Keep stretching!

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One of the most common reasons I hear for people to do yoga is stretching. Either they want to stretch, because they feel stiff, or they love to stretch and want to become more and more flexible. Yoga is great for that; it will stretch you on the mat and off the mat.

The feeling of a good stretch is satisfying and the contentment after a yoga class is rewarding. And that is because in yoga we don’t only stretch our bodies, we also stretch our minds, our boundaries & our breath. When we are able to combine all the different stretches in our yoga class, we can deepen tremendously in the pose:

The body opens up by practicing and will stretch deeper over time. We learn how to control our breath patterns and lengthen it when we need to hold a pose or create space in that pose. We always look for the boundaries and limits in our bodies and push them, touch them and see if we can move them a little further each time. We don’t march over our limits, but we stretch it in a comfortable way. And lastly, we stretch our mind, by learning how to control our patterns of thought through staying in the moment. Yoga teaches you that a laser sharp focus will improve your practice, creates a deeper connection to yourself and create a stillness in the mind. A stillness we can come back to whenever we are stressed, irritated or lack focus.

To me, the most interesting and biggest stretch is off-mat. How do you take what you have learned about yourself on the mat to your daily life? How can you make yoga something more than a work-out? How do you stretch the boundaries of what you believe you can achieve?

One big lesson I have had in the past couple of years, was that I was more concerned with what would come next, then actually appreciating what I had achieved so far. Every day I am growing and developing as a teacher, which creates bigger goals and more dreams about what I would like to achieve. I have made my master plan and every few months I look at where I am, what needs to be changed and how I should change my course of work. However the great part of it is, that I am able to also enjoy and be grateful for what I’ve achieved so far. I have set up building blocks that show me my progress. Every little step is one in the right direction on my path.

As a teacher you need to develop, extend your knowledge, understand the bodies in front of you, be able to explain different types of poses and offer classes that are challenging and satisfying. You need to be able to step out of your comfort zone to explore what else you have to offer. You need to push your boundaries and don’t take it personal when something doesn’t work out for you. Just like deepening a pose, sometimes you click, you got yourself a step further in your practice and sometimes the time and pose are just not right. All you are left with is take a deep breath, take in your lessons learned and move on.

Understanding the lesson and moving on is easier said than done, but it is the only way to test if you still gives life the opportunity to show you what it has to offer. It is the only way to discover if you actually stretch yourself or if you are led by your fears; your fear to fail, your fear for the unknown, your fear to lose face, and so forth. . Just like we do in our poses. When I practice a handstand in the middle of the room, I am afraid to fall and hurt somebody, I am afraid to fail which paralyses me to do the pose and I am afraid to lose face. I am a yoga teacher, shouldn’t I be able to do this pose easily? What would other people think of me? So all I can do is practice, learn how to fall, learn to accept my practice where it is and celebrate every small goal in my journey upwards.

So every stretch is one closer towards yourself. Every stretch is one closer to what you want to achieve. Using the mat as your playing field to test out what you can do in real life. But in the end it all start with being appreciative and grateful for what you have, your achievements both professionally and personally. Don’t only look ahead to where you want to be and don’t get caught in looking back to what was. Be in the moment, celebrate and keep stretching!

 

 

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How to set my intention for a class?

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When you go to a yoga class teachers often start with: “Now please set your intention for today’s practice. Setting this intention has been a long struggle of mine: what does it mean? What is my intention for today? I usually just drew a blank: no clue at all. So I started setting intentions like: “Today I will hold this pose for 5 breaths, because last time I did 4”. Or “I want to give a full 100% in class, if necessary even more”.

Only until recently, after having a conversation about this with one of my teachers, I learned that what I was doing was setting a goal, not an intention. So how does it work?

How to set your intention?
Setting your intention is an individual exercise that helps you deepen your practice and yoga experience. It is something you need to practice at that very moment on your mat. It can be connected to your emotions, so if you feel anger practice forgiveness, if you feel sadness practice joy, if you feel fear practice comfort, and so on.

It helps to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why am I practicing yoga?
  • What do I hope to create or gain?
  • What do I need to get rid off / what habit is not helping me anymore?

Setting intentions versus goals
Refrain from setting a goal, which is connected and directed to a future outcome; for example “my goal is to hold a pose for 5 breaths”. An intention focuses on what is most important and valuable to you at that very moment. Something that is important to you in the now. It is formulated with positive words, an example: My state right now is of instability. So my intention is to practice balance. Or I notice that I have been judging myself over a work related issue. So my intention is to accept where I am right now without judgment.

How to practice on the mat?
Taking what you need at that very moment to your mat, means that you have to translate your situation to your practice. When you are practicing to accept where you are without judgment, you practice to refrain from telling yourself that others in class are better then you, or that you could have held the pose longer and therefore your practice has not been optimal, or that your mind is racing with thoughts and you can’t still it, so you are not a good student. When thoughts like these come to your mind, you stop them by telling them your intention as a mantra: I accept where I am right now and I am not judging. Put your thought aside and go back into your body, feel what the pose does to you. Focus on feeling the tips of your toes, the top of the head and all the other little and large parts of your own body.

Help of the teacher
Very often teachers work with a theme. They have set up the routine around this theme. This can help you to set your intention if you don’t know what you need at that exact moment. Take the theme and make it as personal as possible. One day you will know what you need, so use this guidance until you can set the intention by yourself.

The benefits of setting an intention
Setting an intention is extremely helpful to focus. You can focus on your body and what is going on in your mind, instead of how cool your neighbors yoga pants are, that you forgot to buy something with your groceries and that you have 3 meetings at work tomorrow and you don’t feel prepared.

It also helps you to work with your daily struggles and find ways to make it easier to deal with them. As soon as these situations are starting to pop-up again in real life, you will slowly see the progress you are making.

End of the class
So besides just practicing your poses, deepen your practice as a whole and set your intentions for the needs you have. Revise your intention at the end of the class by taking some time to go over it. Learn from how you’ve dealt with your intention on your mat to take these lessons into your daily life.

And the cool thing is, setting intentions doesn’t only apply to yoga, it applies to all you do in life. So going forward, I am going to try to set an intention instead of a goal. And apply this to day-to-day tasks, my own practice and my yoga teachings.