32 Unusual Ways to Practice Concentration

The thing about about yoga is that it has a lot of limbs! They are eight in total.  You start with your "do's" and "don't"  (1 and 2, Yama Niyama)  and then you do your (3) "asana" or poses every day, then you continue on with (4) pranayama or breath extension and if you are lucky you make progress over a very long period of time, much longer than what your mind pictures "long" to be.  

And those are only the first four, the external ones the "easy ones" so to speak, as at least they have a practice, something that can be "done" about them. A measurement that can be tracked. A feeling of progress experienced.

Then comes the real challenge of the internal ones, (5) pratyahara or sense withdrawal is a whole new world in itself, and it is supposed to lead us right into the next one, the sixth one: "concentration".
As I write this somehow I get the feeling that reaching a level of concentration cannot be that hard.

That is: Until we try...

How long can you keep your mind focused on, say, reading this post? How about concentrating for an hour on just the feeling of the air entering and leaving your nostrils? I know, me too.

So I started thinking of ways to help concentration come along, easy methods that can be accessed throughout the day.  Here are 32 ideas:
  1. While in the middle of a difficult task, by breathing deeply and clearing the mind for a few moments every half hour. I tried this when I was taking a 3 hour test a few years ago, and it worked like charm.
  2. When doing the dishes, by paying full attention to the feel of the water, the texture of the plates
  3. Learning a new language, Sanskrit is a good recommendation
  4. Cleaning the bathroom, while paying attention to leave no hairs anywhere, not on the floor, not on the tub
  5. When doing yoga, by focusing on the breath and following the dristhi (set eye point focus)
  6. When we are listening to music we do not like, we can focus on what is it that we feel and how we react, yet not react.
  7. When caught like a deer in the headlights, acknowledging what surprises us, noticing our physical and emotional reactions
  8. In the middle of a heated argument, by excusing ourselves and walking away for a breather, then re-focusing and trying one of these suggestions
  9. Before making a big commitment, by giving ourselves time to think it over, and focus on the pros and cons
  10. Writing to do lists when we are clear minded, maybe better in the morning. 
  11. Following up on our lists, without trying to run everyone over in our goals, just letting them happen throughout the day. I find that just writing a list has an effect in my actually doing what I wrote.
  12. Studying scriptures (the Yoga Sutras, the Baghavad Gita)
  13. Writing the things we learned in class.  Taking stock of what we want to remember.
  14. Practicing tratak (candle flame gazing) at night, before going to bed
  15. Clearing a closet, and doing it mindfully
  16. Sitting in a cushion, focusing on the breath, trying that for 20 minutes. Then increasing it to at least 20 minutes in the morning and 20 in the evening.
  17. Chanting a mantra 108 times.
  18. Memorizing a poem until we know it by heart without taking a break 
  19. Resuming in our mind the most important topics of a book chapter after we finish reading
  20. Playing a game of chess, with the intention to win
  21. Learning a new game. Truco, an Argentinean game, is a great challenge
  22. Adding numbers in our head before reaching for Excel, also subtracting multiplying and dividing.
  23. Helping the kids with their math homework
  24. Listening to kids talk, while actively involved
  25. Remembering the names of everybody when we meet a large group of people.  A good technique from my years as a computer trainer was to use their names in a sentence as quickly as possibly and while looking at them. 
  26. Doing crosswords or playing scrabble, also while while commuting. Keeping the mind active on things that make it work rather than letting it relentlessly stress us over.
  27. Designing a weekly menu that will boost our intelligence (i.e.: including lots of greens and lean proteins).  
  28. Coming up with 10 intelligent ideas to help specific issues that our planet (or village) needs help with
  29. Writing an article about the 10 things we know we do when we need to focus and how they help
  30. Listening to our parents without spacing out or judging
  31. Praying with divine focus and devotion
  32. Being grateful that our mind works and saying thank you! out loud.

These days I am away at Vipassana, siting in meditation, so I will be returning comments next week. Wish me luck.

Here is a book recommendation from a journalist that heard that about "International Memory Contests", which apparently are almost always won by Germans!  The latest world record is held by a person who can memorize a randonmly spread set of cards in 21 seconds!

He learned the technique and within a year became the American Champion.  In the International competition he came fourth, but that's OK.

An inspiring story for concentration.

10 Things to Know About Pratyahara (Pratyahara is two limbs behind Concentration and deals with the withdrawal of the senses)
32 Unusual Ways to Practice Pratyahara - Coming soon


  1. Memorizing poetry is one of my favorite things to do. I love being able to tap into them later. I usually do Robert Frost, and I today I'm going to work on this Edna St. Vincent Millay poem, suitable for this gorgeous autumn day.

  2. so great: i wish you luck you are already so lucky to go for a vipassana, i am prepaa-ring myself for do one in ... two years!!!so busy that it iwll take me all of this time to be abble to be away from home for a few months..

  3. I have to say I am very impressed with her going to this. 4am wakeup and basically non-stop until 9pm, then mandatory attendance at a talk. I wanted to go to the 3 day thing (although i doubt I would have survived) but you have to go to the 10 day thing first, which she did last year.

  4. you aren't blogging during vipassana i hope...

  5. She isn't. She wrote a few posts the day before she left and asked me to publish each morning. I even suggested to her that she take a computer so she can post/comment during her free time and she said, "not during vipassana". I'm like the little devil sitting on her shoulder tempting her to go electronic while she tries to go inner.

    But I failed.

  6. Laine, I love Robert Frost too, he has a way to take me into the present moment by noticing such ordinary things, beautiful poetry he writes...

    Lilasvb, yes I know what you mean, taking the time off is a negotiation, finding it, and then giving ourselves the mental space to actually go through one of these, they are almost miraculous when they happen! I hope you get the chance soon.

    Bfibbb, I am very grateful to James who agreed to post the pre written posts for me... he does tempt me and who would not... but no, it was all Vipassana, not even that much "stretching" this time, and it was great to go within. They even have a pagoda with individual cells in Mass, which is great for total silence and nobody around, it was great...and painful and then great again, and it was good to observe with equanimity... the results will be in the pudding of life...

    James, thank you so much for commenting and posting... :-) glad to be home

  7. vipassana is only powerful if you play by the rules. no writing, thinking, stretching, reading, talking. the 3 day is also a good time to fast-you practically are because you don't get dinner. time for me to also return. vipassana is far more powerful than any yoga.

  8. Bindy,I hear you, and I know you have been feeling the pull since you were about to go not so long ago, and then something got on the way, typical!, yes it is very powerful, I am beginning to think that both practices actually compliment each other, will have a post coming up on that, it is all so inspirational we are so blessed to have stepped into these paths!


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