Meditation: Focusing Attention

When you hear the term meditation, what do you picture?

Many people picture someone sitting on the floor, with their legs in full lotus, their eyes closed, and their mind (presumably) completely free of thought, experiencing a feeling of oneness with the universe. This is one variation of meditation. One that is depicted frequently in the media. But there are numerous ways to meditate.  

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What Does Meditation Look Like?

Meditation can occur while sitting on the floor, on a cushion, or on a chair. It may be a silent activity, or involve speaking, singing, or chanting. During practice sessions, some people are still, like statues, whereas others are moving. People also meditate while standing, kneeling, lying down, walking, doing yoga, running, etc.

I have been involved with groups, or attended retreats, that led meditations through labyrinth walking, as well as mindful eating, writing, and painting. Other moving meditation options include Tai Chi and Qigong.

Meditation is a State of Mind & a State of Being

The mind can become more calm and still without being void of thoughts. In fact, there are many meditation techniques that involve focusing on specific thoughts, or noting thoughts but not getting tangled up in them.

“[Meditation is] the experience of the limitless nature of the mind when it ceases to be dominated by its usual mental chatter…

To experience the mind in this unclouded way is to experience the sense of being fully and vitally alive, yet at the same time deeply at peace with ourselves.”

– David Fontana, PhD
Learn to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Self-Discovery and Fulfillment

Creating a single focus for the mind can take different forms. Perhaps the most commonly used focal point is the breath. Breathing is one of the few involuntary functions of the body which can be controlled.

Breathing Techniques

Observing the Breath

The breath can be watched, or tracked. Try following your breath as it enters through the nose, flows down into the lungs, and leaves by way of the mouth. Then try focusing on just the inhale. How does your breath feel, moving into your body? Is it cool or warm, as it enters? Does the temperature change as it fills your lungs?

Reframing the Breathing Process

One of my favorite techniques involves changing the way we perceive breathing. Think of the exhale as being the first half of the process, and the inhale as a response. Try to slow down, extending your exhale, but just let the inhale happen naturally.

Compartmented Breathing

Think of your lungs as having three distinct parts: a top, middle, and bottom.

When you’re breathing into the top of your lungs, you can feel your chest rise. When you’re breathing into the middle of your lungs, your ribs expand outward. When you’re breathing into the bottom of your lungs, your belly rises.

Top Down
  • On each inhale, focus on filling the top, middle, then bottom of your lungs
  • As you exhale, keep the same order, emptying the top, middle, then bottom of your lungs
  • Optional variation: engage your muscles to press the air out of the bottom compartment
Bottom Up
  • On each inhale, focus on filling the bottom, middle, then top of your lungs
  • As you exhale, keep the same order, emptying the bottom, middle, then top of your lungs
Top Down Wave
  • On each inhale, focus on filling the top, middle, then bottom of your lungs
  • As you exhale, reverse the order, emptying the bottom, middle, then top of your lungs
Bottom Up Wave
  • On each inhale, focus on filling the bottom, middle, then top of your lungs
  • As you exhale, reverse the order, emptying the top, middle, then bottom of your lungs
  • Optional variation: engage your muscles to press the air out of the bottom compartment

Box Breathing

  • Breathe in for a count of 4, or whatever number feels comfortable
  • Hold for the same amount of time
  • Exhale for your chosen count
  • Hold again
  • Repeat the entire process
  • Over time, you may increase the count to 5 or 6

4-7-8 Breathing, or Relaxing Breath

  • Inhale for 4 counts
  • Hold for 7 counts
  • Exhale, slowly, for 8 counts
  • Repeat the entire process

Mantras

A mantra is a sacred utterance in the form of a sound, word, or phrase repeated during a meditation session. Mantras provide a focus, while also revealing spiritual truths.

OM, which expands to ah-oo-mm is a popular mantra.

Another traditional mantras is:

Om Mani Padme Hum, which has been translated to “Behold! The jewel in the lotus!” or “Praise to the jewel in the lotus.”

The word “One” is also popular in meditation, it can be elongated, much like OM.

Some practitioners use statements about the desired result of the practice

  • “I am relaxed”
  • “My mind is quiet and peaceful”

Affirmations are used as a tool of empowerment, as well as a focus for concentration during meditation.

  • “I am strong”
  • “I have limitless potential”

Secular Words & Phrases

Phrases may be used to motivate and encourage.

  • “Difficult is not impossible”
  • “Discipline is freedom”

Others focus on famous quotes:

Where there is love there is life.

– Mahatma Gandhi

It’s not uncommon to say, or think, about one word or phrase while inhaling and another during the exhale.

When meditating, I may start with full phrases and then drop down to a single word after a few breaths.

For Example:

I feel peaceful and content… My body is calm and relaxed…
I feel peaceful and content… My body is calm and relaxed…

Becomes:

Content… relaxed…
Content… relaxed…

Sensory Awareness

Although we may think of meditation as a turning into ourselves, and focusing less on our surroundings, one way to meditate is to raise awareness of and be present with what is occurring in our environment.

What do you hear? Birds, running water, the floor creaking as people walk across it

What do you feel? A cool breeze, the warmth of the sun’s rays, a drop of rain

What do you smell? Flowers, the cologne of the person sitting next to you, coffee

What do you see? A leaf blowing down the street, light dancing on the wall, the flicker of the candle flame

Frequency Matters

All of these techniques fall under focused attention, or single focus meditation. These types of meditations are often less intimidating and more “beginner friendly”.

Find your favorite techniques and practice them. Frequency matters more than duration. You don’t have to start with an hour, start with one deep breath!

Published by Chris Dove

Writer, presenter, consultant, sociologist, optimist, aspiring minimalist, recovering perfectionist, pathfinder, human (post coffee)

3 thoughts on “Meditation: Focusing Attention

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