2 Ways To Help You Focus On And Off The Yoga Mat

Nicole Markardt
2 Ways To Help You Focus On And Off The Yoga Mat

As an educator of young children, I have learned that children can help us capture the essence of our own core learning and fears. We grow up. We become mature adults. Many of our perceived problems come from that scared child that still resides inside of us.

My fellow teachers and I always giggle at a stock answer that we often give our little learners as the cycle of tattling begins-

“worry about yourself.”

Little Sarah will come, with a sense of urgency, to report that Johnny has been saving his eraser shavings in a little cup that he keeps in his desk. Each school year I try to explain to a classroom full of eight year olds that tattling serves no purpose (unless they are being hurt emotionally or physically) and takes their focus off of their own learning.

All too often we get so hung up on others- what they might say about us, what they are doing, their path in life, we even agonize over what others might be thinking. These are fear-based thoughts because we all want to be loved and accepted. Sometimes we need to find shortcomings in others to validate our own humanity. It’s almost as if we have permission to be imperfect because Johnny saves his eraser shavings.

My commitment to practicing yoga has helped me tremendously in the notion of “worrying about myself.” Rather than using the word “worry” I now use the word “focus”. That may sound selfish, but in reality it is truly part of practicing loving kindness.

During our yoga practice, sometimes we feel very confident while others struggle and we can’t help but notice. We may also notice the yogi next to us that achieves a beautiful standing bow, as we fall out every few seconds. At times, our evolving love for this practice can become slightly competitive if we do not guard our thoughts.

Two practices that consistently help me during my 90 minute meditation in the hot room are:

1. “Metta” Meditation

Before class begins, I always try to take a few minutes to lie on my mat and meditate; setting intentions, breathing mindfully, or simply quieting my mind. My favorite form of meditation is loving kindness or “metta” meditation because it allows us to first focus on self love before we can give it to anyone else. Metta meditation starts out with envisioning and conjuring the feeling of being joyful, peaceful, and safe. Only after meditating on ourselves, can we can envision the same three things for someone we love or even someone that is difficult to love. Finally we, envision it for our greater community, extended family, or a region that needs loving kindness.

It starts with us as individuals first. We’re not just practicing yoga in our sacred space, but practicing loving kindness by first loving ourselves.

2. Clear Intentions

What seeds am I sowing? Think about your harvest. I find myself asking this often. One of my favorite new mantras is, “energy flows where attention goes.” During one class recently (after a pretty emotional day) as I lifted my leg up for tree pose, I began to think about what I am most mindful of in this posture. It is only after I find my balance that I can grow taller. Balance is only achieved in this pose by rooting my leg into the ground and locking my knee. I must bring 100% of my focus to my standing leg. If I, even for one millisecond, take my focus off of my standing leg, I will lose my balance.

Just as in life, only after we’re rooted and locked into clear intentions can we lift our shoulders and grow tall like a tree. Some days are a struggle. We feel wobbly and we’re more like weeping willows. Still, we practice. We are always finding our balance. On a good day we are solid oak trees. We are always finding our balance. If we want to plant our seeds in lush green pastures, and grow from our own roots we must begin with ourselves.

Yoga has taught me that practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice roots us in the awareness that we can always begin again, even in the next moment. Sometimes, reconnecting with the child inside of us can aid in unlearning those habits that prevent true growth.

Engaging in the internal dialogue that we have so skillfully developed since childhood, in which we discuss others, their issues, what they may be doing in their life, their path; in doing this we aren’t investing our energy in ourselves or our own personal evolution.

In the studio, my energy goes into 90 minutes -all about me. Nobody gets these 90 minutes. It’s mine. I can only keep my balance if I stay focused on my own standing leg.

The teaching profession has shown me that a child’s mind truly learns by uncovering, not by rote memorization. That is true learning- a truth that is uncovered naturally. Certain wisdom cannot be imparted. Yoga is the uncovering of wisdom deep within ourselves. Freedom from our mind is our goal on our mat. Focus on yourself. See what you uncover.