Posted: March 21, 2018
Whether you’re a concert guitarist or an amateur drummer, an Olympic Athlete or a recreational swimmer, a surgeon, student, teacher, or working professional, whatever your pursuit, your performance and ability to learn new things depend on your ability to focus.
In today’s hectic society, where attention so easily splits between various screens and a never ending list of responsibilities, maintaining focus can seem more difficult than ever. We’ve all had days—perhaps weeks and even months—when we couldn't seem to focus on anything. Difficulty focusing can be traced back to a variety of issues, from pressures within the workplace to the multitude of demands on your time. However, at the core of issues with focus is stress, and lack of focus originates in a scattered and restless mind.
Nature’s Smart Drug
So, how can we increase our focus and achieve more? In today’s world, it’s common to opt for a variety of “smart drugs”—from prescribed to illicit—to boost work and academic performance. However, such supplements and stimulants often come with side effects, such as insomnia, which actually disrupt the nervous system and aggravate the physiological systems that contribute to lack of focus in the first place.
Humans are equipped with nature’s “smart drug,” and that’s meditation. The mind, unlike the body, can’t be controlled from the level of the mind. In other words, in order to focus, we can’t force ourselves to do so. Rather, by reaching a deep state of relaxation, we can increase our mental clarity and ability to concentrate for long periods of time.
The following are simple meditation techniques and basic lifestyle changes that can help you relax and increase concentration:
Studies have shown that regular practice of meditation can help increase attention span and improve concentration. A study from University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that after meditating, participants proved better at completing tasks while faced with distraction.
For many, the word ‘meditation’ itself connotes concentration and effort. However, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living Foundation, explains that "Meditation is de-concentration, and alertness and focus of mind are the result of regular meditation practice."
Try some of the following meditations for increased focus:
- Observing the Breath – Breath is our anchor to the present moment. By simply becoming aware of your breath, you may easily slip into a meditative state. Tip: Choose a quiet spot for yourself and observe the natural rhythm of your breath for 5 minutes.
- Pranayamas – Pranayamas are yogic breathing exercises that have the ability to quickly increase our energy, release stress, improve our mental clarity, and improve our physical health. Nadi Shodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breathing, is one powerful technique that can be practiced for a few minutes before beginning meditation. It helps to keep the mind happy, centered, and peaceful.
- Sudarshan Kriya – The Sudarshan Kriya is a breathing technique that incorporates specific natural rhythms of the breath, harmonizing the body, mind and emotions. This powerful yet simple breathing technique, developed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, helps eliminate stress, leaving the mind calm and focused. Sudarshan Kriya practitioners have reported better immunity, increased stamina and sustained high-energy levels.
Observe Your Day
Have you ever taken time out and observed how you spend your time? What do you read? How much time do you spend in front of the TV or laptop? What kind of company do you keep around you?
Reading fiction, magazines, advertisements, or news that agitate the mind with negative stories can cause restlessness in the mind, as can longs periods of time in front of the TV and internet. Instead, incorporate a bit of light spiritual reading into your day and explore inspirational and thought-provoking ideas and philosophy. Not only does reading help settle restlessness, but it trains the mind to focus on one activity for an extended period of time.
Daily physical activity is essential for releasing stress and restlessness from the body and, in turn, the mind as well. You can practice Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskars) or any set of yoga asanas at a slow pace, coordinating each movement with your breath. A new study finds that just 20 minutes of yoga stimulates brain functions associated with the ability to focus and retain information.
We all know the old maxim, "you are what you eat.” The food we eat affects not just the body but the functioning of our brain, and thus our mind, thoughts, intellect, and levels of awareness. A brain-healthy diet is essential to keep the memory and intellect sharp and mood positive. In general, stay away from processed, fried food, and opt for brain foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and healthy fats, like olive oil, coconut oil, and ghee.
Be Here Now
To be focused is to live in the present moment. The moment you become aware that the mind has strayed, use your breath as a tool to bring it back to the present moment.
Our minds create our realities, and therefore our level of focus has far-reaching consequences for our quality of life. Make the investment in your mind by learning to meditate, being physically active on a daily basis, and eating healthy foods. Improve your focus and watch yourself flourish!