Options, Distractions, and Focus

WITH YOU, I BREATHE: A forty day yoga column

#14: Options, Distractions, and Focus

Today I was going to write about the parasympathetic nervous system but it’s 3:29 p.m. and I don’t know where my afternoon went, nor do I know where my Wednesday late afternoon and evening is heading. Now what I want to talk about is focus.

Focus is a crucial and defining aspect of yoga.  Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras state, “Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distraction.” This is the definition of yoga, it has nothing to do with the physical practice or poses. Yoga has to do with the mind and focusing the mind.

If focus is a crucial and defining aspect of yoga, then options and distractions are a crucial and defining aspect of our culture. When I go to the grocery store, I become overwhelmed by my options. I stand in the breakfast aisle and see the rows and shelves filled with cereal options. Add the store music, the bright lights, the red tags telling the customer about potential savings, and there I am, shopping for one cereal, able to choose from a thousand options in a really distracting environment.

This happens with love, too. In a recent essay about asexuality, Stephen Elliott writes, “It’s not just you, there’s one other person just as impossible as you are. Just as absurdly beautiful.”  There are so many options and great options. Consider, too, internet dating. You can peruse profiles and photos of someone you could potentially date. You can do so with your facebook and twitter account open, while watching television and listening to music. There are a lot of options and a lot of distractions.

In our culture, it’s challenging to have and sustain focus because of the options and distractions. It’s problematic: if you lack focus, you cannot choose one of the options and/or you cannot stick to your choice because of all the distractions and other options. Without focus, it’s fairly easy and not entirely uncommon to feel lost or overwhelmed.

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