Sitting in front of the computer trying to gather my scattered "modern" thoughts with all the to do lists, choices and time constraints, while noticing that I need more honey and lemon in my tea and trying to pull it all together and focus on the task right in front of me is a daily occurrence in my life. Maybe the phone rings or the Facebook IM dings and distracts me right in the middle of my first "focused" sentence.
I know I'm not alone swirling into a chaotic mess of thoughts in this instant gratification, instant reply expectancy world that demands our attention right away. And I can't be the only one who's crying for a quick way to settle my mind and the outside world and be able to completely focus on the task at hand. One at a time.
There's no end to the multitude of methods I tried to accomplish that, but the one that has proven to be the most effective and reliable for me has always been yoga.
While I practice yoga, I am present and aware of my posture and focused on my breath. So, my mind is as engaged in the practice as my body. Somehow this carries into my life outside of my yoga practice and seems to have an immediate affect on my cognitive performance. Right after even a short yoga practice of about 20 minutes, my productivity increases exponentially. I feel like a Super Woman!
My quick "focus yoga" practice, as I dearly call it, follows these 5 steps:
- Surya Namascar or Sun Salutations -- I do at least six rounds (if not the complete 12) to get my blood moving and push some vitality into my body and brain. Careful with the sequence and the breathing. Stay with your breath. Do not move into the next posture in the set before you have fully exhaled or inhaled (depends on what the posture asks for). Be mindful and aware. This is a beautiful dance of gratitude to the sun for bringing and maintaining life on this planet on a daily basis. Smile and "dance."
- Do a series of balancing and twisting poses that help waking up the spine, engaging your core and focusing so you don't fall and injure yourself. Depends on the day but I usually do a combination of Eagle Pose (Garudasana), Warrior III Pose (Virabhadrasana III), Tree Pose (Vrksasana), Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana), Extended Hand-to-big-toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana), Candle Pose or Shoulderstand Pose (Sarvangasana), Headstand (Sirsasana) and Sitted Spinal Twist Pose or Half Lord of the Fishes Pose (Ardha Matsyendhrasana). Pick three or four, no need to do more, especially if you only have a limited amount of time for this. Pick fewer poses, but do them correctly, with awareness of body posture and breath.
- Trataka or Concentrated Gazing. No need for candle. Just draw a half inch dot with a sharpie on a blank paper and then tape it to the wall at eye level. Concentrate on the dot only and try not to blink for the next two or three minutes. Not that easy, huh? But the more you do it the more of a focus ninja you become. You can increase the time after a week or two of practice. Be gentle but firm with yourself when it comes to this practice. It's very powerful.
- Pranayama -- Any breathing technique will require your full attention in order to do them correctly. This in itself will teach your mind the discipline of concentration which will be practiced outside of yoga as well. Do your favorite pranayama for 3-5 minutes. My two favorite ones are Alternate Nostril breathing (Nadi Shodana Pranayama) and the Bee Breath (Bhramari Pranayama).
- Meditation -- Don't run away from it even if you think you suck at it. Doesn't matter. Start with five minutes. Close your eyes, stay in a comfortable position and listen to your favorite song, or sounds of nature or the sound of your own breath. If your mind wanders, laugh at its naughtiness and bring it back to the meditation with unconditional love like a parent would do with a playful child.
Right after you are done with this yoga practice, you will fill revitalized and ready to take on the world. Use the first hour or two immediately following the practice to do your hardest tasks of the day. Your mind is clear, focused and inspired!