Some of the most prevalent forms of contemplative practice are designed to help the practitioner relax by calming the mind and body and/or develop concentration, the ability to focus attention for sustained periods. Both objectives are usually pursued by means of the same contemplative technologies, which are considered foundational. To summarize the method, one focuses attention on a deliberately selected object, often the breath, notices distraction when attention has wandered to some other object, and then refocuses attention on the original object. That’s it. As a result, many of the practices in this playlist on Attentional Focus share similar techniques as those in our playlist for Relaxation but the instructions emphasize their designated purpose, thereby helping the listener proceed more directly towards a specific objective. 

*Note that for ideal functionality, it is best to link to these resources via the Insight Timer app on your mobile device rather than through the Insight Timer website.

Focused Attention (2:34)

Laurie J. Cameron

This no bones about it, pithy practice in just two and half minutes surveys the foundation for developing focused attention: find an anchor (such as the breath), bring attention to it, and bring attention back whenever distraction is noticed. This can be used as a stand-alone atomic exercise, a repeat practice, or the kickstarter for longer sessions. While the focal object or anchor may change, most attentional practices make use of this exact progression to develop concentration, strengthening one’s ability to stay with the anchor more deeply, more consistently, and for longer periods of time. This teacher also offers a 50 Days to a Mindful Life course.

Claiming and Reclaiming Attention (5:19)

Kristoffer “KC” Carter
This is another pithy attentional practice on the breath but with a more yoga class-type vibe, with undulating background music, counting through the inhales and exhales, and a final visualization of waves on the ocean. Even in the brief session, the primary components of attentional training are well-represented, with the breath discovered and maintained as the focal object, returning to it whenever distraction arises. 

Leslie Hubbard 
This is the foundational meditation instruction for UVA’s Art and Science of Human Flourishing course. It offers both the broader context for training focused concentration in general and practical instructions on how to do so. Perfect for beginners and those unfamiliar with secular contemplative practice.


Jeffrey Davis 

While many people associate mindfulness with a formal practice of stillness distinct from everything else one does, the goal is for that sense of presence and focus to pervade all of one’s activities. Just like doing reps for athletic strength training, sitting in focused concentration is formal exercise for the mindfulness we strive to apply throughout our lives. Drawing upon contemporary research in psychology and neuroscience both practically and accessibly, this instructor guides  listeners in exploring the significance of their work, whether as students or professionals, on their overall lives. This recording, however, only serves as a preface to an  excellent series of short talks and guided contemplations called Deepen Your Focus and Flow at Work, which deeply explores how to apply  mindful awareness in one’s work and  find meaning and purpose in one of the most defining aspects of life.  

Open Awareness Meditation (16:16)

Manoj Dias

For those who have had enough of the instruction to focus on the breath and nothing but the breath, this exercise offers some reprieve. The breath remains a settling, constantly available resource, but the full context of experience becomes the focus, with each unique moment arising one after the next, watching whatever thoughts or sensations simply arise and fade away. To help avoid aimlessly drifting into distraction, the recommendation here is to label each aspect that draws attention (thinking as thinking, sound as sound, and so on) before returning to a fully open, inclusive sense of experience, which is why this form of practice is often referred to as open awareness or open monitoring. 

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