Training your Attention

by | Feb 20, 2020

Training your Attention

Before starting a group class or your home yoga practice, we often set an intention.  This point of focus for your practice is called a Bhāvana.

The Sanskrit term Bhāvana translates to:- cultivation / imagining / forming in the mind / to occupy one’s imagination with.

When I plan a group course, workshop or review an individual’s practice I will consider what Bhāvana we could work with.

Most of the time these Bhāvana involve narrowing our attention.   We might focus on a specific area such as a physical part of the body like the feet or abdomen or an aspect of the breath.

I tend to set a Bhāvana to narrow your focus rather than broaden it.  It is thought that the more subtle the chosen object is (narrower the focus) the more stable our mind needs to be to hold that focus.

As a contrast to this, a tool to help build flexibility of our mind is to be able to switch between a narrow and broad focus.  Last week some of my groups experimented with trying to broaden their focus whilst moving or staying in postures.

The use of an image can be a useful way to picture this

A visual analogy representing this idea might help you understand it more.  If you picture a
camera set to take microscopic photographs of a grass seed head or to zoom out the focus to take a panoramic picture of the whole landscape.

Another image that might help you relate to this idea is picturing a torch (flash-light) with a very narrow beam of light which shines on a small area.  In comparison with adjusting the flash-light settings to be able to broaden the beam of light to encompass a wider view.

Changing between a narrow and broad focus.

By being able to adjust the focus of our mind helps build mental flexibility.  Broadening your focus might be particularly useful for people who get caught up / anxious about the tiny details of things.  It is also very useful for people who are affected by a specific narrow issue such as chronic pain in a particular part of the body.

If we can have a broader focus we can allow these aspects of concern to remain within our awareness but they become less important in the bigger picture.


Training your attention – mindfulness exercise


Training our attention is like learning how to use a high-tech flashlight or camera.  We can practice focusing our attention in all sorts of ways.  Narrowing our focus through meditation on the breath is one of the most well known of these methods.

I’m sharing a simple mindfulness exercise that will help you to practice adjusting your focus.  This exercise is taken from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) pivot methods complied by Steven c. Hayes.

Practice opening your focus by looking at the room your in, focusing sequentially on specific objects.

Then soften the focus on any particular object and focus on the relationship (the ‘space’ ) between most or all of the objects in the room.

With a few minutes’ practise of alternating between these two sets, you’ll sense you’re using different attentional strategies.

You might feel a softening and expansion of your attention as you adopt an open focus, and then a sharpening and narrowing as you focus on each particular object.

Try this exercise for a few minutes regularly to help improve your mental flexibility.

dhyana mudra

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