My intention of posting the regular Wednesday blog was scuppered by a feeling of exasperation following an early morning supermarket shop where the imposed one-way system led to dense traffic jams at popular junctures, Missing the “deadline” I set a goal – to meet my Friday (self-imposed) “deadline”.
An afternoon walk, revealed some feelings of guilt, maybe disappointment (!) I reflected on the words “intention” and “goal” and how they crop up in yoga. More to the point how I, as a yoga teacher use them and whether I applied any disinction to them. How might these terms apply to our home yoga practice at a time when we are “going solo”? In TfHP 10 : Warrior 1 from the ground up. I stated that the pose:
…….looks simple but there are many aspects to relaxing into it that help us understand the intention of lengthen and grounding………
Re-reading this, I saw that, I had not explained “intention”. How would the intention differ from the goal in practising Warrior 1? Does this matter? Yes, I think that it does.
- Goals focus on the future – they are marked by external actions, generally a series of steps towards a specific achievement.
- Intentions are in the present moment – they are about your relationship with yourself.
The goal/purpose in Warrior 1 in a sensory approach would be to practice a standing backbend that creates a blueprint for the vertebrae to move towards extension in an integrated way from the pelvis through to the upper spine. This is functionally useful – looking up, reaching up etc, but would also be helpful if you practised Camel pose, Wheel or half Wheel since the structural elements of muscles etc are actively involved in this pose. Your teacher provides verbal cues for you in class to help you activate these structures. The intention of grounding and lengthening relies implicitly on you sensing/noticing how you feel when you plant the feet, look up, raise the arms. Only you can know that.
Recognizing tension is the simplest way to substitute for a teacher in your home practice. Holding the breath, shaking etc would be obvious cues. There is an argument in some exercise classes that going through the shakey phase, lengthens and strengthens muscles. However, most fitness sites I access seem to suggest that shakiness would be a sign to “back off” and to try again another day. Even in hard physical exercise regimes, the goal may be one thing but the steps taken to achieve this goal may need to be adapted as the individual senses the body’s response at each stage of the exercise programme. Otherwise injury may halt the programme.
Focusing on intentions doesn’t mean you give up your goals to achieve. By setting your intention first, and combining it with goals, your home practice can become more creative. Hate to use the very corny adage about enjoying the journey as much as the end point but there you have it.
Take a pose like Warrior 1, have another look at it and notice how many possibilities it unfolds, if we give it time:
- Making good footprints – perhaps a reminder to ramp up the foot and toe moves. Sprinters – needless to say.
- Upper thoracic extension – noticing whether the bossy neck extensors take over. Perhaps time to practice the movement coming from between the shoulder blades in cat/cow or “horses head” in child.
- Ease of movement through the hips – noticing that the lumbar extension is very different for each individual, more so than lumbar flexion. This is the component to set your intention clearly. Does the back of my waist feel pinched when I look up? Perhaps an idea to practice pelvic rocks in semi-supine and on all fours.
The very fact that you would be moving up and down to consider these movements, provides you with more possibilities. Down through a forward bend – notice. Back up using the feet and rocking/ via dog pose/ a modified uttanasana (forward bend). It is often the moving in and out of poses in yoga that shows us when and where we hold tension. What happens is that we rush up to “get it over with” and that is understandable – the class is moving on; everyone else is up.
In your home practice you cater for you. Revisiting a move is a great way of using baby steps to reach your goal. Thus it doesn’t matter if the move is very small; finding comfort is the key. You will find other elements to Warrior 1 because you are different to me. Small “wiggly ” movements can be fun also – wagging the pelvis from side to side, up and down….in the privacy of your own home (!).
When we review our yoga practice we have a look at something which has been infront of us for some time but that we may have taken for granted. Seeing it again, in a different light may help us to see it for the first time and in that way the seeing becomes transformative.
This week, Captain Tom Moore achieved his goal of 100 laps around his garden taking small measured steps. His words “The sun will shine again” transformed my day.