It’s very common to experience the mind wandering off on its own while meditating. It happens for beginners and often for long-term meditators as well.
Our minds, if untrained, love to regurgitate information about the past or go to thoughts of the future when we are doing our best to meditate. However, that’s ok, and it brings us to the true purpose of meditation which is to gain control over our minds….. instead of letting our wayward minds think about whatever they want!
So then, the big question is “How do we go about training our minds to do what we want them to do?”
And the best answer is that we train our minds to be able to focus on what we want by using ‘anchors.’
In this article, I’ll share with you what anchors I have used and which ones work best for me, as well as some others that are commonly used with great effect by other meditators.
What Is An ‘Anchor’ And Why Is It Used In Meditation?
The reality is that your mind is going to wander…. Our minds, after all, are just thought-producing machines, therefore having thoughts is what they are designed to do. And this means that it’s not possible to turn them off.
However, we can train our minds to become more relaxed and to think about things that will enhance our lives, rather than cause us stress, fear, depression, anxiety, etc. And this is why it’s a good idea to begin using anchors during meditation.
An anchor in meditation is anything that can be used to ‘stabilize’ your attention in the present moment. The anchor is used as a reference point that you keep returning your attention to every time you realize that your mind has wandered from it.
An anchor works best for us when we have a ‘neutral’ response about it. In other words, it neither makes up happy, or sad, nor evokes feelings or memories from us, and instead, enables us to attain stability in our mind. Therefore, the more we are unattached to our anchor, the better it will be as a neutral object for us to meditate upon.
The idea is to keep our mind focused on our anchor so that it is not wandering randomly all over the place. The mind is happy when it is working… so training it to focus on something is one way to keep it occupied and happy.
What Are Some Anchors You Can Use In Meditation?
It may take a bit of experimenting from you before you settle on the best anchor for you. And even then, we do not always remain the same so it could be a good idea to change your anchor at times. For example, I know from experience that when you have a cold or throat irritation, it becomes difficult to use your breath as an anchor.
At other times, I have used nature sounds as an anchor, only to be distracted by too much-unexpected noise in the environment. Therefore, it’s best to remain flexible if the current situation is not going to allow you to meditate successfully with your chosen anchor.
Having said that, it is a lot easier to progress with training your mind to focus if you repeatedly use the same anchor over and over again. The familiarity of it makes it very easy for your mind to continually return to it.
So, what are the most commonly used anchors when meditating?
1. Awareness of the Breath
Most of the time, when I want to focus my attention on something specific, I will first bring my attention to my breath. This applies to meditating and when not meditating. Breath awareness calms all the other senses down and allows us to be present ‘at this moment with how things are.’
By turning our attention back toward ourselves, we become more aware of how we are feeling now. And from here, we can pause and make better decisions about how to act or react to what is going on within our environment.
I have written a whole article on How Do You Use Your Breath as an Anchor in Meditation and you can check it out HERE, rather than me repeating the information.
Focusing on the breath is the most popular anchor used in meditation because it is something that is always with us. Some people like to count their breaths, and others count the seconds while inhaling and also while exhaling. Rhythmic breathing in specific patterns is a way of consciously meditating and is taught in many yoga classes.
I love the energy and clarity that can be achieved when I practice some of these techniques, Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing. You can check out this article, “9 Yogic Breathing Practices for Mind-Body Balance and Healing” by The Himalayan Yoga Institute for more information.
Mostly, I prefer to just notice the breath as it comes in at the tip of my nostrils, flows into my lungs, and extends my abdomen. And then notice it as it goes out…. The abdomen shrinks, the chest falls and the warm air escapes at the tip of the nostrils. The time each breath takes is not important. What I do notice is how I become more relaxed with each breath, and that the sensations become subtler as the quantity of air I breathe becomes less and less due to my inactivity…. And then I disappear….
If you have respiratory issues, like seasonal allergies, or other trauma associated with the breath, you would probably be better off using something else as an anchor until you can release the issues.
2. Body Sensations
Your body can be used in several ways as an anchor for your meditation experience.
– A body scan is a great way to check in with how you are feeling physically. I find it easier to do a body scan when lying down rather than sitting to meditate. However, you may be different.
Lying down, I will imagine a blue healing light flowing through my body from top to bottom. The light passes slowly through my body and slows down or even pauses when it encounters any ‘issues that need extra healing energy diverted to them.’ And the light moves on in its own good time when the healing has been done. The light often paused on my knees and lower back, and I intuitively allow it to do what is best for me at this time. I may run the healing light down and up my body several times during a meditation session before moving on to a different anchor for the duration of the session.
“The more regularly and the more deeply you mediate, the sooner you will find yourself acting always from a center of inner peace.” – J. Donald Walters
– Often I will become very aware of the vibrations on the surface of my skin when I am meditating. I then use this as an anchor to something greater. The vibrations are showing me that my energy is not just located in my body, but also extends beyond my physical form. I do not attach my emotions or thoughts to these sensations, but just notice them with gentle awareness.
– If you are experiencing discomfort while meditating, you can use that sensation as an anchor. It can be very easy to focus your attention on your leg going numb, or your aching back. However, the trick here is not to feel sorry for yourself and ‘buy into the discomfort.’ The secret is to just be aware of it and allow it to be as it is without judging it as something unwanted.
I had an amazing experience with pain spontaneously releasing after sitting for fifty minutes without moving at a Vipassana retreat many years ago. If you’re interested, you can read about my experience in my post “What Is the Best Experience You Have Had While Meditating?”
– The yoga school I used to attend would finish their classes with meditation centered on body awareness before doing Pranayama, or breathing exercises. As we were lying on the floor, we were first guided to become aware of the sensation of our body and how it contacted the ground.
Then we would imagine our bodies becoming heavier and sinking through the floor, and then lighter and floating above the floor. And after a few minutes, we would be guided to pay attention to the furthermost sound that we could hear. All of it was designed to sharpen our ability to focus on our senses.
3. Reciting a Mantra
Mantras are words or phrases that are neutral or invoke feelings of deep gratitude or love within you. Therefore, the words used are very personal.
– Many people get a mantra from a guru or teacher, and often it will be in a different language. This can be an advantage as the word or phrase has no meaning to you…. It is just a neutral sound that you rhythmically intone to create a sense of deep inner peace and disconnection from your daily worries.
– Others prefer to use words that have meaning to them. They may chant the name of their deity, a Saint, or their teacher. For me, changing ‘I Am’ aligns with my goals for a more meaningful connection to the source of all creation, so I benefit from using these words.
4. Other Sounds or Music
When using anything as an anchor, it’s best to choose stuff that you don’t have an opinion about…. it’s neither good nor bad, and this applies to sounds as well, unless you are intentionally trying to raise your vibration by listening to stuff that will elevate your emotions.
To elevate my vibration, I listen to binaural beats or isotones. These are specifically engineered audio tracks that use brainwave entrainment technologies to alter our brain wave patterns making it easier for beginners to slip into a deep meditative state more quickly. The tracks I listen to most frequently are also embedded with positive subliminal messages which help me achieve my goals. For more information, you can check out my review of Midas Manifestation HERE.
– As already mentioned, at yoga we were guided to listen for the furthermost sounds. This technique is that sharpens our ability to listen. And as one sound fades away, we would switch our attention to the next further away sound, and so on. You will notice that the more you meditate, the quieter you become on the inside… and this means you will begin to perceive much more subtle sounds as your ability to hear improves.
“Meditation is like a gym in which you develop the powerful mental muscles of calm and insight.”– Ajahn Brahm
– Many traditional cultures use drumming and dance as anchors. The rhythmic sounds and movements and ‘group participation’ generate an environment in which it is easy to slip into a trance-like state. Many groups are operating like this today that you could seek out if you are interested in this type of experience.
– Nature sounds are something that we have evolved with, but that many of us are not so much in touch with as previous generations used to be. The sound of waves breaking on the shore, birds or crickets chirping, or even the modern-day hum of modern traffic can be quite hypnotic.
– Other sounds that you can use as an anchor if meditating at home include the sound of the air conditioner or fan, a recorded mantra, or the ticking of a clock.
I normally meditate at home but also take the opportunity when I go to the beach to get lost in meditation while listening to all the kids playing. There is something very reassuring about the sounds of lots of happy children playing about.
5. Visual Objects or Images
With eyes open meditation, it’s a good idea to have an object to focus on. It could be something simple like the floor six feet in front of where you are sitting, a candle flame, an incense stick burning, or an image of your preferred saint, teacher, or deity.
You begin by resting your attention gently upon the object, and whenever you notice that your attention has wandered, you gently return it to your chosen object.
– I used a Himalayan Salt Lamp for a while. It was great and often I would become immersed in the glow of the lamp and feel like I was merging with it… a great feeling!
– Nature offers some good anchors for meditation. You could stare into a fire, gaze at the moon, or choose a flower as your anchor. There is no right or wrong here… you just need to find what is going to work for you and stick with it.
– Some people I know are into creating vision boards. That is, they create a collage of images of how they want their life to be in the future…. And they use this as their object of attention for their meditations.
I think this is a great idea as it is teaching your mind what your future is going to be like…. And if you can generate ‘good-feeling’ emotions at the same time, then through The Law of Attraction, this is the future that you will manifest for yourself.
Final Thoughts on Using Anchors While Meditating
Since we are all unique, there is not one anchor that is going to work ‘best’ for everyone. Based on your style of learning, you may already have a sense of what will work best for you. However, it pays to keep an open mind and maybe experiment a little to find the best fit for you.
Just because your friend uses sound or your yoga teacher suggests body awareness, doesn’t mean they will work best for you….. Also, today you may be more successful trying a different anchor than you have been using for the last couple of months because your circumstances have changed. You may be traveling or unwell or any number of other things may have happened.
First and foremost, an anchor is used to develop stability in our thoughts, emotions, and therefore our bodies. And this is important today as we are living in a fast-paced world where so much of the stuff in our environments is quickly changing…..
Meditation is our way of maintaining balance within ourselves so we can better navigate the waves of life so we can have the best possible experience.