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Yoga is a form of exercise from ancient times that focuses on flexibility, breathing and strength to boost mental as well as physical wellbeing. The significant components of Yoga include postures (series of movements that increase flexibility and strength) and breathing. This practice had its origin in India around 5000 years back and has become common in different places such as health clubs, leisure centers, schools, surgeries and even hospitals. There are so many amazing benefits of yoga on human health, and the principal benefit of yoga is that it works to change the internal make-up. When an individual takes 20 minutes every day to practice yoga, it results in brain function improvement that finally helps one to focus better when handling various tasks. Therefore, it improves concentration and calms and quiets the mind by putting away the distractive thoughts. It reduces mind fluctuations and clears the emotional clutter from the head to concentrate better.
Yoga and concentration
The perception of many of yoga lies purely on the physical body, annamaya kosha. However, it is important to note that yoga also encompasses mental body and the higher mind, vijnanamaya kosha. Concentration deals with these two sheaths mental body and the higher mind. It also incorporates the vijnanamaya kosha that is seldom attained. Concentration can be defined as a way of directing and focusing one’s attention purely on something. Yogis had a belief that the yoga’s magical powers had vast potential for improving concentration. In Yoga, concentration is the sixth limb which has been outlined by Patanjali in his Sutras. He describes it to be a way of binding consciousness to a particular spot.
The fifth limb which describes a withdrawal of senses prepares an individual for concentration, while the dhyana limb for meditation and the union limb called as the Samadhi have been considered to be a concentration in advanced stages. Patanjali says that using the last limbs together brings a combined and simultaneous practice in attention as well as meditation and union so that an individual can achieve a more profound knowledge. Therefore, yoga has been proved to be a tool for improving memory and concentration (Desikachar).
When an individual practices concentration, it helps to focus, clear and even center the mind. Yogis have employed different techniques to increase their concentration. When practices are going on, concentration has been used to help find a gazing point particularly in balancing postures, dharana. Controlled breathing also known as pranayama has been very beneficial in concentration since it brings the focus of an individual on the breath flow. Meditation is another concentration form whereby regular meditation practices increases day-to-day life concentration.
Those who are yoga beginners may practice this by selecting on something to concentrate and focus on for some 10-15minutes daily. The concentration object can be an idea, breath, mantra, thought or even any physical thing. Practicing concentration has thus been recommended since it provides some compelling vibration to draw an individual’s focus (Le Page).
Each person has a concentration faculty, but for most people, it is not conscious but automatic and instinctive. This can as well be seen in animals where a tiger or lion gathers strength through an absolute stillness moment before springing up upon the prey. Therefore, this instinctive, automatic concentration power is implanted in each living creature, and unless a conscious command has been gained over spiritual and mental forces, no complete concentration can be achieved (Saraswati). To attain these level of concentration one need to work to achieve the Samadhi states, a state in which one attains full mental acuity and alertness.
No individual ever wishes to be defeated yet, an individual’s physical capacities and strength of the mind proves inadequate. This is simply because there is no full conscious possession of the whole being. Much cannot be indeed achieved without the free use of feet, hands, ears, eyes, muscles, and most importantly use of intelligence and mind. Most people do not use these freely because when trying to do so, these parts seem hopelessly scattered and rebellious to the will, not due to lack of inherent power but due to lack of coordination and lack of a purpose that is one-pointed. The mark is finally missed since the aim has not been correctly set (Le page).
Concentration is therefore described as unity, wholeness, and equilibrium. Parts of the body such as the mind, feet, hands, and all other faculties and thoughts should be unified. They have to function in harmony, balance, and tranquility. Balance is needed in every sphere of life. An individual may be idle or hyper-active which both shows the absence of adjustment. Krishna in the Gita says that yoga practice is not for those who overeat or neglect to eat at all, neither for him, that is excessively awake or sleeps too much (Woodard).
However, whoever is moderate in wakefulness and sleep, recreation and eating, average in efforts of work find yoga practice a way of destroying all misery. Some amount of self-discipline is necessitated as a result of moderation practices. From Hindu, this can be referred to as ‘Tapas’ meaning heat or fire which means that unless the fire of self-discipline is put on to burn down to ashes all limitations and impurities in the human system, then there will be no illumination of the spiritual things. Some extremes should be altogether avoided in this area. People by being over-enthusiastic and through misunderstanding strain and torture themselves hoping to advance much quicker but get defeated in the end. Too much of humiliation and contrition can be as harmful just like self-indulgence.
The major purpose of being disciplined is in making the constitution to be more adaptable, responsive and enduring. The mind and the body should be controlled so as they can be fully obedient especially to the will and also independent of the circumstances which arise from the external environment. Any individual who is in bondage with physical comforts should slowly try to get rid of all that is redundant and educate himself to have contentment in the bare necessary things.
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Any person finding it difficult to control physical dullness especially in waking up in the morning will have no other option than to drag himself using the force of will out of bed. One who tends over-eating should have no choice than to reduce their food quantity. One that has a habit of speaking a lot even when it is not necessary should try and practice some stillness and persistently control all the useless motions to increase not meditation and concentration power and thus the health of the body and brings joy and happiness in every way (Hewitt).
An individual’s mind naturally falls into some three general states which include a dull state, the scattered or the overactive state and the calm or the central state which corresponds to the qualities of matter also known as the Gunas. These three states are inborn in each living being and can be described in the human mind as; subconscious, conscious and super-conscious, vijnanamaya kosha. The first state represents inertia, darkness, heaviness or the violent state. The mind that has been mastered by this state does not have the power to distinguish between wrong and right hence can be easily swayed away by some lower animal passions.
The other quality or state describes excessive egotism, ambition, discontent, and arrogance. When an individual possesses this quality, they seem to be overcome by feverish unrest which gives them overwhelming wish to indulge more in external undertakings. This overstretches and scatters a lot of increasing energy level of un-satisfaction no matter how much is achieved. While the third quality or state describes a mind that grows but is serene, collected and illuminated. It is a state which is fit enough for spiritual attainment. So has to obtain this state, inertia or dullness should be overcome by motivating all other mental and physical activities which will have to be directed and regulated until focus is achieved.
The sub-conscious should be under the complete domination of the conscious while the conscious has to be stretched to the super-conscious to obtain the meditation and concentration power. Meditation and concentration are inseparable since when the mind gains full strength through isolation, it becomes meditative naturally. The mind is usually likened to a lake such that when there is absolute smoothness at the surface and no ripple at all, then it is easier to see the bottom of the lake clearly and what lies there (Hewitt).
Similarly, when there is calmness in mind, and the wind from uncontrolled emotions does not create waves constantly on the surface, the true nature of an individual’s image cannot be broken hence obtaining a pure reflection of what an individual is in reality and the relationship he has with the only supreme intelligence. But as long as there is mind dis-quietness, the vision can never be flawless, and there is always a wish to get happiness and knowledge from someone else which is undoubtedly impossible since these come from within only.
Daily, time should be set aside for introspecting the mind so that the precise powers of perception can be developed while living the outer life. A mind should be formed which can be able to discern things that are imperceptible to the ordinary faculties of the senses. A mind which is concentrated can be an amazing instrument fitted for research. It behaves like a light on focus where the rays that are merged through a reflector or a shade bringing everything into a clear distinction. So by regular yoga practices, the hidden universal powers can be revealed and determined by gathering the mind forces which are commonly weak because they seem divided and disorganized (Woodard).
But there should always be contentment with some lower concentration forms which brings prosperity, physical health, and final concentration since through concentration power can be obtained. Although an individual acquired greater honor, more wealth and progressed strength of the body, there will always be one part that is un-satisfied unless there is an awakening towards higher development. Such work should not be looked as selfish since individuals are bound together and by unfolding of this nature in an individual, the others benefit as well. Through Dhyana, one can concentrate on the point of focus one gains self-knowledge of the truth and thus separate illusion and reality. It is then they can understand that wealth or richness does not present true happiness.
Human beings are always fearful of so many things such as death, the future and what it brings. Because of these reasons, focusing the mind and turning it within should be the objective of each person. This can only be achieved through the yoga practices which can give an individual a vision. By fixing the mind through meditation, we acquire fullness of vision which can also be described as a super-conscious state. By concentrating on the light, one is getting rid of the darkness of body and mind, since whatever a person thinks about continually, that is what they turn out to be (Hewitt).
Yoga can be defined as uniting an individual with the search object which describes a process of separating the mind from influences which are disturbing. Senses should have a control otherwise they will drag an individual away. Some inner ideal should be present that can direct an individual’s thoughts to some pure being or purity so that there would not be any space for impurity. By practicing this regularly, slowly by slowly, the mind will have pure thoughts filled with power, light, and peace (Frawley).
When the mind has perfect purity, holiness, and love, nothing can affect it. Any condition from the outside can only be controlled through the concentration power since a focused mind is strong and can block any disturbances. A scattered mind is likened to some single thread which can be easily broken while that which has concentration like many thread pieces which have been twisted together and very difficult to break. Hence the thoughts should be governed and the mind held steadily on the concentration object. A mind that is in harmony with the ideal is very peaceful since unhappiness is as a result of duality and friction.
A concentrated mind does not hear sounds nor see anything because all the senses are in suspension. The external sounds, vision, sense perceptions, can be mastered by concentration which finally leads to meditation. This is in direct association with the Pratyahara limb of yoga that involves withdrawal for external stimuli to enhance some internal awareness. The withdrawal provides quietness making an individual draw inward not by silencing the senses but quieting them enough to see beyond oneself. Lack of concentration can create a veil that may cloud the vision, but a mind that has gained concentration through yoga practices can pierce through the veil and help in clearly restoring the vision. Some extraordinary sense perceptions arise as a result of concentration, and an individual can see things that another cannot be able to see (Hewitt).
Through yoga teachings, Patanjali says that what the mind thinks about, that is what the individual is joined to, and in case some evil thoughts enter the mind, and it is all because of the individual’s attraction of such thoughts. So serious care should be taken on what the thoughts are fixed too since the mind always has to concentrate on something. If for a particular day an individual is interested in something and the other day something else, then there will be no concentration which can be obtained from such but waste of energies. But through the yoga practices, an idea or object is picked, an individual thinks about it, get absorbed in it, and loses him/herself in it, and nothing else is in that mind, but only that ideal and finally concentration is achieved. Therefore, in perfect bliss and peace, the mind controls the body and self ultimately controls the mind (Frawley).
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To achieve concentration, there should be breath restraint, senses restraint, meditation, attention that is fixed, investigation and even absorption. These can be described as the six-fold yoga. Through yoga practices, the mind obtains serenity, sees only self, and gets satisfied by self only. This gives a yogi an infinite bliss and a purified understanding, and hence he/she is not overwhelmed by any other thing, thus attaining anandamaya kosha layer of being.
Yoga should, therefore, be practiced with undepressed heart and perseverance and when the unsteady and restless mind wanders away, a yogi should withdraw the mind from there and bring it under the subjection of self. One should also practice regularly on how to let the heart concentrate and be isolated by getting rid of by conquering the mind and body of possession and longing. During concentration, there are mind modifications, and the right knowledge concentration brings out discrimination, reasoning, unqualified ego and bliss to an individual (Hewitt). Besides, one can attain a state, Yamas, where they make ethical considerations allowing them to relate well to others.
The concentration of any individual is continuously dragged into various directions and is mostly hindered. Yoga helps one to maintain the levels of concentration and increase the ability of concentration. Concentration can be described as powerful energy and when we draw our focus to the positive or non-attachment, we liberate ourselves from the dull situation and our ability for concentration is strengthened. Yoga relaxes the mind and body so that we can be able to think more clearly, as a result, increases our concentration ability.
- Desikachar, T. K. V. The heart of yoga: Developing a personal practice. Simon and Schuster, 1999.
- Frawley, David. Yoga: the greater tradition. Mandala Pub, 2008.
- Hewitt, James. The Complete Yoga Book: The Yoga of Breathing, Posture and Meditation. Random House, 2012.
- Le Page, Joseph. “Creating yoga therapy classes and individual sessions that work.” International journal of yoga therapy, vol.12, no.1, 2002, pp. 13-23.
- Saraswati, Swami Niranjanananda. “Yoga and personality.” SIS Journal of Projective Psychology & Mental Health, vol.3, no.1, 2001, pp. 19.
- Woodard, Catherine, “Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life” International journal of yoga, vol.4, no.2, 2011, pp. 49-54.