Yoga draws us inward, but too often, we squander the opportunity to connect with that subtle journey. Often the second we land in the asana, when the practice calls us to turn our attention inward, to refine and expand the pose with minute adjustments, we take a jarring detour and begin to fidget. We tug at our clothes, refasten ponytails, and reach for water bottles. We check out our neighbor; we glance towards the clock or out the window, our minds mulling over what we have to pick up at the grocery. (I’ve even seen yogis check their cell phones!) In other words, we turn our inward bound focus outward to the myriad stimuli and distractions that feed the incessant fluctuations of the mind.
Have you ever been driving down the road and had to quickly hit the brakes? You jolt forward then bounce back to your seat as the brake impedes the forward motion of the car? That’s what happens when we turn our focus from the purposeful ujjayi breath and the drishti to the external world. The meditative flow of the asana comes to a jarring halt.
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Our minds can’t help but to turn to the sounds in the room, street and our heads. We react to those sounds – it’s human nature. Whether we fret about the police siren passing by or ourselves losing focus, we break the meditation that is a yoga flow. When we abandon the drishti, we lose our concentration on our deepest essence, our true core, and our connection with our proprioceptive powers, which is our ability to “see” with our mind’s eyes the orientation our muscles, limbs and bodies have in space as we move. These distractions and accompanying mental chatter block the path to pratyahara, the fifth limb of yoga that deals with the withdrawal of the senses from the outer world. It’s hard to detach from the senses when you are dwelling on the minutia of everyday life.
When you land in Virabhadrasana II and your yoga teacher encourages you to stay focused on your inhalation and exhalations and the drishti on the tip of your fingers, she is encouraging you to see nothing – to focus on nothing but the breath. In doing so, you see everything. You see your internal body in space, and perhaps detect how your scapula is lifted when it should be depressed or your quadriceps have lost interest in the pose, leaving all the heavy work to the hamstrings.
In his second sutra, Patanjali defines yoga as the stilling of the mind, the suspension and withdrawal from external senses that lead to consciousness. Fidgeting on your mat breaks that powerful inward journey.
Next time you step on your mat, set an intention to put aside all the meanderings of the mind that keep you from tasting a higher plane. The worries and preoccupations will be there when you get off the mat. Allow yourself time to be free of them. If you practice coming back to your breath and focus, you will find, in time, that you do the same on and off the mat, no matter how challenging the situation. That, truly, is yoga.
Do you often find yourself distracted during your yoga practice? What do you do to refocus?