Meditation helps our focus

Meditation is most often used to relax the mind and body as a way to reduce stress, anxiety and get a better night sleep. It also is a pathway to connect to our internal world and experience our consciousness and awareness of being.

Furthermore, meditation helps us with our focus and concentration in our daily lives and activities. 

When we focus, we are putting all our attention onto one thing at the expense of other thoughts. We concentrate on doing that one thing. It usually occurs naturally when we are doing something that we really enjoy like playing an instrument, a sport, being creative or reading a book. At these times focus becomes easy and enjoyable. 

When it comes to daily task for work or school, it’s easier to lose focus. We have to give all our attention to something that we might find less enjoyable and therefore it’s easier to lose focus and start paying attention to something else. 

Our modern lifestyles seem perfect for distracting our attention elsewhere. We have emails, social media, calls and all sorts of pings of incoming messages that draw our attention away. 

Multitasking dilutes our focus

Once we take focus away from the task at hand, our focus becomes less and less each time that we return to it and it takes longer to get back to the level of focus you had before. Multitasking dilutes our attention and concentration. 

In my own life, I’ve come to fully understand that multi-tasking doesn’t necessarily make me more productive or complete more tasks. What it does is draw my attention in many different directions which leaves me feeling mentally scattered.  I find this makes me feel more stressed compared to when I take on one task, focus on it until it’s completed and then move onto the next task. I feel better for it and I’m more productive in the longer term. 

I also know first-hand that meditation helps me with focus and concentration. Research shows that by repeatedly bringing your focus back during meditation, that you are building the neural circuitry which quiets the part of our brain, the amygdala, the area that responds to stress. This translates into your daily life that meditators, even for 10 minutes a day, are less likely to react on emotional triggers when stressed. And most of us are stressed quite often. 

Evidence from a more recent 7-year study shows that meditation helps with focus and lasts over the longer term with meditators who continue their practice. This helps with the age-related mental decline. Sustaining your focus takes effort and is tiresome, a regular meditation practice trains your brain to improve and maintain your concentration. 

There are various styles of meditation that work to receive these benefits. After a short amount of time, you can experience them. The key to retaining and increasing these cognitive benefits of focus and stress reduction is to meditate on a regular basis. Meditating even 10 minutes a day with 20 minutes being ideal, helps to build the neural connectivity to improve your focus. 

Start with finding a place to meditate that is comfortable and fairly free of disruptions. Commit to giving this time and space to yourself, even if it’s a few minutes. Set a timer if that would be helpful but don’t use your phone otherwise. 

Meditation improves our concentration

Sit or lie down so your body is comfortable, and ideally, your spine is straight. You don’t want any pain as that will only distract you but not so comfortable where you will fall asleep. Sit on the ground, in a chair or sofa and use any props to find your ease. Props can include a block or rolled blanket under your knees, a cushion against your back, a small pillow under your head. If sitting on the ground in a cross-legged position is uncomfortable or painful, then don’t do it. Find a seated position that is comfortable or lie on the ground, legs straight or knees bent will ease pressure on your lumbar spine. Play around until you find what is comfortable for your body. Then commit to staying for the length of your meditation. 

Decide which style of meditation you think will suit you. You could focus on your inhale and exhale, the rise and fall of your abdomen with diaphragm breathing, scanning your body one part at a time to feel it, the repetition of a word or phrase such as ‘I am’, a visual like staring at a candle or picture with your eyes only slightly open. Using a guided meditation can be optimal as it allows you to experience the meditation as you listen to the guide instead of thinking your way through. The idea of shutting off all thinking is only something very, very few people can achieve and you don’t have to stop your thoughts to be meditating. 

Begin with closing your eyes and taking a few rounds of deep inhalations down into your belly as it rises and exhaling from the belly to the chest. You are turning your focus internally. Get a sense of how that feels to go within. If you are listening to a guided meditation, keep your attention onto the guides words and when your attention strays, gently bring it back and start focusing again. Bringing your attention back to your meditation (guided, breath, words, body sensing) is something you will do over and over and each time that you do wander and come back, you are building more and stronger neural pathways. 

With gratitude, Theresa 

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