It only takes 10 minutes. It can help lower your blood pressure, slash your stress, and dial back your anxiety. And, according to recent research in JAMA Internal Medicine, it can even help you sleep like an angel. Yes, meditation is indeed a heavenly art—but it’s also a science. And like all sciences, you can refine your technique until the practice becomes clockwork: Mechanically, robotically efficient, without a trace of error.
To that end, we’ve rounded up the latest research and expert-backed tricks to help you focus—truly focus—during your next meditation session like never before. So read on, and learn how to make the most of your daily moment of solace. And for more great better living advice, learn The 100 Ways to Live to 100.
Start small. (Really small.)
Yes, common wisdom dictates that, to reap all of the benefits of meditation, you’ll need to set aside at least 10 minutes per session. But according to Leo Babauta, the author of Essential Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change, Briefly, by starting off with a mere two minutes per day—or no longer than your average teeth-brushing—you’ll slowly condition your body to get more comfortable with dedicated focus. Once you’re done with one week of two-minutes-per-day meditation, increase the time by another two minutes. Keep at that rate until you’re up to ten minutes. In no time, you’ll be up to your weekly 70 minutes of clear-minded bliss.
Master the Hong-Sau Technique of Concentration
Sitting perfectly upright, with a Marines-level straightened spine, slowly inhale and count to eight. Then, slowly exhale and count to eight. On each inhale, say, in your head, hong. On each exhale, do the same with sau (pronounced saw). Do this up to six times. The technique wipes your mind of any pestering thoughts, setting the stage for a seriously serene meditation session. And for more advice on your daily routine, here are the 40 Ways to Develop New Habits After 40.
Stop worrying about your posture.
Are you on a chair or on a mat? Criss-crossed legs or knees tucked under? Babauta suggests paying no mind to that stuff; it doesn’t matter how you’re sitting so much as where: A tranquil, cozy space devoid of any sounds or external stimuli. And for more ways to make the most of your day-to-day, learn the 100 Best Anti-Aging Secrets.
Eat a bunch of raisins.
Researchers with the USDA found that folks who eat 3.2mg of boron each day will see their attentiveness and focus improve by up to 10 percent. As it so happens, raisins are loaded with the stuff: You can get 3.5mg of boron from just 4 ounces of raisins—or about half a cup. Better yet, raisins are one of the 40 Best Foods To Eat For Your Heart After 40.
Give guided meditation a try.
If you’re truly having difficulty buckling down and concentrating, it might behoove you to have someone hold your hand (metaphorically) and show you the path. To that end, the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center offers eight free guided meditations, ranging from 3 to 19 minutes in length. And yes, they’re all absolutely free.
Do it in the morning.
According to new research out of the Montreal Neurological Institute, your brain shrinks by nearly 0.5% over the course of the day. (That’s right: Your mid-afternoon mind fatigue has been certified by science.) There’s clearly more to cognitive function than brain size, but neuroscientists generally agree that there’s some correlation between size and function—including memory, attentiveness, and focus. So if you tackle your meditation at first light, your brain will be better equipped to stay concentrated during meditation. And for tips on how to wake up rested, learn the 20 Nighttime Habits That Are Guaranteed to Help You Sleep Better.
Get a timer.
This way, you won’t have to worry about even spending a second thinking about how much time has elapsed. You can focus purely on the task at hand: Meditating. If you’re really into the idea, download Insight Timer, a meditation-specific app that offers a variety of starting, interval, and ending bells. Plus, it’ll show you how many times you’ve successfully completed a meditation session and how much time you’ve spent on the practice. (According to the app’s creators, users collectively log 50,000 hours per day.)
Feel free to keep your eyes open.
The whole point of meditating is to focus. If you focus better with your eyes closed, great. Keep doing that. But if you focus better with your eyes open, don’t let the colloquial representation of meditation—that eye stay shut, always—stop you from doing it that way.
Let your mind wander.
As anyone who’s serious about meditating can attest, it’s inevitable: Your mind is going to wander. And that’s okay—as long as you always bring it back to a blank state by focusing on your breathing.
Get some ear plugs.
Sometimes you just need to drown the world out. Noise-cancelling headphones and a white noise app, like Noisli, will do the trick, too. And for more ways to make the most of your day, learn the 50 Ways to Be A Higher-Energy Person—Immediately.
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