Updated: Feb 29, 2020
In my classes, I talk a lot about anatomy, about sequence, about proper postural alignment integrating with the breath. I talk about how the asana practice is a training ground for life, and how focus is probably the most important thing that one can have in order to reach any lofty goals.
For as many anatomical checklist cues as I offer to aid practitioners' increasing focus and skill, I offer checklists that relate to intention behind the movement.
But even students that have practiced for many years and have a dedicated meditation practice and have an impressive-looking asana practice and that can hold their breath out for minutes and that seemingly are invincible often still act like jerks in the world. Impatience and anger can overwhelm folks while waiting in traffic or the checkout line. Harsh judgements toward themselves and others come with fluidity. Lack of any movement toward acceptance and love leads to inconsistent behavioral patterns and shifty tendencies.
Megalomaniacs can find their hiding place in the name of devotion. Egos are still very much in the driver’s seat.
How is this possible? Isn’t this whole practice about coming to a greater sense of clarity and compassion for oneself and others?
The Dalai Lama has been meditating for longer than the Gen-Xers have been alive. He shows an intensity of compassion, kindness, patience and love. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that would EVER throw a fit of road rage, or that has the capacity to throw a dagger in anyone’s direction, literally or figuratively.
So what’s the difference between the holiest of the holy walking the earth and the regular run-of-the-mill practicing seeker of Truth?
Maybe some would suggest that it’s easy — the Dalai Lama was destined in this life to become what he is — we average humans simply do not have the capacity to transform ourselves in this way. Maybe others would suggest that it would be impossible to achieve his level of compassion without practicing 5+ hours a day for 60+ years and that's just too hard. Maybe some would skeptically judge and throw daggers, suggesting that it’s all an act, and we simply can’t know if he’s as kind and compassionate and patient and faithful and focused as it seems.
Or maybe it’s more than just the practice. Maybe it’s the intention behind the practice too.
Let’s face it: there are plenty of people out there doing handstands and putting their legs behind their head
and doing big bendy yoga-like poses with no desire at all for salvation or peace. It’s exercise. It’s for the flow of endorphins; for physical attractiveness that increases one’s chances of finding a genetic match at the higher end of the gene pool.
I’ve watched students pretend to meditate in “perfect” posture, sitting past the bell just to be seen sitting "perfectly" and past the bell.
There are plenty of yoga teachers out there in the world right this moment who have developed enough of a focus through doing the yoga practice to have some clout and power over others, and their intention is to use it in that very way!
For every one great teacher or spiritual leader in the history of time, there are 1,000 sexual or power struggle scandals that have run alongside them.
How do we reconcile this? At what point does the external lose its attraction for such silliness?
The practice, when it is intended from a pure(er) place, over the course of time, uninterrupted and with earnest devotion (Yoga Sutra 1.14), provides for non-attachment: a sense of self-mastery. Non-attachment is a place where preferences are lessened, and where compassion, forgiveness and kindness prevails more and more.
But if you come to your mat or your cushion with your developed power, desires, aversions or fears at the forefront of your mind, without properly looking at it squarely and being witness to it, you’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’ — the kind that is the roughest — the kind that is spurred by the resourcefulness of the ego.
The intention, as Sutra 1.14 suggests, is just as important as the practice and its longevity.
See the thing is, the law of attraction isn’t rocket science and you don’t have to be a genius to use it to your advantage. All you need to do is focus. If you give anything your all, you’re gonna get what you want. You want peace? Love? Compassion? A permanent sense of joy? That’s what the practice is exclusively intended to do for us.
Alternatively, do you want power? The practice will give that to you if you prefer. You want fame? You want sex/drugs/rock and roll? The practice will provide you with the focused power to receive whatever it is that you are seeking.
Be mindful of what you wish for. You cannot have it all.
It requires a tremendous amount of focus to look at the ego squarely, and offer it compassion enough that it can quiet down so that a truly intentional practice can be had. One where you seek to find love, compassion, forgiveness and peacefulness. Where you relate to yourself lovingly, you are able to relate to the world lovingly as well. And not just the parts of the world that you like…but especially to the parts of the world that you don’t like.
And how do you get intentional focus? By practicing focus with devotion. And what if you don’t feel like you can focus? Practice focusing more. For some, this idea of “focusing more” resonates more with the movement physical body. For others, the workings with the breath is the key. And yet for others, the focusing on the movement of the mind is where it’s at.
But these things coming together, with drive to find something more, offers an intentional well-rounded training for the whole mind-body to eventually feel this sense of depthy focus to where the senses turn inward and are used for what they were intended: to perceive that compassionate, kind, loving safe, peaceful little snippet of who we are and what we’re really made of.
What do you intend for? What is your desire in this life? The practice will give you whatever you seek.