Focus & Concentration
Even Short-Term Meditation Can Sharpen Focus and Enhance Performance
Meditation can function as a sort of mental calisthenics to prepare the mind for the mental gymnastics it must perform every day. Attention plays a role in most every mental process you can think of, but it’s susceptible to dysfunction through normal aging, diseases and disorders, such as AD/HD, depression or dementia, not to mention the constant everyday distractions we all face.
Meditation teaches you to release distracting sensory events (e.g., your own thoughts or external noises) in an emotion-regulating fashion, which frees your mind to pay attention to what’s happening in the present moment. What sets Sahaja meditation apart from other forms of meditation is its ability to employ attention as the vehicle that transports us to a higher realm of consciousness and awareness that transcends the mental, physical and emotional planes.
It’s often been suggested that meditators can only receive benefits with extensive meditation practice, which seemed to put meditation out of reach for some because — let’s face it — not everyone has the commitment or monk-like discipline to meditate every day, year after year. If you’re one of those people, you’ll be interested to know that even a few meditation sessions can improve your attentional skills in the short term. In fact, some studies have suggested that improved attention is one of meditation’s first benefits.
How much benefit can brief meditative practice provide?
A 2007 study found that a 30-minute daily dose of meditation can improve focus and performance in a matter of weeks, especially for people with constant demands on their time (Baime, Jha, 2007). The study examined how mindfulness, or bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis in a non-judgmental way, modifies the three subcomponents of attention:
1) orienting (the ability to voluntarily focus on specific information from the abundance of sensory input)
2) alertness (sustained attention; the ability to stay alert to one’s environment)
3) conflict monitoring (the ability to prioritize and manage tasks and goals; the ability to disengage and redirect attention away from distractions; monitoring and resolving conflicts among thoughts and feelings).
The cognitive abilities of experienced meditators, who attended an intensive 1-month retreat, were compared to novices with no previous meditation experience who took an 8-week course of 30-minute daily sessions. Computer tests showed that the experienced meditators developed better executive functioning skills — the ability to voluntarily focus, manage tasks and prioritize goals — as well as an improved ability to keep attention “at the ready.” But after 8 weeks of meditation training, even the novices improved orienting skills; that is, they improved their ability to orient quickly, and accurately shift and focus attention.
Meditation is a do-it-yourself strategy that can literally change the way the brain works, enabling you to improve your own cognitive processes.
A 2010 study found that meditation significantly improves critical cognitive skills (e.g., vigilance and sustained attention) after only four days of training, 20 minutes per day (Zeidan, Johnson, et al, 2010).
Participants relaxed with their eyes closed and simply focused on the flow of their breath occurring at the tip of their nose. If a random thought arose, they were to passively notice and acknowledge the thought, then simply let it go by bringing the attention back to the sensations of the breath.
Sahaja meditation technique differs in that the raising of the inner energy is a force and power that automatically triggers thoughtless awareness, and with less effort. In other words, you can simply fall into the state of meditation, rather than having to perform meditation, or try to force it to happen.
If a new Sahaja practitioner should find it difficult to awaken the inner energy and achieve thoughtless awareness through traditional Sahaja techniques, there are “add-on” Sahaja techniques similar to the one detailed above. In general, however, these “external” techniques require more work and tend to be less powerful than traditional Sahaja techniques.
In the study, meditation-trained participants were compared to participants who listened to an audio book. A broad battery of behavioral tests revealed that both meditation and the reading-relaxation approach improved mood, but only meditation reduced fatigue and anxiety and increased mindfulness. And the meditators scored, on average, ten times higher on challenging attention tests.
Just four meditation sessions was shown to significantly improve visuospatial processing, working memory, and supervisory attentional skills (e.g., planning, reasoning, problem-solving) — all of which play critical roles in every realm of modern life, from daily work responsibilities to parking your car, throwing a baseball or sculpting a statue. And the meditators scored particularly well on timed tests, which suggests that meditation may play a special important role in helping us process information efficiently and accurately in stressful, deadline situations.
Once you raise your inner energy with Sahaja meditation techniques, the energy continues to work for you, even when you’re not in meditation.
Your inner energy’s ability to recharge you through a few minutes of meditation may offer a much higher degree of return on your time investment.
You get more for less, even after only a few minutes of meditation.
Now, certainly a handful of 20-minute meditation sessions cannot guarantee you laser-like attention for life, but it can certainly help you pinpoint your cognitive improvement goals and explore how the vehicle of meditation may help you achieve them. Even with brief meditations, unleashing your powerful inner energy will allow you to glimpse Sahaja meditation’s potential to improve many different aspects of your life.
The experience of thoughtless awareness, combined with Sahaja’s tangible feedback mechanism — the sensory perception of your energy centers — will give you an opportunity explore the practice of Sahaja meditation as a potential gateway to something much bigger.
- Baime, M., Jha, A.. “Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention,” Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience. Volume 7, Number 2. 2007, 109-119. DOI: 10.3758/CABN.7.2.109. (Research supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Penn Stress Management Program)
- Zeidan F., Johnson S.K., Diamond B.J., David Z, Goolkasian P., Conscious Cognition. 2010 June;19(2):597-605. Epub 2010 Apr 3.