Meditation can essentially be divided into two – Focused Meditation and Open Focus Meditation (or Mindfulness Meditation).
What we are going to discuss in this article is – Focused Meditation.
So what is focused meditation? As the name implies, focused meditation involves consciously focusing your attention on to something for prolonged periods of time.
For example, focusing your attention on to your breathing or to a mantra (like ‘OM’) or to the sound of the fan running or even to the flame of a candle.
The most important thing to note in the above definition are these four words – “consciously focusing your attention“. And within these four words, the most important word is – ‘Attention’. So let’s quickly try to understand what ‘attention’ really is before we get into the meditation hacks.
Understanding what ‘attention’ is
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.
At this very moment, part of your attention is focused on reading this article, yet another part is focused on interpreting this article and perhaps yet another part is thinking of the errands you need to run after reading this article.
So you see, your attention is ‘divided‘ and you are unconscious of this fact as it happens automatically.
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.
Becoming conscious of your attention
Before you start to meditate, it’s important for you to become conscious of your attention.
You can do this by asking this simple question at any given moment – ‘where is my attention focused right now?‘ Ask this question multiple times a day (whenever you remember to) and see which thoughts/feelings/activities your attention is focused on.
The more conscious you become of your attention, the easier it will be for you to focus it onto something.
Becoming conscious of your attention is like learning to grab hold of a flash light. Only when you can grab hold of it can you focus it onto something (and keep it focused).
12 meditation hacks for beginners
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 is not mandatory. You can even slouch if that’s what feels comfortable.
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.
As discussed earlier, the only thing that matters is to focus your attention. Everything else is not that important.
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. Do not try to force away the thoughts. Just let the thoughts be.
Breath deeply and consciously relax your mind and body.
3.) Focus on your breath
There are more than a hundred things you can focus on, 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.
As breathing is an automatic (unconscious) activity as you bring your conscious attention to it, you will find it a little weird. In a way, you won’t be able to breath normally. But don’t worry about it. Try breathing consciously and you will fall into a rhythm soon.
4.) Feel the sensations associated with your 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 nostrils as you breath-in and the warm 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.
5.) Let the thoughts be – do not engage with 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 person’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.
6.) Feel the energy behind your thoughts
If you have suppressed a lot of thoughts in the past, these thoughts might come up as you continue to meditate.
The best way to deal with these thoughts is to focus on the energy generated by the thought instead of the thought itself.
Simply feel the sensations that this thought produces in your body. As you do this, the thought will start to lose its grip on you. You can then bring back your attention to your breath.
You will have to encounter many such thoughts during the initial period of your meditation. These will subside as time passes.
7.) Keep your body relaxed
Take a moment to become aware if your are straining yourself and try to relax your body.
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.
8.) 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.
9.) Let go of blame
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.
If you find yourself getting frustrated, feel the energy of frustration in your body instead of focusing on the thoughts.
10.) 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.
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.
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.) Develop your meditation muscle
If you are finding it extremely difficult to keep your attention focused 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 duration. Don’t force yourself, let things happen naturally.
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 minutes today.