Juggle all your balls! How to focus your mind in your practice

Most of us in the West are drawn to yoga for the physical practice – to stretch and strengthen, prevent injury and tone up etc. And yet most of us soon realise there is so much more to it! However, although we may realise there is the huge potential to control, focus and calm the mind, it is still easy to go through the motions in a vinyasa yoga class with your mind wandering. So, what can we do to help?

My teacher, John Scott, talks about the vinyasa yoga practice being like juggling 3 balls – the mind, the breath and the body. For the majority of us, the best way to begin the practice of yoga is to start by moving the body. We can then add attention to our breathing, which will help focus the mind. If we don’t find a way to focus our mind, the practice of yoga is merely exercise!

In addition to using the traditional counted method, in the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga tradition there is a simple ‘tri-focus’ approach to keep your mind focused throughout your practice. This tri-focus is called Tristana:

1. Body: Posture/ Bandha

Bandha is the term used to describe the natural toning and engagement of the core body muscles. In order to safely and effectively move in and out of postures (and daily life activities) we must connect to our core. By applying the Bandha we activate our deeper core muscles, thereby harnessing energy, or prana, from within. There are three primary Bandha: Mula Bandha – the pelvic floor, Uddiyanna Bandha – the lower abdomen and Jalandhara Bandha – the throat.  I will describe these in more detail another time!

2. Breath: Free breathing/ Ujjayi pranayama

To draw our attention inward and onto the breath, in addition to correctly applying Bandha, we find our Ujjayi breathing. Meaning the Victorious Breath, this is breathing with sound by focussing on the back of the throat, with equal inhalation and exhalation. Let the breath be smooth and flowing with a sound like the ocean – imagine you are steaming up a mirror and drawing the steam back in, with your mouth closed. It may feel like you are breathing through your ears!

3. Looking place: Dristi

Set your gaze. In the traditional practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga there are 9 looking places that vary depending on the asana. For example, in Trikonasana we gaze up to the top hand. Until you learn the correct Dristi for each asana, you can allow your gaze to fall to where it feels most natural to look, or to the place that seems to enhance the pose the most. Where our eyes go our body follows, moreover, we set our gaze to focus our attention, rather than looking around!

It’s really hard to focus your mind but with practice it does become easier, so just be as aware as you can of what you are thinking, when your mind is wandering – and then bring it back to your body, breathing and looking place.