In my unique approach to Hatha Yoga, I guide students through a three-stage journey. Each stage embracing different INTENTIONS. The result is that students obtain an astounding insight into their body & mind. A true mind-body connection along with incredible strength, flexibility, stamina and focus.
Everyone starts off at the beginner's stage 1. In this first stage the intention is to learn the basic structure and alignment of each posture, developing the required motor skills and breath control. Over time the new student will have fused these essential elements into their subconscious.
Once the student has learnt the essential elements, they need to change their intention. A bit like when a dancer has learnt the steps of a dance routine their intention is no longer to keep trying to learn the steps. It's time to move on.
In the second stage, the intention is to open up every joint in the body, leaving the mechanics of each posture to the subconscious mind. The orientation by which the joints are pulled opened is governed by the posture. The intention is no longer one of simply trying to figure out how far the physical body will go into a posture. You leave that goal to the subconscious mind to deal with.
By focusing purely on opening up every single joint of the body, the unconscious mind figures out a more precise use of the muscles. In just the same way the unconscious mind figures out the complex interplay of muscles required to ride a bike. You don’t tell a child they must engage their core or engage their quads when teaching them to ride a bike.
In stage two, the student is no longer micro-managing their muscles with their conscious mind. In this second stage, I ask students to focus all their intention on opening up all the joints of the body, leaving the orientation/alignment to their unconscious mind. For example, in Standing for Head to Knee Pose the intention is now no longer to engage the leg muscles so that the kneecaps lift (known as locking the knee). Locking the knee is a beginner, stage 1, mindset. I ask students to try to feel the femur bone of the standing leg gently lift out of the hip socket, as well as feel the ankle open as if the foot is trying to separate from the leg. In time, the result of such intention is that the leg is perfectly straight with an astounding precision of strength. A precision which the active mind would never have figured out. Also, the alignment is perfect for each student, not conforming to a rigid so-called ideal form.
The benefits of such intention is explosive. Greater strength. Enhanced stretching. Calmer more focused mind. Astounding alignment.
Best of all, improvements in the performance of the joints are extraordinary because now oxygen and nutrients within the synovial fluid can get in.
In every posture, there is not a single joint that evades the mind's eye. It's pretty easy really. You have the spine which can move in multiple orientations. Then the hips and shoulders - ball & socket joints. Then hinge joints of the knees and elbows. Finally, the ankles; wrist; fingers and toes. That's it. In every posture, I get students to keep asking themselves, like a mantra, expand and open the spine, expand and open the hips, shoulders, knee, elbows, wrist, ankles. The whole of the body is engaged, opening out. The body is then perfectly engaged not by actively contracting a muscle, micro-managing everything, but purely by having the right intention. Students learn to trust their unconscious mind in the same way we trust our unconscious mind to balance when riding a bike.
Eventually, students reach a point where their unconscious mind has fully embraced the act of going through the yoga sequence, opening up the whole of the body. Now their yoga practice does not require active thought. The student is ready for stage 3.
Before this final stage, I encourage students to establish a daily 10-minute mindful meditation practice. Mindful meditation is about bringing your complete attention to a present experience on a moment to moments basis with no judgment. It’s all about observing, not controlling. Such as observing the breath. The breath is a great experience to observe because it requires no thought, it's an automatic process.
In stage 3, I get students to shift their mindset one last time. Their intention is to merely observe their body & mind, without judgment, as their unconscious mind goes through a set yoga routine.
This final stage is astoundingly powerful, building incredible strength, flexibility and focus along with a mind-blowing mind & body awareness. Now the student has reached a point where they are opening up both the body and the mind.
Over time, as the body continues to open, the alignment of a posture may need re-examining. This is just like when dancers intentionally shift their mindset in rehearsal to re-examine the precise steps in a dance routine, despite the fact they have been dancing the same steps live on stage for the past three months. I ask students to observe how their unconscious mind intuitively knows when to shift intention because it is aware something needs examining. In the end, there is an ebb and flow where sometimes the whole yoga practice is meditative others time you are aware the need to re-examine the alignment or create a little more space. It’s amazing.
Students who reach this final stage talk about a profound emotional development along with astounding physical strength and stamina. Even though the intention is never to go as far as you can into a posture students find their unconscious mind is always exploring new boundaries.