Multi-tasking and mindfulness

New technology enables us to multi-task at the risk of not paying full attention or being present to the situation.

We get so skilled at multi-tasking that we forget what it’s like to do just one thing: pay attention.

When we multi-task, we are not present to the situation at hand.

No one can juggle and still be 100% present.

Today, just as I got into the car, the phone rang. Instinctively I answered it. I wanted to return home as soon as possible, for I was tired. It was a long day of meetings, and the last thing I wanted to do was to chat on the phone.

So I compromised.

I put my cell phone on SPEAKER mode, on my lap, and tried to drive.

I strived to listen and participate in a conversation while navigating my way downhill through two stop signs and two traffic lights before I got home safely.

The end result? The conversation didn’t go well. The caller felt dismissed and misunderstood. Meanwhile, I had no idea what the call was about.

At the heart of Buddhism and Yoga is the teaching of mindfulness. In other words, be present and pay attention.

Just because modern technology allows us to multi-task does not mean that it’s the right thing to do at any time.

I certainly cannot multi-task when I practise the piano or give a performance. Even if I can, I don’t.

It annoys me when I see members of the audience operate their smart phones during a concert or conference. They think they can still focus. They think it doesn’t affect others. They think no one notices. On the contrary, it’s distracting and irritating.

Practise multi-tasking and you get good at being pre-occupied. When was the last time you paid full attention? When was the last time you received undivided attention from someone?

SUGGESTED READING:

The power of concentration, New York Times, 15 December 2012
Mindfulness: the art of single tasking, Earth Savers

Background music to Vinyasa Yoga

Background solo piano music to a yoga session in Maui led one practitioner on a trip down memory lane.

Yesterday afternoon, I attended my first yoga session since returning to Maui. The new instructor put on piano music as background to the 1.5 hour session. At first it was not intrusive, for I did not recognise any of the pieces. They seemed like improvisations or new age music that’s not familiar.

This sort of music was what I had been collecting as background music to play in hotels and social occasions: music that is unfamiliar and not intrusive.

After awhile, the music got repetitive. I could figure out the same pattern of chord progressions. Very tonal. Very predictable.

As I lay there on my back with one leg on one side and my arms on the other in a typical “twist” position, I listened to the music and started wondering who wrote these solo piano pieces. More questions arose.

Who played them?

Where did the yoga instructor get her music?

Would I recognise any piece?

Was it all piano music?

How did the instructor select these pieces? Was it a pre-compiled selection specifically destined for Vinyasa Yoga?

Just when I was about to give up trying to figure out the music, or more importantly, whether I could have played and recorded a selection of my own favourites, I heard a chord that I recognised.

It was Debussy’s Clair de Lune. A hesitant introduction to a scene in the movie “Twilight.” I forgot yoga. I started listening actively. This interpretation was different from mine. What’s next?

Erik Satie. Gnossiennes number 1.

While I was listening and hunting for the correct title – not Gymnopedies but Gnossiennes, I also thought of the composer’s background and life. I was no longer conscious of the yoga moves or the yoga positions but completely absorbed in the classical music world that I had left behind in the Netherlands.

Surprisingly, after Satie, came Brahms. It was one of his many intermezzos that took me through my brief stay this past summer in Holland.

After Brahms, I expected more romantic music but instead it regressed to an early Baroque piece. Perhaps it was Bach. Perhaps it was a reduced version of a work used in film music. I could not pin it down. But it reminded me of the piano solo transcription of the theme from one of his harpsichord concertos that was used in the movie “Hannah and Her Sisters.” I played and recorded it on my Steinway in Utrecht, Netherlands in early August 2011.

Anne Ku plays Bach’s theme from Harpsichord Concerto used in “Hannah and Her Sisters” (mp3)

When it ended, I came back from my trip down memory lane. What next?

Just two chords and I knew it was Chopin. It was a nocturne I had played before. It was not my favourite but it was definitely familiar. I had once aspired to record an entire CD of Chopin for my mother but I became too critical of myself.

The yoga session ended when the nocturne ended.

Yoga at Monument House Utrecht (part two)

On Saturday 19th June, our doors opened at 17:30 for a yoga group lesson. What was unique about this yoga session? For one, I finally learned when to breathe in or out (breathe in when you go up, breathe out when you go down — according to natural forces of gravity).

On Saturday 19th June, our doors opened at 17:30 for a yoga group lesson. First to arrive was Liek, a Dutch lady who had recently returned from India. She had told me at our sports club that everyone was doing yoga in India. Could it really be true?

Next to arrive on bicycle was Anna, an English scientist who was 7 months pregnant. While unsure at first about doing yoga at this stage of pregnancy, she soon realised that the breathing exercises helped calm her baby down. Her unborn child had been kicking and keeping her awake at night.

Merrenna, an Australian project manager who had been traveling nonstop for several weeks, looked forward to this 1.5 hour yoga session as a way to relax. The next day, she told me she finally slept well for the first time since her new assignment began.

Half an hour after the ladies and I got acquainted, Henk Fransen, whom I had met at a Dutch Indian dinner event in April, arrived with his friend Krishna from India. It was Krishna’s second visit to the Netherlands.

Instead of asking everyone to pay for the session, I made it potluck, i.e. everyone to bring a vegetarian dish for the dinner after the 1.5 hour yoga session.

  • Liek: Turkish bread and different spreads
  • Anna: mushroom, feta & tomato quiche
  • Merrenna: fruit pie, whipped cream and rose wine
  • Anne/Merrenna: penne in creamy blue cheese sauce
  • Henk: Indian sweets
  • Anne: drinks of fresh mint (from the garden) tea; chilled drinks – home-made elderflower drink, iced suntea, and sangria (peach, pear, apple, and orange slices)

What was unique about this yoga session? For one, I finally learned when to breathe in or out (breathe in when you go up, breathe out when you go down — according to natural forces of gravity). The rest, I’ll have to ask the other participants to LEAVE A REPLY below.

  1. it was authentic — ask Krishna about anything and he’d tell you something profound, for yoga comes from India. [I now understand why my non-Chinese friends prefer that I take them to Chinese restaurants rather than venturing on their own.]
  2. it was 1.5 hours rather than the usual 1 hour at fitness centres. At Yoga Awareness in Maui, Hawaii where I took a 1.5 hour group lesson, I felt 1.5 hour was more fitting.
  3. the small class size (4 ladies + 1 man) allowed Krishna to give us individual attention.
  4. the private setting contributed to the experience: a Dutch monument house next to a peaceful canal with a gentle breeze rustling the leaves of the linden trees
  5. the yoga session was spiritual with focus on breathing and proper technique — not the kind of exercise to sweat at fitness centres. [This is not to say yoga classes at fitness centres are wrong, but merely that the focus is different.]
Yoga teacher Krishna at Monument House Utrecht, June 2010
Yoga teacher Krishna at Monument House Utrecht, June 2010

After the yoga session, we filled our plates with different vegetarian dishes (contributed by everyone) and sat down on the oak parquet floor to enjoy a small concert. As the sun set just before Summer Solstice, Krishna sang devotional and folk music to his harmonium and told stories.

Everyone expressed thanks and interest in the next yoga session at the Monument House. But Krishna had to return to India where he lives and works. Who will be the next yoga teacher to lead us to enlightenment?

About Krishna Bijalwan, yoga teacher

Qualified as a yoga teacher in 2004, Krishna has been doing yoga since 1988. Besides his full-time job as a high school teacher in Uttarkashi in the Himalayas, he also conducts yoga workshops for school students in India and adults in the Netherlands (since 2007) and Israel (2008). His yoga workshop was aired on the Discovery Channel all over India in December 2006.

In Spring 2010, Krishna realised his dream of having a guest house and yoga centre on the banks of the Ganga River in the Himalayas. His newly built guest house “Anand Ganga” offers clean accommodation (to Western standards), home-cooked meals, and yoga classes. The quiet location is excellent for hiking. A week’s accommodation with 2 yoga classes and 3 meals per day cost under 200 euros. Ten days of the same cost US$ 300. More details on the website which will be updated with more information.

Krishna's new guest house and yoga centre Anand Ganga in the Himalayas
Krishna's new guest house and yoga centre Anand Ganga in the Himalayas

continued from part one

Yoga at the Monument House Utrecht (part one)

Yoga is an ancient practice which helps the practitioner achieve balance, flexibility, and focus. I was happy to read that yoga improves memory and concentration. Surely all musicians should take up yoga for that reason! I knew several people who did yoga locally. It was time to put my ideas into action. No longer the big, sold-out concerts of the Monument House — but an intimate 1.5 hour session of yoga followed by vegetarian dinner —- just a handful of people, that’s all we had room for. Small is beautiful.

Musicians spend a lot of time alone. We need to be alone to study new repertoire, practise, and perfect our art. We need to focus and concentrate to excel at what we do.

Yoga is an ancient practice which helps the practitioner achieve balance, flexibility, and focus. I was happy to read that yoga improves memory and concentration. Surely all musicians should take up yoga for that reason!

Here’s another article about the power of yoga, especially for musicians: “Play at your peak,” by Stephen Cope. After reading this, I’m convinced that conservatories should offer yoga classes (not just Alexander Technique).

I first became aware of the existence of yoga by my late grandfather whose calligraphy hangs in my living room. A quiet man who looked younger than his age with his elegant posture and straight back, my grandfather gave me a Chinese book about breathing and postures when I was a teenager. The ideas in the book did not click until I started doing yoga on a regular basis.

On Saturday 19th June 2010, I invited the Dutch life coach Henk Fransen and his Indian friend and yoga master Krishna Bijalwan to our piano guitar duo morning concert in Zoetemeer.

Robert Bekkers and Anne Ku in Zoetemeer, 19 June 2010
Robert Bekkers and Anne Ku in Zoetemeer, 19 June 2010. Photo: Henk Fransen

Afterwards, just before noon, we brought them to our Chinese/Dutch friends’ home in Nootdorp for a barbecue lunch. After watching the Holland vs Japan world cup game, Henk and Krishna came to our monument house for a special yoga session.

I had always wanted to do yoga on our oak parquet floor which has floor heating in the winter. I had mentioned this to one or two members of my yoga class at the local sports club where I belong.

It remained a dream for several years until I met Henk who told me about Krishna’s visit to the Netherlands.

I knew several people who did yoga locally. It was time to put my ideas into action. No longer the big, sold-out concerts of the Monument House — but an intimate 1.5 hour session of yoga followed by vegetarian dinner —- just a handful of people, that’s all we had room for. Small is beautiful.

…. to be continued…..