One Thing At A Time

There have been several recent studies, like this one, that have definitively proven that multi-tasking is not only inefficient, but also Publication2-page-0harmful to the brain. Frequent or chronic multi-taskers use their brains less effectively than folks who focus on one task at a time.

This, of course, is not news to ancient Yogis who knew the value of singular focus and a less cluttered brain. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali talk about training the mind to focus on one single principle or object.

Despite the research, multi-tasking still seems to be a badge of honor and something that is highly valued in a prospective employee. It may take a few years for the research to catch on, but in the meantime we can all benefit from unlearning this “skill”. Not just in our work life, but in our personal lives as well. So much of each moment is missed when our brains are occupied with things that have happened, are happening simultaneously, or will be happening.

Like any habit we’ve formed, in order to change it, we need to form a new habit by repetitively and mindfully choosing to focus on one thing at a time. A regular and comprehensive yoga (meaning, ALL of yoga, not just asana) practice is a good way to train the mind for singular and directed focus. By giving our brains the opportunity and space to focus on our breath and only our breath we begin the hard work of retraining ourselves to operate more effectively and efficiently in a world that is built around multi-tasking.

One breath at a time, one moment at a time, one thing at a time.

Enthusiasm + Compassion

I’m back from Hong Kong and the Asia Yoga Conference, dear yogis. It was a fantastic trip and a great experience.

I spent seven straight hours with Sri Dharma Mittra and, as I imagine many people are, was thoroughly moved to be in his presence. The man is pure heart and a living example of dedication. He imparted many gems of wisdom in those hours and hopefully my quickly-scribbled notes will allow me to share them over time.  (I also spent two wonderful hours with Jason Crandell. More on that as well in future posts)

This man is 73 years old!

Today, though, I wanted to share his most frequent and passionate message: enthusiasm and compassion in your yoga practice and in your life will lead to Realization*. It seems so simple because it is, and yet as anybody who has attempted to be enthusiastic and compassionate in everything they do knows,  we can make simple much more difficult than it needs to be.

Enthusiasm can be defined as “absorbing or controlling possession of the mind by any interest or pursuit”. For me this definition is a bit revelatory as I had never considered the role of controlling the mind in being enthusiastic. According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one definition of Yoga is “the ability to direct and focus mental activity and the ability to still the turning of thought.” Looking at these two definitions, it is clear how interconnected the two are.

Finding and maintaining enthusiasm about our practice and our life requires focus; what do we want? what do we hope to gain? what do we hope to refine? Without this focus, enthusiasm and joy will wane. How can we maintain enthusiasm and focus?

By applying compassion towards ourselves and others. Compassion involves not only commiseration, mercy and tenderness but is a feeling always accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate suffering. The ability to be kind to ourselves, to recognize when we need to move away from the plan we’ve laid out for ourselves and perhaps shift our focus onto other things, as well as to recognize that a loss of enthusiasm and/or focus (i.e. suffering) is not something we should berate ourselves for, but rather an indication that it is time to reassess, time perhaps for a change.

I think sometimes in our culture, specifically in competitive settings, we see focus as an ability to remain fixed on a goal in such a way that we are able to ignore everything else around us. While this may be useful for winning a race or a  job or a contract or a client, we have to ask ourselves, if we focus to the point of exclusion of all other sensations, how holistic and balanced can our approach be to life? And is it possible to maintain enthusiasm if we are ignoring so many other parts of ourselves? Eventually, whatever we’re ignoring – our bodies, our families, our spiritual life – will need to be addressed.

What if instead we see focus,  not as a mental override, but through compassionate eyes as a mental attunement? Something that clarifies our path as we move forward, rather than something that keeps us on a path we may have chosen. After all, we can always change our mind! Changing our mind does not necessarily mean we lack focus. It simply means that we see things differently and/or more clearly than we did before and are making necessary adjustments.  In this way focus allows us to find harmony among our physical, energetic, mental, intellectual, and spiritual bodies.

This is what I’m pondering now, dear yogis. As I said, I have lots more to share from the conference and specifically my time with Dharma Mittra, so stay tuned.

Namaste.

 

*more on Realization in a future post