Ekagrata or ‘one pointed focus’ is an aspect of Yoga used to channel and direct the mind towards just one thing. In your yoga class, this may be instructed as focussing on the breath or physical sensations, and in some forms of meditation a mantra is used to focus the mind. Whatever the point of focus however, the practice is in gradually collecting in the stream of awareness, and re-directing it towards something useful.
Streams of Awareness
Imagine the mind as a river. A healthy river has strong banks and a steady current, with no blockages, litter or pollution within it. In the very same way from a yogic point of view, a healthy mind is strong, steady, with minimal blockages or waste. If the river becomes weak however, the banks start to break, and streams begin flowing in all directions, often ending up in a babbling pool leading to nowhere…. If this sounds anything like your mind, you’re not alone – many of us begin a yoga practice with the best intentions, and a sense of purpose and focus. Around ten minutes in however, its possible that the purpose we entered the room with has vanished, and the mind is flowing in all directions, from what to make for dinner, to that awkward conversation with a co-worker last week.
Our minds all have the ability to resemble a strong flowing river or a leaking stream, but when we realise we have a choice over how our thoughts are directed, we can take steps towards cultivating a harmonious, healthy river of consciousness. Recognising that we actually have a choice in the first place is the very first step, so even if you’re in the midst of a hectic schedule or stressful week, what can you choose to focus on or do about it right now?
Author Greg Mckeown released a book on Essentialism back in 2014. Exploring the ‘disciplined pursuit of less’, he challenges our modern ideals of wearing ‘busy’ as a badge of honour, getting caught up in the unimportant tasks in life, buying huge amounts of stuff as a distraction from unsolved emotional issues, and encourages us to have the courage to sayno more often when it serves us. This familiar state of being ‘busy’ is something many of us may be familiar with, yet the ‘busy-ness’ we find is often the very thing preventing us from seeking the things that really matter in life. We might tick off the to-do list and feel some sense of accomplishment, yet the most important things rarely make it on to the list in the first place. Perhaps pause again to ask yourself – what are you notputting on the to-do list that would really make a difference to your life?
This state of being ‘busy’ and being encouraged to pack our schedules full means many of us end up stressed and burnt-out, with the mind moving in all directions. The practice of Ekagrata then, is even more important now than ever, if we want to get to the things in life that really matter, and make a powerful and productive change in life.
Much like meditation, Ekagrata is something we can both practice and experience. We might practice meditation, but entering a meditative state is different and something we can’t control. In the same way, we can practice the tools of eka grata, but be unattached to gaining the experience of eka grata itself.
5 steps to Ekagrata
- Observe: Without getting caught up, observe how you feel at this very moment. What is occupying your mind, what emotions do you feel, where is the tension in your body, and how is your breathing?
- Find a focus: choose a point of focus for the mind to direct its energy towards. In the beginning this may even be something physical like an image or special object, or you could focus on your breathing or a mantra. After a while of practicing, you may be able to visualise without the mind wandering too much.
- Return: If the mind does wander off or starts making a mental ‘to do’ list, know now that you can choose. You can choose to let your energy be zapped by the things that don’t matter right now, and the things that are not helpful right now, or you can choose to be exactly where to are, and make this moment count.
- Repeat: Every time the mind wanders, repeat the process, and try repeating this practice 3-4 times per week.
- Release: Ultimately – as Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita – we have the right to act, but not to the fruits or results of the action itself. In other words, focus on the action of practicing, and let the results come naturally.