3 Simple Meditations to Help You Focus
3 Simple Meditations to Help You Focus
When I began my meditation practice, I was under the assumption that it was a way to not think at all. Then, during a workshop with Sally Kempton, a meditation teacher who spent 28 years living in an ashram away from public life, someone asked how long she could last without having a thought. She laughed. "Two, three seconds maybe."
This was a huge revelation for me, and given the gasps in that room, probably others as well. One of the central practices in yoga is ekagrata, which means "one-pointed focus." Meditation is cultivating the ability to sustain one-pointed focus, one thought, in your mind as long as possible -- not to rid yourself of thinking completely. In the age of multitasking (something already proven to be bad for our brains), being able to focus on one thing at one time is something we sorely need.
There are hundreds of meditation techniques, if not more. The following three deal exclusively with focus. While they are similar in scope, the fine points are important; different techniques resonate with different people. It's important to find one you are comfortable with. Meditation is challenging, but it should not be torture. If it is, take another approach. The rewards -- the ability to think clearly, to focus on exactly what you're doing at that moment and not feel overwhelmed by thoughts -- is worth it.
Focus Meditation No. 1: Breath
Sounds simple, doesn't it? In fact, many newcomers think meditation is just sitting still and breathing. But what's going on inside your head is what really matters.
1. Sit comfortably on the ground in a cross-legged position. If your hips are tight, sit on a cushion or yoga block. If sitting on the ground is simply not comfortable, try a chair. What's important is that your spine is straight.
2. Close your eyes and count your inhale: one, two, three, four.
3. As you exhale, do the same. The numbers not only even out your breathing, but also ground your mind in something repetitive and reliable. If thoughts begin to arise, try to let them dance around the numbers. The combination of the breathing and counting becomes your central focus point.
If you lose count, simply start again. Given that we all know how to count to four, this universal method is accessible to everyone.
Focus Meditation No. 2: Mantra
Reciting a silent sentiment is a great way to focus your mind. The simplest one in the yoga lineage is "Om." Your mantra does not have to be in any particular language, just something you feel comfortable repeating in your head. Repetition has power; we learn new things by practicing over and over. The same philosophy applies as above: If your mind wanders to other thoughts, bring it back to your mantra. Pretty soon all other thoughts will cease, and you're left with the beauty of pure concentration on your chosen statement.
Focus Technique No. 3: Candle
Most meditations are done with eyes closed, but this one is different.
1. For a candlelight practice, turn down all the lights and place a candle on the ground a few feet in front of you.
2. Close your eyes until they are only 10-20 percent open -- what we call a soft gaze or Drishti.
3. Breathe deeply and let your eyes focus on the candle flicker. This is different from the other techniques in that you are not relying on your mind for repetition, but rather focusing all of your attention on one source of light.
This is a powerful meditation, and if there is ever a chance for a cessation of thinking, this might be the closest you come. Of course, you are still thinking. But as it is in these other practices, your full attention is now on the gentle sway of candlelight.
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