We lead extremely busy lives – more often than not we have to devote our attention to many different tasks simultaneously. Meditation is an antidote to this scatteredness: when we practice, we train the mind to be fully aware of one thing at a time. The result is that our ability to concentrate increases. Thanks to our meditation practice, we are better able to focus in the moment and remain focused over time.
Research confirms that the brain functions of frequent meditators change for the better. Meditators are less likely to find themselves at the mercy of distractions and an unruly mind than people who don’t meditate. There are many different meditation techniques for concentration; if you’re looking to sharpen your focus, you can choose one that appeals to you.
3 meditation methods that increase concentration
Among the many meditation techniques that are easily accessible, one of the most effective and best-known ways to improve concentration is to practice mindfulness. Can you think of any task that can be performed perfectly without your giving it your full attention? Many activities, including driving, playing sports or music, reading and paying attention at work or at school, require high levels of concentration. In addition, you’re more likely to derive satisfaction from homing in on and accomplishing one chosen task than from trying to juggle several at one go. As you train the mind to remain present and fully focused on one object – physical sensations or the process of breathing, for example – you learn to let go of all other thoughts and distractions as well.
There’s a lot of freedom in discovering that you don’t have to pay attention to every little thing that pops into your mind. When you can be mindful at will, your ability to concentrate naturally increases.
- Zen meditation
An Italian neuroscientist named Giuseppe Pagnoni conducted a study where he compared the brain functions of a dozen long-term practitioners of Zen meditation and a dozen people of similar profiles who were not familiar with meditation. According to an article in Psychology Today, Pagnoni found that the meditators’ minds were more stable than the other group’s and their ability to focus was superior. This isn’t surprising given the rigorous methods that are central to the practice of Zen meditation.
- Counting the breath cycles
A recent study suggested that deep breathing has a positive impact on our bodies since it helps us deal more skillfully with stress. Many cutting-edge companies have meditation rooms and encourage their employees to take a break, relax and focus on their breathing.
One meditation method that is especially helpful for those who find it difficult to concentrate is counting the breathing cycles. This form of meditation takes mindfulness a step further by giving the meditator a dynamic task: count inhale, exhale, one. Inhale, exhale, two. Inhale, exhale, three, and so on. Remaining fully aware during this process is a powerful training in concentration – many people notice that their minds have wandered before they can count to three. With time and patience, though, their ability to focus improves and they can keep counting… The sky’s the limit!
What about meditation and attention?
Sustained attention studies indicate that people who practice guided meditation for focus on one particular task can complete it more successfully than non-meditators. They especially perform better when the task allocated was completely unexpected, an indication that preparedness and vigilance improve with consistent meditation.
- Selective attention. Meditators also have an edge when it comes to picking out the most relevant stimuli to focus on. Those who practice consistently are able to limit how much attention they pay to irrelevant sensory input and thus perform better in tasks demanding selective attention.
- Executive control attention. This type of attention inhibits the brain’s tendency to consciously process distracting information, including thoughts relating to future or past events. Frequent mindfulness meditators have been found to perform particularly well in executive control attention as compared to non-meditators.
Guided meditation for concentration
If you find meditation challenging, guided meditation for concentration might be a good choice for you. Here the voice of an instructor guides you through your meditation session. The session could take place at your home or in a group setting. Practicing guided meditation often seems easier than going it alone, but it’s important to remain vigilant because the very comfort of being guided and following instructions is so soothing that the mind will want to wander – or you’ll doze off. Your job, as a meditator, is to notice when that happens and come back to the practice.
Concentration meditation can be practiced most anytime. You can train yourself to live in the moment and become aware of thoughts as they come and go. Consider carrying out your everyday activities mindfully. When you eat, for instance, try to feel the texture and flavor of your food as you chew and note the different sensations present in your body. There’s an awful lot going on there – the whole mouth is involved, salivary glands are activated, lots of muscles are involved in chewing and swallowing, and so on. Don’t do anything else! No listening to the radio, making a shopping list, checking your emails or reading the news. Just eat, and know that you’re eating. Use the act of eating or engaging in other activities to develop your concentration by remaining one-pointedly focused on the task at hand.