Why intention and focus are important in your practice
Updated: 2 days ago
Where your focus goes, energy flows.
How important are the concepts of focus and intention in our lives? Imagine that setting an intention is like typing in a location on Google maps. If you want to get somewhere specific, typing in the destination is not really optional. After the destination has been decided upon, focus is what gets us there: it's the energetic map that gets us to where we want to go. First, we set an intention, and then we set our focus on reaching that goal. Even if you ignore Google's directions, the navigation will always try to bring you back to the original destination, but it might take a lot longer than the original suggested way. If we get distracted along the way to reaching our goal, we might still eventually reach our goal, but it might take hours, days or years longer than if we had had clear focus from the beginning of the journey. It might not seem to be a big deal to reach a destination a bit later, but we are only alive for a finite amount of time, we don't really have oodles of time to waste on unfocused and confusing directions. So, intention and focus work together to realize our true potential.
Focus and intention are extremely important skills for my chosen profession of opera singer. Without a clear intention about the role we are portraying and the ability to focus like a laser under stress, the singer will not only be stressed out, but their performance will not reach the true potential of the artist. Most importantly, who wants to watch a performing artist who has no focus? In my life as a soloist, the most difficult skill after learning the technique to sing was developing focus and concentration under stress. There are a million things going through an opera singer's head when on stage. We have to remember the staging that the director gives us, we have to be in the same rhythm as the conductor shows us, we have to sing in tune without always hearing the orchestra while on stage, we have to focus not to trip on the scenery or costumes, we have to remember the text in a foreign language and sing the notes with technical proweress... Quite frankly, it totally overwhelmed me in the beginning. Where is the focus when you have to focus on so many things at the same time? I am sure many people who never make it on a stage can relate to a daily life where there are just too many things always pulling focus. It seems impossible to focus on one task at a time because there is always an unexpected fire burning somewhere that needs to be put out. Focus, like many skills, comes slowly with a dedicated practice. My yoga teacher always says, if you are too busy to meditate or have a yoga practice, then you are someone who definitely needs to add a meditation and yoga practice to your day! When we repeat the same exercises, day after day, the brain learns how to fufill certain tasks automatically without taking much focus or brain power. For a singer, practicing the same phrase methodically in detail will create focus and a routine that will eventually be automatic for the mind and body. A yoga, breathwork and/or meditation practice can create focus for anyone, especially those under stress like a performer, parent or someone who has no time for yoga!
Focus is a skill developed over years of practice, so how can everyone bring more focus to their daily lives? It would be easier if our natural state of mind would be focused, but most people struggle to focus on a particular task if they haven't had any training. Monkey mind is is our natural state of mind, jumping haphazardly from one thought to the next without direction and often, unaware of what we are even thinking about most of the time. However, just like going to the gym everyday will make the body fitter, there are several easy methods we can use to train focus on a daily basis.
One method would be to add balancing poses to your daily repertoire. Something as simple as a daily 5 minute tree pose practice on each side will focus our attention inwardly and outwardly. During a balancing pose, we have to focus our gaze on a fixed point, we have to focus our mind to control our body in space so that we are balanced and also gather the thoughts of our mind so that we don't fall out of balance. I have often found myself in a balancing pose, gotten distracted by a random thought and immediately fallen out of the pose. Another powerful focusing tool is a short daily breathwork practice. Focusing on breath brings us into the present moment and can radically change our current emotional state. When we are concentrating on the sensation of breath or counting an inhale and exhale, we are less likely to be distracted by wild, ruminating thoughts. Allowing the body to be a vessel to receive breath, we relax the nervous system, retraining our relationship with stressful situations becoming more open to what is happening in the moment and not what happened in the past or worrying what might happen in the future. Lastly, on my list, a moving meditation practice such as Qigong or Yoga can weave the elements of breathwork, meditation and movement together for an integrated focus practice. For those who find a formal, seated meditation too daunting, a moving meditation practice with slow intentional movements linked to full breaths will be more appropriate to focus attention. Linking the awareness of breath to movement calms the nervous system and focuses the mind.
Most importantly, when choosing a practice, there is no need to punish yourself by finding a practice that you don't like thinking it will be a faster track to focus your mind. Find something you enjoy to do on a regular basis so that you can look forward to your daily practice. Even just a daily meditative walk or swimming laps can bring more focus in your life. The secret sauce is in the commitment to doing something on a regular basis, we need this rhythm in order to train the brain and nervous system. Practicing once a week for 30 minutes is a start, but it's not going to bring as much focus as a 5-15 minute daily practice.
Set an intention, use a method to create focus daily and your intention will eventually come to fruition. Regardless what your individual intention might be, you will find that a focused mind is a peaceful and calm mind. A calm mind is resilient and can master a myriad of stressful situations. Buddha referred to the 10,000 moon mind. A calm and focused mind reflects only one moon in a still lake, an unfocused mind reflects 10,000 moons in its choppy waters. Find stillness in the lake in your mind by starting a daily focus practice.