organs, both will make you feel light and relaxed.

9. Imbibe in the Power of Positive Affirmations

The power of positive talk has proven to increases positive emotion, compassion, and confidence in the speaker. How we treat ourselves determines the outcome. If you begin the day with negativity, you are likely to attract negativity and problems to yourself.

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However, if you take your time to affirm positive thoughts in your life, you will succeed. Affirmations are more than mere words; they are meant to awaken the optimistic and daring part of your being.

So, when you feel that negative emotions are building up or images are flashing before your eyes, take a moment and remind yourself of your capabilities and believe it, too. What you perceive is what you are.

10. Getting Enough Sleep

Let’s be honest, it is almost impossible to get 8 hours of sleep as recommended, but you can get a good night’s sleep instead. Many people sleep for 8 hours or more but are restless in their sleep and wake up feeling exhausted, drained, and stressed.

Sleep is a fundamental way for the body to recuperate for the day’s activities. However, your sleeping condition should be prioritized for relaxing sleep. To do this, ensure your mattress is comfortable and your bedroom is at the right temperature.

If you cannot get 8 hours at night, try to nap in the afternoons and watch your diet before bed. Finally, create a sleep routine. You do not have to “do-or-die” it, but gradually ease your way into better sleep.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, stress is the baggage you refuse to let go of. The more you pile on, the deeper you are sinking into a place of darkness.

Let go of the excess load now. Start by following these stress management techniques on how not to stress. Do you have one or two methods you are currently using to relieve stress? Feel free to add them to the list.

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Featured photo credit: whoislimos via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] American Psychological Association: Stress in America™ 2020

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