Mediate by keeping your eyes still

As part of our Biohacking Masterclass Series, we will explore a number of different techniques and practices to improve your daily performance. This series will range from obvious subjects like exercise and nutrition to fringe subjects like breathing techniques and sleep hygiene. Consult your physician before implementing any of these topics; we are here to educate. We are not your physician. Note: This post may contain affiliate links to the products we use. 

Using your eyes to meditate?

In previous articles, we’ve discussed the role of different meditation techniques on cognitive performance. In the age of nearly ubiquitous meditation apps, it can unfortunately be fairly unclear what kind of meditation you are using. That ambiguity can make it difficult to fit meditation into a specific strategy for daily performance. 

Today, we are breaking down one of the simplest and most effective meditation techniques for increasing your focus and cognitive precision. Fortunately for you, it can be practiced anywhere, anytime, and without any superfluous technology. As a bonus, this type of meditation can also strengthen some of the muscles in the eyes whose function can predict athletic success. 

First, let’s run through our brief overview of the two most common thinking states and how the broad categories of meditation can alter them. 

The different types of thinking

While there are numerous theories and psychological definitions behind thinking states, two concepts can describe thought patterns in performance arenas: convergent and divergent thinking. 

  • Convergent thinking generally describes a focused thinking state in which solutions to a problem converge on one accurate answer. For example, on a multiple choice science test, typically only one answer can be regarded as the correct one. In other words, convergent thinking is highly accurate and quick. 
  • Divergent thinking, however, describes the thinking state in which solutions to a problem are more than one, and multiple solutions can each be regarded as a correct solution. For example, divergent thinking occurs in a brainstorming episode, where new ideas can be generated and each idea can be a correct solution. In other words, divergent thinking is synonymous with creativity. [1-4]

What are some different types of meditation? 

Given the rich history of meditation and the many thousands of years that the practice has been in use, there are likely too many variations to count accurately. With that said, many of these meditation practices can be grouped together into two classes: focused-attention (FA) and open-monitoring (OM) meditation. 

  • Focused-attention (FA) meditation is intuitively defined. The meditator focuses their attention on a given sound, feeling, or visual cue. 
  • In open-monitoring (OM) meditation, on the other hand, the individual is not harnessing their attention or directing their experience in any meaningful way. Instead, they are more accurately a passive observer to the thoughts, feelings, or general experience while sitting. [3,4]

How do the different types of meditation affect thinking states? 

While we go into more detail in our first overview article, the main takeaway is this: 

  • Focused-attention meditation techniques improve overall cognition and shift the practitioner’s thinking more towards a convergent state. 
  • Open-monitoring meditation also improves overall cognition, though it leads practitioners to a more divergent or creative state

Because open-monitoring meditation has passive qualities, it’s practice requires little instruction beyond simply observing and not chasing down thoughts.

Focused-attention meditations, on the other hand, are somewhat less clear for a new practitioner. 

Many of the most common meditation apps available today have what often appear to be elaborate themes of alternating between body scans, intentional breathing, and visualizations. These more complex sessions are difficult to learn and seem to require the guiding voice projecting commands from your phone. 

Instead, let’s discuss a practice that gets you the benefits of focused-attention meditations without complexity: Trataka. 

Trataka meditation involves pin-point gazing on the tip of a candle flame, an unmoving black dot, or a similar point in space. By eliminating eye movements, thinking becomes focused, clear, and calm. 

If you want to begin Trataka meditation, most suggestions include keeping the point of focus directly in front of your eyes when you have a strong, straight spine and good posture. Beyond that one overarching guideline, Trataka can be practiced anywhere you go. For example, if you take a bus to work or practice, simply find a period on an advertisement or the top of a screw in the wall. Some practitioners even suggest Trataka can be performed by imagining a dot in your mind with closed eyes. 

Interestingly for athletes, Trataka forms of meditation strengthen some of the same muscles in your eyes as those used for motion tracking. Specifically for baseball hitters, eye stability while tracking a baseball is one of the most accurate predictors of batting success. Countless studies have repeatedly demonstrated the importance of eye stability when predicting the point of contact on the baseball bat. [5]

It takes little imagination to see where improved eye stability and gaze accuracy can improve the performance in other sports. Generally, sport activity = motion. 


References

  1. Hommel et al. Meditation and Metacontrol. J Cogn Enhanc (2017) 1:115-121 
  2. Colzato, L. S., Sellaro, R., Samara, I., Baas, M., & Hommel, B. Meditation-induced states predict attentional control over time. Consciousness and Cognition, 37, 57–62
  3. Colzato, L. S., Szapora, A., Lippelt, D., & Hommel, B. (2017). Prior meditation practice modulates performance and strategy use in convergent- and divergent-thinking problems. Mindfulness, 8, 10–18.
  4. Colzato, L. S., Ozturk, A., & Hommel, B. (2012). Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking. Frontiers in Psychology, 3(116), 1–5.
  5. Kishita Y, Ueda H, Kashino M. Eye and Head Movements of Elite Baseball Players in Real Batting. Front Sports Act Living. 2020;2:3. Published 2020 Jan 29. doi:10.3389/fspor.2020.00003