Focus is the reward

 

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Benny was my mom’s dog. He came to me with some pretty bad habits: peeing wherever he wanted, barking at everyone, and biting people, mainly the ones with red hair! So when I got him, I took him to obedience school. He was already 7 years old, but I was sure we could break him of these lifelong behaviors.

We both learned a lot at obedience school. One thing I learned was that Benny’s obedience was pretty much up to me — I was the one that was going to have to learn and practice how to be a dog’s master. Seven years later, Benny is just as bad as ever.

I failed obedience school, but Benny did learn one thing: how to focus. The game was for me to hide a treat in one hand and reach my arms out to each side. Benny’s job was to keep his eyes on ME, not the treat in my hand. If he could, he got the treat. He was really good at it! In no other task could he focus his attention and concentrate like he could in this one.

In yoga, you may find yourself going for the treat, the calendar pose reward at the end of all that work. But the real reward comes from learning how to stay centered and focus.

Yoga offers a complete set of practices to help you do that. What I love about the asana practice we do in class is that it anchors the mental effort in the physical body. In balancing poses, and in transitions from one pose to another, you’ve got to activate and fix your mind to your core, to the deep muscles that stabilize and ground you while all the “action” is going on in the periphery. Physically, energetically with your muscles, you have to pull yourself IN. In the body, you draw the abdominal muscles IN. You gently retract the limbs INto the sockets that connect to the torso—hips and shoulders. Plugged into your center, you can make any transition, from a strong, side stretching backbend to a twisted, forward bending balancing pose.

Here’s a little clip of a sequence that requires a LOT of focus. It’s speeded up to double-time, and I still falter, but you’ll see what I mean.

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