We’ve been looking at ways yoga can sharpen your focus, helping you notice what’s happening internally, keep your eye on the ball, and deploy a mantra. These techniques involve pratyahara, turning inward, and dharana, intense focus—on, for, example, a gazing point or a word or phrase.
Practicing pratyahara and dharana strengthens your mental skill by sharpening your focus. As you gain facility with these steps, you’ll prepare yourself for dhyana, a meditative state that we can equate with being in the flow or, in sports terms, “in the zone.” When we achieve dhyana, we move from dharana’s focus on one thing exclusively and into a simultaneous awareness of many things at once. Both dharana and dhyana, single-pointed focus and a 360-degree view of what’s happening in the moment, are important for sports. Sometimes you need to narrow down the field to one route, one line, one shot; other times you need to be aware of everyone else’s position, of all the factors that influence your next move.
To help move into the zone of dhyana, what psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi termed “flow state,” the degree of difficulty of the task must be appropriate for your abilities. If the workout, drill, asana, or meditation technique is too difficult, you’ll be too focused on technicalities to hit your full stride. Too much attention to the precise actions required for full execution of a move will get in the way. On the other hand, if the work isn’t challenging enough, you won’t reach the full engagement that dhyana offers. You need some difficulty in order to tether your mind to the moment; if you can execute the move in your sleep, it can’t captivate you fully.
Consider this the next time you hit the mat, the gym, or the field. What is the right amount of challenge to provoke you to full engagement, to complete union with what’s happening in the moment? Figure that out and you’ll be doing yoga.