Can you meditate without being ‘spiritual’ or sitting cross-legged at a retreat? Absolutely!
Meditation is nothing more than a simple thinking exercise for your brain. If you ‘practise’ channeling your thoughts away from a distraction and back to something you want to focus on, you are ‘training’ your prefrontal cortex. This is known as ‘focused attention meditation’.
Take a coffee mug (or tea cup, if that is your drink of choice!) and place it in front of you, on your desk. If your mug has a picture that evokes happy memories, even better.
Simply stare at that picture on your mug and focus all your thoughts on it for 2 minutes. If 2 minutes is too easy, do it for 5. If 2 minutes is too difficult, do it for 1. For those 2 minutes, every time your attention drifts from your mug, rein your thoughts back in. Every time you are ‘reining’ in your thoughts, you are training your prefrontal cortex, your ‘logical’ brain circuit.
When we watch people practise this under a brain scanner, we can see precise parts of the prefrontal cortex light up.
Even more impressively, brain scans show that parts of the prefrontal cortex actually get ‘rewired’ in people who regularly practise focused attention meditation! We think that this ‘rewiring’ creates a more efficient brain circuit that allows them to regulate thoughts, focus and concentrate over the longer term.
If you want to enhance concentration and improve your ability to stay collected and calm when under pressure, it seems all you might need to do is stare at your coffee mug for a few minutes every day. At the start you might feel a little self-conscious, but after a month, you may just become an accomplished ‘meditator’!
Manna A, Raffone A, Perrucci MG, Nardo D, Ferretti A, Tartaro A, Londei A, Del Gratta C, Belardinelli MO, Romani GL. Neural correlates of focused attention and cognitive monitoring in meditation. Brain Res Bull. 2010 Apr 29;82(1-2):46-56.