Developing a Deliberate Yoga Practice – How Focus and Intent help you grow

Posted on Apr 9, 2014 in Beginner yoga, classes, teachers, yoga

Recently I listened to a great podcast from a really smart young professional named Sean McCabe. He’s an artist who really loves typography and hand lettering art, and he does better and more precise work freehand than most people can do with a computer.

He’s truly a master of his craft, and in the podcast he was talking about how to get the most out of practicing your passion.

That brings me to the focus of this post:


– image via Sean McCabe at

You might have heard someone at some point mention that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. This idea was popularized by an author named Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote some fascinating books like Blink and The Tipping Point.

The premise of the idea is simple: 10,000 hours of anything will make you an expert at it.

The thing is, just doing anything is only part of the equation (and it’s usually the thing that gets overlooked when people talk about this).

The other part is this:

HOW you practice is just as important as WHAT you practice.

In yoga, a lot of the time we look forward to our classes as both an opportunity to relax and the physical work our body needs for optimum health. But while we’re on our mat, we tend to angle towards what’s new, what’s next, and what’s now.

It can be difficult to keep your mind on what’s happening in each pose, and this is especially true if you’re only in it for a few seconds at a time. Because of that, we often drift during the poses (I’m guilty. If letting your mind wander were a club, I’m not just the president, I’m also a member).

To get back to the mat (and better your practice) you need to ready yourself with Focus and Intent.

Let’s Start with Intent.

An essential component of deliberate practice is committing to a specific course of action. This is NOT to say that you should goal orient everything you do in your yoga class… After all, if your intent is to lose 5 lbs doing yoga, that can actually be a self-defeating goal.

(There’s a lot of good writing and science behind why this type of goal setting can sabotage you, and at some point soon we’ll write more about it…)

Intent works differently. Bruce Lee wasn’t just some short dude who was really good at beating up people, he was also a huge proponent of deliberate practice as well. Consider –


– image via

That’s a pretty powerful idea, and a great way to fix that idea in one’s mind…

That Intent is applicable to one’s yoga practice as well. Because your body is a varying and amazing thing, it will gain you different results every time you try to do the same thing. Each kick down dog – even if it’s the exact same down dog – can teach you something that improves your total experience.

In this case, Intent means that no matter where you are or what your body may be doing (or not doing depending upon circumstances) you mean to master that particular aspect of your practice each time you experience it.

Ever notice that our teachers will often tell you to start your practice with an intention..?

Your intention doesn’t have to be whirled peas “world peace” or “please let Google Fiber come to Grand Rapids…”

Your intention could be, “I’m going to learn something from my crescent lunge.”

Or, “I’m paying attention to what my bum knee is doing.”

Or even, “I will make sure I use all four corners of my feet.”

Because what you Focus on defines your Intent.

Focus: “Aim small, miss small.”

… That’s the other reason that Bruce Lee feared the man with one kick… That much Focus on the one thing becomes something powerful.

To talk about Focus, let’s pivot back to the four corners of your feet. This is something I learned from Danielle, who is one of our amazing instructors. I’d never heard feet explained as four corners before, and it was an eye-opener.

Proper balance and good posture is rooted in how you distribute your weight in your feet. It seems so simple, but since you’re balancing all of your weight on your feet you can dramatically alter your body’s alignment just by changing the rotation of your foot slightly.

Try it!


– image via

Mountain pose is allegedly one of the simplest poses in yoga. I mean, Look at it… You just stand there.

(It’s one of the three poses I’m trying to master, along with child’s pose and savasana, naturally.)

Now… shift your feet ever so slightly, rotating into your arches. Notice how your knees feel different?

Now just one arch… Experiencing a slight amount of pressure on the opposite hip?

Now line them up again, and this time, try shifting your weight towards your heels.

Did you notice how your body subtly and automatically compensates by rotating your upper body forward slightly?

All of that information just from shifting your weight slightly!

It’s admittedly not glamorous in the way that those really artistic photos of yoginis doing complicated poses can be. It’s not a headstand or a crane pose in front of an idyllic Costa Rican beach like the advertisers plaster into ads for bone density pills.

Then again…

How amazing is it that you can focus on something so subtle like the position of your feet?! How much more aware are you of your own body while you get your mind on something so seemingly insignificant as arch rotation?

That’s the power of Focus. In small doses over time, and paired with great Intention, you have the elements of Deliberate Practice that will improve your practice and stack positive results over time…

All by focusing on the smaller aspects of the poses. The subtle mechanics of your body. The bending of your will towards concentrating on these simple shifts. Setting your intention on something smaller.

By keeping your Intent on the small things, you increase your Focus. Doing this is how you go about the work of a deliberate practice.

This is also how you “master” things in yoga, insofar as you can. Because it isn’t about nailing it so you can move on: It’s about digging out the gems of improvement and discovery, one pose, one breath, one shift of the foot at a time.

You don’t even have to wait 10,000 hours before you start the path.

Enjoy the dig. 🙂

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