Aparigraha – How To Focus In A World Of Distractions

Say What?

Confession time: aparigraha is one of the yamas I really love thinking about. Translated as non-grasping, I remember the first time I heard it and thinking, “Wow that really resonates!” A few hours later I was sitting in front of my laptop. The TV was on in the background, and my phone buzzed. I instantly reached for it, and then caught myself. It was like I was looking down on myself. Where was my attention in that moment – on my laptop, the TV, or my phone?

These days there is an incredible amount of demand for our attention: advertising, social media and smart phones to name a few. From the moment we wake up from the moment we go to sleep, we’re bombarded with images and messages, mostly from companies trying to sell us something. So aside from renouncing all our worldly possessions and becoming a hermit in a cave somewhere, how can we practise aparigraha, our fifth yama, in our busy modern lives?

Using Aparigraha On The Mat

I’ll be honest, I have moments of āsana envy. Moments of wishing I could do some of the advanced poses on Instagram, Facebook, yoga YouTube videos or whatever your social media of choice is. I’ll admit it – being able to lift up gracefully into Peacock Pose (Pincha Mayurāsana) seems like a distant dream, for now.

But I also know that performing āsanas is not really the point of yoga. If you’ve read the other articles on the yamas and niyamas you should be sensing a theme here. Practising āsana can be a competitive, ego-driven sport which isolates and can intimidate people away from yoga. There is a lot of really interesting material being written at the moment on the role of āsana in the contemporary West, from Matthew Remski’s What Are We Actually Doing In Āsana, or the writings of Mark Singleton. If you’re interested in why āsana has come to be such a big part of yoga, I really recommend getting stuck into some of the great content out there.

But back to using aparigraha on the mat. How do you practise āsana without grasping for postures which are beyond reach, whilst maintaining enough of a challenge to actually develop your practice? Here are some tips below.

  • Practise Yoga Every Day
Image Credit: Zach Dischner.  on Flickr.
Image Credit: Zach Dischner. on Flickr.

In a strange way, the more yoga we do, the less striving we experience. One of the benefits of yoga is a feeling of contentment, and this contentment makes us feel less of a need for all the technology which can distract us day in and day out. Plus, practising a little bit every day will do you more good than killing yourself in a 90min class once or twice a week. If you know you’re going to practice every day, you may feel less of an urge to really push yourself in class because you know you’ll get the chance to keep practicing the day after, and the day after that. You’ll probably notice an improvement faster, too!

  • Go On Retreat

Yoga retreats are another great way to switch off from the outside world. Try and pick a retreat which combines āsana with prānāyāma and meditation for a fully rounded experience. I don’t know how I survived 30 years without ever going on retreat. I always come away feeling re-energised, refreshed and full of enthusiasm for my yoga practice. They’re not just for the wealthy – speak to people in your yoga community, talk to your yoga teacher or studio. You may be surprised at some of the more affordable options out there.

  • Leave Your Phone Out Of The Studio

This one sounds obvious, but I am continually  surprised by how many times I’m in a class, and someone’s phone goes off. Apart from the embarrassment of being the one who is disturbing everyone’s savāsana, just ask yourself if you really need to have your phone nearby. Can you be away from it, for just 90mins?

Taking Aparigraha Off The Mat

I love turning my phone off, but maybe that’s because I’m from Cornwall where you don’t have much phone signal anyway. It is so liberating switch off, and shift my focus to my real life situations. Here are some other ways you can begin to practise non-grasping off the mat:

  • Use An Alarm Clock
Image Credit: Alex.  on Flickr.
Image Credit: Alex. on Flickr.

This one is simple. Not only will you sleep better, but it will be easier to resist checking Facebook or your email moments before bed, and moments after you wake. If you use your phone as an alarm, buy an alarm clock.

  • Think Twice Before Clicking Buy

A friend of mine has a habit of late night shopping on the internet. To curb her spending, she still allows herself to browse – but she resists the temptation to buy anything until the next morning. Usually when she wakes up, she can’t remember what she was tempted by the night before.

  • Reflect On Your Relationships

It’s not always the easiest thing to do, but looking back at past relationships and understanding why they went wrong can often be a case of identifying patterns of neediness. When we rely on someone else to provide our sense of worth, then we can give them a burden too big for them to sustain. Is this true for you? Or have you been on the receiving end of someone who was grasping for your love – and wanted too much? Is there anything you can do to change these situations, or prevent them from happening again?

Taking Aparigraha From Here

This week’s challenge: can you take your phone out of your bedroom, or even trying turning it off for a day? What about leaving the house without your wallet? You don’t need to put yourself at risk, or even at hardship – simply prepare so that you can continue your life without these modern day ‘essentials’. Is it as easy as it sounds? Let us know!

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Zen Monkey, a sub-division of YogaLondon, is an online conduit for yoga students and teachers to share ideas and develop a catalogue of content that is informative, creative and fun. We are a community founded from the collection of writers and yogis we've mentored, worked with and been inspired by. Together, we are building a tribe that shares the tools, the inspiration and the motivation to lead a healthy, mindful and sustainable life.