Concentration and mindfulness are two qualities of the mind that play a huge role in meditation. Science has already proven that meditation has many physical, psychological, and emotional benefits. And in this article, we’ll answer the question: does meditation increase concentration and focus?
Meditation improves your concentration by training the mind to stay on a single thought or object. When you repeatedly bring your mind back to your object of meditation after getting distracted, it gradually learns to stay quiet and focused. Research also proves that meditation is an effective tool to increase your concentration.
Let’s discuss in detail how you can train your mind by practicing meditation. We’ll also look at the scientific evidence and two ancient techniques that improve your concentration.
How meditation trains the mind
Meditation is an ancient practice that involves focusing the mind on one thing, such as breathing, counting, or body sensations. You train your awareness by clearing the mind of other thoughts and just paying attention to your object of meditation.
Soon, the mind will wander off. In the beginning, you’ll only be able to concentrate for a few seconds before your mind drifts into the wonderland of random thoughts. After some time, you’ll realize that you’ve been thinking about your ex instead of meditating, and you’ll quickly get back to counting your breaths. Give it a few moments and the mind will get distracted again, and you’ll have to bring it back again.
This process of repeatedly bringing the mind back to your object improves your ability to sustain attention. Over time, the mind learns to stay on the object for longer periods. This effect also shows up in your day-to-day life. You’re able to concentrate better on your studies or at work.
Research shows that mindfulness meditation starts affecting the brain the day you start meditating. The changes are subtle at first, so it’s hard to notice them, but they soon add up to transform you from the inside.
The key to meditation is consistency. Staying regular with your practice will go a long way in ensuring that you benefit from it. It’s okay if you miss a day or two (though you can always spare a few minutes to continue the streak), but not meditating for 10 days straight could destroy most of what you’ve been developing for the last six months.
I went through this resetting quite a few times before finally making meditation a part of my life. For this reason, I recommend you read the article on 10 practical tips to make meditation a daily practice. It’ll help you incorporate meditation into your routine.
Scientific research on meditation and concentration
The central point of meditation is a strong focus of attention on an object or activity. It’s easy to imagine how that would cause increased concentration and focus. However, for those of us who want proof, scientists have been investigating the benefits of meditation for the past few decades, and several studies detailing these benefits have been published.
One study found that just two weeks of meditation training improved the focus and working memory of GRE students. They experienced decreased mind-wandering and increased cognitive performance and therefore scored better in the verbal reasoning test.(1)
Another study observed the effects of intensive meditation. The participants attended a three-month meditation retreat where they meditated for five hours a day. After the retreat, their ability to focus their attention on a particular object increased significantly.(2)
Scientists have also discovered that experienced meditators have enhanced control over the ventral posteromedial cortex (vPMC). This is the part of our brain that almost always keeps running in the background and thinking about stuff.
Since meditators have more stability in their vPMC compared to non-meditators, they’re better able to stay focused on their tasks without getting distracted. In this study, the volunteers were also asked to perform tasks requiring intense concentration, and the results confirmed that meditation improves our ability to concentrate.(3)
A meditation technique to increase concentration
Breath-focused meditation is a simple practice that improves the brain’s ability to concentrate among other things. It involves focusing your attention on the breath and watching every inhalation and exhalation. Posture also plays an important role in meditation as the body directly affects the mind.
Here’s how to practice Anapanasati or breath meditation:
- Set aside 10-20 minutes per day. You can set a timer on your phone or use an alarm clock.
- Place a cushion or spread a mat on the floor. Make sure the room is quiet, so you’re able to focus your mind and meditate.
- Sit cross-legged on the floor. Crossing your legs is preferred, but if you cannot sit on the ground, sitting on a chair will also work.
- Keep your back and neck straight. Look straight ahead and don’t slouch. Your spine should be erect, but not stiff.
- Rest your hands in your lap. Keep one hand on top of the other or simply cross your fingers and drop them in front of you.
- Close your eyes and relax. Close your eyes gently without squeezing them. Relax your body and establish yourself in the posture.
- Take a few deep breaths to settle in. It’s a good idea to take a few deep breaths to calm your mind before starting your practice.
- Watch your breath. Let the body breathe on its own and notice every inhalation and exhalation. Stay with your breath all the time. You can be aware of the sensations at your nostrils or the rise and fall of your belly. The key is to stay mindful of the fact that you’re breathing in and out.
- When your mind wanders, bring it back to the breath. As we’ve discussed, this will happen a lot. So don’t get frustrated or angry at yourself for getting distracted. It’s part of the process, and with practice, your mind will learn to listen.
Mantra meditation is also an effective way to increase your concentration. In mantra meditation, instead of being mindful of your breath, you would have to pick a mantra (“Om”, for example) and mindfully repeat it in your head.
A yogic practice for supreme concentration
The stillness of your eyes directly affects the stillness of your mind. Try it right now. Fix your gaze at a point on the screen and keep looking at it without moving your eyeballs. You’ll find that your thoughts have ceased for the moment. They may still come, but as long as you keep your eyes still, you’re less likely to be distracted by them.
In the Yogic system, there’s a practice specifically designed to increase your concentration by perfecting your gaze. It’s known as Trataka (still gazing). To benefit from Trataka, do it every day for six weeks straight.
Here’s how you do it:
- Sit in the posture described above. Ideally, sit cross-legged with a straight back and neck, and rest your hands on your lap.
- Light a candle in front of you at about three feet. You can place any other object than a candle. I recommend you either light a candle or make a 1-inch black circular mark on plain white paper.
- Make sure the object or candle is at your eye level. You want your head to be straight, so make sure you don’t have to look up or down to stare at the object.
- Watch it, unblinking. Stare at the middle of the candle’s flame without blinking. Start with five minutes and gradually increase the duration.
- Bring the mind back if it wanders. Try to be aware of your thoughts and bring the mind back if it gets distracted.
Do not move your eyeballs or your body. Sit still like a rock during the practice. The essence of Trataka lies in keeping the eyes and the body perfectly still.
It’s also important to not blink at all. Tears will roll down your eyes, but you must try your best to keep them open the entire time. If, in the beginning, you can’t control it and end up blinking, that’s okay. The ability to keep your eyes open will improve with time.
Meditation is an ancient practice that’s been gaining popularity for the past few decades. It involves focusing your attention on an object, idea, or activity for a prolonged period.
Breath-focused meditation and Trataka practice are two excellent techniques to increase your concentration and sharpen your mind. New scientific studies continue to prove that mindfulness meditation also has various other short-term and long-term benefits.
I hope this article inspired you to start your meditation journey if you haven’t already. Good luck and happy meditating. 😊