Our Current Situation
In the current fast paced world, where everything that we see around us pulls our mind into numerous directions, it is often difficult, at times seemingly impossible to keep it engaged or concentrated when we need it the most. Times before an examination, a big presentation, meeting deadlines or even spending some quality time with a loved one, are situations where we find our mind drifting off and not under our control.
However, every now and then we come across people who are good at and can easily transition from one situation or moment to another. These people are knowingly or unknowingly practicing or are adept at, what we call in Yogic parlance, Pratyahara.
The Yogic approach
One of the most prominent ancient texts on yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, offers a systematic approach to removing the distractions of the mind to unite (Yuj) with the Higher Self.
Pratyahara is the fifth limb of the eightfold path explained by Patanjali, starting with Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, and moving on to the advanced practices of Dharana, Dyana and Samadhi. Pratyahara is made up of two words prati which means to wean away and ahara, which means food or anything that we absorb through our senses. The most common definition of Pratyahara is withdrawal of the senses (indriyas) from external and direct it towards the internal. According to Sri M, it is the ability to engage and disengage our attention from one task or situation to another, at will. This is possible only when there is complete one-pointed attention to a task at hand. Once the skill of Pratyahara is practiced and developed, then meditation or fixing one’s mind on a single thought or an internal point or sound, which in yogic terms is called Dharana, becomes easier. This gradually transforms into Dhyana where the mind is effortlessly kept in a state of meditation for a length of time.
Focusing on the breath
Like every other skill, Pratyahara requires regular and dedicated practice. The simplest way is to begin focusing on our breath. By observing the inflow and outflow of our breath, one can take a step back from the many stories running parallel in our minds and focus on the present. This may happen for just a few seconds to begin with; however, with constant practice, this simple exercise becomes easy and one is able to control one’s mind from all mental acrobatics and engage at any task at will.
Gradually, as one becomes more aware of their breath, one develops the capacity to objectively observe one’s mind and thought patterns. You are able to identify the subtle link between thoughts, emotions and the breath—the way the breath becomes fast paced when one is feeling angry or agitated, or how the breath is shallow when fearful, and then the deep and rhythmic breath, when one is calm and tranquil.
The whole science of Pranayama is centered around the idea that the breath and mind are intimately linked. Many Pranayama techniques have been prescribed to consciously alter the incoming and outgoing breath to be able to reduce mental activity and calm the mind. Nadi shodan or alternate nostril breathing is one such simple and effective technique.
Obstacles and roadblocks
One of the most common roadblocks we face while trying to concentrate or be fully engaged at any task is boredom or lack of interest. For example, when a painter paints or a musician is creating music, they are completely absorbed in what they do.
The root of boredom or lack of interest happens therefore when the mind is not happy with the task at hand. For instance, when you are stuck in a long meeting, your mind naturally wanders to “attractive” distractions such as checking Instagram or WhatsApp messages, or whatever catches your interest. If you carefully observe, this is because you have an expectation from what the meeting should be like or how long it should take. Could we take a few minutes off to bring our attention back to the present by focusing on our breath, and perhaps embrace the current moment and try to see what that meeting or that moment has to offer? The moment might have wonderful opportunities for us to learn about ourselves, our co-workers or the company.
So, staying with the “boredom”, you might just discover your own strength of mind.
The popular saying: energy grows where attention flows, makes more sense now when you start paying attention to your breath and see your awareness grow. This is necessary not only to develop spiritually but also to have a balanced and harmonious life, whether personal or professional. As is the case with every habit and every skill, this rewiring of the brain takes time and calls you to be extremely patient with yourself.