Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Change Your Focus! Change Your Life!

Yoga teachers often teach about Drishti - an area of focus in a pose or practice.  Often, it is where you place your eyes.  Where your eyes go, your mind follows....Distracted by what's going on out the window?  By the cat hair on your pants? The mind is no longer aware fully of the body or the breath.  It has wandered off, distracted.  But, Drishti can also be about focusing on a muscle or a part of the body in the pose.  This can intensify your awareness of what you are doing with your body and it brings the mind and the body together.  Now, you have conscious control over what the mind is attending to.

Think of how this could benefit life off the yoga mat.  Where is your focus at any given time during the day?  While in a meeting, your mind wanders to the grocery list.  While talking to your kid, your mind wanders back to an uncomfortable conversation with a co-worker.  While driving, your eyes wander to your phone and you almost ram into the car in front of you.  Or, you spend your day focused on a really anxiety-provoking, difficult conversation you need to have and the day is a cluster or frustration, stress, forgetfulness, and tension.  

What you focus on, determines the direction of the day, and ultimately the direction of your life.  So, choose your focus.  Choose where you place your eyes, your ears, your thoughts.  Your brain will continue to unconsciously make some of these choices for you, but the more you decide to gain control over your focus, the more control you will have over your life.  Today we have 7 ways to increase your ability to choose your focus.

1. Breathe:  Viloma breath is a very good focus breath.  It helps with focus, because there is so much change from the natural in and out rhythm of the breath.  Your mind has to pay attention in order to follow the breathing technique.  Often it is taught in a reclined or lying down position, but sitting is fine as well.  Start with a full exhale.  Then, inhale for as long as it takes you to say "inhale" in your mind. Don't exhale!  Hold the breath for as long as it takes to say "hold" in your mind.  Then, inhale again.  Then, hold again.  Do this 4x total.  After the fourth time, take a full, smooth exhale and begin the process again. Practice 4-5 rounds and you might feel more able to focus on whatever task is at hand.  Use the breath again anytime you find yourself unable to focus on a task.

2. Meditate:  This is a sensory focus exercise. Your brain can pay attention to many things, but consciously you are only able to hold about 5-7 of these things in your awareness.  In this exercise, the goal is to be aware of and focused on 1 of the senses at a time.  Your brain will still be aware of more than 1 sense.  However, you let the others fall off into the background as you engage only in one sensory experience at a time.  Begin with soft eyes, so you can see through your lids.  Try to keep your mind engaged only on what you see - light, shape, shadow, etc. Let the other senses fade off into the background.  Then, switch to smell.  Taking in full breaths through the nose, notice any smells around you, ignoring the other senses vying for your attention.  Next, is taste.  Just a swallow or two and you can stimulate your sense of taste, ignoring the other senses.  When you get to hearing, start with sounds furthest away from you and gradually bring your focus inward to the sound of your breath.  Finally, the sense of touch.  Notice open spaces on the skin, spaces with clothing covering, and spaces touching something.  From there, try to be aware of deeper sensations under the skin, focused on what you feel internally.  Do this exercise slowly and take 10+ minutes.  Or, go quickly through each as a quick check-in with your body.

3.  Relax:  Lying down is obviously the best way to practice relaxation, but this exercise can also be done seated, just to identify and loosen tension areas during your day.  Focus on your feet, wiggle them around, create tension by pointing your toes and then relaxing the tension.  Do the same for each area of the body, moving up to the scalp at the top of the head.  This exercise can also be done in bed - lights out.  As you focus on each area of the body say, "My feet are sleepy."  Etc. By the time you get to your head, hopefully you are asleep!

4.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  This is a true training the brain exercise.  Let's say you are making dinner, chopping vegetables, boiling water, reading a recipe, etc.  Every time your mind gets distracted from the dinner tasks and is thinking instead of work, or a phone call you need to make, or something someone said, tell yourself, "No, I am not focusing on that right now."  Then, bring it back to the task at hand.  Don't get frustrated with yourself, each time your mind wanders and you bring it back, it's a bicep curl for the brain! 

5. Power Pose:  One of the most popular images of a balance pose is tree pose.  It is a great pose for focus, because you can get yourself into the position and then make small changes in the arms, but remain focused and balanced throughout.  In the images, all 3 have the foot placed up on the thigh in the groin area, but you can put the foot on your lower calf as well.  Just do not put the foot on the knee!  Begin with the first arm position, then lower the arms to the second and third positions and hold the pose throughout.

6. Affirmation:  Affirmations are actually a form of cognitive behavior therapy.  However, they are a really nice tool to set a daily intention and bring yourself back to it all day long with focused-awareness.  Say an affirmation something like this:  "I will use the power of my focus to lead my mind in a direction of my choosing.  I will stay focused on things that bring encouragement and joy into my life."  Change the affirmation as needed.  Set it as a reminder on your phone.  Hang it in a conspicuous place in your home or office or both.

7.  Chant:  Find an instrument that plays a sound - a piano, guitar, bell, singing bowl.  Make the sound and lightly hum through the sound.  Repeat multiple times, focused on the sound and matching your own humming sound to it as best you can.

Change your life focus by practicing the above 7 skills - every day!  Contact me with comments or questions: tammysytsma@circleofstoneswellness.com  OR check out the services on my website - there might be something there perfect for your needs!  circleofstoneswellness.com

Tammy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Yoga Therapist.

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