Cynthia Gran began to study yoga in 1978. She lives with her kalyanamitra in Evanston where she loves to cook, garden, and continuously pursue personal development.
"The one prudence in life is concentration...
concentration is the secret of strength."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Some mornings I've said, "I have so much to do, I don't know what to do first!" To which, my husband invariably says, "Do your practice first." Ah yes, a reminder to focus the mind in morning meditation so that I may tackle my daily responsibilities calmly and efficiently. He displays the commitment of a kalyanamitra, a noble friend, and gently reminds me the right order of things. It's a great benefit to have such a friend.
But a yogi endeavors to relinquish dependence on outside queues and eventually develop inner queues. The outer world constantly pulls us away from focus. We take in information via the senses. We multitask. Scattered mind happens and yoga is the skillful control of it. Harnessing the mind is not easy. As in most of life's responsibilities, concentration is paramount for yoga and meditation. In fact, yoga is samadhi, or concentration to the point of spiritual absorption.
Mind is dominated by one of three qualities: rajas, tamas or sattwa. Respectively these are: over-active, intense and powerful qualities of mind; dull, distracted and attached qualities of mind; or balanced, luminous and content qualities of mind. It is only from the sattwa vantage that a person can slip into spiritual absorption, sustained concentration, or samadhi.
The first time I attended a lecture on yoga we were instructed to go home and clean out our closets. Cleaning and removing clutter clears the mind. Less stuff in one's home is less stuff in one's mind. We clear, we release attachments, we uncomplicate.
To practice meditation, learning to focus is necessary and it leads to better concentration. Likewise, once we cultivate one-pointed concentration, meditation comes easier. They feed each other. It's the nature of the mind to wander and it's the never-ending task of the aspiring yogi to corral and quiet it. We aspire to control the mind and do not want the mind to control us.
Andy Reinhardt from Business Week interviewed Steve Jobs in 1998. When asked about new strategies for Apple, Jobs said:
"Everything just got simpler. That's been one of my mantras: focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple."
Mantra has become part of the vernacular. Mantra has the same etymology as the word man and refers to mind and its control. It protects the mind of the person who embraces it. As a tool for concentration, it helps prevent dissipation of mind, anchors it, and provides comfort. It can be a word or an aphorism. It can be in any language. What matters, is that it works for you, has some meaning and allows you to rise above unwanted thoughts that seem to go on and on. But whatever the symbolism, eventually you want to let that go, too, in order to fully empty the mind rather than create more attachments. Mantra will become a good habit that is a strong inner queue.
Concentration is heightened when we keep a routine in life. A schedule keeps one focused. Other keys to increase concentration are to strike a balance in areas such as exercise and diet. Too much or too little of anything can deter our ability to focus. Too much heat can deter focus, whereas a cooler atmosphere can increase it.
Ayurveda tells us that sugars dull the mind; overeating dampens focus; fast movement of the body over stimulates the mind; slightly under eating improves focus; and lightly pungent flavors sharpen the mind. All in good measure.
The body and mind tend to naturally be more balanced at the equinoxes. For example, balance poses such as the tree are easier to do at these two corners of the year. As such, every day concentration comes more naturally and is stronger at sunrise and sunset. Viewing them is serene and calming.
The reason I practice yoga concentration is to refine strength of mind, increase inward focus and enhance experience in meditation. Some natural phenomenon and some simple disciplines remove distractions from the outer world, when I sense them and when I remember them.
The Yoga Sutras recommends that we leave aside all false identities that linger in the mind. Concentrate on the breath: allow the body to become relaxed, the breath to become serene, and the mind to become quiet as a wave-less lake, and dissolve into a stream of timelessness. If the mind cannot focus, discipline it with a count of four to each inhalation and to each exhalation.
Questions for contemplation: