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5 Steps to Improving Concentration for a Better Meditation Practice

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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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Last Updated on November 8, 2021

How To Do Focused Meditation Any Time

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How To Do Focused Meditation Any Time

Do you often feel stressed for most of your day? Maybe you always feel a burden that you just can’t get rid of? Focused meditation might be your answer.

In this article, I’ll explore what focused meditation is, how it differs in the pool of many styles of meditation, and how to implement and start this practice today. Likewise, I’ll highlight the benefits of a focused meditation practice for your overall health.

What Is Focused Meditation?

Meditation is the practice of becoming self-aware through breath and attention to connect the mind, body, and spirit.[1] Meditation as a whole can change the structure and function of our brain. That being said, focused meditation or a guided meditation for focus is by far the best one. Meditation for focus and concentration can come in different forms. Experienced meditators use the following:

  • Mindfulness – this meditation involves us to be focusing on your breath and observing thoughts. This allows us to focus on our feelings without becoming too absorbed in them.
  • Concentrative – a meditation that gets us to focus on a particular point; be it a word, breath, object, or a point in the space you’re meditating. This is meant for us to pay attention to that point and prevent our minds from getting distracted.
  • Moving – this meditation involves gets us to focus on slow and repetitive movements similar to yoga or tai chi. The goal is again to be focusing on your breath while relaxing your body and mind with the movements.

Focused meditation, also known as concentrative meditation, is the practice of meditating and bringing your attention to one single object. This object can be something practical and tangible, such as a mandala painting or a candle flame. It can also be something abstract, such as a phrase (also known as mantra) or a sound (such as Om).[2][3]

Whatever you settle your attention on becomes the focal point. None of these object examples are better than others—they are simply choices depending on what you’re looking to get out of your practice. For example, practitioners will choose candle gazing to interpret the images the flame makes in the shadows while others will choose a mantra because that particular phrase or word empowers or heals them.

How Does It Differ From Other Meditation Styles?

All meditation styles and practices overlap and build on each other. Their basic foundation is the same: to bring the practitioner insight and introspection.

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There is no right or wrong way to meditate, however, the various types of meditation can enhance particular qualities. Based on your personality and needs, one type of meditation may be more useful to you than the other. The 9 types of meditation are:

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Spiritual meditation
  • Focused meditation
  • Movement meditation
  • Mantra meditation
  • Transcendental meditation
  • Progressive relaxation
  • Loving kindness meditation
  • Visualization meditation

Focused meditation, specifically, is the practice of focusing on one single object for the duration of the practice. How this differs from other meditation styles is that it gives the practitioner something tangible to do: focus. It’s almost like giving your mind an action to perform—listen to this sound, repeat these words, watch this flame, etc. This is also one of the reasons why this particular meditation style is great for beginners!

One of the biggest challenges in any meditation practice is that the mind gets carried away and we lose ourselves to random thoughts. This “obstacle” is actually a style of meditation in and of itself called Vipassana.[4] However, in focused meditation, we give the mind something to do so that it’s not simply left to its own devices. This type of meditation is beneficial for beginners and for practitioners who prefer some structure and guidance to their meditations.

The Benefits of Focused Meditation

In this style of meditation, what you’re really doing is exercising your mental muscles. Your brain is highly affected by dedicated and concentrated meditation practice.

Scientists have performed countless studies on focused meditation and have found that active meditators have more gray matter volume in their brain and, therefore, offsetting the cognitive decline that comes with aging. So, not only does practicing focused meditation help you learn how to focus better on certain tasks, but it also improves similar functions, such as memory. [5]

Likewise, it helps in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, which our society is currently crippled with.[6] By settling your attention on an object, you are essentially building your ability to observe your thoughts and sensations from a place of objectivity. This allows you to detach from negative self-talk that is often the breeding ground for depression and other mental illnesses.

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From a guided meditation for focus to practicing it yourself, daily meditation for focus comes with several benefits:

  • It’ll reduce stress
  • Help you to control anxiety
  • Enhance your self-awareness
  • Improve attention span
  • Helps you to focus on the present moment
  • Increase your creativity and imagination
  • And boost your patience and tolerance for things.

How to Practice Focused Meditation

Here are six tips to help you practice focused meditation. Based on your availability and interest, these tips may change and evolve. That’s the point: to create a structured practice that caters to your needs.

1. Find a Comfortable Seat

As with any meditation practice, comfort is truly key. The physical body responds to meditation practice by alerting you to whether it is comfortable and supported or stressed out and in pain. This is best observed in practitioners who tend to slouch and lose the tall, supported spine that is essential to meditation practice.

A simple rule in meditative sitting is to ensure that your hips are higher than your knees. Therefore, choosing to sit in a chair instead of on the floor may be a smart decision or perhaps propping yourself up on a cushion. For meditation techniques overall, it does not matter how you sit. All that matters is that you are supported and comfortable sitting for some time.

2. Choose Your Object of Focus

Every meditation training session is going to be different because no single day is the same for any one person. Therefore, experienced meditators know that choosing an object is more about listening to what you need at this time versus following any doctrine or “rule.”

If you’re not sure and have a hard time deciding, make focusing on your breath and pay attention to the inhale and exhale is a good option. Then, assign each inhale and exhale a number, and once you reach 10, start over. This is one of the simpler methods of keeping your mind occupied—by giving it a task. This also trains your mind, and over time and with practice, your mind will easily focus on an object without too much effort.

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3. Set Your Desired Time or “Go With the Flow”

If you have a structured routine and would like to stick to your schedule, by all means, set a gentle timer for how long you’d like your meditation to be. This is also your opportunity to throw out the notion that any meditation has to be a certain length of time to be correct—it does not.

Likewise, if you have the time, you can also listen to your body and come out of your meditation when you feel it’s right to do so. This is often a beautiful practice of listening and tuning in.

4. Relax Your Body as You Focus on Your Meditation

Typically, when we are focusing on something, we tend to tighten our body. Observe this next time that you’re concentrating on something: your jaw will tighten and your shoulders will squeeze up towards your ears.

As you sink into your meditation, keep this in mind and check in with your body every once in a while. Let your shoulders sink down your back and release any tension through your jaw and face. Lastly, relax your brow and let your eyes be heavy in their sockets. Then, return to your object of meditation. Observe if your meditation changes at all by relaxing your physical body.

5. Return to Your Breath and Object When You Get Distracted

Notice that I didn’t say “if you get distracted.” That’s because you definitely will drift off with random thoughts or get pulled away from your object of focus. In meditation, distractions are almost guaranteed. Therefore, it’s your opportunity to practice detaching yourself from feeling guilty or inadequate to continue.

Over time and with practice, you will find it easier to stay with your object of focus. In the meantime, however, notice when you get distracted. Pause and take a big breath in and out. Check in with your physical body and relax. Once you’re ready again, return to your object of focus. Meditation is simply one long cycle of wandering and coming back to yourself.

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6. Journal Your Experiences

When your meditation practice has ended, another powerful practice is to jot down any experiences that you felt. There may have been insights and “downloads” that you acquired during your session that you may want to record.

Likewise, you could write about any challenges that you faced. These are great lessons that will continue to show up for you, and it’s nice to keep a journal of them to see how they evolve and progress over time (and they will). Lastly, you can write about what works and what doesn’t, as far as picking your objects of meditation go. This way, you can learn what you most associate with and feel comfortable with.

While these steps are simple, it’s easier said than done. Whether you’re starting out with a guided meditation for focus, loving kindness meditation, or transcendental meditation, anticipating failure the first time you try these things is healthy. Furthermore, congratulate yourself for even making slight progress like noticing and returning to the present moment and noticing the sensations you experienced.

Final Thoughts

If practicing meditation causes you to feel distracted and unsupported, give focused meditation a go! With the help of an object to bring your attention to, it structures your meditation time and offers guidance and support.

Dedicating yourself to this style of meditation will help increase your memory, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote better cognitive function. Even though any style of meditation is a powerful way of taking care of your mental health, focused meditation gives your mind a tangible task with which to grow and strengthen.

More About Focused Meditation

Featured photo credit: Lua Valentia via unsplash.com

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Reference

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