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Thought Spot: A Degree of Focus

October 7th, 2010

“The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing.”

                                           -German Proverb

 “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”

                                       -Alexander Graham Bell

 My sister has been in search of the ultimate exercise regimen for most of her adult life.  When I relocated to Kansas City, she regularly included me in her quest.

First we tried step aerobics together. Neither of us seemed able to master the necessary brain/arm/leg coordination. Then came spinning classes, the Tour de France on a stationary bike that left me sore and testy. I passed on the offer to study Hapkido martial arts with her.

Then she suggested bikram yoga.  Yoga seemed tame given my sister’s penchant for the physically demanding. “Yoga?” I asked, surprised. “Hot yoga,” she breezed. “Yoga in a room that’s 105 degrees Farenheit.  It’s supposed to be a really good workout.  Wanna try it?”

I can’t sit on my patio in 105 degrees. But I agreed to go.

The yoga studio was deceptively airy and light, with shiny blond wood floors and mirrored walls. Several students had already rolled out their mats were doing their pre-class stretches.

Staking out a spot near the windows at the back of the room, I resolutely unrolled my mat and sat down, eyes closed. Then the wall of heat blasted me like a Jedi’s force field. But this was yoga, right? It should at least make me feel peaceful, if not cool and dry.  

The studio door opened and closed with the instructor’s crisp authority, interrupting my preoccupation with the heat. Svetlana was all business and clearly unconcerned about my peace of mind. Her no-frills delivery in stream-of-consciousness English had a pronounced Eastern European accent. “We begin the 26 postures starting with standing postures, come on, did you come here to work, or just to sit in a hot room? Keep breathing, lock the knee, lock the knee, lock the knee!” 

I glanced sideways at my sister. “Not fun,” she muttered under her breath. Svetlana didn’t miss a beat. “Don’t worry about people around you, focus your mind and the rest of you will follow, concentrate!”  

This seemed like boot camp with the temperature turned up. And I’d only gotten through the first posture, which was Breathing. Twenty five postures and 88 minutes to go.

Hot yoga pulled everything out of me and just about every muscle as I contorted myself into the postures. The Standing Bow – stand on one foot, hold the other foot behind me and pull it above my head?  Even golf was easier than that. “Don’t blink don’t think just focus,” Svetlana intoned.

The Camel – kneel on my mat, do a back bend, and grab my feet along the way?  I’ll give it a shot. I leaned backwards and caught sight of the tasseled fountain grasses outside, waving upside down through the windows. My stomach roiled in protest and I sank forward onto my knees. “If you feel sick or you are wanting to cry this is normal,” Svetlana’s streaming monologue filtered through my throbbing head. Yes, I’d like to cry, thank you, I thought.

Twelve eternal minutes later, Svetlana turned down the heat, admonishing us to close our eyes and lie in savasana – the dead body pose. No problem. I didn’t have the energy for anything else.

Just as I least expected it, that sense of peace that had eluded me throughout the class settled over me like a fresh blanket.

That was five years ago. 

My sister has moved on to a rowing machine. I still practice hot yoga.  My Standing Bow is sometimes wobbly and I don’t always grasp my feet in the Camel. By degrees I’ve learned the value of staying with the postures – of focusing my mind and letting the rest of me follow. Yoga may not be “fun” or make me “happy” in the usual sense. I’m rewarded with something else for my perseverance – a most peaceful sense of satisfaction.

Yoga, it turns out, has a lot in common with our Rotary experience. Of course we have good times and enjoy each other’s company. Still, our main thing is providing life-changing service that often requires long-term, concerted effort.  Like eradicating polio, providing clean water and medical care where there are none, or making our clubs and communities bigger, better and bolder.

When we encounter the inevitable challenges, we can sometimes slip into focusing on them instead of on the main thing. Just as with practicing yoga in a very hot room, if we think about who’s watching, what’s difficult for us or how the heat gets in our way, we diminish our results. If we keep our minds, hearts and efforts focused on that main thing, extraordinary service to humanity can follow.  Along with a peaceful sense of satisfaction.   

Where is your focus going today?


PDG Elizabeth