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Yoga: Intention During Your Practice – How Do I Feel?

When thinking about therapy, there’s a common joke that many either have made or have heard and that is how often psychologists ask the question, “How do you feel?” It’s an easy question to ask, but it can be a hard question to answer and even harder to figure out what to do with the information once you have it. “Express it,” while often a great option isn’t always the ideal variant. What if the feelings relate to past experiences that are only triggered by what you have going on in the moment? What if those feelings arise when you’re alone and you’re not sure of their origin? Recognizing your emotions and expressing them can be a powerful tool, but only when done with clarity or verbalized with a clear disclaimer of missing clarity, each grounded in awareness.

As many yoga teachers before me, I reiterate how important it is to be present in the moment and know what is happening within you. This allows you to make thoughtful decisions, to take better care of yourself and to be more mindful as you interact with others. When practicing yoga, an internal process is available to us in which we take a deeper look at ourselves. As we move through sequences, we can get a clearer look at how we see ourselves in the world. This can be the beginning of profound internal work and it can begin or be supported by noticing what feelings arise within us.

So, what might this look like as you move through your yoga sequence? The beauty of the intention, “How do I feel?” is that you can engage it whenever you want, as often as you want or as little as you’d like. On those days that you turn inward effortlessly and experience a mindful practice in which you are conscious of the link among your movements, breath and thoughts without preoccupation with any of them, you may ask yourself this question when a quiet moment presents itself. This might occur at the beginning of the class to gauge what emotions you’re bringing to the mat or after you’ve finished to see what emotions you’ve unearthed through mindful movements and will bring with you into the world at large.

On days when you feel distracted by life events or by the practices of others, you might ask yourself, “How do I feel?” whenever your gaze drifts to someone else’s mat or when you find yourself thinking about life events rather than your own breath, physical needs and postures. Asking this question can be helpful in starting to work through what distracts and takes you out of the simplicity and, dare I say, the perfection of the moment. You might acknowledge, “I want to be able to do that", “I feel sad” or “I feel less then.” Whatever it is, notice it, return to your breath and see where your mind and body needs to go next. That is the great lesson: no matter what fills your mind, you are still capable of acting thoughtfully, one step at a time. Does your mind need to practice staying in the room rather than thinking about life events; Does your body need to feel the sensations in your muscles and joints and then be able to decide whether to relax the body or engage the posture more deeply?

Maybe you notice that you’re not doing the posture the way you wish you could. That’s a thought. How do you feel? You might say to yourself, “disappointed.” Then you take a breath or two while you feel this emotion and then you focus your attention on how your body feels, physically. Maybe you feel pain because you’re attempting a posture because of how you want it to look rather than the intention of creating space within your body, i.e. stretching or engaging your muscles in a beneficial way. Then you can ease up on the posture, reducing your pain and allowing your body to experience what it actually needs: relief, peace and preparation for continued mindful action. When you do that and sink into the posture that is authentically needed by your body, here is where you have the ability to experience the perfection of the moment. That’s what people refer to when they say they feel surrender and even enlightenment. The goal of the present moment is not to feel good or bad. Whether we run toward something (feeling good) or run away from something (feeling bad), we are still running. In stillness, there is peaceful, effortless being that feeds the soul and enlivens the mind and body to act when necessary. One moment, one second of enlightened being can show you what it feels like to be in a place of true equilibrium, balanced in heart, mind and body. Using this intention can, over time, clarify how you want to act in the world, how you want to speak to those with whom you interact and what direction you might want to go as you live a productive and authentic life.

So, the next time you find yourself seated on your yoga mat, ask yourself this question and sit with the complexity of the union among your emotional world, your physical body and your spirit. Notice it and then breath into the silent stillness of the moment until from deep within you a soft still voice answers the question, “How do I feel?” From this place of deep self-knowing you begin to rise toward unimaginable heights. You begin to bring to this world what only you can and contribute to making it better in every possible way.

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