These days, multitasking is the norm. There are so many distractions, so many pulls on our attention, it’s amazing we accomplish anything at all. Studies have shown, that over the years, women have adapted to be master multitaskers, however, does multitasking really benefit any of us, male or female?
The more we meditate and practice yoga, the more we realize that multitasking is more a reflection of our monkey mind than anything else. Learning to cultivate one-pointed attention is somewhat of a talent in today’s fast-paced world. The cool thing about both yoga and meditation is that they can teach us how to focus our attention on a single task. (Read more in How to Quiet the Monkey Chatter.)
Think about it. When we practice yoga asana, we’re focusing our awareness on the physical sensations of the physical poses. Take warrior pose, for example. When we use our drishti (gaze) with the lazer-like focus of a warrior, we’re holding the pose with attention and determination, and we’re practicing one-pointed awareness. Staying in warrior pose for several deep breaths allows us to continue to improve our focus. It teaches us how to be fully present with the task at hand, staying in warrior pose with grace and ease. (Learn more in Using Your Drishti to Improve Focus.)
Yoga Practice for Better Focus
Yoga also teaches us how to get attuned to our breathing patterns. In Vinyasa yoga, we link each inhalation and exhalation with our movement. Linking the breath to a particular movement is a powerful way to bring ourselves into the present moment. Our one task is to move seamlessly from one asana to the next, while linking breath to movement. When we hold a pose in Hatha yoga, and focus on taking long, deep inhalations and exhalations, we’re discipling our attention. During yoga practice, we avoid multitasking. In fact, one could say that we’re actually “uni-tasking." This one-pointed focus helps calm the nervous system, helping us to heal both body and mind.
In pranayama practice, when we sit and focus completely on various breathing techniques, we’re cultivating this same kind of disciplined attention by bringing our awareness to our breath. Since our breath is intricately tied to our mental state, pranayama, or breath work, is one of the most effective ways to get out of multitasking mode and into a focused, relaxed and disciplined state of awareness. (Learn The Practice of Pranayama.)
There are many ways to meditate. One way is to simply focus on the breath. Another way is to become the witnessing presence of all the thoughts that come and go, in and out of our awareness. Both of these meditation techniques train the mind to become both calm and focused. (Learn about R.A.I.N. a Technique for Mindfulness.)
Neuroscientists are discovering that multitasking is a less productive way of going through life. Yoga can help us to unlearn the act of multitasking. We actually get more done when we give our full attention to one task at a time. Pranayama helps us re-train our brain so that we’re not distracted like an untamed monkey. Meditation helps us become more present in the moment. In this way we can accomplish whatever it is we’ve set out to accomplish, more gracefully and seamlessly than if we were in the habitual mode of multitasking.The truth is, when we multitask, we get less done as opposed to when we focus on one task at a time.
Could it be that by doing less, we actually accomplish more? This is what Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, has been teaching for thousands of years. Superficially, it may appear that we’re getting more done when we multitask. But when we truly scrutinize the subject, we realize the exact opposite is true. The “uni-taskers” among us, those who focus on one thing at a time, are more productive and do better work. “Uni-taskers” might also have better memory recall and better cognitive health.
Ancient yoga philosophy teaches the art of concentration and one-pointed attention. The yogis of old knew the importance of a well-trained mind for better health on all levels, body, mind and spirit. So, the next time you’re tempted to do one million things at once, remind yourself that you’ll be more productive and do better work the more you focus on the task at hand.