Updated: Jul 3, 2022
Every month I plan a theme for my classes and teach the theme all month. I believe a month is a good amount of time to practice the principles and postures related to the theme while charting progress. Gains can be made in a month if one applied themselves. I have been teaching this way since 2009. Every year is a little different.
We just wrapped up June where I taught the theme of concentration, or dharana. The focus posture was Eagle. Concentration is challenging and lacking in most of our daily activities. We now know that multi-tasking is not an efficient practice. One can have many projects going at the same time but never finish any of them.
In this principle, we are learning to pay attention to only one thing, and one thing only. Wherever we place our attention, or concentration is where our energy, or minds focus goes. If you want to be the best at something, you have to focus on it. Concentration is a skill to develop like conversation. It takes work and is a give and take of attention. The mind likes to be in charge. The term the mind is like a drunk monkey is not to far off. Random thoughts, our environment around us, needs, wants and desires are all distractions, designed to take our concentration to them, and usually take our money as well.
Amazon is built on this principle of distraction. It is the opposite of concentration. Distraction is their biggest gain. They count on us not being able to concentrate and follow the sale sign, or discount or coupon they are offering on the thing that will solve all our problems. If we were masters of concentration we would log in and only order what we were after and not the ten additional things we wind up ordering without even realizing it.
Balancing posture is one of the best ways to practice. We ask students to fix their gaze ahead on one spot in front of them and not get distracted by what's going on around us as we balance. I love it when there is noise around the studio or classroom. It is a great time to practice. I am calm and collected on the inside while chaos spins around me. Sometimes someone will forget to turn their cell phones off. What a great time to practice this principle. I notice the phone ringing, then bring my concentration back to myself and my practice.
Fight or flight stress reaction is how most of us live all day. It is not our fault, nor is it a bad thing. It keeps us safe if real situations of danger. Learning to control that reaction to perceived stress is a real discipline in itself. All these principles take diligent practice. I notice that thing that is happening around me, my brain needs to know that it is safe, then I recall my attention back to myself. In this way yoga is a selfish practice. Concentration is the first step to meditation. Once we can concentrate on a single point of focus, we can channel out energy and our life will reflect that which we choose to concentrate upon.
I choose Eagle as this month's challenge pose because it requires such a level of concentration. The fable that goes along with the posture is a great teaching tool. A simplified version of the story of Eagle pose is that there is a mighty Eagle, the strongest of all flying predator birds. In this story it has become wrapped in the clutches of a great serpent which is constricting the eagle, trying to squeeze it to death. This is symbolic of tension in our life. When the eagle breaks free and flies away that could represent us breaking the bondage of stress and creating balance with rest and relaxation.
Choose different challenges.
When you find yourself in a crowded place with a lot of noise, can you use a tool like a breath to remind yourself to concentrate on your inner stillness and not the chaos unfolding around you? When you are doing work on your digital device can you complete the project without being distracted by messages, pop ups, advertisements and all the other places that can steal our energy?
Trying to hold a conversation with one person in a busy social setting is a great practice. Focusing on the person you are speaking with and not looking about the room at all the activity takes concentration. Eagle pose and Tree posture are good examples of this developing concentration as well.
In tree, you concentrate straight ahead at a spot in front of you that is not moving and allow yourself to sway with subtle movements in the pose. It does not matter that a fellow student falls out of the posture, you remain calmly centered and focused. The fact that the mind is telling us how bad our balance is, does not matter for we remain calm, cool and collected. Every week I offer new challenges based on the idea of concentration. I make the postures a little more challenging, the words I am channeling while teaching a little more in depth and thought provoking on purpose. I am offering opportunities to practice.
You can do Eagle pose in a chair, or my favorite, lying down. When on your back on the mat, the pose becomes more mobile. You can play with different movements and feel the amount of concentration it takes to approach a known pose in a new way. Try Tree pose with Eagle arms. Like a tree, we have to stay centered in ourselves while life blows around us. Happy practicing.
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