“Concentrate!” we’re told, in order to get things right. Is that really the best idea? Does it really help? Here are three reasons why I think concentrating generally isn’t a great idea and an alternative.
When you narrow your focus, you lose the big picture
The other day working with a woman who enjoys hunting, we found that in her hunting stance, she was bringing a great deal of tension to bear on focusing. In her concentration, her neck and back were working harder to support her head, which moved forward toward where she was looking. But as I guided her into relieving the excess tension in her neck and around her eyes, she allowed her head to come back into an easy alignment, she become more aware of her surroundings using her peripheral vision and she looked toward her target without straining. She also became more balanced, with better support for holding her arms up.
When we focus our attention and energy on one single thing, our eyes get “stuck.” Not only that, but I have discovered in myself and in others that when muscles around the eyes strain, the neck tenses. And excess tension in the neck pulls the head out of alignment and interferes with free and easy movement.
We also tend to lose all notion of everything else when we focus: time, others, our surroundings and the excess tension that builds in mind and body. “Tunnel vision” sets in, effecting our ability to see what we don’t expect. And as the Harvard Business Review notes, excessive focus causes your brain to lose energy it needs to process information and make well thought-out decisions.
Basically, when we pull our focus in, we create effort that gets in the way of our body’s innate ability to balance, support itself and to be aware of a spectrum of information and possibilities.
The good news is that the opposite is true, too! When we release excess tension in the neck, the body naturally moves toward a more natural alignment. We stop working so hard, eyes free up to see better and our awareness of our surroundings and of our selves expands. We become more balanced and move more easily.
Try this: focus your eyes intently on a single object. What happens to your peripheral vision? What do you notice in your neck? In your breathing? Next soften your gaze and see what happens with your eyes. What else enters into your field of vision? Do you notice a change in tension in your body?
Attention is like a muscle, too! Practicing the Alexander Technique we develop and stretch that “attention muscle.” When faced with something we want to focus on, rather than contracting and straining to block out distractions, we can choose to direct and expand our attention. We become better able to see the big picture, with all the insights we gain from that. An Alexander teacher can help you increase mind-body awareness and discover how to stop straining.
Stay tuned for the next two reasons why not to concentrate and what to do instead! See summer class information below. Don’t miss out!
Wishing you a fantastic summer!