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Making Mindfulness a Lifestyle

How practicing focus can make you more mindful, more present, and at the end of the day, more content.

I’ve noticed this trend in my life — I want to see, I want to explore, I want to experience different places and cultures. I’ve traveled. I’ve lived in different countries. I’ve moved around frequently — at one point I hadn’t lived in the same place for more than 3 months in years, literal years. And, all the while I’ve expected those places and experiences to hold the key I’ve been looking for. To lead to the revelation that will lead to the life I’ve always dreamed of. To make me the person I’ve always wanted to be.

Inevitably, when that place doesn’t deliver on that exact expectation, I move on to the next.

Dharana is “...the binding of the mind to a single point of focus.” — Patanjali's Yoga Sutras

It’s only when I look back that I see I was living that life that I dreamed of. I already had the revelation that I was looking for. I already was the person I always wanted to be. It was there all along, and I missed the moment because I was always looking to the expectation.

Do you ever feel like no matter how hard you work for the life you want or how many choices you make to get you there, the things and the life that you’re working toward always seem just out of reach? Do you ever feel satisfied with life and where you are on your path? I ask because I can relate. The moments of pure satisfaction with life’s circumstances have been few and far between for me.

Between always looking to the future and the endless forward-motion hustle of our society, it’s hard to find ourselves and our minds truly living in the present moment. The moments when we get to slow down, be mindful in that moment, and actually experience the life we are living are easier to ignore than face.

This is where yoga steps in. A practice in all of the limbs of yoga can create a deeper understanding and practice of mindfulness. But one in particular, to me, sets the foundations to make mindfulness and moment-to-moment presence more of a lifestyle. That is the 6th limb, dharana.

dharana is the practice of total concentration. The word itself is literally translated as concentration. It’s a practice we can take with us anywhere, because we can concentrate on anything at any moment.

For example, we take our breath with us everywhere we go. It’s our sustainer, our life force. We can never be without it. Focusing on the breath, on the rhythm of inhale to exhale, without any effort or force, is a practice of dharana.

We can focus on something internal like that, or a thought or memory, or we can focus on something external and more tangible, like a particular object. One of my favorite ways to practice dharana is to hike out to a waterfall or river and simply sit and watch the water flow. It’s incredibly meditative. And, the more we focus on something, the more we observe, the more we notice and learn from it.

You set the boundaries of your mind. You get to pick the object or parameters of your mind’s wanderings and contemplation. And, there are no limits. Focus on your breath. Focus on the single act of brushing your teeth. Focus on the flow of a waterfall. It’s entirely up to you.

Focus teaches us to be mindful, and mindfulness teaches us to live in the present moment, which leads to greater happiness and contentment. That doesn’t necessarily change the life you live, but it does entirely change your perspective, which really makes all the difference.

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