You are prepping for your session and roll out your yoga mat. In walks the yoga guide (or they sign on), class begins and you are asked to close your eyes, tune into your breath and at some point during this grounding phase, you are asked to set an intention for your practice. You might be a fan of this, you might find it too “woo-woo” or just a few nice words strung along that kinda sound very yoga-like.
But what does it really mean and how can it help make meaningful change?
Intention is derived from the Latin intendere or intentio, meaning both “stretching” and “purpose”. At the core then, living up to an intention means we are stretching ourselves beyond where we currently are, moving past our habitual patterns, ideally establishing a new level of consciousness or ways of thinking.
Moving past our habitual patterns can be a tall mountain to climb, but observation is what will propel us forward. We can all hear ourselves think, that voice in our head. However, the magic happens when you can notice yourself not only thinking but having a conversation, a dialogue.
- “I should say something. No, don’t say anything, you’ll only make it worse”.
- “I should do something. No, someone one else will take care of it”.
- “I should go for it but what if I fail?”
When we come to a crossroads in our mind, it’s time to turn to the heart. Our heart might very well be one of the voices we hear. Research now shows that not only do our brains communicate with our hearts but our hearts actually communicate with our brains as well. An intention is a way to give more space to hear what your heart is seeking. This will have meaningful change because you are not only using your yoga practice to stretch and move energy in the body, but by setting an intention, you are using your practice to stretch and move energy around your heart, which as we established, affects your thoughts.
In our culture and the lifestyles that many of us live, seldom do we have the time to ask ourselves what we really want. Your yoga practice is a great opportunity to find a moment of calm, and slow down enough to become aware of how you are feeling and what you’ve been thinking about.
What do you need most from your practice for that day? How do you want to support yourself? What feelings or emotions do you want to share with those around you? How do you want to show up in your everyday life? The possibilities are boundless, personal and intimate. You determine the intention that best serves you in that moment.
We make time, we arrive on our mats or find another moment of quiet… What next?
After asking ourselves a few prompts to see where we are at or what we are navigating, we soon realize how we and others are already acting from a place of intention, whether we realize it or not. It could be positive or negative, we could be fully aware of it or it can be deeply rooted in our unconscious. The first step then is to have an objective look within and notice what you’d like to change. Allow the change to come from a place of self-love, wanting to grow and improve as an individual. Instead of a place of self-deprecation, getting down on yourself when you feel as though you’ve fallen victim to old patterns. To begin with, looking objectively at ourselves and asking ‘how am I?’ can be a transformational step in the right direction.
By cultivating more awareness through honesty, transparency and mindfulness, you can decide what it is that you’d like to align your thoughts, words and actions with. Some of the broader ones that work in many situations are Peace, Joy, Living in the present moment, Gratitude, Patience, Forgiveness, Letting go, Honesty, Courage, Abundance, Kindness, Compassion, Integrity to name a few.
Arguably the most important, yet challenging, component to practice regarding intentions, is releasing the results – doing your best and letting go of the rest. Keeping that intention top of mind despite the longevity of a pandemic, traffic, weather, family dynamics or work environment. We definitely do not have control over the world around us or other peoples’ actions but we do have agency over our actions and how we manage our emotions in response to the external world. Once an intention is set, allow it to trickle through who you are.
But not without adding the secret ingredient…
Your intentional thought now needs an emotional springboard to solidify. The energy or springboard for this comes from a positive emotion, in turn, your heart. Setting an intention is a way to bring your heart and mind into alignment.
Given that your heart is your body’s most powerful electromagnetic field, positive emotions such as joy and gratitude create highly ordered, coherent patterns in the heart. This alignment releases hormones in the body that enhance body and brain function, energy levels, tissue resilience, and mental focus.
A study on the subject took three groups and had them focus in different ways to see how their intentions would affect their DNA.
- The first group who held on to a positive emotion, but did not hold an intention, had no changes to their DNA.
- The second group also held a positive emotion. They also set an intention to unwind the strands of their DNA. This resulted in a 25% change in their DNA.
- And the third group had an intention to change their DNA as well, but did have a positive emotion to solidify the matter. Without the heart coherence, no change in the DNA was made (even though they intended to do so).
Taking intentions off the mat
Many of us spend our time coasting through life thinking that things — both good and bad — just happen to us, and we don't have much say in the matter. However, setting intentions empowers us to decide how we want to think, feel and act. Doing this over an extended period of time can have profound effects in our lives. Intention or not, life will remain unpredictable and will likely still throw us some curveballs. But ultimately, intentions can help us better navigate life and offer a better sense of control over ourselves.
Science is finally catching up with observations that have been made thousands of years ago by the Sages of India that our destiny is formed by our deepest intentions and desires. The classic Vedic text the Upanishads says, “You are what your deepest desire is. As your desire is, so is your intention. As your intention is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.”
The beautiful part about intention setting is, similar to the breath, you can always come back to it without the notion of failing.
Peace + Love on your journey,
The Grove Campus Team