Meditation improves focus
The quick simple answer is yes, meditation has been shown in scientific studies to improve the meditator’s focus and concentration for beginners and even more for the long-term seasoned meditators.
‘In one key MIT study, researchers found that volunteers who took an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program had a far greater ability to focus on their sensations than a control group that hadn’t done the training. Another study at the University of Wisconsin showed that only 10 minutes of breath-counting helped offset the damaging effects on concentration of heavy-duty multitasking. Still another study, from the University of California, Santa Barbara, revealed that merely eight minutes of mindfulness practice improved concentration and reduced mind-wandering. The researchers also found that mindfulness had a dramatic effect on working memory—the facility we have to manipulate stored information in order to reason and make decisions in a timely manner. One group of students that underwent a two-week course in mindfulness training boosted their scores on their GREs—the graduate school entrance exams—by more than 30%.’
It’s normal for our focus to wane after a certain amount of time and as we age, our attention span diminishes. It’s tiresome to focus and put all our attention onto one task and exclude all other thoughts. Tasks that we enjoy like sports, playing a musical instrument or a hobby, don’t feel like an effort to keep our concentration because we like what we are doing. Some tasks are less enjoyable in our daily lives and we have to put in the mental effort to keep our focus.
The study, by Italian neuroscientist Giuseppe Pagnoni, found that meditation not only changes brain patterns, but it also confers advantages in mental focus that may improve cognitive performance.
Meditation helps improve our ability to sustain focus and reduce our stress levels by increasing your brain’s neural circuity. Our thoughts normally wander about 50% of the time, in meditation every time we notice that we have grasped onto a thread of thoughts and bring our attention back to the meditation and intentionally let the thought go is strengthening the neural circuity for focus and for the long term meditators this increase in focus becomes a trait that will kick in automatically.
There is some scientific and more anecdotal evidence that shows teaching students with or without attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyper disorder benefited from meditation practices. They were calmer and more focused in the classrooms.
Meditations helped me with the daily 'To Do' list
When we meditate, we are learning, developing and practicing our focus. I started meditating 19 years ago and made it a daily practice 8 years ago and one of the first benefits that I noticed was how my focus improved. My focus on completing one task at a time and to stop the charade of multi-tasking. Multi-tasking just scattered my concentration and mental energy whereas when I take on one task and put my focus on completing it, I felt less mentally exhausted at the end of the day. I felt like I had accomplished my goals instead of seeing a long To Do list in front of me. Even my focus in my communications showed improvement, I would stop all other mental chatter and just listen to the person talking to me. I could feel the difference in the quality of our communications, and this resulted in better connections in my relationships.
Types of meditation
These benefits and more are what kept me practicing meditation sometimes no more than 5 minutes a day although I like 20 minutes as an ideal length of time. Types of meditation can fall into two categories, the first being concentrative where we focus on something during the meditation and the second being non-directive where we sit and allow the mind to roam free with usually a soft sound playing.
Concentrative styles of meditation or known loosely as mindfulness are where we sit or lie down comfortably and commit to putting our focus on something.
Focus can be on your:
breath – follow the inhale though the nostrils until the end and follow the exhale from your belly region out the nostrils.
body sensing – mentally feel our way around your body, your feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs, hips, pelvic bone lower back, mid back, shoulders, neck, belly, ribs, chest, front of the shoulders, neck, face, head and top of head. Feel the sensations of these areas and their vibration.
visual focus such as a candle with eyes only slightly open.
phrase or word that is repeated mentally such as ‘I am’ or an affirmation such as ‘I am worthy’.
guided meditation where the focus is on the soothing voice and guidance. When your attention wanders, you come back to listening to the voice.
To practice a non-directive meditation, you sit or lie down in a quiet place and set your intention to say awake and relax deeply. Your thoughts will wander and you notice them. Usually there is music, bowls or nature sounds playing in the background.
Be kind and patient with yourself in your practice and be non-judgement towards yourself. The quality of your meditation isn’t based on how well you slowed down your thinking but rather the awareness of what your mind is doing. Your noticing and coming back again and again is the act of making the changes in the brain’s neural circuitry and increasing our ability to focus.
With gratitude, Theresa