In a world full of constant intrusions and distractions, meditation for focus and concentration can provide a number of benefits for the brain, boost our powers of concentration, and enhance our overall productivity. Read on to find out how!
Why Do We Lose Focus?
The human mind has a natural tendency to wander and lose focus – a concept often referred to as the “monkey mind”. According to a 2016 study, we even appear to have a system built into our brains, which interrupts our cognitive flow when it’s faced with a sudden external disturbance.
This system makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. In prehistoric times, man needed to hunt for survival, and was also faced with the very real threat of the wild. When out hunting, a rustle in the grass nearby would have helped temporarily shift focus away from dinner, possibly to a life-saving extent!
In the present day, our distractions are more mundane. The doorbell rings, or our phone screen lights up, and we almost instantly lose our train of thought. Add to that the ongoing global pandemic, and there’s no dearth of things occupying our minds at any given time.
Meanwhile, the landscape of work and study have also changed dramatically in the last few months, and taking steps to improve focus can do wonders for our daily routines. Finding ways to increase concentration and stay focused on individual tasks can help us get through each one more efficiently, and make us more patient when dealing with the noise of the outside world.
This is where meditation can play a significant role.
Meditation for focus and concentration: Does it Work?
The short answer is a fairly resounding “yes”. There’s a substantial amount of scientific research that helps showcase the positive impact meditation can have on our powers of focus.
A study at Washington University measured brain activity, and found that the mind of an experienced meditator wanders far less than that of someone who’s had little to no exposure to meditation.
Moreover, their brains also showed stronger coupling in the areas responsible for cognitive control, highlighting the effect meditation has on the physiological state of our brains, rather than simply on our state of mind.
Further experiments elsewhere also found that people with experience in meditation were far more efficient when executing tasks that pertained to attention spans.
So how exactly does meditation for focus and concentration help?
How does meditation improve focus?
To better understand how meditation for focus and concentration can improve attention span, let’s take a closer look at the science. A study by Italian neuroscientist Giuseppe Pagnoni, compared the neurological activity of 12 people who had been meditating for at least 3 years, with 12 who had never meditated before – all the same age, and with similar levels of education.
The brain scans of the meditators showed that the region of the brain called the ventral posteromedial cortex (or vPMC for short) had noticeably higher levels of stability. This is the region of the brain associated with spontaneous or impulsive thoughts and the wandering nature of the mind. A series of tests also found that the meditators were able to process rapid visual information far more accurately and efficiently.
Our brains are constantly running in the background – a bit like the processor of a computer – even in a so-called “state of rest”. The increased stability seen in the vPMC helped clarify the belief that building a regular routine with meditation for focus and concentration techniques will help you exercise better control over the background activity of the brain, curb its natural tendency to wander, and lead to better concentration on any given task at hand.
How to get started with Meditation for Focus and Concentration
If you’re brand new to meditation, there are a few different useful options to explore. There are a variety of exercises that help to train your mind to focus on a singular action or thought, helping to gradually improve attention span, and sharpen your sense of overall awareness. Let’s take a look at some of the different techniques that you can tap into, to help you get started.
Meditative ways to increase concentration
- Mindfulness: The technique of Mindfulness is based entirely on the idea of being “present”. Sessions typically ease you into a state of comfort, encouraging you to focus only on your own thoughts, sometimes a single thought, and to disengage and disassociate from any other distractions in your surroundings. Sometimes, gentle ambient music can be used as a hook to keep you in the moment, and prevent your mind from wandering too easily.
- Breathwork: Various research has shown that breathing techniques can be very useful to calm the mind, and simultaneously help improve focus. Specific exercises encourage you to breathe slowly and rhythmically, focusing on the patterns you form as you breathe in and out. This helps to focus the mind on that particular task, and also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to induce a state of relaxation.
- Visualization: The technique of visualization typically trains your mind to focus on positive imagery to help you feel more calm and at peace. However, it can also be used to focus on specific outcomes that you wish to achieve, and through repetition, it can help you execute that particular task in a more focused manner when you perform it. Athletes in particular have been found to have implemented this to great effect.
While it’s appealing to want to start practicing meditation among other ways to increase concentration, it’s important to remember that these practices are by no means an instant fix. Much like building stamina, or developing a certain set muscles, consistency and regularity are key. You will automatically find you will start to improve focus, with gradual, sustained practice.
The science suggests that 140 minutes of meditation per week are more than enough to help you start feeling its effects within 8-10 weeks. Setting aside 20 minutes each day is a good way to develop a steady routine, as you work to hit your weekly target. As we always say – start small, but start.