Our mind is capable of carrying out many tasks simultaneously, but can our attention be concentrated on various things at one time? Let´s head to the land of the asanas…
The ability to do this is called “multitasking”. To compare it lightly, we could say our mind is like a computer in which a variety of windows or desktops are open at the same time. In reality, however, a computer doesn´t carry out all these tasks at the same time; rather it switches from one back to another so quickly that it only seems like they are happening simultaneously. Our minds work in a similar way: although we can be alert to many stimuli, or even carry out various tasks at once, our undivided attention can only be focused on one thing at a time and then move on to the next.
It may not seem like it, but this is a good thing. This promises that while we are processing a variety of information consciously, we are alert.
TURNING OFF THE SENSES
Juan, a regular at the Buddhist Studies Center in Málaga, lives at the top of a mountain in the Axarquía mountain range. He tells me that when he attends the classes given by the Lamas, which are held in the city center, he can´t stand the noise of the city. I´m not surprised. Living the in solitude of the countryside, where the only noise that you can make out is the faint barking of a dog or the humming of a distant airplane, makes the senses become so fine-tuned that the roaring noises of city life become deafening. We, urban folk, have had to turn down the sharpness of our senses in order to survive in the environment of lights and screaming noises.
Normally, our minds are bombarded with an infinite number of sensory stimuli and news. Of these, just a select few make it to our conscious attention. On occasions, in an intuitive way, we focus our attention on those stimuli that advert us to danger or emergencies. During a yoga practice, we have the opportunity to fine tune our senses. For example, one specific part of Ashtanga yoga, Pratyahara, consists of just that: sharpening our senses towards internal stimuli.
THE PILGRAMAGE OF ATTENTION
Coming back to the term “multitasking”, from my point of view, a yoga practice cannot be successfully carried out while we are paying attention to each of the individual parts an asana requires. For example, when I practice Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), I try to do it step-by-step: relax and firmly plant my feet and hands on the floor. Besides this firm and stable support, I relax my body upwards and at the same time, stretch. I release tension in my neck. I breathe deeply from my hips to my back, relaxing the abdomen and diaphragm on the exhalations. I do this as if I were fostering attention towards my body.
The effect of this type of concentration – step-by-step and detailed – is in and of itself meditative, zen-like. I am working on simplifying my thoughts and allowing my attention to flow calmly. And at the same time I have formed part of the global conscience (referred to as holistic today), cleansing my attention to reach an ideal state of alert relaxation, where my intuition is clearer and sure, from which it is fine tuned to receive in serene way the most relevant sensory information.
The physical worker may relax in the shower or in the bath after a hard day´s work. However, on the other hand, the intellectual worker may find his “mental shower” during the practice of asanas.
(Our article "Multitasking" was published in the paper issue 30th of the spanish version of Yoga Journal)