Beginner’s Guide to Meditation. Part 1 – Concentration
Meditation is a state of relaxed awareness. Ancient Yogis aptly compared an unfocused mind to a crazy, drunken monkey, jumping from one thought to another in a never-ending cycle. It almost seems impossible to stop the mind leaping from one thought to another. During meditation, you learn how to focus on the present. This prevents your mind from dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
First, let us have a look at the benefits of meditation:
During meditation, the distractions of the world around you reduce to a large extent, bringing about a sense of relaxation and balance. The heart beat and respiratory rate slow down and the internal organs are rested. Research shows that meditation stimulates the immune system, promotes health and helps protect against illness. The vibrations generated by thoughts and emotions affect every cell in the body. Negative thoughts can impede cells’ capacity for regeneration and homeostasis. The focus in meditation on positive and harmonious thoughts, therefore, is thought to promote health and well-being at a cellular level.
As one practices meditation more often, the mind becomes calm and focused. Confusion gives way to clarity. You find that you can face the conflicts that disturb mental peace and discover creative, positive solutions to those conflicts. The benefits of meditation spill over to the rest of the day and help you to concentrate better at work and during leisure activities. Meditation brings about an emotional balance, enhances understanding, compassion and patience, which helps with relationships around you.
Ancient yogic scriptures describe the goal of meditation as samadhi or cosmic consciousness. In this state, the illusion of ego vanishes. Everything dissolves or merges into one consciousness. Experienced yogis aim to be in this state at all times, living life as one unbroken meditation.
As your meditation practice deepens, you will gain glimpses of a state of being that you have probably never experienced before. You will have a sense of greater inner space, well-being, positivity, and a real feeling of trust in the goodness of life. You will start to realize that beyond the familiar world of thoughts and emotions lies a whole new realm of consciousness. Your sense of self will expand and you will experience a sense of unity with everything around you.
Meditation is so powerful that its benefits extend far beyond the person who is meditating. Yogis believe that the powerful vibrations of peace that emanate from an experienced meditator have a positive effect on everyone that person comes into contact with – and that, in the end, they influence the whole world. So, making your mind peaceful through meditation is the most positive thing you can do to contribute to world peace.
“Feel the silence, hear the silence, touch and taste the silence. Silence is the music of your soul”
– Swami Vishnudevananda
After learning about the benefits of meditation, the next obvious question, of course, would be: how do I get started with meditation?
Learning the art of concentration
Making the mind single-pointed, that is, to be able to concentrate the mind is the first step in meditation. In the Ashtanga Yoga technique of Patanjali Yoga Sutras, the practice of Dharana (single-pointed attention) is mentioned before Dhyana (meditation).
From childhood we train the mind to concentrate through reading books, studying for exams, and later on in work life as well, one needs concentration. But as you might have noticed, our attention span has reduced drastically especially with mobile devices constantly around us. Hence the need to practice concentration.
Practical exercises for concentration
The exercises below provide an easy way to start developing your ability to concentrate. Initially, train your mind to concentrate on external objects, such as a book, sound, or something in nature like waves of the ocean, the sky. As you progress, you will be able to focus on subtler objects like an inner sound or an abstract idea. You can gradually lengthen the practice until you can concentrate for half an hour.
- Lose yourself in a book
Read two or three pages of a book, giving them your full attention. Then test your concentration by stopping at the end of a page. How much of the story do you remember? Can you classify, group, or compare the facts you have been reading about?
- Focus and contemplate on nature
An example of contemplating nature would be to concentrate on the sky. Feel your mind expand as you reflect on its vast expanse.
- Listen to a sound
Try to listen to a prominent sound in your surroundings and focus only on that sound. For example, the trickling of water, the rustling of leaves. Observe how long you are able to concentrate on that sound alone. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the sound.
- Reflect on an idea
Relax your body and mind, then think about a quality like compassion. Imagine how you could express it in your life. Think of people who embody this quality. Ask the quality to fill your heart and then to flow out to the world.
- Candle light contemplation (Trataka)
Sit comfortably in a dark room with a lighted candle at eye-level, an arm’s distance away. First observe your breath for a couple of minutes. Then look at the candle flame for a minute. Try not to blink. Close your eyes and visualize the flame between your eyebrows for a while.
Benefits of concentration
- Practicing concentration has many benefits. It can strengthen “thought-currents” – how we connect thoughts and ideas in the brain – making it easier to grasp difficult, complex or confusing concepts.
- It also clarifies ideas; you can express yourself more clearly.
- Concentration exercises energize the mind, boosting efficiency at work and other tasks.
- It builds will power and the ability to influence other people positively.
- It brings about serenity, insight and cheerfulness.
In the next blogpost, you will get to know more about Dhyana (Meditation), which comes after Concentration (Dharana).