Yoga and Attention

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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.

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What is attention

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

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.

  • Keeping the mind stress free and hence making mental resources available for paying attention
  • Balancing the release of neurotransmitters that are responsible for attention
  • Repeated practice brings structural changes in the brain and enhances attention
  • Bringing the necessary emotional detachment and objectivity that helps to pay attention without being clouded by emotions
  • Balances the breath which is a key factor in paying attention. Shallow or heavy breathing can hinder the attentional process.
  • Dharana practices bring the necessary patience to sustain attention
  • Yogic practices also increase blood supply to the brain thereby improving attention

Watch this video to enhance your attention capabilties through Yoga