We live in a short attention span world. Between Twitter, Facebook, text messages, and TV, we’re used to getting information and processing it in teensy little bursts. While that’s great for communication, it’s not so great for our overall concentration.
It might seem a bit overwhelming to tear ourselves away from the screen and take some time to just breathe and focus, but the benefits are well worth it! Yoga, especially poses that require balancing and deep breathing, is excellent for improving concentration. Just like anything else, all it takes is a little practice!
This yoga routine focuses on moving slowly, breathing deeply, and sinking into the flow of the poses.
Yoga Routine for Concentration
Breathe to Find Your Center
Start out in easy pose, sitting cross legged, focusing on keeping your back straight. Imagine a string going up your spine and up into the sky. Take a few slow, deep breaths and set your intention for your practice. It could be something as simple as improving your concentration and focus or something more personal to you.
Once you’re relaxed, do a couple of breathing exercises to further focus your mind:
- Alternate Nostril Breathing. Hold up your right hand, so the palm faces you, and fold down the pointer and middle fingers. With your ring finger, pinch closed your left nostril, and breathe in through the right, filling your lungs with air. Release the right nostril, then use your thumb to close the left nostril and exhale completely. Repeat this alternating breath for a couple of minutes.
- Controlled Breathing. Still sitting cross legged, rest your hands on your knees, palms facing up. Inhale to a count of 4, hold for 4 slow counts, then exhale to a count of 8. Repeat this controlled breathing exercise 10 times.
Image Credit: Yoga for Concentration photo via Thinkstock
Twist to Improve Concentration
It’s important when you’re doing twist poses that you don’t push yourself too hard. The idea here is just to relax into the pose and focus on your breathing.
- Revolved Head to Knee. Still in a seated position, bring your left foot in, so the toes are just touching the right thigh. Straighten that right leg out, then reach for your right foot with your right hand. Rotate your upper body toward the sky, then reach up and over with your left arm toward your right foot. Hold this pose and breathe, then repeat on the other side.
- Spinal Twist. Stay seated, and bring your right foot so it’s just touching your left buttock. Bend your left knee, and cross it over the right, so your left knee is pointing upward (see the photo at the top). Twist to the left, resting your right elbow on the outside of the left knee and your left hand on the floor behind you. Finally, turn your head to look to the left, so you feel a very gentle stretch in your neck. Hold, breathe, and then repeat on the other side.
You’ll do the next set of poses in succession. Rather than returning to a standing or seated position in between, you’ll transition right from one pose to the next.
Image Credit: Spinal Twist photo via Thinkstock
Once you get the hang of the poses and the transitions in this flow series, try to lose yourself in the movements, and concentrate on taking slow, deep breaths in rhythm as you move.
- Downward Dog. Come to your hands and knees, inhale, then exhale as you fold your toes under, straighten your legs, and lift up into downward facing dog (pictured above). Take a deep breath in here, then…
- Exhale as you jump or step your feet up to your hands. Inhale slowly as you roll up, one vertebra at a time to a standing position.
- On your next exhale, step your feet so that they’re slightly wider than shoulder width apart with your feet turned out, then. Inhale, and place your left hand on your left hip, then exhale as you lean down and place your right hand on the floor about 12 inches from your right toes. Slowly inhale and lift your left leg, so it’s parallel to the floor, and reach your left arm to the sky. Exhale and turn your head gently toward the sky. Hold this for a count of 10. On the next exhale, repeat Half Moon Pose on the opposite side.
- On the next exhale, rotate your right arm and leg onto the floor, transitioning right back to downward facing dog.
- Inhale, then exhale and jump or step feet your to your hands. Slowly inhale as you roll up to standing.
- Exhale, and jump or step your feet shoulder-width apart. Turn your right foot out, and keep the left foot facing straight ahead, and on the next inhale raise your arms to shoulder height. Exhale as you stretch out to the right, then tilt your upper body, so your right hand is placed on (or near) the right foot, and your left arm is extended toward the sky. Inhale, and gently twist your neck to look up at the sky. Hold this pose for 10 deep breaths, then on the next inhale, straighten up, reverse your feet, and tilt to the other side to repeat Triangle Pose on the left side.
- On the next inhale, straighten up, jump or step your feet back together, and stand up straight with your hands in prayer position. Stay in this position until your breathing slows back to normal.
Image Credit: Downward Dog photo via Thinkstock
Once your breathing is back to normal, it’s time to do a few balancing postures. Balancing can be very difficult at first, so go easy on yourself, and try to relax. If you lose your balance and fall out, don’t worry! Just ease back into the posture again. Over time, it will get easier.
Choose a point on the floor or wall a few feet away from you to focus on, and try to lose yourself in your breathing. It can also help to think about keeping your foot squarely on the floor. Spread out the toes, and think about making contact between the Earth and every toe, the ball of your foot, and your heel.
- Relax into Tree Stand.Standing with your feet just slightly apart, shift your weight slightly, so it’s on your right leg. Bend your left leg, and use your hand to place your left foot on the inside of your right thigh. You can slowly raise your hands above you head, like in the photo above, or you can bring them to prayer position at your chest. Relax and breathe, focusing on that spot on the wall or floor. Repeat on the left leg.
- Twist into Eagle Pose. Eagle Pose combines the benefits of twisting with those of balancing. Standing with your feet just slightly apart, shift your weight slightly, so it’s on your right leg. Bend that right leg slightly, then slowly lift your left leg and cross it over the right thigh. If you can, you want to twist that left leg back around the right leg, so you’re hooking your left foot around the right calf. Don’t worry if you can’t do this right away. You’ll get there! Keeping your legs where they are, raise your arms up so they’re parallel to the floor, then bring your right arm across your body, crossing the left arm underneath it. Bend both elbows, and try to bring your palms together. Then, focus on straightening your spine as much as you can in this posture as you breathe. Repeat on the other side.
- Standing Forward Bend. While this isn’t as challenging a balance pose, forward bending can really help you get at some of the “stuff” that’s hurting your concentration. Stand with your feet together and your back straight. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale, swan dive forward, bending at the waist. Grab hold of your elbows with the opposite hands, and hang out and breathe in this position for as long as you like. Once you’re really comfortable in this position, you can try closing your eyes to make the balance a bit more challenging. Don’t roll back up – we’re going to go right into the next series of poses from here!
Let’s keep the balance work going with a final flow series, featuring arm balances!
Image Credit: Tree Stand photo via Thinkstock
Flow with Arm Balances
Arm balances can be very challenging, so take things slowly and remember: it’s not a competition! This is all about finding your center and improving your concentration, not about how far you can go. Like with standing balance poses, focus on a spot on the wall or floor when you’re doing arm balances.
This short series flows from posture to posture with pauses to concentrate on balancing, starting from a standing forward bend position (see the previous page).
- Place your hands on the floor, bend your knees, and jump or step back into Downward Dog again.
- Bend your knees until they touch the floor, then sit back on your heels, and relax into Child’s Pose by resting your torso on your thighs. Relax your arms down by your sides, then inhale and come to a squatting position, with your hands on the floor in front of you and your knees tucked into your armpits. Slowly shift your weight onto your hands, coming up onto your toes as you move into the arm balance as you exhale. When you feel like you’re ready, inhale and straighten your arms some more, until your feet come off of the floor. It is completely OK if you can’t get your toes off of the floor at first. As your balance and upper body strength improve, you’ll get there! Exhale and come back into the squat, then step or jump back into Downward Dog once again.
- From Downward Dog pose, take a deep breath in as you slowly shift your weight onto your right hand and your right foot. Rotate your body so that your legs are stacked on top of each other, your right hand it on the floor, and your left arm is reaching upwards, toward the sky. Focus on maintaining a straight line, from your shoulder to your feet, and hold Side Plank for a few deep breaths, and on the next inhale rotate to the other side.
- On the next exhale, rotate again, so both hands and feet are on the floor, then push back into Child’s Pose one last time.
Once your breathing returns to normal, roll onto your back. Lay comfortably, with your feet slightly apart and your arms by your sides, and focus on relaxing your body, from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. Stay here and meditate in Corpse Pose for 5 minutes or even longer if you like.
Image Credit: Crane Pose photo via Thinkstock