What is meditation?
The godfather of psychology William James talked about the importance of being able to maintain attention.
"The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again, is the very root of judgement, character, and will.”
As we learn to meditate on a single source of information we strengthen our very ability to concentrate. We develop more ability to focus, sustain and shift our attention. As we practice single pointed focus we also develop more brain tissue in our pre frontal cortex.
Single pointed meditation techniques might use a number of different points of focus including:
- Focus on the breath at the tip of the nose
- Focus on the breath and how it impacts different parts of the body - for example in some Chi Kung practices people focus on an area called Dan Tian , a few centimeters beneath the tummy button
- Use of mantra such as a focus on Sanskrit words such as Om
- Use of imagery such as reiki symbols or Tibetan Bon imagery
- Focus on an external object such as a candle (Tratak in yoga)
Why develop better focus?
The researchers Chan and Woolacott have studied the impact of meditation on the ability of people to focus and sustain their attention. They find that meditation practices seem to improve our ability stay focused on tasks, despite constant low-level interruptions from other people and technology. (1)
(1) Chan, D. Woolacott, M. (2007), Effects of level of meditation experience on attentional focus: Is the efficiency of executive or orientation networks improved. The journal of alternative and complimentary medicine. 13 (6), 651-657
In the 8 limbs of yoga there is a transition from a focus on the external world towards internal reflection and on towards single focus. Practitioners move from single pointed focus (Dharana), through to effortless focus (Dyhana) through to enlightenment (Samadhi). Meditators have enjoyed profound psychological and physical benefits from these practices. It seems that being in these single pointed ecstatic states has a profound impact on us at the cellular level.
Elizabeth Blackburn’s research on telemores and meditation indicate that meditation exercises actually help reverse some aspects of the aging process at the cellular level.
Does it differ to mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be described as the non-judgmental observation of whatever arises and non attachment to thoughts, sensations and information from the senses.
We could say that single pointed meditation is a valuable tool that enables us to be more mindful. I talk about what mindfulness is and what are the benefits of a mindfulness practice in other areas of the Breathe site. Mindfulness has no firm agreed upon psychological description. Many psychologists use mindfulness techniques in conjunction with other tools such as cognitive behavior therapy, action and commitment therapy or various positive psychology tools.
At it’s core mindfulness is derived from Buddhist and Yoga structures. And these have four core elements:
- Developing love and compassion and living in a harmonious society
- Learning single pointed focus
- Learning body scanning techniques
- Learning positive detachment techniques
Perhaps we can view meditation as a subset of mindfulness.
Can it be developed?
A vast body of research indicates that as we practice meditation we change the neural architecture of our brains. The psychiatrist Dan Siegel describes a number of different ways in which the brain re constitutes itself during mindfulness and meditation techniques.
For example he describes a process of “vertical integration of mindfulness” through which stronger synaptic connections are made between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala . As we practice single pointed focus we learn to have a dampening effect on our fight/flight reactive centers and are less buffeted by the coming and going of emotional signals. It isn’t that we become emotionally deadened but rather our executive functions become more skilled at valuing and weighing up these signals. As we become less reactive we become calmer and more focused.
Who can be a meditation coach?
Andy Roberts from Breathe London has a masters in Applied Positive Psychology from UEL in 2006. His dissertation was on how to introduce mindfulness into organizations. He is a Sivananda yoga teacher and has trained in Vipassana meditation techniques. He lectures in mindfulness to medical students at James Cook University in Queensland
Dorinda Talbot is a psychotherapist and has been teaching and practicing Zen meditation techniques for many years
What is you next step to becoming more focused?
For one to one or group session contact Andy Roberts or Dorinda Talbot
Find out more and book an appointment with our Meditation coaching therapists: