I’ve noticed more and more, in my own practice and in classes I teach, that it’s harder to stay focused. This is not a new problem; the challenges of the mind are many.
But in our high tech world, where we’re always connected to technology, it’s even harder to stay mindful on the mat.
The Tug of Technology
Internationally known writer, scientist, and meditation teacher, Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, recently discussed mindfulness and meditation, and he said one of the first things they did at one of his retreats was that participants had to give up their cell phones.
As Anderson Cooper said after a few hours, “I miss my phone!” We can probably all relate to this feeling.
There is more than just the tug of technology that can trip us up when we’re trying to stay focused on the mat. With that in mind, here are 10 tips you can use to stay on track:
1. Remove all distractions from your practice area.
If you must have your cellphone with you, cover it with something and place it at the back of your mat. This would also include a watch or personal belongings. Your practice area should only contain your mat and props needed for practice.
2. When you enter the practice area, begin to tap into your own experience.
Set up your practice space and either come to a seated position for some quiet meditation, or simply lie on the mat with your eyes closed. Although it’s great to practice with friends, it can take away from your own preparation for practice to be outwardly focused.
3. In the first few movements, begin to tap into how you feel.
This is not to judge your experience or set unrealistic goals for yourself, but simply to begin the process of noticing and increasing your awareness.
4. Allow yourself to let go of any agenda for the class.
Try to release any attachment to goals you have for practice: being more flexible, losing weight, or even (dare I say) being more mindful. Allow the practice to unfold as it will, without you having any particular attachment to how it shows up.
5. Resist the urge to compete with others.
This can be hard if the students around you are practicing advanced variations of the poses being presented. Do your best to stay connected to what makes the most sense for you in every pose.
6. Look for points in the practice where you choose distraction over presence.
This will be different for everyone. I used to have a student that would get up and go to the bathroom every time I offered Crow Pose. It was interesting because it was consistent over the many months I saw her.
This is not to say you should not avoid poses that might cause you injury, but there is a way to do it that allows you to stay in your practice rather than looking for a way to leave your mat.
7. Be aware of things that come up that create frustration or anger.
Our practice can be a trigger to other feelings. It could be the teacher’s voice, something he or she brings up, your perceived level of ability to do a particular pose, or the person next to you and the sound of their breath.
Use these situations as a chance to play with the idea of letting go of anger and frustration and instead tap into your own experience and breath.
8. Use your gaze as a grounding force to increase your awareness.
Our gaze or drishti point, will help us stay connected to our breath and experience by removing distractions. This is harder to do as the class gets more crowded, but is a great way to manage any frustrations when you arrive at class and find that it’s packed. Stay on your own mat as a technique to help you stay calm and focused.
9. Notice when you need to rest or modify and do it.
Just as competing with others can pull us out of our own experience, forcing our body into certain poses and pushing beyond our physical limits will bring us out of awareness and into our heads.
Stay connected to your breath and notice when you need to stop and take a break. Rather than getting up to the bathroom or stopping to guzzle water, come to Child’s Pose and really rest.
10. Take time for Savasana.
Allow your body to totally relax and let the mind do what it does. It always amazes me when students leave before Savasana. I know this has been an ongoing topic for many articles, but suffice it to say that it’s the end of the practice that sets the tone for how you will feel as you leave your practice.
When you come into Savasana, it goes without saying that the idea is to physically relax. But, just as in meditation, if you find your mind wandering, let it do its thing.
How do you stay mindful, present, and aware in your yoga practice?