Our heads are flooded with information everyday - things we need to remember, deadlines, places we need to be, friends we need to text back, the list goes on. As a result the ability to focus becomes increasingly difficult. Difficult, but not impossible.
Yoga and meditation provide the perfect opportunity to practice focus. It is a great time to clear the mind and quieten your inner monologue.
Strengthen your focus daily
Focus is like a muscle, in that the more you practice using it and training it the stronger it becomes. You can exercise your focus muscle in many ways. For example, by taking 10 minutes each morning to exercise your focus you can strengthen your ability to focus throughout the day. Think of it like building your core strength, you regularly take time in the gym to strengthen your core, then you use your newly strengthened core throughout the day without even thinking about it. If you do not exercise your core on a regular basis, the muscles become weaker and you stop using them.
Top tip! Before you start any of these exercises: give yourself time to improve your focus - you may not be great first time round but that is okay! We all have to start somewhere. If you find you mind has wandered off, don’t feel bad about it or become stressed, just acknowledge it and gently bring your mind back to the task in hand.
The first and most practical way to achieve focus is by concentrating on your breathing. This is an excellent place to start with your focus strength training as it provides you something to think about and experience. It distracts you from all the thoughts rushing in and out of your mind. As you breathe in and out, notice how it affects your body, the sensations is creates, the rise and fall of your chest or stomach and the feeling of the air on your upper lip or the end of your nose.
You can try counting as you breathe; you could try counting each breath in and out, counting up from 1 as you breathe in, 2 as you breathe out and so on. See how far you can count before your mind wanders. If you find your mind has wandered off, start again from 1. Or you could count your breath in for 4 counts, hold for 7 counts and breathe out for 8 counts. This technique can be utilised throughout your day and can lower your heart rate instantly and reduce anxiety.
2. Make space for focus
The focus professionals have the ability to completely clear their mind and stay that way for extended lengths of time. Whilst the majority of us might not be there just yet, we can work our way towards this ideal state of mind. One technique we can use to create space in our minds is to simply imagine it. Actively think of a clear sky - this state is what we aim for. You may imagine your thoughts are clouds, if a new thought comes into the sky, you then have the ability to acknowledge it, watch it float away again or actively imagine blowing out of your sky. Negative emotions may be represented by large grey clouds that you can imagine clearing to let the sun shine through. There are no rules! Take the analogy as far as you wish and make it work for you. You can then choose to enter this new space you have created whenever you need some time out, or take a step back from what is going on around you to gain perspective.
3. Don’t worry what others think
During yoga, (especially in some of those trickier poses!) it is easy to lose focus and become distracted by the thought that everyone is watching you. Trust us when we say they aren’t - they are only thinking about themselves, just like you! Let’s face it, a lot of yoga poses just look plain odd, whoever came up with the turtle for goodness sake! But everyone in the room is doing the same thing and appears to look just as strange, if not more strange, than you do. Just jump in and give it a try, be fearless - this is the only way you will push your body and get the most benefit out of your class.
4. Feel every muscle and the energy passing through it
Another way to find focus during your yoga class is to concentrate on your sensory experience and the feeling of every muscle in your body. You can extend your focus past the main parts of your body that are moving to discover new sensations in areas of your body that are often overlooked. For example, during crow pose we often only think about that (relentless!) burning sensation in our upper thigh muscle, but what if you carry your focus to your fingertips? How do they feel? What about your toes as they wrap around your calf muscle? Imagine the energy racing throughout every inch of your body, are your muscles relaxing? Contracting? Or lengthening? Taking your focus to different areas of your body can also help you to pay more attention to your posture and alignment, improving your practice
5. Use your eyes
We touched on this in our Yoga Hack blog post on Mastering balance where we discussed setting your gaze on a fixed point in the room or on a detail on your mat (for example a star on the Cosmos mat, or an intersection of the Form Grid). Retaining a soft focus on one spot can act as an anchor for you to steady yourself from, both mentally and physically. Don’t be afraid to try this technique during your day, taking just a few minutes to fix your gaze on an object and concentrating on your breathing can be a great way to reset your mind and focus for the rest of the day.
A master of focus
Once you have mastered your focus during yoga, you can practice extending it past your class and into your daily life. The ability to still your mind and cultivate a sense of calmness is one that will allow you to stay in control, no matter what is going on around you.