In my years as a meditation teacher, the question I have been asked more than any other is: “Which is the best meditation for focus and concentration?”
All sorts of people have asked me this question.
- Students want to know how to use meditation for concentration when studying.
- Businessmen and businesswomen want to know how to improve focus at work.
- And everyone would like to know how to tune-out distractions.
Good news. Virtually all meditation techniques will improve your concentration.
When you meditate, you exercise the “prefrontal cortex” and “parietal cortex”. These are the two parts of the brain responsible for concentration according to Adrienne Taren, MD, PhD, at the Center for Neuroscience, University of Pittsburgh.
However, some meditations are more effective than others.
Let’s look at the best meditations for focus and concentration.
6 Best Meditations For Focus And Concentration (With Scripts)
If you want to use meditation for concentration, you need to understand the two categories of meditation. They are: Focused-Attention and Open-Monitoring.
“Focused Attention” means that when we meditate, we focus on one thing. Conversely, “Open Monitoring” means we do not focus on one thing but instead we open the mind to everything.
All the best types of meditations for focus and concentration are found in the first group: focused attention.
The reason these are the best types of meditation for concentration is that they literally involve focusing on one thing. In other words, you are training yourself to do precisely the thing you want to do: focus.
Let’s look at the best methods.
1: Nine Round Breathing
One of the best meditations for focus and concentration is Nine Round Breathing or Tibetan Pranayama.
You may have heard of alternative nostril breathing. This exercise is similar. It is a controlled breathing exercise in which we breathe in through one nostril and out through the other. Traditionally this is done in cycles of 108 breaths.
- Close one nostril with a finger
- Inhale through the open nostril, using diaphragmatic breathing
- Release your finger from the closed nostril. Now close the other nostril. Breathe out through the nostril that is now open.
- Inhale through the same nostril you just exhaled through.
- Change your finger so that the nostril that was open is now closed and vice versa
- Inhale through the open nostril
- Repeat for 108 breaths.
You might wonder how this meditation increases concentration. When we perform this exercise, we quieten the mind. When we calm the mind, we experience fewer thoughts and feelings. In turn, this means fewer distractions and better concentration.
2: Trataka (“Still Gazing”)
The next technique we will look at is Candle Gazing (Trataka), a purification method (Shatkarma) of Hatha yoga.
For this meditation, we meditate on a candle.
- Light a candle.
- Sit comfortably with good posture. Look at the candle for a few moments. Study the candle’s form. Watch how the flame flickers and dances. Keep your gaze still (hence “stillness gazing”). Watch the candle as you take 25 breaths.
- Close your eyes and try to hold the image of the candle in your mind’s eye. If you lose the image at any time, open your eyes, look at the candle again and repeat.
- Continue for 108 breaths.
This is an ancient Buddhist and yoga meditation for focus and concentration. And it is now backed by some fascinating science.
Research from neuropsychologist Marcel Kinsbourne shows that there is a link between eye movements and states of mind. When our eyes are still, our minds will also be still. In fact, this is the basis of a form of therapy called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) that is used to heal mental disorders.
3: Buddhist Meditations for Focus and Concentration
One of the main forms of training (or “jnana”) in Buddhism is concentration, according to the Abhidhamma and the Visuddhimagga (Buddhist texts). Indeed, one of a Zen monks’ main responsibilities is increasing their concentration. They do this through two methods, Samatha and Vipassana.
You can read my guide to Samatha meditation technique here.
I personally believe this is the best meditation for concentration. The Pali Canon describes Samantha as a one-pointed focus.
In this technique, we focus the mind on one thing. For instance, you can focus on your breath, on the sound of water, or on anything you find relaxing. While focusing, you let your thoughts and feelings pass by, without clinging to them, while you continue to focus on the meditation object.
Vipassana is a Buddhist meditation for concentration, focus and insight. It is one of the most popular methods in use today and is taught by famous meditation teachers like S. N. Goenka and Jack Kornfield.
- Sit comfortably with good posture.
- Focus on breathing.
- Observe your thoughts as they enter your mind. Do not fight your thoughts or cling to them; just observe them in a non-judgmental fashion.
- If you experience the same thought over and over, try this. Begin by watching the thought, then describe it. Does the thought involve words? Do you see an image in your mind? Describe the thought. Now tell yourself that it is only a thought. Finally suggest an alternative thought.
- Continue to 108 breaths.
I’ll give an example of step 4.
Let’s say you always hear the words, “I’m not good enough” in your head. This thought is distracting you and stopping you from concentrating.
To remove the thought, first, tell yourself what kind of thought it is. Say to yourself, “This is just noise in my head.” Then tell yourself that the thought is not real; it is only a thought.
Next, suggest an alternative thought such as “I am good enough.” Finally, return to focusing on your breathing.
Zazen is a form of Zen meditation. We usually perform it facing a wall with the eyes open. We then focus on the breath in the way typical of mindful breathing.
Research by Giuseppe Pagnoni [Associate Professor, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia] suggests that this is one of the best meditations for concentration and focus.
4: Guided meditation for focus and concentration
There are many guided meditations for focus and concentration. You can find them on apps like Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, and Synctuition. And, of course, on Youtube.
Here is one of the best guided meditations for focus and concentration.
5: Mantras for concentration
Mantras are spiritual words or phrases with special healing or augmentative properties. They are like spells or affirmations. And they are some of the best meditations for concentration and focus.
According to American Hindu teacher David Frawley in an article for The Chopra Center, “Concentrated sounds project a single consistent sound vibration through which the mind can be easily concentrated”.
Spend ten minutes meditating on a mantra. Simply start chanting “Om” and focus on the sound. You will find that your mind clears. And with a clear mind, you will be able to focus.
6: Mudras for concentration
Mudras are specific hand positions or body positions used in yoga, Buddhism and Ayurveda. They are based on the accupressure points in the hands.
Different mudras create different effects in the body and mind.
According to Gertrud Hirschi, author of Mudras: Yoga In Your Hands, the best mudra for concentration is Hakini mudra, which you can see in the image below.
Explaining The Link Between Meditation, Concentration And Focus
Above, we looked at how to increase concentration with meditation. You might wonder why meditation increases concentration.
A recent study by Katherine MacLean of the University of California, Davis published in the journal Psychological Science, looked at the relationship between meditation, concentration and focus .
Researchers were interested in discovering why Buddhist monks who meditate have sharper minds than virtually anyone else.
The researchers took sixty meditation enthusiasts to a retreat, the Shambhala Mountain Center. There, they learnt different types of concentration meditation techniques. However, only half of the group went right away. The other half had to wait three months to let the researchers measure participants’ focus at different times.
Researchers tested the focus of each group before the retreats, after the first retreat, and at the end. Participants completed the tedious task of clicking a mouse when a line on a computer changed colour.
Results showed that meditation improved concentration in both groups. Plus, it reduced the number of erroneous clicks. In other words, it improves focus and reduces mistakes. You can read more about this on TIME.
It only takes 20 minutes
You can quickly benefit from meditation according to Lena Wimmer et. al. at the Department of Psychology, University of Duisburg-Essen.
In a study, forty-nine students were divided into two groups. One group meditated while the other did not. Both before and after the tests, researchers measured the participants’ cognitive abilities. Though both groups had performed equally in the beginning, the group of students who had meditated improved concentration significantly more than the other group.  This was after just four days of meditating for 20 minutes each day.
More effective than alternatives
New research reported in Psychological Science has proven that there is possibly nothing more effective than meditation for concentration and focus.
Katherine MacLean of the University of California  researched how meditation increases focus. She was fascinated by the levels of concentration she saw in Zen monks.
“You wonder if the mental skills, the calmness, the peace that monks express, if those things are a result of their very intensive training or if they were just very special people to begin with,” says MacLean.
McLean tested the effects of meditation on focus. She took sixty participants and sent half of them on a three-month meditation retreat in Colorado. The other half was the control group.
After three months, MacLean tested the participants’ ability to make visual distinctions. Participants were asked to watch a screen on which flashed a series of lines. The lines changed in length every so often, at which the participants were told to click the mouse.
Results of the test speak for themselves. Individuals who meditated had much higher levels of focus and concentration. After meditating, the participants were able to click on the mouse much quicker and much more accurately.
Quietens the mind
A new report in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that meditation increases concentration and focus by quieting brain activity related to mind-wandering.
In the study, Giuseppe Pagnoni wanted to prove a theory of his. He believed that meditation improves focus and concentration as well as strengthening other cognitive abilities.
To prove his theory, Pagnoni recruited twelve Zen monks who had been meditating for many years.
Writing for LiveScience, Charles Choi says , “The Zen monks had their brains scanned while they focused on their breathing. Occasionally, they were asked to distinguish a real word from a nonsense word displayed at random times on a computer screen and, having done that, promptly try and focus on their breathing again.”
The results of this group were compared to a group of people who had never meditated but were similar in age and education. The participants were then studied via MRI.
Joshua Gowin, PhD states, that, “Meditators have more stability in their ventral posteromedial cortex, a region linked to spontaneous thoughts and mind-wandering.”
Even when we try to focus, the mind is always running.
Most people’s vPMC is always active. Even when people try to relax, their vPMC is always running in the background.
Pagnoni thought and proved that what separates mediators from non-meditators is the control they have over this region of the brain. This explains how meditation improves concentration. Meditation reduces mind-wandering, or what Buddhists call the “Monkey Mind”.
Pagnoni then decided to test the participants using a rapid visual information processing task. He told participants to look at a monitor while numbers rapidly flashed on and off at a rate of 100 times per minute. The numbers were in random order. Participants were asked to press a button every time a specific sequence of numbers appeared. Hitting the button at the wrong time led to a warning.
Those participants who had meditated had improved concentration and were thereby more successful in the test. Their results contained more correct button-presses and fewer false ones.
The meditators were taught a specific type of meditation: Zen meditation. This is perhaps the best meditation techniques for concentration.
Zen meditation involves sitting in the Lotus position while focusing the mind on breathing. This clears the mind of thoughts and helps to stabilise focus.
Zen meditation appears to be one of the best meditations for concentration because it makes the ventral posteromedial cortex more stable. This is the part of the brain that creates mind-wandering. By stabilising this region, we reduce Monkey Mind.
Shockingly, the average person has an attention span of only 8 seconds. But thankfully there are lots of ways you can improve concentration. Meditation is one of the best ways.
Use the above concentration meditation techniques daily. You will increase your ability to focus, whether on studies, office work, or anything else.
How can I concentrate while meditating?
So, we know that meditation improves focus. But what if you cannot focus enough to meditate? If you struggle to concentrate while meditating, start with easy techniques. For instance, you could try a guided meditation or listen to meditation music. Alternatively, try counting your breaths.
How else can I improve my concentration and focus?
Of course, there are more ways to improve your concentration than by just meditating. Exercise helps too. Particularly yoga and tai chi. And changing your environment, such as by clearing your room or listening to meditation music can help too.
What are the benefits of meditation for students?
The main benefit of meditation for students is concentration. It helps you focus on your studies. But it has other benefits for students too. It increases creativity and cognitive functioning. Plus, it boosts your confidence at school or university.
What is the difference between meditation and concentration?
Concentration and meditation are similar in many ways. Both involve focusing on one thing. Concentration, however, is generally forced. It implies effort. We concentrate through distractions. Meditation, on the other hand, is an effortless exercise in which we rest our awareness on the subject.
I would love to hear how you get on with this. Leave a comment and remember to subscribe to our newsletter.
1: Mindfulness Meditation Training and Executive Control Network Resting State Functional Connectivity: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Adrienne A. Taren, MD, PhD, Center for Neuroscience, University of Pittsburgh
2: Losing Focus? Studies Say Meditation May Help, John Cloud, http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2008914,00.html
3: Cognitive Effects of Mindfulness Training: Results of a Pilot Study Based on a Theory Driven Approach Lena Wimmer,* Silja Bellingrath, and Lisa von Stockhausen Department of Psychology, University of Duisburg-Essen, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940413/
4: Meditation helps increase attention span, Association for Psychological Science https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100714121737.htm