Isabella Nitschke

Yoga & Coaching

Focus and different type of distractions – Sharath Sunday conference

Have you ever sat down and just turned all you focus inwards to try and figure out who you really are? What your purpose is here on earth? What your dharma is? Most people let all their focus go outwards Sharath said at this mornings conference. Their minds are only occupied with “the latest yoga news or teacher trainings” and with what other people are doing. Our minds are turned to unnecessary things which drive our focus away from our practice, from our purpose and duties. Part of our sadhana is to avoid unwanted and unnecessary distractions (like television, the internet etc) and discussions (practice being quiet instead of wasting energy on small talk and gossip).

Preparation for early morning asana practice starts the evening before. Sharath said he withdraws after dinner and very few if any words are spoken. He doesn’t waste his time on Twitter or You-tube trying to stay up to date with other people’s business. This unnecessary distraction would only lead to waste of energy which in turn would diminish the ability to focus and to a scattered mind. In the morning before practice Sharath also keeps silent in order not to agitate the mind. Whilst doing asana practice focus should be ONLY on the specific asana one is doing. That is meditation. According to Sharath no other separate meditation is needed. The focus one gets through asana practice is enough. Many people advertise different meditation techniques, and many people pretend to be meditating by sitting in padmasana with closed eyes “while they’re actually thinking of their boy or girlfriend”, Sharath said.

Asana practice should be done early in the morning, at the divine hour of Brahmamuhurtha (for more on this see separate posting) since the calm and silence will make it less likely for your mind to wander. It is easier to remain focused. Furthermore, the air is cleaner as people have not yet started doing their daily tasks and so no cars are out and about. If one practises later in a more polluted environment, the practise will not lead to a healthier body and the mind will be disturbed. Early morning practice will also make your practice more energetic, said Sharath.

Sharath underlined the difference between unnecessary and necessary distraction. Having a family, children, a job and so on is part of one’s duty. Giving back to society is part of our karma and so distractions like these are necessary. It is our duty to help others, to think about others and to carry out actions that are beneficial to others and not necessarily to ourselves. However, these actions (which are part of following the yamas and nyiamas in our daily life) should not be forced, not done with attachment or the intention of personal gain.  Practise of the Yamas and Nyiamas need to come naturally from within – and they will if we keep up our regular practice.

Unnecessary distraction on the other hand – such as surfing the internet (but not blogging about yoga I think since this falls within the category of sharing the practice an helping others on the road towards understanding themselves – at least I would like to think that 😉 ) or going to parties, talking too much eating the wrong kinds of foods (that disturb the digestive system and thus lead to discomfort which in turn leads to a distracted mind) – should be minimised. With practise this sometimes comes naturally as we start to prioritise differently. That party doesn’t become so interesting when we see it in the light of how it will make us tired for our early morning practise or that steak and glass of wine maybe doesn’t seem so tempting when we know how heavy it will lie in our stomach the next day and how that will feel in our practise.

The last two examples of unnecessary distraction may be quite obvious, but there are others that I find harder to deal with. For example, Sharath said at last week’s conference that part of yoga is to give back to society. It is our duty to serve others (without the purpose of self gain). And so, many of us yogis do volunteer work – either back home or whilst here in Mysore. I am personally involved in work in an organisation called Odanadi that works against trafficking in women and children in India. The organisation has it’s origin here in Mysore and it is here that the children’s home is situated. I have been there a lot lately and it is difficult not to get emotionally affected when working with the girls and the children who have been through rough times at such an early age. When I get home in the evenings I cannot wind down and it takes me hours before my system and my mind agrees to go to sleep. Lately, I’ve only been getting around 4 hours of sleep each night and it definitely affects my practise not only physically but I am not able to focus properly either. I assume that the voluntary work falls within the framework of necessary distraction, but nonetheless I feel handicapped in how to deal with how it scatters my mind and how the emotional involvement disrupts my practice.

Another distraction is the one of love. Something I guess every human being longs for. Is falling in love or being attracted to someone an unnecessary or necessary distraction (if one is single)? I’m sure everyone can agree that when in love one’s thoughts are not particularly focussed, but instead all over the place – flying around like the butterflies in one’s stomach. It is not easy to keep one’s dristhi or focus – not in asana practise nor in daily life. But is love part of one’s duty and one of the four Ashramas– i.e. getting married and having children (householder state)? Or should it be considered as one of the six evils that one should avoid, in this case lust/desire (see the Baghavad Gita – scroll to the bottom of the page)? And what about the attachment that it may create in the mind (more on this in my previous blog post?).
Being human is difficult, Sharath says. Our desires and ego create many problems – not only for ourselves but for our SAM_0018environment. Animals are much cleverer. They only eat the food that is good for them. Their waste nourishes the ground which paves the way for further growth of plants and crops. If one lets nature take care of itself it will grow and flourish naturally. But man’s selfishness has interrupted this process. We are polluting ourselves and the environment with our thoughts and behaviours. And now the Earth is facing a crisis. That is why, for example – I’ve joined some friends in creating a permaculture garden at Odanadi. Yesterday we planted banana trees. It was great seeing the girls’ enthusiasm about taking care of the plant they were given and how they carefully dug a hole to plant it. It was also great to see how the part of the yard in front of the children’s home which was a barren plane a few weeks ago, suddenly turned into a green garden (more about the earlier stages of the project here). The joy of seeing this – although it may be an emotional disturbance to the mind – and seeing the girls happy and engaged in the activity of creating a sustainable food source for their home, in a way answers the question of “What is my purpose” and way of self realisation. Helping others help themselves- whether it’s planting food sources or teaching yoga- is the ultimate goal or purpose for me. It’s what makes me happy and what will – in the end also still my mind – I hope.
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