Focused Meditation: How to Start a Practice

woman meditating at home on bed

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Focused meditation, also called focused attention meditation (FAM) can be a useful tool for people who want to try using meditation for stress relief.

This meditation style allows you to focus your attention on an object, sound, or sensation rather than trying to achieve a clear mind without a specific focal point. Focused meditation is also feasible without an instructor or teacher, which makes it accessible to anyone with a few minutes of time, something to focus on, and a quiet place.

What Is Focused Meditation?

Focused meditation involves focusing on something intently as a way of staying in the present moment and slowing down the inner dialogue.

Unlike classic meditation, where you focus on nothing to quiet your mind, with focused meditation, you still remain in the present, but focus wholly on one thing. Typically, you focus on sensory stimuli like sounds, visual items, tactile sensations, tastes, smells, and even your own breathing—much like mindfulness meditation techniques.

Origins

There are many schools of thought about where meditation originated. Meditation traces back to ancient India, where the earliest written records about meditation were recovered. Early forms of the practice also date back to Hindu and Buddhist cultures. Meditation is linked with the philosophy of Taoism in China as well.

There is a history of meditation practices in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Traditionally, meditation has ties with many religious and spiritual beliefs. But you don't have to be religious or spiritual to practice.

Meditation was introduced to Western countries in the 1700s. In the 20th century, it became especially popular in the United States. In the 1970s, an American professor named Jon Kabat-Zinn created a popular meditative program called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

MBSR further popularized meditation in the United States, as people found it effective for addressing anxiety, depression, and even treating physical pain.

Today, there are many different categories of meditation that incorporate the same principles as ancient practices and more modern versions like MBSR. Meditation types include focused meditation, transcendental meditation, progressive meditation, and visualization meditation.

5 Steps to Focused Meditation

Starting your practice involves just a few steps that will come more and more easily with time. Begin with five-minute sessions and work your way up to longer periods of time as you become more comfortable with the exercise.

You'll need to find a quiet place where you won't be interrupted. These short sessions of focused meditation can be practiced anywhere at any time, whether you are in the comfort of your own home or in an office at work. The key is to practice your focused meditation in an environment that is calm.

  1. Choose a target for your focus. Focusing on your breath is a good choice since it is usually the entry point to any meditation practice.
  2. Get into a comfortable position. Sit upright. If you are sitting on a chair, sit right on the edge of it, relaxing into your pelvic bones with your feet on the floor. If you are sitting on the ground, preferably propped yourself up with a cushion or block so that your thighs are relaxed and your spine remains tall.
  3. Relax your body. Loosen your shoulders and breathe from your belly. You can cross your legs but you don't have to if you're more comfortable in another position, just as long as you can fully relax without falling asleep.
  4. Turn your attention to your chosen target. Zero in on the sensations including the sound, smell, sight, and details of your focal point. The idea isn't to think about it but simply to experience it, being fully present in the moment. If you are focusing on your breath, for example, pay attention to the sensations you experience as you inhale and exhale each breath.
  5. Calm your inner voice. If your internal monologue starts to analyze your target or begins to rehash stressful situations of the day, worry about the future, make a list for grocery shopping, or anything else, gently turn your attention back to your chosen target and the sensation it provides. You may be focusing on something, but the goal is to maintain a quiet mind.
  6. Don't worry about failure. If you find your mind engaging you and realize that you’re not being fully present with the sensations of your chosen target, don’t let your inner perfectionist beat you up for doing it "wrong." Simply congratulate yourself for noticing and return back to the present moment and the sensations you're experiencing.

Tips for Focused Meditation

Though you can start practicing focused meditation in just five steps, that doesn't mean each session will be easy, particularly in the beginning. Keep these tips in mind to help develop a practice that's tailored to your experience, environment, and enjoyment:

  • Give it time. Meditation often takes practice. If you’re expecting to do it perfectly, you may actually create more stress for yourself. Feeling discouraged may prevent you from sticking with it.
  • Start with shorter sessions. Five minutes is perfect for beginners. Work your way up to longer sessions over time. With practice, this type of meditation becomes easier and more effective.
  • Try another meditation practice. If the experience is frustrating and you don’t really want to continue, you may find more success with other types of meditation like the karate breathing meditation.
  • Choose the best time for you. Many people find that focused meditation (or any meditation practice) is a great way to begin their day. A morning meditation practice can do wonders for keeping you calm and reminding you to be mindful throughout the day. Others choose to meditate after work as a way to wind down from their busy schedules and refocus on family and home. Think of it as a great way to leave work stress where it should be—at work.

Benefits

Focused meditation can help you improve your attention and maintain your focus for longer periods of time. When you stare at a particular object during the meditation, you learn to pay less attention to other distractions. Over time, focused meditation helps many people feel less bothered by disturbances—like a loud car alarm or the sounds of people arguing.

Focused meditation can also improve your emotional regulation. You learn to respond to your internal feelings the same way you'd respond to a loud car alarm. You observe and accept the feeling or distraction, but you don't fixate on it.

Once you learn that you can stay present regardless of what you're feeling, you can find ease and comfort amidst even the toughest emotions.

One study compared focused attention meditation to open monitoring meditation (OMM). During OMM, you are not focusing on one particular object during meditation, but rather, only observing thoughts and feelings as they arise without any judgment.

The study found that focused meditation improved participants' convergent thinking, or the ability to think of a specific solution to a "well-defined" problem. On the other hand, open monitoring meditation improved their divergent thinking, or the ability to generate many new ideas.

Depending on your personality and the goals you wish to achieve through meditation—whether you want to expand your mind, find more peace, or quiet your thoughts—you can find a method of meditation that works best for you.

A Word From Verywell

Once you build your foundation, you'll start noticing the benefits of meditation, including stress relief, improved memory, and more self-awareness. And like any new-to-you hobby or activity, the more you practice, the easier and more intuitive your focused meditation practice will become.

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