Picture this: It’s 5:30 on a Wednesday afternoon. You’ve had a hectic day at work and left with things unfinished. You’re feeling a little hangry from skipping lunch. There’s nothing but a pile of dirty laundry waiting for you at home. Traffic is a bear, the sun is in your eyes and the clock is ticking; but you are determined to get to the yoga studio for one hour of peace and quiet, one hour to escape, breathe and move your body before you have to deal with reality again. Finally, you unfurl your mat and sit down to get centered for class. With your palms pressed together in front of your agitated heart, the teacher begins walking you through a guided meditation in a soft and soothing voice and you start to let go.
… until… TRAIN WHISTLE!
As a yoga teacher, I kinda love these unexpected intrusions. We live in a busy world full of distractions, and it can be tempting to look to our time on the mat as an escape. But yoga was not designed to help us hide. Yoga was designed to help us see more clearly.
The asana practice we do on our mats is just one of 8 practices outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the foundational philosophical texts of yoga. These eight “limbs” of yoga are the guidelines for living a purposeful and meaningful life. One of the eight limbs is dharana, or one-pointed focus. Dharana is the kind of all encompassing focus you feel when you are deeply absorbed in a project or a task. Nothing can distract you. You can lose track of the passing of time as you are fully engaged in the present moment. When you do look up from your task, it’s almost as if you were in a dream, another reality. But were you? Dharana walks that razor’s edge between utter concentration and spacing out. The two sensations can feel similar. The difference is dharana describes a mental state of clarity and discernment. Dharana is one of the yoga tools that sharpens your perception and discrimination to see reality more clearly.
In the asana class, we use drishti, or the directed, focused gaze, as a prompt to focus not just our eyes, but our full attention. For example, in a sun salutation your teacher may tell you to look UP as you reach your arms up. In Warrior 2, the drishti is over and past your front hand. We also use the breath as a point of focus. Your mind can’t be meandering through your to do list tomorrow if you are concentrating on looking a specific direction while breathing and arranging your body into a particular form. The drishti and the breath help you focus on what you are actually doing, right here, right now.
And these practices on your mat helps cultivate dharana, which can be called upon any time you need to focus your attention on something, see if for what it is, and make a clear headed decision about what to do.
So, rather than experiencing that train whistle as an irritating distraction, let it be a reminder to refocus your attention on what you are doing right here, right now. This is the true power of yoga.
By: Lesley Ramsey