As a long time yoga student and now a yoga instructor, I am often hearing/talking about ‘creating intention’ around a yoga practice – as a way of initiating a practice and focusing the mind. Intention can be a powerful tool to ground oneself and create a life of meaning and integrity. But, what exactly is an intention? And, how can it be used in a yoga practice, and then carried over into daily life?
In my experience, intention is often confused with goal setting. Setting a goal is an outcome orientated, future based object of a persons ambition or effort. Goals are something you work towards acheiving, with the end result being either a win/lose, positive/negative situation. Goals provide direction to your life, require planning and organizing your behaviour to achieve the objective of your goal. Goal setting is an extremely valuable skill – allowing you to envision your future world and move in a direction towards that destination. The un-yogic side of goal setting is that goals are centered around an imagined future, and the positive/negative outcome orientation around goals can create suffering. Further, goals do not guide you on how to live, they just guide you on what you want in the future, which is often volatile and out of your control.
Intention setting is different – intention is about how you choose to BE in the present moment. With an intention, it requires ever present attention to the changes and flow of your daily life. It requires constant mindfulness to respond to situations in your life in a way that is true to your deepest values, morals and ethics. It’s a committment to behave outwardly in a fashion that mirrors your inner values. By practicing “right intention” you live from a place of authenticity and unity, and from this place you can work towards your goal and create meaningful fulfilment in your life.
So, goals and intentions are intertwined. Intentions create a constant presence and mindfulness, aligning the energy of your heart with your energy of working towards your goals. Often, our goals become a little easier to reach when we act from right intention. This takes practice, awareness, and reflection. Especially when it comes to the storms we face in life, creating intention and acting from this unified core takes practice and compassion. When we lose our footing in the security of life, and stumble into confusion and despair, remembering our intentions can give us the grounding to reconnect with what is soulfully important to us. This reconnection is independent of the outcome of our goals…so when life changes and appears to fail us, we still have our intentions to allow us to find a foothold.
Yoga can provide a “practicum” in setting right intention by consistently coming back to it through out the class. If you can set the intention to “BE” every moment of a 90 minute yoga class, and non-judgementally watch the pull away from experiencing the present moment into the lure of a future oreientated striving, you can begin to understand the nature of the illusions of the mind versus the truth of the present moment.
As you move through grief, and work towards integrating your losses into your life (this would be the goal), you can approach each moment from a place of authenticity of your experience (this would be the intention). It is vital to come back to your noourishing center to remember that although you cannot control the events in your life you can use mindful intention to control how you respond – in a way that is self-supportive.
So, the next time you are in a yoga class, and the teacher invites you to create an intention, think about how you want to BE in the present moment, moment after moment. What deep value or wisdom do you you want to guide you through the ups and downs of life?
Then, when you are in a difficult pose and your mind starts to wander, or negative self talk begins to overtake you, come back to your intention. Or, if emotion arises – whether its anger or sadness, approach that emotion by remembering the intention that keeps you out of the “reaction” to the emotion and into the experience of blending your emotional release with your committment to BE with the present moment. Over time and with practice this will begin to organically guide you in all you do – on and off the yoga mat.
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