Mar 08

Welcome and Namaste πŸ™‚ 

Today is day one of our meditation challenge and I am so glad that you are here. We are exploring one of the main skills that is cultivated in a meditation practice today: CONCENTRATION

Concentration is really one of the most powerful skills that we gain from a consistent practice and it's a skill found in all lineages of meditation around the world. 

In traditional Buddhism, they talk about 2 different types of concentration: Vitakka and Vicara. 

You can think of Vitakka as the ability to CHOOSE what you want to pay attention to. It's the practice of finding an anchor to hold attention on, such as the breath. You commit to that anchor, then the mind wanders and you bring it back to your chosen anchor. Again and again and again.

In the process, you are re-wiring your brain and creating the ability to sustain attention or concentration on a given anchor. This is the building of the muscle of concentration. It takes time and consistency, just like any other "muscle" in the body that you can "build."

This is empowering because not only does this practice teach us the skill of concentration, but also we learn that we actually have a CHOICE to choose what to pay attention to, as opposed to simply going where-ever the mind tends to go off to automatically.  This is known as one of the main "Freedoms" or "Liberations" of the practice. 

Concentration is talked about in many traditions including the 8 limbs of yoga. If you consider yourself a "yogi", you may have heard of the word dharana, or "concentration". 

In the practice of dharana, we learn how to slow down thinking by concentrating on a single object: the breath, a specific energetic center in the body, an image of a deity, or the silent repetition of a sound.

Then, over time and practice the next "state" of concentration, Vicara starts to arise of it's own accord.

It's that state of absorption where you "become one" with your anchor and something happens. It could be there's a pleasurable sensation that arises from experiencing the anchor of listening to sounds. Or perhaps there's a blissful feeling that arises from the repetition of a mantra. There could be a contentment, a quietude, a stillness or an equanimity that arises out of the practice. As the mind gradually slows down and you "sink in" to the practice, these states of meditation start to bubble up and you start to pay attention to a new thing: that state of meditation that is present, your awareness becomes infused in the state of absorption itself. 

It's this deeper state of concentration where there's no effort to stay with an anchor any longer. In the 8 limbs of yoga, we refer to this as dhyana (absorption/meditation)  which is this uninterrupted flow of concentration. Dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all. It's a sort of basking in that state of absorption itself. 

Today we are going to explore these concepts in a really light-hearted and easeful way. I'm going to guide a practice with a few different anchors to explore. Then, invite you to choose your own anchor/focal point of concentration that FEELS easiest or most joyful for you. 

Making the practice accessible is about finding ways to make it ENJOYABLE, easeful and liberating. 

Please let me know in the comments below which anchor you found most accessible.

I'd love to hear a reflection of how the practice made you feel! Just scroll all the way down to the comments to leave your reflection! 

Haven't joined the challenge yet? Get on that! You should join us! 

Would you like to join Ally's next Online Journey of the Self? 

Check out her next Online Community Experience this Spring Equinox.


About the Author

Ally Boothroyd is a yoga educator and meditation teacher with a passion for yoga nidra and the healing power of conscious rest. She is the founder of Sarovara Yoga, a yoga space and women's retreat centre in Ontario, Canada. A sanctuary on the water where she fosters local community and supports health, personal growth, emotional resiliency, authenticity, awareness, and awakening. Ally also leads Retreats and Yoga Teacher Trainings in Nosara, Costa Rica

  • Nicola says:

    The first meditation day was beautiful. For me it was more easy to concentrate on breath and sound.
    Especially the sound of this birds and monkeys in the background were amazing! Just been on a 3 month trip to mexico and colombia and this noises reminds me on this journey i loved! Thank you for this first day Ally πŸ™‚

    • Ally says:

      I also love sounds Nicola! Especially the sounds of nature. I find they really help me feel my connection to everything πŸ™‚ and I love that they brought you back to your trip! So lovely!

  • Paula says:

    Thank you Ally for guiding me this morning. I am fairly new to meditation. My focus this morning stayed on my breath….I felt the weight of my body lighten during the practice, I experienced a very calming sensation.
    I’m very grateful to be part of this challenge and I am looking forward to tomorrow.

    • Ally says:

      That’s wonderful Paula πŸ™‚ I’m so happy to hear this! It’s nice when a calm sensation takes over the body. It’s one of the things that brings me back to meditation again and again.

  • Lisa says:

    Thank you Ally!

  • Jennifer says:

    Thank you Ally – I loved the background sounds and found it easiest to focus when you mentioned breath and hands. I look forward to starting each day with you during this challenge. Namaste.

    • Ally says:

      Yes! The soundscapes in Costa Rica are so beautiful. πŸ™‚ There will be a couple more videos in CR as well. Tomorrow’s practice! Namaste

  • Melissa says:

    The easiest for me to focus on was the breath. The most interesting sensation I had was when the focus was on the palms of the hands. I think I will explore those sensations further in as future meditation. Thank you for sharing this challenge Ally!

    • Ally says:

      Wonderful. Yes, the palms of the hands can really awaken energetically when we bring focus to the awareness in the hands. So cool πŸ™‚

  • Julie says:

    Ahhh I have missed your guidance. πŸ€— I loved how you moved us from one source of concentration to the next. I found the breathing and the sounds to be the easiest but I liked the introduction of the sensation in the hands and when you mentioned about dropping in I experienced a letting go/sinking in which I have experienced before but I seem to fight this feeling for some reason.. it’s so beautiful but I feel like I’m resisting it… which tells me I need more practice and to lean into that feeling. This was a beautiful way to start my morning. Thank you. πŸ™‚Namaste.

    • Ally says:

      I love that you are going to lean into that Julie, such a beautiful exploration meditation is, isn’t it! (ps. I’ve missed you a lot too!!!) πŸ™‚

  • Donna says:

    Good morning Ally. Thank you for this morning. My concentration was the sounds in the background. I achieved a state of peacefulness! Wonderful.

    • Ally says:

      So wonderful. I’m so happy your experienced peacefulness. I love the idea of cultivating peace within us, it then begins to infuse itself into the rest of the world. Such important work for each of us πŸ™‚

  • David says:

    I found this peaceful and the monkey’s in back were great! I enjoyed the breath work more than the hands…thanks for this…see you for day 2

  • Jen says:

    Good Morning Ally, I am new to meditation and enjoyed taking the time this morning to concentrate. I found myself focusing on the breath but enjoyed the sounds as well. I look forward to tomorrow’s exercise. Thank you and have a great day!

  • Dee says:

    Good morning. What a beautiful way to start the day. My focal point of awareness this morning were on the layers of sound you brought attention to… brought me to a sense of being at one with all that was around me in my home and the jungles of Costa Rica( oh my gosh the birds and monkeys!).. it felt so deep and yet so simplistic… and peaceful… reminded me of what grounds me on a daily basis and to keep coming back to those sounds of nature stored in my being. Thx so much:) dee

    • Ally says:

      Dee, I love this reflection! Yes, isn’t it beautiful how rich the most simple practices become? It’s kinda magical. Thanks for being here. Namaste πŸ™‚

  • Stephanie Bryden says:

    I really connected to the breath, the others left me wandering far too much. The breath really brings a sense of calm, a peacefulness the others lacked for me.

    • Ally says:

      It’s so great that you are finding out what works most ease-fully for you Stephanie πŸ™‚ The breath is such a great anchor, I love it too. See you tomorrow!

  • Jean says:

    Your advice last night about doing the meditation first thing in the morning before doing anything else was great for me! Your voice was very soothing and I feel grounded and calm for the day. I focused on my breath …loved the sounds of the birds and monkeys but then I started to think about them…so went back to the breath! Coincidentally…we are going to Nosara on Friday!!

    • Ally says:

      That’s wonderful Jean, yes first thing in the morning is optimal but fitting it it wherever we can really is amazing. I love that you are going to Nosara! It’s the best, have a great time πŸ™‚

  • Donna says:

    Thank you! I was able to focus the best with the background sounds and hand sensations. I found myself going back and forth between these. Wondering if I should just focus on one?

    • Ally says:

      I think cultivating any type of “open awareness” style of concentration is great, gradually when it feels right, you might try staying with just one and honing that ability to focus on one thing πŸ™‚

  • Julie says:

    Thank you for a lovely first meditation, Ally. I found it easiest to focus if I paid attention to the diaphragm. I have been away from meditation for awhile and found my mind wandering to some pertinent issues a lot. Clearly this challenge will be a much-needed experience for me! Blessings Ally.

    • Ally says:

      Hey Julie! I also love the diaphragm πŸ™‚ I’m glad you are coming back to the practice. We all have meditations like that, it’s a part of it! Perhaps the mind will settle a little throughout the course of the ten days!! πŸ™‚

  • Tara Lee says:

    Ally πŸ™ thank you! This was the perfect start to my day. The sounds were incredibly awesome to listen to. Vitakka, for me, was definitely sensation, especially through my hands… however I did enjoy exploring each juncture. I found myself in equanimity and now relish in feeling free; relaxed and at peace. As always Ally, I enjoy your teachings. Thank you ✌🏻β™₯οΈπŸ™

    • Ally says:

      Awe wonderful. Equanimity is a beautiful place to be. I’m so glad you had this experience this morning. Wonderful. Thank you for being here Tara Ox

  • Thanks Ally. Beautiful beginning. I really loved the forest sounds and your voice was really helpful too. I find the breath the easiest anchor but sound and other places like the hands and diaphragm are great too. Peace & love.

  • Mariola daher says:

    Thanks for this great video Ally, focussing on my breathe was the easiest for me as were the beautiful sounds of the birds but my mind wandered quite a bit today and anxiety set in a few times. Hopefully I’ll get better at this as the challenge continues. πŸ™πŸ™so much.

    • Ally says:

      Hey Mariola, anxiety is something that visits me frequently as well. Something that is really helpful for me is to feel the sensations of it without a label of “anxiety” just noticing the sensations arise and then holding them with care or a sense of loving kindness and presence. Normally, I find that when I bring a sense of nurturing presence to them, and I deepen my breath, they start to dissipate. I hope this might be helpful for you too. Ox

  • Joanne says:

    Thank you Ally for your guidance this morning.I am new to meditation and I felt a real sense of calmness and peace.Although my mind wondered many times your guidance to help bring my concentration back was great. I felt focusing on my breath was easiest for me. I really enjoyed the sounds of nature in CR, they brought back many memories.

    • Ally says:

      Wonderful Joanne, it’s so great that you were able to sense calmness and peace as a new meditator. This isn’t always the case! It’s great that you were gentle about coming back to the concentration! I love those Costa Rica soundscapes too πŸ™‚

  • Susie says:

    That was so nice, thank you Ally! The sounds of Costa Rica were such a treat, that meditation was like a little vacation in itself. I always find the sounds of nature to be a really peaceful focus point for me so that was an easy fit. I also had nice warm sun coming in through my window so sensation was another calming enjoyable focus point. At the end I soaked up simple happiness, just how I feel on a summer day surrounded by nature & warmth! xox

    • Ally says:

      Oh the warm sun would be such a nice compliment to those jungle sounds! I love it Susie. I’m so glad you are taking this time for YOURSELF πŸ™‚ Little vacations lol Love ya

  • Aileen says:

    I was a little bit confused with all the sounds in the background at first but found concentrating on them was calming

    • Ally says:

      Yes!!! There’s quite a bit going on in the background noises there lol… believe it or not, this was one of the quietest spots I could find in the jungle. LOL… I’m glad that you found concentrating on them was calming though πŸ™‚

  • Elsa Arend says:

    Thank you Ally. I loved hearing the howler monkeys in the background. I feel grounded and calm.

  • Marilyn Joan Wesley (MJ) says:

    A beautiful way to begin my day!! The jungle sounds were so calming and though I have done meditation before (long ago..and not very successsfully) I found your emphasis on the “breath count” to be so centering. I am new to blood pressure issues and I am thrilled to say mine dropped 20 points ‘ Think I’m hooked!!

    • Ally says:

      Yes! The breath count can be a really nice way to start cultivating concentration. I love that tool so much. And YES! So great about the blood pressure dropping 20 points. There are SO MANY STUDIES right now about meditation and blood pressure, it’s a great natural way to bring it down consistently over time πŸ™‚

  • Kelsey Watts says:

    Ally, I always love your meditations. It is so kind of you to offer this challenge for free. I’m so glad you have such a following with it. You’re doing such beautiful things for the world. My favourite is usually tuning into my breath. But I absolutely loved the sounds of Costa Rica! With my headphones in. Beautiful meditation πŸ§˜πŸΌβ€β™€οΈ πŸ™πŸ» I look forward to tomorrow! Namaste πŸ™πŸ»

    • Ally says:

      Awe thank you Kelsey, I’m so glad that you are here and are a part of the meditation community on the site. I also LOVE the sounds of Costa Rica. Just so much love for that beautiful place πŸ™‚

  • Penny says:

    Thank you, Ally! While I am aware, on some level at least, about concentrating on a particular focus, I have never participated in a guided experience that focused just on focusing! This first exercise was really helpful and meaningful for me. It brought the focusing aspect out of the background. I know that following the breath is not my favourite, while concentrating on sounds can keep my focus longer. I too loved the monkeys!

    • Ally says:

      Awe that’s so cool for me to hear Penny. It’s an interesting experience for sure! I also love love love the sounds of the monkeys πŸ™‚ I cried tears of joy the first time I ever heard them in the wild!

  • Ashleigh says:

    thank you so much ally! this challenge came to me when I needed it, this will give me the push I need to make meditation a daily thing for me. very new to this world but am looking forward to all its benefits, this mornings meditation made me feel very light almost like I was floating. see you tomorrow!

  • Jeannette says:

    Thank you ….definitely the sensations of the hands. Looking forward to the remaining days

  • Cindy says:

    I have tried meditation many times & never stuck with it. I thought the only way to hold concentration was through the breath. I actually enjoyed experiencing the other focal points. Sound & feeling in the hands were much easier for me. I am excited to explore these further.

    • Ally says:

      Wonderful Cindy. Yes, it’s great to explore other anchors as some come much more natural and easeful for us than others! πŸ™‚

  • Geraldine says:

    Found it easiest to concentrate on sensatio
    ns in palms of the hands – thank you for this wonderful introduction to concentration.

  • DesirΓ¨e says:

    Hello Ally, thank you for that. My mind wandered a bit and there was a fly in the room that I allowed to distract me to the point of stoping and telling it to Foff. Woops. After that thou – I found the air on my hands a good anchor point, and the sounds of the forest from where you are. I had clarity of vision when I finished – crisp edges of objects and a sense of calm. What came up thou was a tension in my upper breast bone and a resistance feeling. Hmmm. Looking forward to day2.

    • Ally says:

      Lol… there was also a fly landing on me in this video that I kept having to shoo away hahahaha… flies happen sometimes. When I have physical sensations in meditation, I try to deepen my breath and send a loving, kind and nurturing attention to that area, whether resistance or heaviness or whatever that “dense” sensation happens to be, I usually find that with a kind and non-judgemental or caring quality of attention, it begins to release and dissipate. I hope that might be helpful for you as it is for me. πŸ™‚

  • Teghan G says:

    What a beautiful meditation! I loved listening to the sounds of Costa Rica – I felt like I was there, and was totally absorbed in nature. I actually felt like I wasn’t even breathing at one point because I was so focussed on the sound! Thank you Ally!

  • Robin says:

    Thank you Ally. My 9 year old said he wanted to do the challenge with me. I myself concentrated on the breathing and became more aware of my hands and was peaceful. I asked my son, and he said he concentrated on hockey in his mind and he feels calm. We look forward to what comes tomorrow!

    • Ally says:

      I LOVE that your son is participating. What a wonderful thing to learn this at such an early age. And I love that he focused on hockey πŸ™‚ So cute.

  • Andrea says:

    Thank you Ally!
    It was easiest for me to concentrate on breath during this meditation. The natural sounds enhanced the experience for me . Very peaceful, looking forward to tomorrow.

  • Stella says:

    I practice yoga at 6 am in the UK before your video is released – so I’ll usually be one day behind. I am becoming increasingly interested in meditation – so really looking forward to this next 10 days. Loved the sounds and seemed to hear one tiny drop of water above all else. Feeling the sensation in my hands was also interesting

    • Ally says:

      Yes! This is perfect Stella. I love that you are getting more and more interested in meditation. Thanks for being a part of our group! πŸ™‚

  • Kristen says:

    Thanks for the beautiful meditations! Definitely had to bring my wandering mind back many times but hoping with consistent practice it gets easier πŸ™‚ namaste

    • Ally says:

      Oh yes, it gets gradually easier and more natural with time, not to say that the mind won’t wander! That’s kinda what it does best right? πŸ™‚

  • Linda says:

    I enjoyed my first guided meditation….I think I need to choose a more suitable time/space to fully benefit from it..I stayed with it trying to refocus my attention…the background sounds were easier to focus on bringing a sense of calmness…I look forward to the next challenge…I might even revisit this one at at different time and space πŸ˜‰
    Thank you!

  • Carol-Anne says:

    Thank you Ally, I’m running a day behind. I found the sounds drew me in the most, the tropical sound of Costa Rica and the gentle rains here in Bobcaygeon together with the cooking of the doves that have just returned to nest again. πŸ™πŸΌ

  • Angie says:

    meditation on concentration was exactly what I needed last night – Thank You!. I love to connect with the breath and find that to be my best anchor.

  • Kristyn says:

    Day one concentration exploration. What a beautiful way to start the day. I feel entirely relaxed, content, calm, and filled with gratitude and a happy heart. I enjoyed the sounds of the jungle, as it took me right back to Costa Rica; I could almost smell the flora and the wild ocean air. Following sensation of air in the nose down to the diaphragm, and similarly down into the hands, was really powerful. I combined visualization of light moving with the air and energy, to help with concentration, and became fully present in the end. Once here, I could really feel my heart beating calmly and sat with that sensation for a while longer. What a sweet treat! Thank you Ally. Much love and looking forward to the next.

    • Ally says:

      Well, this was just lovely to read Kristyn!! πŸ™‚ Yes, the sounds are so beautiful. I love Costa Rica so much! Tomorrow you can wear some ylang-ylang as you practice and it will be that much more imbibed with that Costa Rican energy!!! lol πŸ™‚

  • Sharon says:

    I found myself focusing on my breath sounds and the sounds of the jungle very relaxing. Looking forward to tomorrow’s session. Thank you

  • Karen says:

    Hi ali I found it easy to listen to the amazing sounds.
    Thank you

  • Lisa says:

    Thank you. My mom told me about your meditation challenge and I am finally ready to begin. My family is on day 9 of isolation after returning from Nosara. We were only there for two days as we came home early due to COVID 19. CR is one of my favourite places in the world and it was my first time sharing it with my parents and children. Unfortunately this trip was not as enjoyable as usual as my mind was consumed with the worry of our family not being home in Canada. Thank you for allowing me to focus on and enjoy the sounds of Costa Rica that I love but was unable to enjoy this last trip. I will continue to listen and hopefully connect in person at one of your retreats either in Ontario or Costa Rica one day.

  • Bernadette says:

    This was my first practice and unusually for me I found it fairly easy to stay focused on my breathing throughout and now feel very relaxed!

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