By Dana Gornall
Dharana: Concentration is the process of holding or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place. (3.1)
One of my greatest fears is falling over in yoga class.
I realize that seems a little silly. Most people have a fear of spiders or snakes, or maybe heights or small spaces. Falling on your butt in yoga class seems embarrassing but not something that should rank as one of my biggest fears. So, maybe I am also afraid of heights, but for some reason when I straighten my hips and reach down toward the inner arch of the opposite foot in revolved triangle, the world feels like it is on a pin.
I am sure there are many reasons I struggle in this pose: tight hamstrings, tight achilles, feet not placed properly, etc. I use props to help, but truthfully it is one of the poses on my list of poses that I hate.
Concentration seems to be something we all lack at times. It’s the thing we strive for in academics, work and of course, meditation. It seems to be an elusive carrot—attainable in the things we love, like watching The Walking Dead or reading a book we can’t put down, and suddenly completely impossible to reach when sitting in that board meeting at work.
Yet we all want to be better at it, do we not? I don’t know anyone who says, “I would like to be more scattered in my life. I need a little bit of ADHD.” Large corporations have even begun offering mindfulness training in order to increase concentration and boost productivity.
In yoga we use concentration to balance—to find our pose.
In the beginning of a practice it can be as simple as the focus of our feet connecting with the mat in Tadasana (mountain pose) or maybe it’s finding a point on the wall—a chip in the paint or a reflection of light from the window—as we lift up a foot in Tree Pose. Finding that single point helps the mind still just a little, as thoughts sway back and forth, and provides a hint of balancing ability.
Then the next trick is to not only find stability in that pose, but also sustain it.
Dhyana: Meditation is sustained concentration, whereby the attention continues to hold or repeat the same object or place. (3.2)
Maybe you have pushed up into a backbend, or you are using props and folding your spine over a chair, or maybe you have kicked up into a headstand and can feel your body swaying this way or that. The point is you have gotten yourself there, now how to hold it? Truthfully whether it is in yoga practice, meditation practice or simply trying to maintain some sense of alertness throughout the workday, holding concentration is a skill that seems to be harder to achieve in our fast moving, gif posting, Snapchat watching culture.
Everything today is quick. As writers we are told to keep our articles shorter because people tend to not read past 1000 words online. It seems everyone is trying to vie for your attention and our attention is harder to sustain.
The best way to train ourselves to focus is simply with one word: practice.
I know I groan at that word many times. How does one find time to practice? After all, this is a fast moving, gif posting, Snapchat watching world—and one in which we have to keep up with jobs and children’s schedules and so much more.
So what’s wrong with fast? It’s the way of the world, right?
Studies show that increased “monkey mind” thinking and rumination lead to higher rates of anxiety and depression. This would make sense, since the more we obsess or allow our brains to fly off in every direction, the more opportunities we give ourselves to fret and overthink. Training the brain to slow down and concentrate, to be aware of the moment, actually caused the centers in the brain that were responsible for obsession and rumination to shut down.
Why would we want any area in our brains to shut down? Well it’s not really a shutting down as it is work more efficiently. Imagine a car engine that isn’t provided with enough oil—eventually it will stop working. With regular practice, the ability to focus and sustain thought actually improves overall well-being and lessens depression.
Samadhi: Samadhi is the deep absorption, wherein only the essence of that object, place, or point shines forth in the mind, as if the mind were devoid even of its own form. (3.3)
It doesn’t take owning a zafu or a yoga mat to begin a practice. It starts with the breath and just a moment. Begin by take simply a few moments to count, or focus or repeat a mantra—even if that mantra is “I will not eat an entire bag of chips today.” Begin by holding a down dog for a few extra seconds or waking up a little earlier increasing your practice by an extra pose.
Begin now, because now is (of course) all we have. Balance is the art of holding concentration and sustaining it, while not allowing all that is around us to knock us down. Speaking from the perspective of a single working mother that is always struggling to maintain just about everything, I don’t know what is better that that.
Plus it keeps me from falling on my ass in yoga class.
Editor: Ty H. Phillips