Whether it be for meditation, to pass the next exam, or to keep up with the ever-increasing, fast-paced work culture in our society, maintaining attention, or focus, is supremely important. The inability to maintain attention can greatly impair our day-to-day lives. When we are able to truly focus, we can be present and offer our best to whatever we are doing.
Attention is the ability to concentrate on one thing at a time while ignoring distractions. The flame of attention in the mind is the function of what is called dhruti in Sanskrit. Dhruti allows us to “hold onto” something with the mind.
Maintaining focus seems to be a growing challenge in our society as shown by the increasing number of children experiencing distraction in school and at home, by the rise in the use and sales of caffeinated drinks and products (particularly in the morning and afternoon), and the growing amount of research on this incredibly intriguing topic.
This is no surprise. In Ayurveda, we recognize this societal dilemma as a sign of increased vata. The hustle of life, constant stimulation from technology, busy schedules, and growing demands on our time all increase the mobile and light qualities of vata. As vata continues to rise, its qualities also blow away the fire of pitta, which is needed for sharp, focused attention.
Luckily, there are solutions.
- Take herbs! We have included some beautiful and powerful Ayurvedic herbs in the new Focus liquid extract. Brahmi/gotu kola, bacopa, and shankhapushpi are the go-to herbs in Ayurveda for maintaining powerful concentration, attention, and focus. They do not work as stimulants in the way that caffeine does. Rather they support the fire of pitta in the nervous system and brain tissue (majja dhatu) and also provide this tissue with nourishing qualities. Further, some of these herbs are known as great adaptogens, helping the body adapt to stress that can take its toll on the body and on vata and pitta.1 We also included ginkgo, which is a well-known Chinese herb for the brain that helps with functions of the mind.
Note that this liquid extract is specially made in an alcohol-free, glycerin base so that it is appropriate for just about anyone, anytime!
- Calm vata with a solid routine and enough sleep. A daily routine is central to an Ayurvedic lifestyle (for good reason!) as it brings regularity and groundedness. Sleep is one of the greatest nourishments of the mind and for vata, as well. In fact, a study from the San Francisco Brain Research Institute showed that staying up just one hour later can decrease your focusing capability.2
- Take breaks. According to researcher Dr. Alejandro Lieras, “constant stimulation is registered by our brains as unimportant, to the point that the brain erases it from our awareness.”3 Schedule five minute breaks throughout your day. Consider Nadi Shodhana pranayama during this time.
- Meditate. Many talk about the mind being like a muscle. You have to train it with regular exercise. For the brain, this exercise is meditation. Meditation practices, whether it be mindfulness-based practices like Vipassana or mantra recitations, help with attention.4, 5, 6 Find a practice to start with (consider So-Hum meditation) and begin with five minutes, slowly increasing the duration time.
- Spend time in nature. This one comes from Daniel Goleman’s book, Focus: The Hidden Power of Excellence, where he notes that it is important to spend time everyday in an environment where your mind will switch off from distractions (whether it be distractions from the environment or from your internal emotions). Walking in nature does this more effectively than anywhere else (such as walking around your office or in the city).
Give all of these suggestions a try and help your mind function at its fullest capacity!
1 Pole, Sebastian. Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice. London: Churchill Livingston, 2006.
2 Terrie Heinrich Rizzo. “Developing Better Concentration.” Idea Helath & Fitness Association, accessed November 5, 2015, http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/how-to-improve-concentration
3 Rick Nauert. “Taking Breaks Found to Improve Attention.” PsychCentral, accessed November 5, 2015, http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/02/09/taking-breaks-found-to-improve-attention/23329.html
4 Kozasa E, et al. Meditation training increases brain efficiency in an attention task. NeuroImage. 59, no. 1 (January 2012): 745-749
5 Tang YY, et al. Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 104, no. 43 (October 2007): 17152-6
6 Eric Barker. “Stay Focused: 5 Ways to Increase Your Attention Span.” Time, accessed November 5, 2015, http://time.com/2921341/stay-focused-5-ways-to-increase-your-attention-span/