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Yoga and Attention

One of the things that dif­fer­en­ti­ate Yogis from those who are not intro­duced to the Yog­ic path is the lev­el of atten­tion. Yogis not just pay deep atten­tion but also can sus­tain it for quite some time. Often yog­ic prac­tices: Asana or Pranaya­ma or Dha­rana are done for a pro­longed peri­od of time as one pro­gress­es on the yog­ic path and this gives the nec­es­sary patience to sus­tain the aware­ness and atten­tion. These deep­ened states of atten­tion can­not be com­pared with the momen­tary atten­tion we nor­mal­ly pay while engag­ing with day to day tasks. How­ev­er, this is not unat­tain­able.

Dart Ok Target - Free photo on Pixabay

What is attention

Mod­ern day psy­chol­o­gist look at atten­tion from var­i­ous points of view:

  1. Atten­tion can be looked at as a process of fil­tra­tion where we fil­ter out irrel­e­vant infor­ma­tion from the envi­ron­ment and become con­scious only of what we want or is rel­e­vant to us

  2. It can also be looked at as a process where we become aware of sev­er­al objects in the envi­ron­ment and then focus. The fea­tures are then com­bined to under­stand and make sense

  3. Atten­tion is also looked at as a lim­it­ed cog­ni­tive resource that can be allo­cat­ed to var­i­ous tasks based on our inten­tion: depends on our likes and dis­likes, moods and sit­u­a­tions

Atten­tion is often con­sid­ered to be a com­plex task where a lot of resources are con­sumed and also depends on a num­ber fac­tors includ­ing stress, reward, sleep depra­va­tion and emo­tion­al state. Neu­ro­trans­mit­ters play a role in cre­at­ing alert­ness and arousal because of which we pick up spe­cif­ic pieces of infor­ma­tion that is inter­est­ing to us. Our per­cep­tion is also impact­ed by atten­tion. In a chaot­ic place, you retain hard­ly any infor­ma­tion because a flood of nois­es and visu­als is enter­ing your brain. Hence no one can say what you actu­al­ly per­ceived.

Atten­tion is impor­tant for our day to day func­tion­ing. It helps us to be effi­cient in what­ev­er we do. Be it office work of prepar­ing for an exam, all of us wish that we pay 100% atten­tion with­out get­ting dis­tract­ed. Rarely it hap­pens though!

The Indi­an tra­di­tion pays a lot of impor­tance to atten­tion. No won­der, Drona had so much appre­ci­a­tion for Arju­na as he was the only stu­dent who could fil­ter out all the back­ground objects and focus on the eye of the wood­en bird placed on the tree. Mahar­ishi Patan­jali, in his Yoga­su­tras, talks about dis­trac­tions that we expe­ri­ence when we take the Yog­ic path and the solu­tions to make the mind more atten­tive.

How Yoga Helps

Yog­ic prac­tices, espe­cial­ly Pranaya­ma can help in enhanc­ing atten­tion.

  1. Keep­ing the mind stress free and hence mak­ing men­tal resources avail­able for pay­ing atten­tion

  2. Bal­anc­ing the release of neu­ro­trans­mit­ters that are respon­si­ble for atten­tion

  3. Repeat­ed prac­tice brings struc­tur­al changes in the brain and enhances atten­tion

  4. Bring­ing the nec­es­sary emo­tion­al detach­ment and objec­tiv­i­ty that helps to pay atten­tion with­out being cloud­ed by emo­tions

  5. Bal­ances the breath which is a key fac­tor in pay­ing atten­tion. Shal­low or heavy breath­ing can hin­der the atten­tion­al process.

  6. Dha­rana prac­tices bring the nec­es­sary patience to sus­tain atten­tion

  7. Yog­ic prac­tices also increase blood sup­ply to the brain there­by improv­ing atten­tion

Watch this video to enhance your atten­tion capa­bil­ties through Yoga

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