Concentration Meditation


Con­cen­tra­tion is the old­est form of med­i­ta­tion. It is an excel­lent way to calm the mind and increase one’s abil­i­ty to focus. It is used all over the world in dif­fer­ent traditions—both sec­u­lar and religious.

This is where a lot of peo­ple start, includ­ing myself. It has been a very ground­ing prac­tice for me, and it’s my go-to when I need to re-cen­ter. I find beau­ty in its sim­plic­i­ty, and power.

Basic instruc­tions

Find some­where rel­a­tive­ly qui­et, where you won’t be inter­rupt­ed. Sit com­fort­ably. It can be on a chair, or on a cush­ion. If you’re on a cush­ion, make sure your knees are below your hips so you can main­tain the pos­ture com­fort­ably for a while. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths.

Make sure your seat is firm­ly ground­ed. Check your spine. Don’t slump, and don’t have stiff mil­i­tary pos­ture. Feel a sense of sta­bil­i­ty, while allow­ing for nat­ur­al cur­va­ture of the spine. Lift the heart slight­ly. Feel as though there is a string attached to the top of the head, gen­tly pulling it upwards.

Begin to notice your breath­ing. Air moves in, air moves out. Notice where you feel the sen­sa­tion of breath­ing the most. For some it’s the abdomen aris­ing and falling. For oth­ers, it’s the sen­sa­tion of air mov­ing in and out of the nos­trils. Find that place, and observe the sen­sa­tion of the breath enter­ing and exit­ing the body. Keep your atten­tion in that place. Sim­ply observ­ing the breath.

This, of course, is eas­i­er said than done. Very soon, you’ll real­ize you’re plan­ning, or remem­ber­ing, or pon­der­ing, or any of the myr­i­ad of ways we chain thoughts togeth­er. This is what our mind does best: thinking.

Thoughts seem to come out of nowhere, and seem to dis­solve into noth­ing. It might be dif­fi­cult, but I’ve found it’s best to take the atti­tude that any thought, no mat­ter how pro­found, or intrigu­ing, is irrel­e­vant. You have carved out a cer­tain amount of time to sit and focus on your breath. That’s the task at hand. Every­thing else is a dis­trac­tion (no mat­ter how juicy). 

Still, thoughts hap­pen. When you dis­cov­er that your aware­ness of the breath has been con­sumed with thoughts, give your­self an inner-smile: be hap­py that you noticed when you did.

Then, gen­tly bring your aware­ness back to the breath and keep it there. Keep repeat­ing this process: focus­ing your atten­tion on the breath, and bring­ing it back to the breath when it strays. 

Treat your mind like a pup­py you’re try­ing to pot­ty train on a news­pa­per: kind­ly and gen­tly, with a smile, bring it back, no mat­ter how many times it wan­ders. Don’t scold or pun­ish the pup­py: it is absolute­ly inno­cent of any wrong­do­ing; you’re train­ing it to do some­thing it’s not used to. Like­wise, do not judge your­self when your atten­tion strays. Any frus­tra­tion or neg­a­tiv­i­ty will only hin­der your con­cen­tra­tion and progress. 

Some­times sen­sa­tions arise, and they can feel quite pleas­ant, or even star­tling. It’s impor­tant to allow any ener­gy that aris­es to sim­ply pass through you. Treat it like any oth­er object: acknowl­edge it and return your aware­ness to the breath. 

Keep at it. It takes a lot of prac­tice. To be able to com­plete­ly focus on the breath for more than 10 sec­onds is an enor­mous chal­lenge. Let alone 30. Or a few min­utes. But it’s absolute­ly with­in your pow­er. The key is the right bal­ance of effort and levity. 

Prac­tice this sim­ple, but dif­fi­cult task for 10 min­utes a day, every day. Think of it as men­tal hygiene.