Posts Tagged ‘focus’

I’m a bit worried that I think too much in terms of dichotomies, dilemmas, quandaries and paradoxes (especially because I could only spell one of those words without the help of the spell checker).  But this one hit me over the head from a couple of different directions in yoga class this morning, so what the heck.

First the rant version:  I got to class this morning and put my mat in the back of the room and headed to the locker room to change.  When I got back, a young lady had put her mat directly in front of mine.  Very nicely lined up, she probably spent some real time making sure she directly centered it.  Now this was in a fairly small class, so it wasn’t that big a deal to shift left a bit.  But this particular studio has markings on the floor so that in a full class you know how to set up your mats to get three rows nicely staggered so that everyone can see themselves in the mirror.  So was she just so focused on getting to a relatively early morning class that when she got there she didn’t think to be polite about where she landed?  I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I’m not sure.  Then there were the three people that walked into a totally silent room and snapped their mats open when clear and crisp  “bang” sounds.  One of these days that’s going to startle me enough that I’m going to pee my pants.   Then they’ll be sorry.  You betcha!  Or the guy that stuck his towel on the only open shower stall as I walked into the room and then proceeded to spend several minutes gathering his accoutrements to actually take a shower.  Are these people all just oblivious, so focused on what they are doing that they don’t realize that they’re being incredibly rude?  Or are they totally aware and don’t care?  The flip side of this is that I like to feel that I’m a reasonably polite person, but I know I can focus to the sacrifice of all else even when I’m not trying, so I wonder how many blog posts are out there ranting about the incredibly rude things I’ve done?  Possibly even just the incredibly rude things I’ve done this morning?

Anyway, now that that is off my chest.  Call it the rudeness corollary to the Focus/Awareness Quandary.  Let’s get to the meat of the issue, which is what got kicked off in my yoga background process by the first couple of incidents.

This class was a Hatha class that the studio is calling their “Fire” series.  It’s small variation on Bikram using a few additional poses from the Gosh 84 posture series and mixes up some ordering.  The point is that it is very close to a series that I’ve been doing for years, but was only the second time I had done this sequence and a few of the postures therein.   So I had to listen to the instructor more carefully than I usually do and keep an eye on those around me for queues and examples for where things were different.  The net result was the least focused class I’ve had in a long time.  But at the same time, I caught a couple of queues for poses that I have done for years that I had somehow missed.  Which tells me that even in one of the more focused activities in my life, broadening my awareness sometimes is probably a good thing.

The real question though is how to know how to mix that up most effectively.  It is certainly useful in Yoga (as in programming) to be able to focus so tightly that the rest of the universe disappears.  But how long should you do that for?   My back is telling me (in the programming case) that perhaps that time is shorter now than when I was a teenager.  Maybe I need to invent a programming egg where I can just close myself in and spew code.  Anyone know where I can get one of those?  I’d prefer the model where I can just think the code too, no typing required …

I suspect it’s because Tap Dancing is the one completely new physical skill that I’m working on right now, but it seems like a bunch of the ideas I’ve been playing with keep getting re-enforced by incidents in tap class.  Here are two quick examples before the slip out of my all too  sieve like brain.

On my first class back after the honeymoon hiatus, we were practicing a technique called power rolls when the teacher came up to me and said,  “you are taking my comment about not brushing too literally.  You need to move your foot back a little bit when you do that, not just straight up and down.”   That’s a case of overlearning if I ever did see one.  Now I just need to figure out how to stop that without spending too much time on meta-analysis while actually dancing…

And the second example is not new – it happens over and over and over again (possibly like a power roll gone out of control).  One of the ways that we’re learning drills in class is that we’ll start with a basic movement and then the teacher will indicate through gestures how many reps and which side to tap on as well as well as changes in rhythm.  I understand all this, but I get absorbed by the actual technique and forget to keep the teacher in enough focus to catch the changes.  Is this over-focus or am I just slow?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about focus lately.  It’s one of those things that I started thinking about  a bit a while back and is now popping up at every turn.  I’ve generally been very good about being able to focus in very closely on a task, but I’m now convinced that this is an overlearned skill, at least for me.  Or perhaps it’s a borderline hyperfocus issue, although I really do try to avoid self-diagnosing psychological disorders, otherwise I’d drive myself crazy.

There are about a dozen aspects of this concepts flying through my head (so much for being overly focused), but lets start with three.

Speed Reading:

I am interested in increasing my reading speed.  I mean, geeze, there are like a million fiction books on my to read list and then there is all of the technical reading that I can’t seem to keep up with.  And that doesn’t even count getting lost in the internets for extended periods of time.

One of the techniques I’ve seen that makes a lot of sense is to learn to scan down the page rather then scanning each line horizontally.  This would involve learning to de-focus enough that you register an entire line at a time.  Now to add a bit of weight to this idea, one of the fastest readers I know says that when reading a old fashioned paper book (remember those), she would routinely register spelling errors on the right hand page while she was still reading the left hand page.  Pretty impressive, no?  In any case, I’ll take that as at least anecdotal evidence that a particularly speedy reader is utilizing a wider focus than I.


I spent nearly a decade practicing Kung Fu.  One of the core skills is to be able to spar.  It was never my favorite part of the class, I was much more interested in learning forms – the choreographed set of movements that at least in theory one could then decouple and use whilst sparring.  In any case, while I was never great at sparring and I’ve heard many times that some people are ‘fast-twitch’ and some are ‘slow-twitch’, one thing that really helped was to defocus my eyes.  Just look at in the general direction of the person I was sparring, not at any particular part of them.  Or looking at it slightly differently, focusing too much on a particular aspect of your opponent is a really good way to miss some other part of him or her heading your way.

Sight Reading:

As I’ve mentioned before, I am diving back into music after half a lifetime  of not practicing.  Or perhaps I’m just sticking my toe in the water to check the temperature?  No, I’m pretty sure I’m doing a cannonball.  Anyway, one thing that I was never very good at was sight reading, so I’d like to correct that this time around.  Sight reading on the piano is quite a task.  Here’s just a very simple sample of  a piano staff with lyrics for those of you that don’t read music.

Piano Staff

The notes on and around the top five lines or treble clef are generally played by the right hand, the notes on the bottom five lines or bass clef are generally played by the left hand and the words in the middle are sung (okay, duh on the last part).  It’s not uncommon for a number of verses to be written in the middle so that the distance between the clefs is greater.  There is also a common variation where the melodic line and the lyrics are written out above the piano part, but I think that’s generally intended for someone other than the piano player to be reading.  It’s relatively easy once you’ve got the basics down to read any of the three components.   It’s a matter of practice to get fingers (or voice) to reproduce what is written.

The thing that I’m obsessing about right now though is the ability to follow all three things at the same time.  I know people who can do this cold, so it’s definitely humanely possible.  I have no doubt that there is a large component of practice in that ‘cold’ is a bit different for someone that has been reading music for decades than someone who is just starting (or restarting).  If for no other reason than that as a beginner focus has a tendency to shift to one’s hands on the keyboard and then all hell breaks loose. But it seems like there is some fundamental ability to track those three things slightly separated on the staff that I should be able to get to click.

So that’s where I am.  I need to figure out how to defocus.  I’ll probably not go back to sparring, but I am going to take another run at speed reading training to see if I can find a tool or program that works for me.  And I might take another pass at improving my touch typing speed while I’m at it.  After all there are all those books out there just begging to be read.