For some Yoga is about getting a nice stretch and sweat, for others its a path to connect to something deeper. Each student has a unique path to follow, and beginning to craft a practice is often harder than it seems. For me Yoga and Tai Chi was how I recovered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome back in 1999, a story for another day. Today I wanted to share a bit of my 20 years or so practice and teaching with what I’ve found to be two essential mental skills to apply to your practice that has helped many of my students.
The power of Attention and Intention.
What I have observed is it’s often the practice, the act of what the student is actually doing that is most challenging. The what am i meant to do, how should i breathe, whats do those sanskrit words mean, do you really want my hips to go there!
Yoga is a very deep and complex practice, an average 60 minute class may involve over 30 different postures, asana, or positions. It’s a lot of information for the beginner to take in and can quickly become overwhelming.
To help new and regular students find their practice i have found giving the space and permission to explore their practice is helpful, to do this we start with the practice of paying attention. Paying attention can be rather difficult as the art of focus and concentration in a world of digital distractions is rather challenging, but it is well worth exploring.
From The subtle nuances of shifting your weight evenly over the foot, to the linking sensation of lengthening and lifting the spine in an opening of a Sun Salutation, the skills learnt in asana begin with paying attention to what you are doing.
To pay attention to the teachers instruction
To pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that come up during practice
And to do so with a curiously playful mind.
Concentrating and paying attention is a skill that requires practice, and yoga is the perfect playground to develop your attention. Paying attention shifts the practice from outcome driven, trying to perfect the shape of a pose, to process focused, building the asana the step by step.
Once we can pay attention to the practice, we can then develop intention that allows you to craft and shape your practice.
It’s a shift from simply following, to now doing, to actively directing your practice, even within a busy studio class you can still follow the teachers sequencing and instructions, but inject your powerful intention to direct your practice. Or to put it another way, first think it, then do it. Visualise your self executing Triangle pose with your bodies full expression of alignment and breath. See yourself doing that pose, and plant the intention, the thought that will lead to action.
Intention cultivates purposeful practice.
Intention focuses the will, and directs the mind.. Focusing your will power and mind in downdog is very different from downdog where you are just hanging out stretching your calves..
Downdog with intention allows for the lengthening of the spine, the internal rotation of the elbow, the shoulder depression and retraction, fully extending the knees whilst dorsiflexing the ankle. Your intention in the breath allows each inhale to find space, each exhale to explore depth. Your attention is focused on the self talk, the feeling of the muscles, and the sensation of the asana as they happen, with a witnessing mind that is not judgement based.
You may know attention and intention as being mindful, and to be mindful requires the awareness (attention), and the action (intention). Once you learn to direct you willpower and mental energy to execute the practice with full intention. It will transform your practice from simply stretching and relaxing, to a deeply integrated, functional and mindful practice, and allow you to find union.
For me yoga allows you to fully express who you are by connecting to your core being, and the practices on the mat are applicable in the real world outside the studio. For example in July I will be undertaking a crucible experience of Kokoro Camp, a 56 hours training event designed to challenge your physical, mental and spiritual condition. To be successful in Kokoro will require continual application of attention and intention practices leading up too, and during the 56 hours continuous training that is kokoro.
What we practice on the mat, we take out into the real world.
Drew is student and teacher of Human Movement, Practitioner of Chinese Medicine and an Exercise Physiologist with a Passion to teach people how craft their personal practice, recharge their energy and move pain free. You are likely to find Drew teaching the odd Qigong or yoga class, finding hidden bush trails to walk and has a quiet obsession with the computer game Civilization 6.You can find drew at www.moveep.com.