I can sort-of-kind-of be in virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2 pose). You know what this looks like, a little wishy-washy. My front knee can be bent a little and my arms could be out to the sides but be soft and hanging limply because I’m not really aware of what I’m doing. Or I can choose to be in the pose completely with intention. This way my front thigh is parallel with the floor, my legs are working hard as I press them away from each other, and my arms are alive with activity. I’m not rigid, but all of my body is working completely, in the present moment, with all the effort that I can give. I’m going to be there for five breaths anyway, why not be aware, give it all I’ve got, and get the most out of it.
When I do manage 100% effort I’m more likely to have my muscles and joints aligned the way they should be. That alignment makes my muscles more efficient. If I want to develop muscle strength, mental focus, flexibility, balance, or any other benefit from practice then I’m most likely to get to those benefits if I’m completely aware and putting full effort into the pose.
Full effort also keeps me from injuring myself in the pose. It is when we are really thinking about something else that we get hurt. That is because we let the front knee cave in toward the inside of the foot and stretch the ligaments beyond what they should be. Or we can create cervical discomfort if the shoulder blades are riding high instead of anchored down on the back as they should be.
This intense mindful movement is important in the gym as well as on the mat. It is the moment I begin to think about the grocery list that I bang my leg with a dumbbell and bruise my shin (true story – happened last week). If I’m not thinking of alignment while I’m doing a set of flies then I’m likely to stress my shoulder ligaments and feel pain in the front of my shoulder. The ache might last a little while or it could end up being a serious injury, particularly if my inattention is habitual and I continually stretch the same ligaments. Injuries aren’t a badge of honor in the gym or on the mat. They mean that we didn’t do something right; we didn’t maintain awareness or we didn’t honor our body’s limitation that day.
Maintaining awareness for 100% effort on my mat and in the gym also helps me remain focused when I step into the real world. I get more from my relationships when I listen completely to what my friend is telling me. The intensity on my mat also helps me to stay focused when I’m doing anything else so that I am more likely to do it right the first time without errors. That happened last week, too. I breezed through the supermarket thinking about the yoga sequence I was planning to teach that evening and I left the store without a critical item.
No, I’m not able to put in 100% effort every single moment. But I do try. I’ve asked my yoga students this week to set the intention to put in 100% effort throughout the class. One woman learned that she compensates for weak abdominal muscles by using her shoulders in several poses. She realized that is why her shoulders are tight. Her devoted awareness during yesterday’s practice taught her a lot about how she uses her body and will help her get much more out of the time she already is committing to her practice. As long as she is on the mat, she might as well be there completely, 100%.