Focus on the Present
We originally titled this blog “4 Mental Benefits of Yoga,” but once we started writing, we couldn’t stop. (That should be testimony enough of why you should be a yogi!) So instead, let’s make this a 4-part series and start at the beginning with focus...
Did you just follow along with the box breathing prompt? It was probably a little challenging to read the words at your normal pace because extended, deeper breaths force the mind to s-l-o-w down. All the noise and external distractions from the craziness that is your life melt away as you concentrate on nothing more than inhaling and exhaling to ground the body and prepare it for the physical activity to come.
If controlled breath alone can quiet your overthinking mind, imagine what the addition of paired movement can do. Let’s walk through a simple vinyasa to really visualize how much work takes place while trying to match breath with movement…
- Inhale - Standing in Mountain at the front of your mat, bring your arms up and overhead.
- Exhale - Fold all the way down to the ground for a Forward Bend.
- Inhale - Halfway up, hands to shins. Remember to keep a flat back!
- Exhale - Lower back down and jump or walk the feet back into a Plank position.
- Inhale - Lean forward so that your shoulders come in front of your hands.
- Exhale - Slowly lower into Chaturanga. Remember to keep your core tight so you’re not puffing out your chest. Your back should be one straight line! Don’t forget to activate your Ujjayi breath if you’re overheating!
- Inhale - With the top of your feet flat on the ground, rise up into Cobra. If you want a deeper backbend stretch, lift the hips and legs off the floor for Upward Facing Dog.
- Exhale - Tuck the toes and push backwards into Downward Dog. Your tailbone pushes back and up. Your weight is evenly distributed between both hands as you actively push into the mat. Slowly pedal one leg out at a time and continue to breathe, sinking deeper into the stretch with every exhale.
With just four cycles of breath, you worked every part of your body AND stayed mentally connected to the present moment to ensure you matched your inhale to eccentric movements (muscle lengthening) and exhale to concentric movements (muscle shortening) for maximum efficiency. Or simply because your teacher instructed you to do so and you’re a good listener, haha! Either way, you’re not thinking about that dreaded work deadline anymore. How could you while (1) listening to multiple directions, (2) pairing breath, (3) correcting posture, and (4) trying to stay ahead of the game and remembering the next pose so your vinyasa looks fluid and effortless? While your brain works so quickly that it tricks you into thinking you are multitasking, it can really only process so much at once. A simple vinyasa, or even one complicated asana, is enough to push your brain to capacity.
So what’s the takeaway here?
For the duration of your practice - be it a 1 hour class or 10 dedicated minutes in assisted handstand against the wall - your mind is too busy focusing on you and your beautiful, strong body and the intricacies of your yoga journey to pay attention to the external, usually negative, everyday stressors. Your bleeding bank account, doomed love life, micromanaging boss, thinning hair, missed PTA meeting, upcoming doctor’s appointment and all the horrible diagnoses that might accompany it, etc. get checked at the door and never make their way to your mat! Yoga is the one time and place where you can completely escape from reality. The power of NOW erases yesterday’s trauma and tomorrow’s worries, and it allows you to live mindfully in serenity. Yoga is your safe space to BE IN THE PRESENT and FOCUS WITHIN.
Stay tuned for upcoming posts on…