Free Video Of The Week
Balance and Focus with us in our Free Video of the Week, in perfect harmony with our efforts to sharpen up our focus in all other aspects of our lives. This practice guides us through a sequence of balance postures, which have the marvelous effect of carrying that increased sense of balance in the body over into our minds, helping us discover greater focus, concentration, and a feeling of being more firmly rooted in what we do. Practice this sequence with us here on the blog this week, and ever after in the MOJO Member Space.
On to the blog…
Oh yeah, I am so focused right now. Totally focused. What was that? Oh, hold on. Someone just came into the room. I have to check who it is. Oh, she always comes in late. Okay. I can focus now. Close my eyes. Breathe in. Breathe out. Gotta remember to pay that bill later. My nose itches. Oh, focus. Yes, I'm focused. What is that damn dog doing now? Ugh, he drives me crazy. Did my phone just buzz? I thought I turned that thing off. Forget it. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. My foot's going to sleep... Squirrel!
Sound familiar at all? I think it's safe to say most of us run an inner dialogue similar to this some, if not most, of the time when we try to meditate or do our yoga practice or do pretty much anything in our lives. Heck, it sounds like that inside my head a lot. And that's just when we're paying attention. Who knows what's going on in those brains when no one's looking? It's natural to become frustrated at some point with this seemingly non-stop barrage of monkey-mindedness and prodding from the outside world.
What can we do about all these distractions keeping us from absorption in the state of good yogihood? Many of us start by studying yoga in very pristine studio settings, with well-established codes of conduct, sterilized props, and maybe even soundproof walls. Whoa. Ok, so I've never been to a studio with soundproof walls, but I bet they do exist. Nice yoga studios are indeed nice to have, don't get me wrong. I work and study in them all the time. But what happens when somebody comes in to class late? Everybody looks up. What happens when a noisy truck parks outside the window, or someone's yelling at someone else outside? Everyone's attention zips straight to the offending source. The thing is, we can't possibly build a yoga bubble fortified enough to block out all distraction. That's because inside the mythical bubble would still lurk the greatest culprit of them all: our very own minds. We're all very familiar with how that thing runs. And runs, and runs…
Fortunately, some very wise yogis came up with the concept of pratyahara, or the withdrawal of the senses. Pratyahara is the 5th of the 8 limbs of yoga, which describe the stages and form of the yogic path from the exterior aspects to the interior realm. We can imagine pratyahara like a turtle pulling itself inside its shell. Our often overloaded senses can turn within, to attune to the inner work of yoga: the breath, the mind, the subtle physical body. Pratyahara is often described as a transitional point between the external and internal, allowing us to bring our yoga from the gross level to the subtle. Many would even say that this is where the real yoga begins.
So, how do we even begin to do this? I know this may come as a shock to you, but our breath is a good place to start. After all, practicing a deep, calm focus on the breath is the foundation of everything else we do in our yoga journey. Try this simple exercise (Click HERE to download the exercise PDF):
1. Sit so that you can be relaxed and comfortable, with your eyes closed. 2. Take 10 slow, smooth, deep breaths. Be sure to count each breath: inhale, 1, exhale, and so on. 3. Keep your attention focused on counting and the feeling of the breath in its entirety until you get to 10. Then, slowly open your eyes. 4. Do it now. I'll wait.
How did it go? Did you make it all the way to 10 without losing count or thinking of something else? If you did, man, you're good. If you didn't don't worry. Most people don't make it past 3 or 4 without a distracting thought cloud drifting, or even bursting, on to the scene. It’s just how our scattered minds are accustomed to existing. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Even with an exercise as simple as this one, we can start to change those patterns and attune our focus.
Better yet, this simple, very quick exercise is one that we can do anywhere, at anytime. It helps us first to see clearly how easily we become distracted. By shedding light on our current state, we can then begin to sweep away the cobwebs, revealing that beautiful place inside that's always there, always tranquil. In fact that tranquility and presence of mind is our natural state, we just have to clear the clutter of life that obscures it from our perception.
Moreover, we have to do it with compassion. Self-judgment is just another distraction. Jack Kornfield gives us a precious reminder of training the puppy: just as we would train a wild and rambunctious puppy with gentle firmness, being willing to start over again and again, we must gently bring ourselves back to concentration over and over, with love and understanding for the nature of the beast with which we are dealing.
In this way, meditation is very much like training a puppy. You put the puppy down and say, “Stay.” does the puppy listen? It gets up and it runs away. You sit the puppy back down again. “Stay.” And the puppy runs away over and over again. Sometimes the puppy jumps up, runs over, and pees in the corner or makes some other mess. Our minds are much the same as the puppy, only they create even bigger messes. In training the mind, or the puppy, we have to start over and over again. (A Path With Heart, 59)
There will always be distractions. Always. It's how we handle them that really matters. With constant practice drawing our senses inside, uncovering and training our focus, our attention becomes a sharpened tool for shaping our inner landscape and our lives in the outer world. When we can learn to maintain a state of peaceful equanimity no matter what distractions come our way, even for a moment, then we can get some powerful mojo working. Until next time, MOJO Mob…
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