3 Exercises to Focus Your Mind
The Power of Presence
Any and all humans are susceptible to the incessant chatter of the mind. Add school, business or any other responsibility and that chatter grows from a split conversation to a whole town meeting. If you are trying to do eight things at once, dreading or projecting their outcomes, how can you even come close to performing the current task at your full potential? Herein lies the power of presence.
Meditation. 90% of people have heard the word, a portion of those maybe have even adopted the courage to sit down and quiet their thoughts, but I am going to go out on a limb here and say that upon sitting down, your experience went as follows. You sit down and think to yourself, “Stop thinking, stop thinking. No thoughts. Blank. This is really uncomfortable. Did I lock the door? Ah!”
It’s so common! My experience guiding meditation has shown me that the fear of that experience itself is what keeps people from centering their focus and calming their mind. I am here to debunk your story and offer a few tips that will give you power in the present moment.
Meditation can happen anytime that you are focusing on one thing and one thing only. That thing does not have to be bliss but can be your talk that you are writing, the conversation you are having or even the food that you are eating.
Here are 3 Exercises to Focus Your Mind (and Grow Your Business):
- Try taking a bite of next meal and notice everything about the experience. Notice the rush of flavors as you chew, delight in the pleasure hormones your brain releases. As you swallow, feel the chewed up food move down the throat, following it as far down as you can. That is a meditation.
You cannot control your brain but you can train it. The brain is a rabid dog at times that runs wildly eating up all of your good intentions. Try to tell yourself to think a certain thought or feel a specific emotion and take notice of the pop up bubble that says, “yeah, but what if it doesn’t work?”, “mm.. that is a great thought but it’s probably not true”. Do not fret, like a wild dog, it can be tamed. When those negative thoughts do start to appear, you have the power to direct them back to where they belong.
- When you are working on something and a thought raids your focus, write it down. Make a note to come back to it. Take a breathe. Refocus on your current task. Resume. (You may have to do this 100 times when you begin but after a while you will notice the thoughts interrupt less and less).
Practice reassuring yourself of the power of presence. A huge part of fear, whether it is public speaking or handing in your final project, is imaginary future projections. We create huge, disastrous events in our mind from things as small as typing on a piece of paper. Will people really boo you? Not likely. Will your teacher tear up your paper in a flurry of disgust? Improbable. You cannot control what happens in the future, you only have control of what you do at this exact moment. Your teacher is not shredding any reports in this moment so bring your focus to what does matter right now because what you are doing at this exact moment is not hard.
- Break it down. Is walking into an office hard? No. Is putting together a sentence terrifying? NO! Presenting a concept and conducting an interview is just that. Rather than projecting a situation into an event, focus on each small part that makes up that event and remind yourself of the power that you have in the present.
Yoga and Emotional Intelligence
Recently, in one of my journals, I read an article by a psychologist who had stumbled across an obscure research project involving emotional intelligence. I had first been exposed to the concept of emotional intelligence when I was working on my master’s degree back in the nineties. As a yoga teacher, emotional intelligence as a basis for a balanced life seemed intuitive.
The premise of the research is basically that our emotional intelligence is as important, if not more important, than our intellectual IQ. Without a strong emotional foundation, intelligence alone was not enough to create a successful and balanced life.
There are four components to emotional intelligence. The first is self-awareness or knowing what you are feeling and why. The second is self-management or the ability to use your self-awareness to get better at handling your impulses and disruptive emotions. The third component is empathy or the ability to sense how others are feeling; and the fourth component is being skilled at establishing and maintaining healthy relationships.
Without self-awareness, self-management, empathy and relationship skills, even the most intelligent person would find it difficult to live a healthy and stable life. That is because we are all dependent upon each other and emotions and feelings are a major part of human existence.
In yoga emotional turmoil is often referred to as “monkey mind.” This is an expression used to describe the jumping and scattering of our mind due to emotional instability. In life, it is all too easy for us to lose our emotional balance and end up leaping from one emotion to another.
Who doesn’t get pulled into drama and emotions or caught up in games, competition and fighting? How about sadness and fear? We call this being tossed around in the world. In the ideal, we are in the world, but not of the world. That means we are aware of our presence while being in control of our thoughts, words and actions. We have compassion for all of life and we relate to others with a sense of complete understanding. We appear in the world, but are not perturbed or thrown off balance by the events of life. Once this is achieved an individual is said to be liberated or free of the monkey mind.
Now, it is not that a person must go away and live the life of a hermit in order to achieve liberation. It means to live fully in the world, while maintaining a sense of emotional balance. It’s about control and reaction. If you learn to control your mind, you control everything. This is yoga intelligence. How do we achieve this? Practice; nothing in life is achieved without practice.
Sometimes people try to run away and hide and even renounce life to be free of life’s turmoil. But you can never run away. Without emotional intellectual we can remove ourselves physically, but the mind – its thoughts and emotions – go with us forever.
As the saying goes, “you take it with you wherever you go.”
Intellect in yoga is really mental attitude. “As the mind, so the person.” It is not about changing the outside world. It is about changing your attitude towards things. If you gain control over your emotions you will never be tossed about by the outside world. Emotional intelligence reminds us that there is nothing wrong with the world; the problems begin and end within our own minds.
We can try to measure the quality of life with a high IQ, but without awareness, control, empathy and the ability to relate the mathematical equation that measures our intellect, we miss the mark. The prize does not always go to the smartest, but it does more times than not, go to the one who has the ability to keep a focus; and keeping a focus requires the application of the four components of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, empathy and relating.
Therefore, with all things in life, be aware and fully understand their nature. Manage them with empathy and understanding, and then rise above the turmoil and be at peace. With awareness you begin to understand yourself. When you understand yourself you free yourself from the entanglement of worldly emotions. In this you will find a sense of balance and you will achieve the pinnacle of yoga and emotional intelligence: peace.