Focused meditation can be a useful tool for people who want to try using meditation for stress relief. This meditation style allows you to focus your attention on an object, sound, or sensation rather than trying to achieve a clear mind without a specific focal point. Focused meditation is also feasible without an instructor or teacher, which makes it accessible to anyone with a few minutes of time, something to focus on, and a quiet place.
What Is Focused-Attention Meditation?
Focused attention meditation, also called concentrative meditation, is when your attention is focused on a single object. The object of focus could be internal or external, for example:
- A mantra – repeating a word, phrase, or sound over and over
- Visualization – picturing a place or focusing on a goal
- A body part – focusing on a particular area or sensation in the body
- Candle – looking at a flame to focus the mind
- Mala beads – counting beads on a mala
- A sound – listening to a gong or chime
In this type of meditation, the goal is to keep the attention focused and nothing else. So if you were to stare at a candle, or repeat a mantra, you would just engage the mind in that practice.
The more you practice, the better you will become at zoning in and the fewer distractions and lapses in concentration you will experience.
Whatever you settle your attention on becomes the focus of your meditation. None of these object examples are better than others—they are simply choices depending on what you’re looking to get out of your practice. For example, practitioners will choose candle gazing to interpret the images the flame makes in the shadows while others will choose a mantra because that particular phrase or word empowers or heals them.
A subset of focused attention meditation is Samatha meditation, which is commonly done through mindfulness breathing. Participants pay attention to the sensations of inhalation and exhalation without forcing attention. The idea is to simply observe the natural breathing process with gentleness.
Samatha meditation can also focus on other bodily parts, as follows:
- The nostrils
- Rising and falling of the chest
- The flow of air entering and exiting the nose
- Air moving across the upper lip
- Expansion and contraction of the diaphragm
How Does It Differ From Other Meditation Styles?
All meditation styles and practices overlap and build on each other. Their basic foundation is the same: to bring the practitioner insight and introspection.
Focused meditation, specifically, is the practice of focusing on one single object for the duration of the practice. How this differs from other meditation styles is that it gives the practitioner something tangible to do: focus. It’s almost like giving your mind an action to perform—listen to this sound, repeat these words, watch this flame, etc. This is also one of the reasons why this particular meditation style is great for beginners!
One of the biggest challenges in any meditation practice is that the mind gets carried away and we lose ourselves to random thoughts. This “obstacle” is actually a style of meditation in and of itself called Vipassana. However, in focused meditation, we give the mind something to do so that it’s not simply left to its own devices. This type of meditation is beneficial for beginners and for practitioners who prefer some structure and guidance to their meditations.
How Focused-Attention Meditation Benefits You?
There are some amazing benefits of practicing focused meditation. Some of them can be:
- It can help reduce stress
- It can help control anxiety
- It can help enhance self-awareness
- It can help improve attention span
- It can help you focus on the present moment
- It can help increase creativity and imagination
- It can help increase patience and tolerance
How to Practice Focused Meditation
Here are six tips to help you practice focused meditation. Based on your availability and interest, these tips may change and evolve. That’s the point: to create a structured practice that caters to your needs.
1. Find a Comfortable Seat
As with any meditation practice, comfort is truly key. The physical body responds to meditation practice by alerting you to whether it is comfortable and supported or stressed out and in pain. This is best observed in practitioners who tend to slouch and lose the tall, supported spine that is essential to meditation practice.
A simple rule in meditative sitting is to ensure that your hips are higher than your knees. Therefore, choosing to sit in a chair instead of on the floor may be a smart decision or perhaps propping yourself up on a cushion. At the end of the day, it does not matter how you sit. All that matters is that you are supported and comfortable sitting for some time.
2. Choose Your Object of Focus
Every meditation session is going to be different because no single day is the same for any one person. Therefore, choosing an object is much more about listening to what you need at this time versus following any doctrine or “rule.”
If you’re not sure and have a hard time deciding, make your breath the object and follow it in on the inhale and out on the exhale. Then, assign each inhale and exhale a number, and once you reach 10, start over. This is one of the simpler methods of keeping your mind occupied—by giving it a task. This also trains your mind, and over time and with practice, your mind will easily focus on an object without too much effort.
3. Set Your Desired Time or “Go With the Flow”
If you have a structured routine and would like to stick to your schedule, by all means, set a gentle timer for how long you’d like your meditation to be. This is also your opportunity to throw out the notion that any meditation has to be a certain length of time to be correct—it does not.
Likewise, if you have the time, you can also listen to your body and come out of your meditation when you feel it’s right to do so. This is often a beautiful practice of listening and tuning in.
4. Relax Your Body as You Focus on Your Meditation
Typically, when we are focusing on something, we tend to tighten our body. Observe this next time that you’re concentrating on something: your jaw will tighten and your shoulders will squeeze up towards your ears.
As you sink into your meditation, keep this in mind and check in with your body every once in a while. Let your shoulders sink down your back and release any tension through your jaw and face. Lastly, relax your brow and let your eyes be heavy in their sockets. Then, return to your object of meditation. Observe if your meditation changes at all by relaxing your physical body.
5. Return to Your Breath and Object When You Get Distracted
Notice that I didn’t say “if you get distracted.” That’s because you definitely will drift off with random thoughts or get pulled away from your object of focus. In meditation, distractions are almost guaranteed. Therefore, it’s your opportunity to practice detaching yourself from feeling guilty or inadequate to continue.
Over time and with practice, you will find it easier to stay with your object of focus. In the meantime, however, notice when you get distracted. Pause and take a big breath in and out. Check in with your physical body and relax. Once you’re ready again, return to your object of focus. Meditation is simply one long cycle of wandering and coming back to yourself.
6. Journal Your Experiences
When your meditation practice has ended, another powerful practice is to jot down any experiences that you felt. There may have been insights and “downloads” that you acquired during your session that you may want to record.
Likewise, you could write about any challenges that you faced. These are great lessons that will continue to show up for you, and it’s nice to keep a journal of them to see how they evolve and progress over time (and they will). Lastly, you can write about what works and what doesn’t, as far as picking your objects of meditation go. This way, you can learn what you most associate with and feel comfortable with.
If practicing meditation causes you to feel distracted and unsupported, give focused meditation a go! With the help of an object to bring your attention to, it structures your meditation time and offers guidance and support.
Dedicating yourself to this style of meditation will help increase your memory, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote better cognitive function. Even though any style of meditation is a powerful way of taking care of your mental health, focused meditation gives your mind a tangible task with which to grow and strengthen.
- VeryWellMind: What is Meditation?
- Yoga Journal: The Science Behind Finding Your Mantra and How to Practice It Daily
- mindbodygreen: OM: What Is It & Why Do We Chant It?
- Lion’s Roar: What Is Vipassana Meditation and How Do You Practice It?
- Mindworks: How does Meditation Improve Memory and Focus?
- Forbes: 7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change the Brain