How meditation can improve your concentration

October 2019, by A. Santacoloma

In short, the different technics of meditation can help you improve your concentration by inducing a state of calmness and harmony in your brain and body. These practices have been used for centuries by different cultures, mostly eastern. The west has now data to back up their popularity thus shedding some light into why you can profoundly benefit of this practice. 

In terms of concentration improvement, you need an investment in time of 5 to 20 minutes a day, continuously, that can represent for you a return of a 10 fold better performance in your tests for example. Shorter but better study sessions and more effective memory-recall, between others.

The observed improvements in concentration go further and are but one of the many macro effects of meditation. This implies tremendous efficiency for you. While increasing your concentration, you can better your creativity, reduce stress, reduce anxiety, find a healthier way to process emotions, all while having better grades and moods. 

This all sounds too good to be truth, doesn’t it? The amazing part is that you do not need to believe what anybody says about it, you can go ahead and test it for yourself. Caution with your test you will need at least a month of continuous practice to begin to see results, this is not magic either, it demands discipline and perseverance. 

What is meditation? 

Meditation is a broad practice of concentrated breathing patterns, relaxation, and visualization, which includes guided practices to release tension and increase wellbeing, self-exploration in the quietness of our minds or the use of ancient technics such as mudra use (hand postures). 

I explain myself the basic idea in the following terms: We are some kind of advanced machine and through meditation; we can go to the programming area of the self and create space to explore the machine, reconfigure it or even reboot it. This is possible due to the states of awareness this practice induce. 

How does it work? 

The most common and widespread technic I have heard of is to sit on a comfortable position with the back and neck aligned and breath until your head is emptied of thought… 

Good for you if you begin with that instruction and it magically works. In my experience and in the experience of most of the folks I have heard of, this is more than shooting for the stars, you are shooting for quasars. 

Some of the easiest ways to explore meditation at first will demand of you to increase your awareness while breathing. Experiencing the feelings and sensations that arise as you breathe. Later experiencing how it connects to your body and your psyche. 

This increased awareness helps us relax the body and produces chemical changes in the body that reduce production of stress hormones and increase production of friendlier hormones such as endorphins. This is why people are so much calmer and friendlier after they meditate. 

A second phase can lead you to understand “thought”. What are thoughts? Where do they come from? One of my favorite metaphors in this regard, is that thoughts are like clouds passing by through a blue sky. What happens when you try to reach for one cloud? It would vanish between your fingers, and so happens with thoughts. Only when we engage with thoughts we can materialize them. In this manner, meditating would be the process of observing your thoughts passing by without entertaining them, engaging with them or judging yourself or the thought itself. 

A less romantic version of this metaphor is that your mind is like a high way and cars are thoughts passing by. Do you have a 7:30 a.m. highway on Monday or a 10:30 a.m. highway on Tuesday in your head? 

You can even check the cloud metaphor out with the sneaker experiment. Read the following instructions and then close your eyes and experience it for yourself. Close your eyes and slowly breathe deep into your belly (calmly) and let go of the air slowly three times, after that try to keep this breathing pace and imagine a sneakers in your head. Can you catch the sneaker and give it a bite? You can imagine you do, and your brain may even produce the saliva you would need to digest it but in reality, you cannot take the sneaker out of your thoughts and eat it. In your thoughts, you can blow it away in an instant thus; you have the capacity of choosing to engage or not with every thought. You can recognize the presence of a thought without creating an interaction with it. If left alone it will vanish as it came by, there is no need to deny its presence, no need to entertain it or less engage with it during a meditation practice. Though this is easier said than done, practice as per usual makes us greater at not engaging with our thoughts. 

The most basic Practices

If you are interested in meditation, there are tons of gratuities or paid apps and online resources. You can profit from this by having initial guidance in the comfort of your home, study place or work. 

In the lower part of this post we have annexed several websites and apps we have used and loved. 

Benefits

The big picture that data has been able to trace is clearly a decrease in stress, an increase in focus, more creativity, better concentration, easier to recall memories and reduced reactivity to negative feedback. 

This alone would be enough to begin the practice has further physical benefits such as reduced tension and lower production of stress hormones. 

Most important for learning (source Headspace): -Less stress

30 days of Headspace lowers stress by 32%, and just 4 sessions reduces burnout by 14%.

-More focus

4 weeks of Headspace can increase focus by 14%, and just a single session cuts mind-wandering by 22%.

-Easier teamwork 

3 weeks of Headspace shows 21% more compassionate behavior, and cuts aggression and reactivity to negative feedback by 57%.

Downsides: 

Adverse consequences of meditation are related to releasing processes. It is possible to find studies that have related the processes of release that can take place during a meditation session with states of grieve, sadness and negative thoughts. However, if you consider that repressed emotions cause harm to the psyche and the body releasing them has further positive benefits. Nevertheless, it is important to highlight that the releasing process can be difficult for some people, if this is your case consult for getting some support in your process. 

Resources to get you started:

Apps: 

Podcasts



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