Can’t concentrate? Try these 7 simple & effective tips for improving your focus and calming the chaos…
If you find it difficult to focus, join the club! With thousands of pieces of information flying at us from all directions these days, it can feel next to impossible to hone in on a single, specific item or task for any period of time.
According to this article from EkhartYoga.com, “the average human attention span has decreased in the last 20 years, from 2 minutes 30 seconds, to just 47 seconds.”
Besides making it difficult to meditate, enjoy times of peace and stillness, or simply be productive, lack of focus may even be bad for your mental health: “Research…shows links between lack of concentration and depression, as well as an inability to focus the mind with feelings of anxiety.”
The good news is, yoga can provide us with some answers. Here’s what the ancient yogis had to say about this seemingly modern affliction – and how yoga can help improve your focus:
1.) Stilling the Mind with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Yogis have been experimenting for thousands of years with many ways to focus the mind, and even ancient texts like The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita center around reducing distractions and focusing the mind…
The second sutra of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali reads: “The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.”
The idea within this sutra is that through the practice of Yoga, we can calm (the mental chatter) and return to our natural state of stillness and calm, just as a peaceful lake returns to stillness after a storm.
2.) The Bhagavad Gita: Calming the Wild Horses of the Senses
The Mahabharata is one of the longest Sanskrit epics of ancient Hinduism, and within it, we find the Bhagavad Gita. This metaphorical text is rich with wisdom and teachings, much of it related to the inner workings of the mind. In the Bhagavad Gita, we find a chariot harnessed to five horses. These horses represent our five senses of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing, the charioteer’s reins represent the mind, and the person holding the reins represents human intelligence.
You’ve probably experienced how difficult it is to focus on a conversation or connection you’re having with a friend sitting next to you when your mind is distracted by what you can see, smell, hear, feel, or taste. Well, the same goes for our ability to connect to our spirit or soul – it’s difficult to hear our own inner truth and spirit when the horses (senses) are out of control. Our job is to calm the horses, and gently coax our senses away from distractions, so we can finally focus our awareness on where we want it to go.
3.) Using the Breath to Cultivate “One Pointed Focus” (Eka Grata or Pratyahara)
Through the practice of yoga, we can gradually still the mind and harness our attention to go exactly where we want it. The ability to focus the mind in one single direction is known as eka grata or ‘one-pointed focus’. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali give us a guide to focusing the mind and cultivating eka grata, so that we can access deep peace. It does this through several stages known as the eight limbs of yoga; Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi. The stage of pratyahara refers to ‘sense withdrawal’, when those wild horses of our senses are calm, and we can turn our focus inward, instead of having our awareness pulled in all directions.
Whether you’re struggling to stay focused at work, during meditation, or in your daily activities, practicing a few simple techniques on a regular basis can be of great help when it comes to keeping our minds focused and centered, taming the inner chaos, and helping us tap into the peace and calm within ourselves. Here are seven effective ways to improve your focus and enhance your productivity:
1. Practice Pranayama for Cultivating Pratyahara/Eka Grata
Pratyahara and Eka Grata, the state of inward one-pointed focus, can be cultivated through the practice of Pranayama, or yogic breathing techniques. Here is a simple one to start with:
- To begin, find a comfortable position either sitting or lying down.
- Take a moment to let your mind wander and observe your thoughts without getting caught up in them, much like watching clouds drift across the sky.
- As thoughts arise, let them pass by, and shift your attention to your breath.
- Focus on the subtle movements of your stomach, ribs, and the air flowing in and out of your nostrils.
- Breathe softly, maintaining your awareness of the breath.
- If thoughts enter your mind, simply let them pass by like clouds.
- After several minutes, bring your awareness back to your surroundings.
Done regularly, this simple practice can help calm your mind and improve your ability to concentrate.
2. Minimize Distractions
One of the biggest obstacles to maintaining focus is the constant stream of distractions that surround us. In the age of smartphones, the temptation to check our notifications frequently can severely impact our ability to concentrate. Consider placing your phone in a different room when you need to focus on a specific task for an extended period.
Additionally, decluttering your physical environment can help create a conducive space for concentration. Remove potential distractions from your surroundings and create a clean and organized workspace, as this can positively influence your state of mind and improve your ability to focus.
3. Prioritize Sleep
Getting an adequate amount of quality sleep is essential for optimal cognitive function and sustained focus. Lack of sleep can impair attention, memory, and decision-making abilities. Make sleep a priority by establishing a consistent sleep schedule and creating a relaxing bedtime routine.
You should aim for seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. You can create a conducive sleep environment by keeping your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet. And make it a point to avoid stimulating activities, electronic devices, and caffeine close to bedtime.
By giving your body and mind the rest they need, you’ll wake up refreshed and ready to tackle the day with improved focus!
4. Harness the Power of Sound to Improve Focus
While certain sounds can be distracting, others have the potential to enhance your focus. Research suggests that low levels of white noise, such as background sounds, can improve concentration. Experiment with white noise at a volume of around 45 decibels, slightly quieter than a normal conversation, to induce sustained attention and creativity. Be mindful not to set the volume too high, as it may lead to increased stress.
Another technique worth exploring is the use of binaural beats frequencies. Different frequencies can promote concentration, alertness, and even learning ability. Discover which frequencies work best for you by playing them during your focus-oriented activities.
5. Nourish Your Brain with Proper Nutrition
Proper nutrition plays a crucial role in maintaining a clear and focused mind. The brain relies on glucose as its primary source of fuel. If you find your focus waning at certain times of the day, it could be an indication that your blood sugar levels are dropping. To fuel your brain effectively, avoid consuming alcohol, processed foods, and large portions that can make you feel groggy.
Instead, incorporate brain-boosting foods into your diet. Berries, fatty fish like salmon, green tea, coffee in moderation, eggs, nuts, pumpkin seeds, and green leafy vegetables can all contribute to improved concentration and memory.
Additionally, foods rich in tyrosine, such as cheese, soybeans, fish, chicken, nuts, eggs, beans, dairy, and whole grains, can enhance focus and alertness. Remember to balance carbohydrates with fats and protein to maintain stable blood sugar levels.
Finally, take a short walk outdoors after lunch to combat afternoon slumps.
6. Utilize Your Vision to Enhance Focus
You may have never considered this, but the way we use our vision can actually impact our level of focus. If you spend hours working at a laptop, the position of your screen might be affecting your alertness and concentration. When our eyes are directed downwards, even slightly, it can induce feelings of tiredness.
On the other hand, directing our gaze slightly upwards can enhance alertness and focus. An ancient practice called Shambhavi mudra can help improve focus and strengthen the eye muscles. Sit with a lengthened spine, then roll your eyes upwards to gaze at the point between your eyebrows, known as the Ajna Chakra. Focus on this point for a few moments, up to a maximum of five minutes.
This technique is said to reduce stress, improve concentration, and prepare the mind for meditation. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, this point, called Yin Tang, can also help stabilize the mind and alleviate stress and anxiety.
7. Incorporate Yoga into Your Routine
Yoga not only benefits your physical health but also promotes mental clarity and focus. Regular yoga practice can help reduce stress, increase mindfulness, and improve concentration. Certain yoga poses, such as Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana), Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), and Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana), can stimulate blood flow to the brain and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and focus. And challenging poses such as balance poses can help you practice concentration and improve focus as you work to maintain the pose through strength and stability.
Additionally, yoga breathing techniques, such as alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana) or victorious breath (Ujjayi Pranayama), can help calm the mind, balance energy, and enhance mental clarity. If you haven’t already, consider incorporating yoga into your daily routine to reap its holistic benefits for both body and mind!
By incorporating these seven simple strategies into your daily routine, you can improve your focus, increase your productivity, and cultivate a more attentive and present state of mind in your everyday life.