What is yoga?
Are you sitting down? Are you paying attention? Are you ready to receive the information we are about to give to you? Are you concentrating on being in this very moment, reading this blog and absorbing this topic? Is this blog the first and foremost thing – scrap that, the one and only thing – on your mind right now? Yes? Then let’s begin…
Concentration is essential in any practice, and is considered the fourth element required to develop a strong mind. Even if you have mastered the previous three elements (faith, self-control and determination), mastering concentration is an entirely new challenge, one that does not follow its predecessors automatically and with ease. It is an element of the mind you need to hone in on like a target and a skill you must sharpen like a knife.
When we concentrate, we need to fine-tune our focus to be the only thing on our minds. There is no greater example of this than in your practice, where if you are concentrating solely on your instructor’s dialogue and the movements of your body and your breath – you are in ‘the zone’. Even if you can’t reach the full posture, you are giving your best and it is all you are concentrating on and all you are trying to do. You are in the moment.
The minute you slip out of the moment – say, when you glance at another student to check out their progress or when you start to think about what you’re going to order for lunch after the class – is when you start to find the posture difficult, and at times impossible. You’ll trip, you’ll fall, you’ll struggle, you’ll lose your breath. Because you were not fully concentrating.
The power of concentration cannot be underestimated. Bikram Choudhury, founder of the eponymously named school of yoga says all good things in the world are yours when you concentrate. “When you have concentration, no one can steal your peace,” he explains. “I like to say concentration brings life to your life. With concentration, you will finally be capable of making a commitment, maintaining your aim and your purpose and doing your job, no matter how long it takes.”
No one, however, said concentration was easy. To quiet the mind, to silence the multitude of thoughts flying around, to think of just one thing at a time… it’s a challenge. As a matter of fact, it’s totally normal to have difficulty. Being scattered, flitting from one thought or task to another, has become a way of life in our current society, a way of life we should be seeking to transform.
Meditation was designed to help develop concentration. The technique of starting with your breath and a mantra trains you to focus on one thing only, even if it is just five minutes in the morning or before you go to bed. It takes time to be able to develop such concentration, and reaching self-realisation can only happen if you remain focused. Combine a regular meditation with your yoga practice and you will be on your way to mastering the mind, with just one last mental quality to attain: the quality of patience.