Tips for Focusing During Meditation
When I tell people I have a company that makes meditation pillows I usually get two responses. The first is an enthusiastic “I love meditation!” and they go on to elaborate on all the ways it has helped them, their family, and every uber driver they’ve convinced to start a practice. The second response is, without a doubt, the nice way to tell me they think meditation is a little too New Age-y or they tried it and didn’t like it. It goes a little something like, “My mind is too busy for meditation” or “I am always thinking, there’s no way I could stop my thoughts”.
This thinking that meditation is non-thinking is where meditation tends to lose people. Someone sits down, fully intending to try really hard to stop their thoughts, then gets entirely defeated when, .003 seconds into the practice, they have a thought. And then another. And then another. The problem isn’t them, it’s the brand. Meditation has the reputation that, if you’re any good at it, you just won’t think. And that’s entirely untrue.
We’re human. We think thousands of thoughts a day. And even if you cross your legs and sit down with the purest intention to focus 100% of the time and stop those dammed thoughts from popping in your mind, you’re not gonna make it happen.
Meditation isn’t about stopping your thoughts, it’s about noticing them.
The practice of meditation is, simply put, noticing when you’re thinking, then refocusing your attention on whatever it is you’re trying to focus on, over and over again. Like, dozens and dozens of times in a single practice. So, to all those who think they will never be able to stop their thoughts during meditation, I say, “Neither can I! But I still can meditate!”
TIPS FOR FOCUSING DURING MEDITATION
Now, Buddha didn’t tell everyone to meditate, drop the mic, then walk away. There are still some age-old tricks for focusing your attention that are Zen monk supported.
Counting is a fantastic way to get centered. All you need to do is breathe (check) and know how to count (and if you know how to read this, odds are you also know how to count too, so - check).
There are a few ways of doing the counting, and I recommend you practice each for about 4-5 minutes in succession. Until I recently tried them all back-to-back, I didn’t realize how different they were and how I preferred some methods over others. You can set a timer up in Insight Timer to have a bell ring in 5-minute intervals, which can signal you to move on to the next counting method. All of the methods require you to count up to 10 and then repeat for the duration of your practice.
-METHOD 1: COUNTING ON IN BREATH AND OUT BREATH: Each inhale will be an odd number, and each exhale will be an even number.
So it looks like: 1, inhale, 2, exhale, 3, inhale, 4, exhale…
-METHOD 2: COUNTING AT THE BEGINNING OF THE BREATH: Start your inhale by counting a single number. Name the number in your head without letting it linger. Just name the number then move on with your inhale an exhale. On the next inhale, begin it with the next number. All the way up to 10.
So it looks like: 1, inhale, exhale, 2, inhale, exhale, 3…
-METHOD 3: COUNTING AT THE END OF THE BREATH: Inhale and exhale and then name the number at the end of the breath. Continue this practice until you reach 10.
So it looks like: Inhale, exhale, 1, inhale, exhale, 2…
Mantra is an excellent way of focusing your attention. A mantra is a single word or phrase repeated during your practice. Typically they are Sanskrit words with powerful meanings. But if you’d rather pick a word you understand in your original language, like love, you can totally use that too. It’s up to you.
All you really have to do is pick a word or phrase that means something (ideally something high vibe and loving) to you, and repeat it during your meditation.
Just the use of a word to occupy your mind makes the act of focusing much simpler because it takes the place of a distracting thought you might think. Instead, your mind is focusing on the word, instead of something wordless like breath.
I generally prefer practicing with a mantra more than counting because I like that mantra helps me feel really connected to something with good energy. But on the days I really cannot focus with a single mantra and have tons of thoughts swirling around my mind, I tend to pick counting over mantra because, for me at least, it’s a lot harder to do successfully without totally trying to get centered.
I hope these two ways of focusing in during meditation help you and your practice! And if you end up loving meditation and encounter anyone who thinks they think too much for it, hit em with these tips!