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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 May 25, 2021

How To Recognize the Most Common Types of Mental Illness

How To Recognize the Most Common Types of Mental Illness

Have you ever had chills, a stuffy nose, a sore throat, a cough, or perhaps even a fever? More than likely you must have experienced at least some of these symptoms at one time or another in your life. You knew that you were sick, perhaps with a common cold, maybe the flu, or possibly a viral infection of some sort.

Either way, no matter what the diagnosis might have been at the time, you didn’t feel well, and therefore, you probably took some form of action to help alleviate the symptoms so that you could feel better, perhaps some medicine, followed up with maybe a little chicken noodle soup, a glass of orange juice, and some bed rest. Nevertheless, when it comes to seeking treatment for symptoms of mental illness, there seems to be a big difference between the way that we look at healing the body and the mind.

First of all, there are some common stigmas associated with mental illness. People, in general, seem to have a hard time admitting that they are having a problem with their mental health.[1]

We all want our social media profiles to look amazing, filled with images of exotic vacations, fancy food, the latest fashion, and of course, plenty of smiling faces taken at just the right angle. There is an almost instinctive aversion to sharing our true feelings or emotionally opening up to others, especially when we are going through a difficult time in our lives. Perhaps it has something to do with the fear of being emotionally vulnerable, open, and completely honest about our true inner feelings—perhaps we just don’t want to be a burden.

Additionally, throughout history, many people with mental illness have been ostracized and subjugated as outcasts. As a result, some may choose to avoid seeking help as long as possible to elude being ridiculed by others or presumably looked down upon in some way. Furthermore, rather than scheduling an appointment to meet with a board-certified psychiatrist, many people find themselves self-medicating with mood-altering substances, such as drugs and alcohol to try and cope with their symptoms.[2]

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We all want to have a sound mind and body with the ability to function independently without having to depend on anyone—or, for that matter, anything else for help. Nevertheless, if you are experiencing symptoms of mental illness, you may just have to find the will and the way to reach out for help before the symptoms become unmanageable.

Lastly, although we may all have the ability to gain insight into any given situation, it’s almost impossible to maintain a completely objective point of view when it comes to identifying the depth and dimension of any of our own symptoms of mental illness given the fact that our perception of the problem may in fact be clouded by the very nature of the underlying illness itself. In other words, even though symptoms of mental illness may be present, you may be suffering from a disorder that actually impairs your ability to see them.

As a professional dual-diagnosis interventionist and a licensed psychotherapist with over two decades of experience working with people all over the world battling symptoms of mental illness and substance abuse—combined with my own personal insight into the subject, perhaps now more than ever—I am confident that you will appreciate learning how to recognize a variety of symptoms associated with some of the most common types of mental illness.

1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by persistent flashbacks and nightmares associated with previously experienced or witnessed life-threatening or traumatic events.[3] The symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with the ability to perform normal daily activities and fulfill personal responsibilities.

Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with this disorder:

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  • recurrent and unwanted memories of an event
  • flashbacks to the event in “real-time”
  • nightmares involving the trauma
  • a physical reaction to an event that triggers traumatic memories
  • avoiding conversation related to the traumatic event
  • active avoidance of people, places, and things that trigger thoughts of the event
  • a sense of hopelessness
  • memory loss related to traumatic events
  • detached relationships
  • lack of interest in normal daily activities
  • feeling constantly guarded
  • feeling as if in constant danger
  • poor concentration
  • irritability
  • being easily startled
  • insomnia
  • substance abuse
  • engaging in dangerous behaviors

2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by persistent unwanted thoughts followed by urges to act on those thoughts repeatedly.[4] The symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with the ability to perform normal daily activities and fulfill personal responsibilities.

Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with this disorder:

  • anxiety when an item is not in order or its correct position
  • recurrent and frequent doubt if doors have been locked
  • recurrent and frequent doubt if electronic devices and appliances have been turned off
  • recurrent and frequent fear of contamination by disease or poison
  • avoidance of social engagements with fear of touching others.
  • hand-washing
  • counting
  • checking
  • repetition of statements
  • positioning of items in strict order

3. Major Depressive Disorder

Major Depressive Disorder is a mood disorder characterized by a persistent depressed mood that impairs the ability to function. The symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with the ability to perform normal daily activities and fulfill personal responsibilities.

Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with this disorder:

  • overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and sadness
  • lack of interest or pleasure in activities normally enjoyed
  • overwhelming feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • sleep disturbances such as both insomnia and oversleep
  • overwhelming feelings of restlessness and irritability
  • lack of concentration
  • lack of appetite as well as overeating
  • thoughts of suicide

4. Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder that may be characterized by uncontrollable mood swings ranging from severe depression to extreme mania. The symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with the ability to perform normal daily activities and fulfill personal responsibilities.

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Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with this disorder:

  • easily distracted
  • racing thoughts
  • exaggerated euphoric sense of self-confidence
  • easily agitated
  • hyperverbal
  • markedly increased level of activity
  • overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and sadness
  • lack of interest or pleasure in activities normally enjoyed
  • overwhelming feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • sleep disturbances such as both insomnia and oversleep
  • overwhelming feelings of restlessness and irritability
  • lack of concentration
  • lack of appetite as well as overeating
  • thoughts of suicide

5. Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a thought disorder characterized by a breakdown between beliefs, emotions, and behaviors caused by delusions and hallucinations.[5]  The symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with the ability to perform normal daily activities and fulfill personal responsibilities.

Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with this disorder:

  • delusions with false beliefs
  • hallucinations with a false sensory perception
  • disorganized thought with a meaningless unintelligible pattern of communication
  • disorganized behavior with catatonic appearance, bizarre posture, excessive agitation
  • flat affect
  • lack of eye contact
  • poor personal hygiene

6. Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat and excessive exercise. The symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with the ability to perform normal daily activities and fulfill personal responsibilities.

Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with this disorder:

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  • extreme loss of weight
  • emaciated appearance
  • eroded teeth
  • thinning hair
  • dizziness
  • swollen extremities
  • dehydration
  • arrhythmia
  • irritated skin on knuckles
  • extreme food restriction
  • excessive exercise
  • self-induced vomiting
  • excessive fear of gaining weight
  • use of layered clothing to cover up body imperfections

7. Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight due to a distorted body image where large amounts of food are consumed and then purged. The symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with the ability to perform normal daily activities and fulfill personal responsibilities.

Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with this disorder:

  • self-induced vomiting
  • consuming abnormally large amounts of food with the intent to purge
  • the constant fear of gaining weight
  • excessive exercising
  • excessive use of laxatives and diuretics to lose weight
  • food restriction
  • shame and guilt

Final Thoughts

From bipolar disorder to bulimia, major depression to dysthymia, there is a mental health diagnosis to fit any combination of symptoms that you may be experiencing. There are also a variety of corresponding self-assessment tests circulating all over the internet for you to choose from.

However, if you are looking for a proper diagnosis, I strongly suggest that you make an appointment to meet with a well-trained mental health professional in your community for more comprehensive and conclusive findings. Similar to cancer, early detection and treatment may significantly improve the prognosis for recovery.[6] And like I said, it’s impossible to be completely objective when it comes to self-diagnosing the condition of your own mental health or that of a loved one.

Furthermore, although the corner pharmacy may have plenty of over-the-counter medications that claim to help you fall asleep faster and even stay asleep longer, at the end of the day, no medication can actually resolve the underlying issues that have been negatively impacting your ability to sleep in the first place.

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Just like in business—and in the immortal words of Thomas A. Edison—“there is no substitute for hard work.” So, try to set aside as much time as you can to work on improving your mental health. After all, you are your most influential advocate, and your mind is your greatest asset.

More Tips on Mental Wellness

Featured photo credit: Sydney Sims via unsplash.com

Reference

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