Art of Attention: Practice Yoga? Teach Yoga? Think About Yoga? Read This.

12/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

What is possible -- and what is happening -- through your yoga practice?

And for teachers, how can you best serve your students by showing them efficaciously and efficiently your own experiential understanding?

Thanks to an astute observation from a dear colleague, it's come down to two terms: FORM and FUNCTION. Together, we have a complete practice. One without the other is a downright limiting of our potential -- and an incomplete class experience.

When we focus on the FORM of the pose, we enhance our physical strength, flexibility, stability and freedom. If we are to tap into our highest physical potential at any age, form is paramount -- at least initially. Precision in form is entirely necessary as a stepping point for what comes next -- which is a full experience, through that very form, of the FUNCTION of this practice. The function of your yoga is the way in which your practice leads you -- in your everyday life -- to more ease, lightness, clarity and connectedness to something higher in any interaction, no matter how complex.

Recently I suggested teaching the FUNCTION of the poses, rather than the form alone, to a fellow teacher, surmising that it might lend more authenticity to his voice, in relaying his own vision more accurately, thereby growing his classes. It worked.

What exactly does this mean?

I'm not setting form aside, by any means. Anusara yoga, at its foundation, opens us to what is highest within ourselves by tapping our awareness of the greater source using precise alignment. Well taught, this alignment reveals a deeper familiarity with our breathing on the mat and off, yielding more self-worth, consistent moments of pause in our hearts and effortlessness in every context of our lives.

After spending years refining the articulation of proper form as a teacher, it comes down to one question. HOW EXACTLY THIS PRACTICE WILL HELP US BE BETTER HUMANS? We're granted the gift of our embodiment; let's make the world more complete and meaningful through everything we offer.

To this end, right now as you read, take a deep breath into your kidneys, slightly rounding your lower back. Sustain that fullness -- and if you need more grounding today, exhale to soften the entire area of your heart down to rest onto your kidneys, lovingly opening your chest.

Alternately, for more receptivity today, inhale to round and sense the space; exhale to circumferentially lift your heart and chest. Try both to see what resonates more with you at this moment.

[FYI: Your kidneys are behind you, in the vicinity of your lower back, one on each side, transmuting toxicity, keeping what's needed and eliminating what isn't useful to your body.]

This kind of breathing brings you to an awareness of the abundance of space within your body, and your ability to pause in any context. In recent months I've been bringing attention to this space, so that in any pose, the function of the practice is to simply manifest more access and awareness of that physical space within us, and translate that spaciousness as a healing pause, in our thoughts, our words and our gestures in the world. You may find that once you've focused on this space [or spaciousness], there is increased calm in your own body, and you'll consistently magnetize people who manifest this in their own lives.

This is but one example of the function of the practice. It helps us to see what is good, what is abundant, rather than the problem or the lack -- and this is a great rationale for practicing yoga. More "functions" to come in this arena; my hope is that once you've explored this potential in your practice, the work or energy of your practice will flow seamlessly into your interactions, relationships, parenting, intimacy with yourself.

With this pause, we'll have time to see how the moments of strife in our daily lives can flow right back into our practice as fuel for our healing.