Yoga, Focus and the Wandering Mind
As preparation for a "yoga beyond the mat" online workshop series I'll be teaching, I've been revisiting the question....
What does it mean to be in a state of yoga?
With so much attention in the west given to yoga's postures, it's easy to lose sight that yoga is ultimately about the quality and action of our focus; rather than our ability to bend in shapes or stand on our head.
And it is through this stilled focus that we discover the pathway to experience more sustained joy, confidence and peace-of-mind. We uncover more of who we truly are.
"Yoga is the ability to harness the wandering mind by practicing complete focus toward harmony and clarity by the individual".
-- The Yoga Sutra
Without the action of conscious focus, our mind will unconsciously wander.
Science now refers to this as the Default Mode Network (DMN). This DMN is skilled at helping us unconsciously manufacture misery by creating fears, worries or uncertainties that don't actually exist in this very moment.
...The future and the past only exist in our mind. And how we think and feel about the past and future will often influence what we do, or don't do, in the here and now.
The Yoga Sutra, a foundational text of yoga, teaches us that the suffering (different than pain) we experience is a symptom of numerous misperceptions created by the mind. It goes on to share that the ultimate cause of dis-ease is our lack of understanding about who we truly are, and our separateness from it.
Thoughts we focus on with feeling become our experience of life.
This works in the positive and negative.
For example, through the lens of yoga, habitual anxiety is mind created. We experience it as sensations in the body, but the chain of anxiety begins in the mind. If we were to take an honest inventory of our thinking, we'd likely uncover a long-standing focus or attachment to fear-based and stressful thoughts and beliefs that set the anxiety in motion.
When we focus on something long enough or with intensity, it produces an emotion in us -- and that emotion puts us (and life) in motion to create.
Life cannot NOT create..
And life "out there" is a reflection of what life is "within" us.
That is why no two people see anything in the exact same way.
We live in a reflective universe which is responding or mirroring our inner processes, individually and collectively.
So, focus or attention, becomes a central theme in yoga because it has creative power.
The word yoga can be translated as, "to link with".
As the buddha teaches, we become what we link with (or think) because we experience life as we are, not as it is.
Thoughts are not who we are; but they can shape our experience.
If you close your eyes and bring your attention to something that upsets you, you'll eventually begin to feel upset.
The same is true if you close your eyes and bring your focus toward a happy memory, you'll find yourself feeling happiness.
...Or have you ever spent time with a negative person or group? When you link with them, it's easy to become negative yourself.
The same is true if you spend time with positive people or groups; you'll eventually begin to feel more optimistic.
This is one of the reasons certain lineages of the Yoga Tradition encourage community.
It is a powerful pillar for growth and fulfillment.
When you find a positive community or study group, you'll also discover that you increase your capacity for happiness and confidence. A like-minded community can inspire you and keep you accountable to your own Truth.
..And when you're REALLY ready to experience more of what you want in life, whether that be joy, success, love, confidence, courage, serenity and so on - you have to get skilled at focusing on it.
You need to learn to focus in a new and positive way even when circumstances present something other than what you want right now.
Because when we find ourselves in conditions we don't like, they're often a result of what we've focused on or believed, so far.
But, those beliefs, and therefore, our reality can change.
In fact, in the second chapter of The Yoga Sutra, we're taught that although our reality is our reality right now - with continuous and enthusiastic practice of new focus, sustained commitment and emotional intention -- our reality can change in the direction we desire.
Why? Because reality is coming from us not at us.
The Yoga Sutra, this foundational text of yoga, also tells us that yoga is experiential. We can't only read about these teachings, we must seek out our own application of them -- because it's through our experience that we truly come to "understand" and receive the benefits.
So, for a moment, think about one of your dominant thoughts or beliefs?
- Is it positive or negative?
- Is it taking you closer to what you want in life, or away from it?
- Do you feel liberated or trapped as a result of this belief?
Next, think back over the last 5 years of your life
Can you notice if this belief has contributed to common patterns in your lifestyle, relationship, career, friendships, ambitions, esteem or what you believe you can or can't do or accomplish.
Just like an apple seed can only produce an apple tree, the same is true of our thoughts.
We can't experience sustained joy and happiness when our dominant story is of lack, fear and doubt.
The action of positive focus (which is part of yoga) is like a lasso for a wandering mind
Think of positive shift you want to make in life? It can be anything.
Let go of doubt and step into possibility. Yoga calls this Sraddha.
For the next 30 days, focus as if it is already done. Yoga calls this Abhyasa.
Don't worry about the how or why of it. Let go of any need for a strategy.
Just focus on the feeling of it being completed and manifested.
It is KEY to get into the feeling sense of it. Yoga calls bhavana.
Imagining it done is a keen action of focus, one of which is taught in The Yoga Sutra. Again, Imagine how you feel knowing it is done.
The yoga sutra tells us that the more we visualize our goal - with feeling - the nearer we are to it, the more real it feels -- and the more clarity and faith we will develop.
- Set aside 5 minutes or more a day to settle the mind and imagine this vision of yours.
Now, to help you stay focused, create a positive statement or mantra
Make your affirmation in the present tense and make it personal. You can start by creating the opposite of the negative thought.
Google positive or abundance adjectives to help you complete the following statements.
Repeat it every day several times to retrain and rewire your thinking
Repeat it whenever the old ideas come to mind; use it to replace and release negative thinking as it arises.
Complete one or more of the following statements to help you create a positive mantra/affirmation.
Practice this meditation daily as part of your routine to connect with the quiet place within.
All change takes action, and it is much easier to take that action when the mind is clear, focused and centered in the heart. This meditation will be a valuable part of your daily practice.
If you need help creating an affirmation, please feel free to email me your draft at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll do my best to help you fine-tune one that feels good.
You can also leave a comment here.