What do we mean when we say we don’t have enough time for yoga? Where does all the time go? As a culture, we manage to set aside enough time to sit in front of a television for, on average, 19 hours a week. That is almost an entire day. In one week! Sadly, this is likely in addition to the countless hours spent checking Facebook, Tweeting, and googling every asinine question that pops into our minds. We are abandoning calm and attentive thought in favor of high speed clicking, skimming and browsing. It’s like forgoing protein for corn syrup. Oh wait, we’ve kind of done that too.
As we approach this month’s new moon in Virgo, a sign that encourages discipline and order, I find myself begging for relief from the illusion of a lack of time.
Chronic Distraction Of the five reasons listed for not practicing yoga at home, I don’t have the time is the most pervasive. I’ve been saving this one for last (or is that called procrastinating?) because I for one, am shaking my head at some of the ways I spend my time. While writing this I have: checked the Pavones surf forecast once (massive swell on the way); responded to six emails; ordered construction materials for the new Pavones Yoga Center accommodations, read a friend’s newest blog post (and OK, I admit: I was checking Facebook when I came across it); washed the dishes (because apparently even that is better than sitting here trying to concentrate); and switched back and forth between several online articles related to time use (without fully finishing, or deeply grasping any of them… I’ll probably need to reread most of it before I finish writing this). Lately, I think I can actually feel my power of concentration wilting.
Reinforcing ADHD The latest brain research suggests is that all of this cyber- and TV time is literally changing the way we think. As our brains become attuned to the pattern of clicking from one site to the next, or to television’s method of bombarding viewers repeatedly with dramatic images and shallow content, we lose the ability to concentrate. On a cellular level, our neural circuitry is strengthening the processes that support rapidly moving from one area of attention to another, in other words, we are hard-wiring a state of distraction. Meanwhile, as we neglect more contemplative modes of thought, we potentially weaken those mental circuits. Our web-based environment cultivates multi-tasking, with its inherent low attention to detail and constant mental interruption. As our thoughts become more feverishly rapid-fire, incomplete, and chaotic, we feel rushed and pressed for time. Our inability to concentrate is masquerading as a time-crunch. Our ability to think creatively, to hold complex ideas in our minds, and to problem-solve on an intuitive level, does not arise out of internet search engines, FB posts, and popular retweets. Ancient as well as modern wisdom suggests that the source of our creativity arises out of our ability to slow down and focus.
Concentration = Bliss The father of Yoga, Patanjali, placed such importance on concentration that he devoted four of his eight limbs of Yoga to distinguishing subtle nuances that arise when cultivating mental focus. The first involves withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara): we begin by turning off technology and then slowly work our way through the senses, learning to tune out smells, sights, sounds, sensations, and tastes. Cultivating the next three stages (dharana, dhyana, and samadhi which are collectively referred to as samyama) requires subtle focus on a single object. Choose an object. Patanjali offers several suggestions: the breath, a dream, the heart, the quality of friendliness. The object itself is of secondary importance. It is the quality of attention we introduce, the ability to focus deeply, that transforms and ultimately illuminates our lives. Through the mastery of that three-part process of samyama, the light of
transcendental insight, or higher consciousness dawns. We’re all familiar with effortless samyama: recall how it is to become so absorbed by a single activity that you lose all track of time. Cultivating samyama, then, is about discovering those activities that lead you naturally to this timeless state, and having the discipline to fit them into your day. Ultimately, samyama is said to bring amazing powers – including the strength of elephants, the friendliness of saints… even invisibility. But on a more quotidian level, the power of samyama grants the power to experience the fullness of life.
Soul Time We need quiet time to unearth our own hidden gifts, to tap into our innate creativity. We need to experience time without technology in order to hear the quiet voice of our deepest yearnings, to listen for the call of the soul. The periods in my life of deepest inspiration have coincided with those times when I have been most disciplined in my yoga practice. And by that I don’t necessarily mean asana, but yoga as a metaphorical practice of spending time with myself. It is the qualities of self-love and devotion to an inner calling that imbue any practice with meaning and richness.
Cultivate Samyama Abandon any thought of how the yoga practice should be, abandon any ideas of what the yoga practice might look like. In this day and age, with its ensuing distractions, we should all be commended for showing up for ourselves in whatever form that might take. Turn off the computer, the phone, the TV. Go for a walk, read something inspirational (in print), plant something in the earth, prepare a meal, pet your dogs, feed your child, roll out your yoga mat, breathe… whatever you do, pay close attention, and consider all of it an aspect of your yoga, of samyama. And maybe one day we will find, if not that we are invisible, that we have lost track of time.
Sources: American Time Use Survey, Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 2011; New Scientist interview with Nicholas Carr (author of The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains); Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as translated by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati.