The human mind is an extraordinary beast. Capable of lighting fast transmissions. However it cannot do more than one thing at a time. I'll repeat. The mind can only do one thing at a time.
By leaning in to multi-tasking and priding ourselves on being able to do many things at once we are in fact spreading the power of our focus too thin and reducing our ability to concentrate. The more our mind jumps, at lighting fast speed between multiple points we are training ourselves to operate with a weakened flow of mental energy.
In the age of social media, open plan offices, and with more and more people taking the path of self-employment, working flexible hours in unusual places such as cafes, airports or while the kids are playing; we open ourselves to a bombardment of distraction and interruption.
In the same way that our intelligent, capable bodies were designed to move, our powerful minds were designed for focus, but without discipline the mind becomes akin to a wild tiger and it may come to bite you in the bum! When we don't protect ourselves from constant interruptions; the pings and alerts on our phones; colleagues popping over for a chat or the general buzz of activity in an unconventional work-space, we leak mental energy and the "focus muscle" atrophies.
In our overstimulated lives, is it any wonder so many people are drawn to meditation as a refuge, and yet give up because they struggle enormously with concentrating?! Like any muscle, the mind needs PRACTICE with concentration, use it or lose it.
The first step in meditation is concentration. Beginning to strengthen our focus on a single task or object will begin to train our mind for the practice of meditation. Consider the wise words of Swami Vishnu Devananda below.
Consider how he uses the words SINGLE OBJECT OR IDEA. It's not concentration when the mind bounces between objects. And it's likely that many of us go a full day without actually ever concentrating, according to the Swami's definition.
Concentration is also excellent if we want to avoid the decline of the mind. These days, with medicine supporting us to live in the physical body longer than, even just 100 years ago, we are seeing more and more mental conditions showing up in old age; dementia for example. After the age of 30 we loose 100,000 brain cells every single day, and they won't ever regenerate. Strengthening the mind with focus (daily meditation is a great way to do this) helps us use what we have left to greater effect.
A wonderful way to begin practicing the art of concentration, which will be a good and more do-bale way to begin a daily meditation practice, is to work with focusing on the SENSES. Here are three ideas for exploration. Let me know how you go!
1. SOUND. Stop what you are doing and be still. Perhaps close your eyes. Open your ears and listen for what you can hear. A) the sounds far away, B) the sounds close by, C) the sound of your breathing. Concentrate on sound for five to ten minutes, use a timer if that helps. If you notice the mind wandering, bring it back to LISTENING to the sounds around you. I personally love to work with sound listening to the sound of UJAYI BREATHING. If you are brand new to yoga and ujayi breath you can watch this how to video here, where I break it down slowly so you can make sure you are doing it right. It's a fantastic practice to de-stress and reduce anxiety.
2. SIGHT. Lay in the grass and watch the clouds. Notice if you start to daydream. Gently bring your concentration back to the clouds. Or try my guided meditation for Trataka Candle Gazing Meditation. In addition to improving focus, trataka is a cleansing practice for the eyes, especially if we feel fatigued after long periods driving or looking at screens. Listen to the guided instruction here.
3. TASTE. Eating Meditation. I absolutely LOVE this practice. I invite you to try it with something small and simple, such as a sultana, rather than an entire meal. Begin by looking at the food, notice it's shape, colour, texture. Pick it up, feel it, and put it in your mouth, on your tongue. Before you bite it, feel the texture in your mouth, notice the initial tastes. Run it around your mouth noticing how it feels in different parts of your mouth. Then when you have begun to salivate (the body is ready to receive nourishment!) bite in to it. Taste it! Notice how it tastes and feels in different areas of your tongue. Keep in in your mouth as long as you can before swallowing and savour the flavour!
Are you wanting more fuel to inspire boosted focus and concentration? On the podcast this week I talk with digital marketing trainer, writer and business coach Brook McCarthy about 4 major self-care themes for the self-employed: Focus, Boundaries, Managing Stress and the Comparison Trap. Brook also happens to be a great friend of mine and I immensely respect her work and her ability to WALK THE TALK.
Brook is a woman who seriously knows her stuff, has a rocking relationship with her business and knows how to have FUN! We dive in deep - there are lots of great treasures in this chat- but we also keep it light. Listen in, and it will feel like pulling up a chair with us down at Bay 10 Cafe and co-working space, grab yourself a coffee to make the experience even more immersive! Go have a listen here.
AND, because I know you are a smart bunch, if you have any focus boosting tips, articles of links to share, I'd love to hear from you and I'll compile a list to share with everyone!