Dear Yogi Marlon, I have a job that requires me to spend many hours in front of the computer. After a few hours I find I just cannot focus any longer, so I get a cup of coffee. By five I’ve had several, so I am strung out. How can I avoid this vicious cycle? Can yoga help?
Pittsburgh, PA USA
Yes, a little common sense and a Swara yoga technique should help quite a bit. Swara Yoga’s focus is on highly specialized pranayama. The word literally means “energy movement”, but is more commonly thought of as breathing exercises, because that is usually how the movement of energy is achieved.
When unable to mentally focus, get up and take a little walk. Getting out of your chair will change your optical focal length, relieving eye stress. Moving will stimulate oxygen flow through increased circulation, and also activate the lymph system to assist in draining pooled fluids that accumulate in the muscles when one is immobile for prolonged periods.
Before returning to your chair, decide whether the work you are doing mostly requires the left (logical) or right (creative, feeling) hemisphere of the brain.
There is a natural phenomenon that makes us breathe mostly out of one nostril for approximately 45 minutes, before it automatically switches to the other nostril. The “dominant nostril” stimulates the opposite side of the brain, favoring that hemisphere’s capabilities. So when breathing out of the right we stimulate the left-brain and are more likely to excel at practical and analytical tasks. Conversely, while breathing out of the left nostril the right brain is accessed, where creative thinking occurs. Loss of mental focus can be a result of respiration naturally switching the dominant nostril to the other side, leading to the brain favoring the opposite hemisphere.
To specifically utilize one hemisphere’s brainpower, you can direct your breathing through the desired nostril with this simple pranayama technique:
Press your thumb against one nostril sealing it. Breathe slowly, smoothly and continuously through the open nostril. After about 5 minutes the nostril dominance will remain on your chosen side.
By resisting the reflex to reach for caffeine-laden coffee or soda, you avoid the immediate but short spike in energy, and the “strung out” feeling at the end of the day that you described. Instead, the walk and breathing control creates a mental shift that will allow you to focus on your work with renewed enthusiasm and clarity. Besides, maybe you finally ran into that someone in the hall that you were admiring from afar!
If you still cannot focus, you really need a break—a BIG one. Remember that work is not everything. You have a life to lead, and pursuing life in a balanced way is part of living as a yogi.
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