“Can I have your attention please?”
Chances are that you have heard that statement many times over. For instance, perhaps you were in a noisy gathering and the speaker wanted to announce something important.
And chances are, if the speaker actually had something interesting to say, you would have given him/her your “undivided attention”.
Now let’s look at this term – ‘Undivided attention‘. What does it mean?
On a usual basis, your attention remains divided between various thoughts going on in your mind.
For example, you might be driving and thinking at the same time. In this case, part of your attention is on the road, while another part is engaged in thinking.
In other words, your attention is ‘divided‘.
In a similar way, your entire day is spent with your attention scattered between various thoughts and activities.
Some activities might take more of your attention in comparison to others.
For example, if you are watching an interesting movie, you probably are lost in it. In other words, you are fully engaged and your ‘undivided’ attention is on the movie.
Whereas, if the movie was boring, you might be engaged in judging the show, its actors, thinking of what else to watch, what to eat for dinner etc. In this case, your attention remains divided.
Now what has all this got to do with Meditation?
You see, meditation is all about working with your ‘attention’.
Simply put, meditation involves ‘consciously‘ focusing your ‘undivided attention‘ on to something – like your breath or a mantra (like ‘OM’).
14 hacks to help you understand meditation better
Now that we have the concept of ‘Attention‘ clear, let’s look at some meditation hacks that will help you better understand this practice and gain maximum benefits from it.
1.) Sit comfortably
Sitting erect is recommended, but you need not strain yourself.
Sit in a chair and lean back comfortably, or lean back against the wall if you are sitting on the floor.
If you are in bed, adjust your pillow to support your back. You can either keep your legs folded or stretched.
2.) Center yourself
Your thoughts are just like the waves of the ocean.
Before you start to meditate, it is important to calm down the waves.
A simple way to do this is to sit comfortably, close your eyes and just watch your thoughts without getting engaged.
Breath deeply and consciously relax your mind and body.
3.) Start with breath meditation
There are more than a hundred ways you can meditate, but the most basic yet powerful form of meditation is ‘Breath Meditation’.
It simply involves, focusing your attention on your breath.
With your eyes closed, divert all your attention to your breathing. You need not practice any special kind of breathing for this, simply breath normally.
As your mind settles down, you can also take a few seconds to stop breathing and simply rest in the awareness.
4.) Let go of the thoughs – do not interpret them
While your attention is focused on your breath, it is natural for your mind to generate thoughts.
No matter what thoughts arise, do not interpret them. In other words, don’t engage with the thought. Instead, simply bring back your attention to your breath.
For example, your might get a thought like, ‘that guy’s behavior towards me was really rude yesterday‘ and an adjoining thought like, ‘I should have retorted back more strongly‘.
Instead of further interpreting and analyzing these thoughts, let them be and bring your attention back to your breath.
As you keep doing this, your mind will start settling down and the thoughts will subside. Also, don’t worry if they don’t subside. Simply keep focusing on your breath.
If you catch yourself interpreting a thought, gently let go of the interpretation and gently bring your attention back to your breath.
As an analogy, imagine ‘thoughts’ as ‘gears’ in a car. When your clutch is in ‘neutral’, the gears keep spinning, but you don’t engage with them. That is exactly what meditation is, it’s being in the neutral gear.
5.) Feel the sensations associated with you breath
A better way to focus on your breathing is to consciously “feel” the sensations associated with your breathing.
Feel the cool air hitting the tip of your nose as you breath-in and the hot air caressing the inside of your nostrils as you breath-out.
This will help you better anchor your attention to your breath as you have a ‘sensation’ to focus on.
6.) Don’t strain yourself
The whole point of meditation is to relax your mind and body.
So, take a moment to become aware if you are straining yourself.
For me, I have noticed that the straining generally happens in the back of my head. So I always try to relax this area. Find out which parts of your body are strained and relax them.
If you find yourself straining to focus your attention, take a few seconds to relax. Now keep relaxing as you bring your attention back to your breath.
Make sure to consciously keep relaxing yourself (again and again) as you meditate.
7.) Let go of the “Am I doing it right?” thought
As you begin to meditate, your mind will often throw questions like, ‘am I doing this right?‘.
The very point of meditation is to not interpret thoughts. So treat this question like any other thought and ignore it.
Simply bring back your attention to your breath.
8.) Don’t blame yourself
Don’t blame yourself if you feel you are not able to focus.
If you find your focus is being lost in your thoughts every few seconds, it’s perfectly fine. Everyone goes through this.
If your mind starts popping up messages like ‘I am bad at this‘, ‘this is not for me‘ etc., just ignore them.
Ignore these thoughts, just like any other thought and bring your attention back to your breath.
Many times, you will find yourself being lost in thoughts for a long time during a meditation session, and suddenly become aware of it. You will find it hard to believe how you went from ‘focusing on your breath‘ to ‘thinking‘!
But again, when you become aware of this, don’t blame yourself, simply bring back your attention to your breath.
9.) Don’t make meditation a chore
Don’t make meditation into a chore by setting time frames. Give yourself the freedom to meditate when you feel like it for as long or as little as you desire.
You can use a clock to check how many minutes you meditated once you finish meditating. You need not necessarily set the timer.
Meditate without an end goal in mind. Don’t think you need to get better at it. Simply meditate cause it helps you relax and de-clutter your mind. Make this the focus of your meditation practice.
10.) Do not worry if you feel sleepy
If you feel sleepy during a meditation session, it’s a good thing. It just means that your mind and body are totally relaxed from your meditation practice.
If you have the time, lie down and take a nap as you continue to meditate. If you doze off, you will wake up really refreshed.
11.) Meditate before going to sleep and after waking up
Meditating before going to sleep will help you sleep well and wake up feeling rejuvenated.
You can meditate sitting up in your bed. Meditate until you start feeling sleepy. When you wake up, before getting out of bed, meditate for a few minutes.
If you are in a relationship, tell your partner that you will be meditating for a few minutes so they don’t get alarmed when they find you sitting in bed instead of sleeping!
12.) Perfect silence is not a requirement to meditate
Even though meditating in silence helps, it’s perfectly okay to meditate in a noisy room.
Don’t let the sound of the fan, air conditioner, heater, snores etc. distract you. Look at these noises are thoughts generated by the mind.
Let go of focusing on the noise and divert your attention to your breath.
Do this each time your mind thinks about the noise, bring it back to your breath.
As a side note, if silence is what you are looking for, the restroom is the perfect place to go. And no, I am not kidding. Here’s the fact, no one is going to bother you in the restroom, plus you get a silent atmosphere. You can easily meditate for around 10 to 15 minutes in silence.
13.) Develop your meditation muscle
If you are finding it extremely difficult to focus your attention for longer periods, don’t worry about it.
Meditation is a skill that needs to be developed and you get better with practice. (Getting better, of-course, is not the point. The point is to enjoy and relax as you meditate.)
Start with small mediation sessions as follows:
Try to focus for five seconds. Simply count your breaths from 1 to 5. After that, if your attention wanders, let it wander for a few seconds before bringing it back to your breath, focus for another five seconds.
Keep doing this exercise until you feel comfortable focusing your attention for longer durations. Don’t force yourself, let things happen naturally.
14.) Take short meditation breaks throughout the day
Take five to ten second meditation breaks throughout the day – whenever you feel like it. These breaks will help you relax and center yourself, clear your mind and also help you develop your meditation muscle.
Stop thinking for a few seconds to bring clarity to your thinking.
15.) Not everyday will be the same
Your meditation practice will vary.
On some days, you will be able to easily focus your attention on your breath whereas on others, the thoughts will keep pestering you like mosquitoes buzzing in your ears.
On days that you don’t feel right, have the freedom to let go and skip the meditation practice. Don’t engage in the blame game as mentioned earlier.
Benefits of meditation
Meditation has immense benefits for both your mental and physical health. Here are a few of them based on what I have realized:
Thoughts no longer influence you as intensely as they used to
When thoughts arise, you have a choice – whether to engage in them or to let them go.
Meditation helps you exercise this choice.
As you continue to meditate, thoughts no longer control you as they used to; instead you start controlling them. This is immensely useful if you have an over-active mind, and suffer from anxiety and other related issues.
You will have better control over your emotions
As thoughts lose power over you, so does their ability to evoke strong emotions like anger, fear and depression.
You will no longer be taken over by these emotions.
Instead of being ‘reactive’, you start to become ‘responsive’ to external situations. For example, the amount of anxiety you used to feel in reaction to a certain situation like for instance, a social gathering, will reduce significantly. Instead, you will have clarity of thought that will help you respond to the situation better.
You will overcome limiting beliefs
As you meditate, you automatically become more aware of your mind even during non-meditative times.
You become aware of all the thoughts your mind is generating and why it is generating them. You start to see through sub-conscious mind patters that are negative and limiting.
And once you become aware of these patterns, you can start to discard them and start getting results in your life that you truly deserve.
You will be able to focus better
If you have an overactive mind that gets bored easily, you will find it difficult to focus on one thing for a long time. Lack of focus directly equates procrastination, unfinished projects, work piling up and being under productive.
Meditation can be extremely helpful for such minds. For example, I found it extremely difficult to read. I would easily get bored after reading a few pages of a book. Also, long sentences would easily confuse me.
With meditation, I am able to focus better and read much faster without getting confused.
You will have better clarity in life
Imagine a computer where there are too many programs running – it will eventually slow down. Close down the programs and your computer speeds up again. This is exactly what happens with your mind.
Too many recurring thoughts clutter your mind and give rise to confusion.
Meditation helps you cut down on these thoughts/programs and thereby clear your mind. Better solutions pop-up when the mind is clear.
You will know how to relax yourself
By focusing your attention on a single point you deprive your thoughts of the attention they need to sustain. Hence the thoughts start to settle down.
When thoughts subside, the mind and the body automatically start relaxing.
These are just some of the many benefits that meditation can offer you.
So, if you have never given meditation a try, I invite you to go ahead and meditate for a few seconds today.