Sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture, but sometimes you have to narrow it down to the essentials. There are so many distractions in our lives – from the digital devices that we are constantly wired to, to the compelling visuals that we are bombarded with in ads, movies and infomercials. So much stuff to perceive through the senses – auditory, visual, tactile and multisensory… So many stimuli popping up from everywhere that it takes effort to stay focused… Not if you practice targeted concentration routines.
Yoga breathing, meditation and targeted asana help to calm the mind and body and keep distracting thoughts at bay. The idea is to focus on the breath and ride through the practice without getting attached to the outcome. There is an entire limb of Yoga dedicated to enhancing concentration. It is called “dharana” and it requires a withdrawal of the senses, while keeping the mind calm and unperturbed, like the water in a pond. As you extend the breath you are not only increasing lung capacity, but you are also rebooting the entire body and mind on a cellular level. When you keep the focus on the breath and fix the gaze at a point in the distance you are able to internalize the experience by opening space for self-renewal.
The technique known as “drishti” or focal point takes us into a tunnel vision, where we synch movement and breath and ride the flow. Interestingly enough, the key to staying focused is actually not to think about the focus but get absorbed into the practice. If you suspend the mental fluctuations and trust the guidance of your breath, the mind will no longer go astray and you will enter a place where “all is good, no matter what”. The idea of full absorption with the object of perception, known as “laya” in Yogic terms affords an opportunity for merging with your indivisible self and becoming one with the fabric of creation. As intangible as this sounds, it is attainable in a yoga class, with the right degree of devotion and inner focus. The practice involves active attentiveness and mindfulness component and with time translates in our lives – helping us purge away excess and zero in on the essentials.
I personally had a hard time concentrating in Yoga class when I started. My attention span was so short, that I soon found myself looking at the clock or out the window – totally not immersed in the breath-to-breath experience. I tried all the yogic recipes to tune in. I focused on the “drishti” and fixed my gaze on a point in the room. I stretched the breath and extended the exhalations. I practiced so hard that my eyes bulged and my tongue wiggled. Until the day when I stopped “trying” to fix my attention on any object, or anything, and I just zoned in. Until then I would warm up before the actual yoga, then prepare myself mentally and physically for a long and strenuous session. I would do everything by the book – religiously, to discover that none of these recipes worked. One day it dawned on me – the one-pointed focus in yoga is actually not about concentrating on that one point, but on merging with it so you can open yourself up to emptiness.
My practice took a different turn. I started with an “emptiness meditation”, discarding everything from my brain, body, life – getting rid of all the paraphernalia and junk. I called it the HOLLOW meditation as I zoomed into all the cracks, creaks and crevices that held space. I amplified this space to the point of a transparent luminous emptiness and I luxuriated in this boundlessness. I guess I had found my way into the yogic concept of “Sunyata” or “The ineffable emptiness”. And I had done so without trying hard, without preparing. Actually, I was un-preparing the body and mind, unlearning so I can relearn everything anew. I realized that in order to enhance your memory you had to dump informational overload into the junk folder. I learned that in order to build your visions you first needed to create room for the affirmation. This simple realization had changed my practice and my life.
Today when I teach the yoga basics in class, and I refer to the concentration terms of “dharana” (inner focus), “drishti” focal point; “ekagrata” (one pointedness) I always tell my students that focus comes from expanding your inner space, of tuning into what really matters for you, on amplifying your creative presence on Earth. The way is not straightforward. The path takes you through the winding staircase of the mind into a place of “nothingness” where you face yourself naked, unbiased and empty. At that point you have been absorbed by your essence and nothing really matters other than the fact that you are in your element. And you don’t have to try hard to find that place. It is already there. You just have to make your way to it.
I feel the wellness market is littered with endless self-help tips that offer the most advanced concentration strategies promising instant focus and rapid results. They too are part of the quick fix culture that we live in. We also live in a short attention span society. Between the hours most of us spend in front of the television and the time we spend online, our ability to concentrate is practically under siege on a daily basis.
The best way to improve concentration is to commit to a yoga practice that is open and allows room for self-awareness and full absorption into the art of living. This way you zero in on the essentials and you send the non-essentials into the recycle bin.
Yoga For Concentration: Zero In (open level)
This Yoga routine comprises a wide array of poses and concentration mudras that promote focus and clarity. Drawing a spiral from the outside in while focusing on the route allows the gaze to zoom into the third eye. A lunge based warm introduces neutrally rotated standing poses adorned with mudras that promote focus. The one-pointed mudras emphasize the holding of the “drishti” or fixed attention. Gentle weight shifts rock the body back and forth, then up and down to facilitate a smooth glide from standing to kneeling, from seated to reclining poses. Back bends and hip openers alternate to invigorate the body and clear away energy stuck in the joints. A forward-bending wind down takes you into a place of self-inquiry and full absorption with the movement and breath. A final spiral from the inside out opens up space for clarity and cultivates both a sense of wide focus and narrow zoom.