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The Yoga Report

Mantra Five: Concentrate

My students accuse me of focus-obsession, that I badger them mercilessly about the central quest, the meaning of their essays and stories. So fatigued by my efforts to get him to rein in his narrative meanderings, one undergrad offered in his weekly conference to inscribe the F-word on my tombstone. “I’ll mention that in my will,” I said.

How delighted my literary offspring would be to learn of my desperation to focus during yoga. If this exercise blending the physical, mental, and spiritual is the path to enlightenment, as the ancient men in their flowing robes and scraggly beards insisted, and absolute concentration is the pulse, I’m doomed. Or at least a laggard on the path to awareness.

At the root of yoga is breath. Inhale long and deep. Fill the rib cage with air. Exhale long and deep. Focus, focus, focus on that breath. Focused breathing will center you in the present. Focused breathing will connect mind, body, and soul. Focused breathing will calm.

Until enter thoughts of tomorrow’s meeting, a looming deadline, the afternoon grocery run. Tilapia or haddock?

Balance, too, requires focus. As your weight settles on one arm and one leg in side plank, remembering to pick up the CVS prescription will cause the wrist to quake, the ankle to tremble. Eagle pose – arms and legs twisted – demands total, 100 percent, don’t-even-think-a-thought, concentration. Little wonder that at Sunday morning’s Slow Flow class at Repose, my foot kept tapping the floor to stabilize. I couldn’t stop dreaming about breakfast. Oatmeal or eggs?

This morning I tried really, really hard to blank the mind. As we moved from High Lunge to Half Moon with one leg out and one arm up, I visualized white space. Then a brass gong like the one in the front of the room. When we grabbed our right foot and sent it up and out – Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose -- I teetered. Couldn’t help it. How could I not wonder if son #1 would find steady employment?

We grabbed the left food. I breathed. I envisioned the brass gong.

Steady she was.

Concentration, of course, is a highly transferable skill. How much more engaged would we be in conversation if we focused on what others were saying, not what we were thinking? How much more would we absorb of our novels and newspapers if we zeroed in only on the words on the page? How much quicker would I finish reading student writing if I didn’t grab the Penzeys spice catalogue? How much quicker would I finish my own writing if I didn’t grab the Penzeys spice catalogue?

How much more productive would we all be if we focused only on the task at hand? If we sunk into the moment rather than dwell on the past or future?

Wait! Could that be a sliver of enlightenment?
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