Being present: 5 ways to focus in your Yoga practice

Updated: Sep 26, 2021



There are so many ways that Yoga can help us to be present! We’ll have a look at some in this post, but first, what is the value of being in the present moment?


Well, Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Master, poet and peace activist, aces it as ever in a few short sentences:


“Yesterday is already gone. Tomorrow is not yet here. Today is the only day available to us; it is the most important day of our lives.”


If we allow our ego/mind to rule us, we may end up living on autopilot, just going through the same motions in the course our daily lives, whilst yearning for or regretting the past, and living for or fretting over the future. Thich Nhat Hanh also has some advice about how to begin our journey of being here now:


The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.


Ready for some joy and happiness? Doesn’t that sound great?! Effectively, to get to experience those states in the present moment our minds need to be still and receptive, and we need to slow down enough to more carefully observe the time we have. To be content with the present moment experience. This doesn’t mean we can just magically drop the multitude of responsibilities, work activities and domestic tasks we have to deal with each and every day: however, taking a different perspective can make our daily lives much more satisfying and fulfilling.

We can begin to initiate this new habit of being present, of grounding in and appreciating the present moment, on our yoga mat. Here are some of the techniques and practices Yoga offers us that keep us focussed in the present.


1. Standing and balancing poses

This category of poses help us to feel more grounded when we find ourselves whirling off into scattered or unsettled states of mind. They bring us connection to our physical body, and allow us to come out of our heads and into our roots by connecting with the earth. Asana such as the Warrior poses and its variations, Triangle, Side Angle pose and balances such as Tree, Eagle, or Dancer’s pose, require us to be firm, steady and standing on our own two feet (or one!). Combining this with breath and focus brings us to a calmer state of mind and a more present moment orientation.


2. Drishti

Focussing steadily on a gazing point, or Drishti in Sanskrit, stills the mind and keeps us in the present moment. As with everything, this is a practice; but rather than allowing the mind to lead us off down a rabbit hole as we stand in our Warrior 1 or Tree pose, losing our gazing point brings us back down to earth – hopefully not with a bump! From there, we can smile at our mind’s capacity to wander, come back into the pose, and try focussing for a second longer this time, gradually working up the time we can be fully present. (A word to the wise: if practicing in a class situation, don’t rely on the person standing in front of you as your Drishti point, if they wobble or fall out of the pose you’re likely to do the same! A still point ahead of you is best, maybe a spot on a wall or a piece of scenery if you can see outside.)


3. Conscious breath

There’s nothing like a well-timed breath pattern to focus on when practicing – which is why the Astanga yogis favour an ujjayi (victorious) breath throughout their practice. Slightly closing the back of the throat and drinking the breath in and out whilst creating a soft sound is not only a great way to keep focus, it’s also warming for the body and great for bringing us into calmness.


4. Inversions

There’s nothing like going upside down to change your point of view! Next time you butt up against a thorny issue in life, try looking at it from a different perspective – literally - by turning everything on it’s head with an inverted pose. This doesn’t mean you have to be able to do a freestanding headstand or handstand; you’ll get the same sort of effect from milder inversions, such as legs up the wall, downward facing dog or standing wide legged forward fold. As well as having the benefit of bringing fresh perspective, inversions also keep us in the present moment. One of my favourite ways to invert is to use an aerial hammock for support and hang around upside down, it’s both stimulating and calming, and somehow just doesn’t leave room for drifting off into the past or the future!


5. Concetration (Dharana) or Meditation

If you haven’t heard about the many benefits of meditation – where’ve you been?! It’s lauded far and wide on the internet, and you don’t just need to take my advice that you should be doing it; there are scientific studies aplenty to attest to its proven and very positive effects on the brain. It reduces stress, fosters self-awareness, lengthens attention span, may reduce age related memory loss … and the list goes on. There are many ways to meditate, and like all of the other practices I’ve mentioned, you’ll find most benefit doing it daily. You can meditate by focussing on the breath, by using a mantra (a chant, out loud or silently to yourself, English, Sanskrit or any other language), find an app (I love Insight Timer and Calm, both of which have free content), or listen to and focus on a sounds of nature track, or join a meditation class or group … There is no “right” way to meditate, just the best way for you. Try a few and see what resonates. Don’t fool yourself you’re going to meditate for an hour the first time you try – aim for a minute (or less). Then two, and keep building steadily. Don’t beat yourself up, it’s a practice! You weren’t born able to write – you had to learn how to write and practice writing; it's the same thing with meditation. Possibly the most difficult thing about mediation is carving out time and space each day to do it, so get into the mindset that you NEED time for your self-enrichment so that you can be better at supporting those around you. It’s not indulgence, it’s learning life skills!


I hope you enjoy exploring some of these different aspects of Yoga practice to keep you more present. Yoga is an infinitely deep well that we can draw from freely and often. Find your bliss in your practice whenever you notice you’re slipping away from the present moment, and remember the advice of Zen Master Thich Naht Hahn:


“Yesterday is already gone. Tomorrow is not yet here. Today is the only day available to us; it is the most important day of our lives.”



Namaste

the divine within me honours the divine within you



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