Yoga and the Art of Distraction

Sometimes distractions—like yoga—can help you focus on the things that really matter in life.

My daughter is 13 months old now, which means she's as cute as a button (if I do say so myself); she's walking all over the place, and she's so curious about things it's hard to keep tabs on her sometimes. Her intense curiosity makes her easily distracted. As a parent, this can be a bad or good thing depending on the situation. It's bad when I bring a spoon toward her lips at precisely the time the dog runs past, causing her to turn, and sending mashed banana flying to the floor (good news for the dog, of course). I can also think of plenty of examples when distraction is a good thing. When I have to change a diaper, for example, I can hand her a toy to keep her occupied so she will be still long enough for me to make the switch. Yes, distraction is my best tool for avoiding meltdowns. I’ve noticed recently that it works for grown ups, too.

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Being easily distracted gets a bad rap. After all, our distracted "monkey minds" cause us to jump from one thought to another, making it hard to focus. For me, bad distractions are the ones that take me out of my life and feed into whatever story is going on in my head. But there are good distractions, too. When I’m able to turn my attention from something that doesn't serve me and do something positive instead, even for just a few minutes, I can come back to my problems with a fresh mind and a new perspective. Very often my time on my yoga mat serves as this kind of distraction.

For me, asasa practice is the perfect distraction when negative thoughts consume me. The sensations I feel in my body as I move and stretch into various positions demand so much attention that I can't possibly think about my to-do lists or the many other things that hold my attention most of the day. When I'm inclined to sit in front of my computer and refresh my email for the 1,000th time, I try to nip it in the bud with an asana break to help me get my mind off things things I can’t control. Yes, there are days when for me practicing a Downward-Facing Dog is really the equivalent of giving my mind a toy to play with so it doesn't have an inner meltdown. It might not be as noble as the days when I dedicate my practice to someone else or to a worthwhile cause, but it definitely has been a saving grace for me.

Of course, yoga isn’t the only good distraction in my life. My daughter and all of her antics has turned out to not only be a fabulous distraction from things that don’t really matter, but a driving force in my learning how to let go of bad habits that don’t help anything and drive me bonkers in the process. A long walk outside on a sunny day, a chat with a friend, or a good book can be wonderful distractions, too. In fact, the busier and more complicated my life gets, the more I’ve come to appreciate these activities as the things that life is really made of—and everything else is just background noise. It’s just a matter of perception.

What are some of your favorite distractions?