I’ve been practicing yoga off and on since college (let’s just call that ‘a long time’ for now). My most recent stint is the second longest period of consistent attendance to one class. Each class is different and out of the classes I’ve taken, I’ve gained the most from this one, including a really great, attentive, invested teacher. One of the things we do at the beginning of class is set an intent or a focus for the practice we’re about to begin. Vitally important, this provides a focal point for a chatty mind in the middle of the purgatory that is Utktasana (chair) or Hell 1 and Hell 2 (aka Warrior 1 and Warrior 2). Don’t get me wrong, these positions are effective at building muscle and toning said muscle once it does exist, and I’ll even admit that they do all suck infinitesimally less over time, but when your quads are on strike and your arches are anatomically hypothetical, “suck” is the only word I can honestly use to describe them. Hence, the creation of an intent to get through the “suck” until it becomes “sucks-less” and then, eventually, “do-able.”

An intent can become a mantra when you’re trying to find peace in a mind that has begun to babble something along the lines of “oh my god is this ever gonna end, I’ve done my cycle for one minute of breathing and I’m gonna die if it doesn’t end soon, or worse – I’m gonna fall over!” (Yes, I know, and yes, that really is the mental flow of the worst-case-scenario when you’re standing with your butt pushed back, toes lifted to make sure they’re not attacking the mat with a death grip and that your glutes haven’t decided to let the calves pick up the work load, arms gracefully reaching overhead while your thighs burn and you wonder if your yoga teacher is EVER going to get done re-aligning the new student and say “and fall forward…”) Oh. And don’t forget to breathe. Breathing is important, but that’s easy to forget when your Type A personality kicks in. Like I said…the intent becomes vitally important and generally becomes a mantra.

You bring your rebellious little brain back to the intent to help you focus, to give your busy-body western brain something to chew on  so your body can do what it knows to do – when it’s left alone to do it. The zen-like meditative state comes with the breath once the brain’s preoccupied with the simplicity of the mantra your intent creates. Was your intent compassion? Then don’t try so hard to keep the pose; come in and out of it as you need to. Was it patience? Don’t expect perfection from yourself; do what you can and know that the rest will come with time and diligent practice.

Lately, for me, mine has become a repetition of three ideas that seem to flow well into other aspects of my life. Strength, Dedication, and Self-Discipline. These are the things I think about when I’m staring at the round little speaker on the floor, teetering on one not-quite-stable ankle, toes digging into the 1/8 inch thick mat, one sole pressed against my other leg and hoping (praying) that the wiggling of someone’s shadow doesn’t cross my line of sight and send me over on my ass. Sometimes it works and I find a place of strength in the pose. Sometimes, I renew my intent to keep trying until I get it right. Sometimes, I have to remember that I need to constantly practice – breathe, repeat the intent, try again and keep trying to keep improving. Not only does this mantra work for Garurasana (Eagle pose – think Chair meets Tree), but it also works for writing. To take constructive criticism and rejections takes strength. To continue learning, challenging yourself and improving in the craft takes dedication. To get your butt in the chair to get the work done when it’s the last thing you want to do that day takes a LOT of self-discipline.

I’m no expert, but I keep practicing. One of these days, I’ll get ’em all down.

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