Q: I was wondering if you might have any tips on how to quiet the mind and train your mind to focus inward during your yoga practice. I often start off attempting to focus on the breath but somehow my mind inevitably ends up wandering..."Am I doing this pose correctly?....Oh no my shirt is riding up!...I wonder what I'll have for dinner....." On a related note, oftentimes, yoga teachers will say "Just focus on yourself, don't worry what the people around you are doing or thinking", but boy is that difficult for me. Although I'm not a competitive person by nature, I honestly find myself trying to "show off" my technique or compare myself to other students in the room. I try my hardest not to do this but I am having no luck. I am left feeling great physically after class but not exactly mentally relaxed.
A: Sweets, no worries. You're TOTALLY normal. This is a common phenomena in yoga, and life in general. The practice of yoga is to help quiet the mind. Hard to do when it is swirling with all the great examples you gave in your question. However, don't panic. This stillness of the mind comes with time. Promise! After a decade of practicing yoga, I STILL struggle with this but it has improved. Slowly, but surely. Honestly, I'll come up with all sorts of to-dos or ideas during my practice because it is a time that I actually slow it down a bit. However, I encourage you to let the thoughts come in and don't fight them, but don't hold onto them. I once was told to let them move like floating clouds across the mind. I love that visual. Try it.
Also, don't worry about what Sally is doing next to you or Bob in the front row. Think of this as your special time to focus on YOU, your practice, and doing good things for you and the world at large. Noble, yes, but I do think practicing yoga sends great energy out, if only by making us more peaceful! It is hard not to compare yourself and I find when teachers point it out, it somehow brings more attention to it. Instead of comparing yourself to another, honor the effort that you've put forth on the mat simply by showing up. Because Sally does forearm stand with flair, it doesn't mean that she doesn't struggle elsewhere in her life. We all have our areas to shine and grow. Focus on your shining qualities and take baby steps toward the poses that are your nemesis. Just like in life off the mat!
Savor your practice as you time. If your mind wanders, let it go. I've had many great decisions come to me in class - one was not to go to law school. So . . . sometimes it is ok to see where the mind takes you. Try to rein it in though, when possible, and enjoy your practice one breath at a time!
Have a yoga or lifestyle question you'd like some hip and tranquil input on? If so, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.