"A broad margin of leisure is as beautiful in a man's life as in a book. Haste makes waste, no less in life than in housekeeping. Keep the time, observe the hours of the universe, not of the cars." Henry David Thoreau
Some insidious examples of society promoting invasive inescapable "multitasking" - in my gym not only do they have music playing constantly, but they even have speakers in the toilets - god forbid should you have a quiet moment in which to....think. On the treadmill, they have a screen which allows you to watch television and listen to you ipod whilst running. Has silence become illegal? Another surreptitious and irritating example is the television screens that have popped up in the subways - even if you can avoid looking at them (and considering there's little else to look at it's almost impossible to focus your gaze elsewhere) you can't avoid hearing them. (Thanks to Mara for reminding me of this latter example.)
Brazil is the only country which has clicked and banned bill board advertising! (http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/12/12/news/brazil.php) I have no way in which to avoid being visually provoked by enormous colored boards promoting mobile telephones, usually (at least here in Italy) with nudity except by wearing blinkers.
Can advertising posters and supermarket background music be considered as "multitasking" activities? I think so. You can only, according to Buddhist philosophy, take in information through one sense at a time, therefore we are constantly "flitting" extremely quickly from seeing, to hearing, tasting, listening ect. SO if you are eating your dinner in front of the tv, chances are you are not really tasting what you are eating but simply watching the screen. Then you switch and to tasting your hamburger, but not taking in the visual stimulus. One always "wins" over the other. So looking at bare breasted women on bill boards trying to sell me cell phones on my way to the studio forces me to switch my attention away from something a little more worthwhile. Which could (and should) simply be my walk to work.
Can you multitask in the yoga room? Yes. I think mentally starting a film in your head whilst holding a yoga position is a form of multitasking. Let me put this question to you:
Have you ever found yourself reading a book, getting to the bottom of the page and then realizing that you haven't actually absorbed a word of what you have read as you were thinking about something else entirely? Well, the same thing happens on the yoga mat. You are so wrapped up in your thoughts that you are not really paying attention to what you are doing and feeling. I'm not suggesting that one should stop thinking whilst doing yoga (impossible - as someone once said about meditation and thoughts: "if someone should point a gun to my head and say "STOP THINKING!!!!" I wouldn't be able to do so, so why should it be easy for me whilst sitting on a mediation cushion?!"). What I do suggest is that whilst doing yoga try to reduce this cognitive multitasking to a minimum: as thoughts come in, one could try to gently redirect ones attention to what one is doing and feeling, preferably using your breathing a point of reference, as a tool. You may have to re-direct thoughts, and re-focus on your breathing a 150 times during a position, and that is fine, the important thing is to remember to do it, and to do so without self-critizing. Congratulate yourself on remembering to bring your mind back to "here and now" rather than punishing yourself for having been distracted.
And no, I do not use music during yoga practice!
“Simplify, Simplify, Simplify”– Henry David Thoreau