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2nd Element of Yoga Practice: Drawing Attention Inwards

by Perumal Koshy

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In this, the second of a 10 part series on the elements of the practice, the value and meaning of drawing attention inwards will be scrutinized. Directing attention inwards is an act of letting go of matters that occupy the mind. From this point onward the ability to concentrate is achieved leading to meditation. This is attempted not just when meditating but also during yoga postures. Maintaining such a state during yoga sessions leads to deeper practices. Beginners see the logic, yet the process of application is complicated. The postures are new. Grasping yoga for the first time is like a child learning to walk. Concentration on every step is paramount. It is not long till the steps taken are void of effort and thought. Ideal is a mind that is not occupied by thought and emotion and so kept open to the world.

Examples of this are seen with martial artists who learn a technique to perfection and execute it without recollection during self-defense. Or ballet dancers, after rehearsing for many months, experience the legs moving through a performance even though the mind does not recall what the body is to do. This no-mind state named Mushin by the Japanese is comparable to the state of flow experience that artists acquire while in a creative process. Other ways to refer to this concept include: being in the moment, present, in a zone, on a roll, in the groove, on fire, in tune, switched on and centered.

Despite years of regular weekly lessons, practitioners may not be able to draw their attention inwards. This is so when emphasis is placed on competitive achievement. People’s competitive sides often prevent the mind from directing inward. Some men are seen looking embarrassed in group classes just because they cannot keep up with women in arm balances. This competitive way of directing attention outwardly during yoga lessons does not lead into deep practices. Drawing the attention inwards within groups requires not comparing personal efforts with others.

Prematurely focusing on advanced postures is another reason for not tapping into higher states of yoga. Fifty years ago, students did not have access to the numerous pictures of complex yoga postures that are seen scattered across the internet. One method of teaching had the teacher only demonstrating the next and more advanced posture when the aspirant was ready to receive the new knowledge. In such schools, beginners did not practice with or even look into advanced classes. In this manner the student remained blank, their attention focused on a present practice and not future possibilities. The direction the student took was decided by the teacher, based on the innate talent of the student.

warrior pose

Another of several reasons students may not draw their attention inward is due to particular ways the class is instructed. Jokes are fine from time to time. On occasion a lesson may end up with chit chatting. Acceptable as long as it is not the norm. The overall norm of the class should be silence, focus and discipline which are the tools to refine a finely tuned mental state.  Remember, it is a yoga class and not a coffee shop. Try to save the dialogue for after class.

For thousands of years, yoga was passed down orally. Then, according to various scholars, sometime between the 4th century B.C. and the 4th century A.D., a revered sage named Patanjali wrote 196 aphorisms otherwise called sutras or words of wisdom. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is one of the biggest influences on modern yoga. This written work on yoga expresses that “Yoga is the control of thought-waves in the mind”. Yoga is hinged on this concept. After attention is drawn inwards, the practitioner of yoga can commence controlling thought-waves in the mind, which in turn leads to the true depths of yoga.


Also read the other articles in the series:

» 1st Element of Yoga Practice

» 3rd Element of Yoga Practice: Regularity

» 4th Element of Yoga Practice: Preparation of the Joints

» 5th Element of Yoga Practice: The Core

» 6th Element of Yoga Practice: Building Strength

Looking for great retreats to enhance your attention? Then go on an intermediat yoga course!

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