One of the biggest challenges of the practice of yoga is maintaining one’s focus. This is especially true in the context of a live class, where there are sounds, movements, smells (unfortunately), and countless other little distractions trying to draw your attention away from yourself. There are days when I can put on the blinders and turn my focus inwards, where I am only vaguely aware of the person next to me. And then there are the days where I can’t stop looking around, responding to external stimuli like an ADD-addled fruitfly, noticing haircuts or an interesting tattoo on my fellow yogis and yoginis. Worst are the days where the mind wants to judge, either myself or others.

In a very full class today at my local studio, I became very distracted by the yogi who plopped his mat down right next to mine at the last minute. I’ll have to talk about my mat placement etiquette rules some other day, but suffice it to say that I wasn’t exactly thrilled. My mind began to churn with negative thoughts, and I realized very quickly that I was on the verge of ruining my own practice by wasting all my energy and focus on someone I’d never seen before. I recalled a recent piece of advice given by another instructor, which is to keep your visual focus close to you. To provide a bit of context, this was during a Bikram class– the floor series, specifically– where there are brief savasanas in the prone position (on your stomach) with the head turned either to the left or the right. My natural tendency, which I hadn’t even realized, was to stare towards the far end of the room and often at some person in particular. The instructor suggested that the gaze remain on the fibers of your own towel, or at your own shoulder, and to let the gaze soften and fall out of focus. To do so allows greater relaxation and preserves your energy for the next posture. I noticed an immediate difference; rather than reaching out visually, I was turning inward and holding my prana in to myself.

Whether you are a Bikram practitioner or not, you can explore this concept any time you are on the mat. If your attention is drifting, or you find yourself sneaking peeks at your classmates during a posture, find a soft spot to look on the edge or center of your mat (depending on the asana), and let the eyes soften. You can also bring this practice off the mat, so that when outside forces are causing unwanted distractions, you choose to withhold your attention from them. Nothing can bother you, or control you, if you don’t allow it to. In this way, the things we learn through yoga can really impact our lives. Happy practicing, and Namaste!

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