I have recently become sick and disabled, which among other things also means that I have lots of time on my hands. I have taken this as a message that I should develop my prayer power. But this has never been easy for me -- I have trouble being disciplined about it. I have started learning Psalms, but I really need to work on my concentration and focus. Can you suggest any strategies that might help me?
From what you write it sounds like you have a very positive attitude. You are taking something that could be negative--sickness and disability--and are seeing in it a power for positive growth. What a wonderful perspective!
You write that you are learning the meaning of Psalms. I think that that is a wonderful and important first step--to learn the meaning of the prayers. In order for prayer to have more meaning, we have to understand the words that we utter.
Like with any physical exercise, spiritual exercises should be done carefully, building momentum slowly. Straining yourself too much, or taking on too much at one time will be counter-productive.
How to begin? As mentioned, it is important that you don't focus on too much at once. Concentrate on one part of the prayers--for example the shema, or a section of the amidah. Start slowly, just expecting five minutes of real concentration. During these moments, focus on saying the words properly and thinking of their meaning. Don't begin by expecting yourself to pray too much or too long with such concentration. But by working on small amounts, and not getting disappointed in yourself, you can build up your concentration and you may see some very nice changes to your prayer experience.
It is also important that you focus on saying the words correctly, pronouncing and focusing on the pronunciation of all the words. That, in addition, to thinking about the meaning of your prayers, is the best method for working on your concentration.
Wishing you blessings,
Chana Weisberg for Chabad.org