I never really understood the purpose of setting intentions in yoga. Well, more so I guess I understood the concept but I did not know how to (really) benefit from this type of practice.
I remember one of the first more real yoga classes I experienced, the teacher set the intention as ‘letting go’, I became so engrossed with said intention, because at the time I had so much to, (you guessed it) let go of!
It were as if the heavens had opened and this Angel (I mean Yoga Teacher) was speaking directly to me. She was unquestionably brilliant and I loved her instantly. This idea of letting go, manifested itself in so many ways throughout my practice that day, even to the point in meditation. For the first time ever, I felt as if I had entered another universe and what guided me there was a beautiful purple light.
I literally saw this light beaming through what could have been two mountains and I was just floating blissfully through this valley in the direction of the purple hue. At that point I had never really tried meditation seriously before, but lo and behold I was neck deep in a pool of ‘letting go’ and the purple haze washed over me and welcomed me ever so eloquently. Have I ever experienced this realm in meditation again? No. Have I tried? Hell yes!
I think that is often the problem with meditation and yoga alike, we have so many presupposed ideas: how to sit (in a pretzel of course) how to feel, (complete positivity, duh!) what to think (I mean, not to think!) It all becomes too hard. I guess the absolute beauty of my first real meditative experience was like an infant entering the world, with no clue, thoughts, ideas, judgments or expectations and totally engrossed in the new surroundings of life. Learning instantly at lightening speeds everything the senses were engaging. How amazing, just being able to trust and experience so graciously.
The intention of letting go, wasn’t just Hollywood babble to start the class, it took over my whole experience, I wasn’t just thinking of what I needed to let go of, in fact I wasn’t thinking of that at all, instead I actually did, let go. My mind subsided and I entered a place of no thinking and no judgement. I was able to let go, which was so much more powerful than just being encouraged to let go of thoughts or things that no longer served.
As much as this class affected me, it was not until years later when I started teaching at a yoga studio that I really noticed the benefits of setting intentions. No longer was I relying on a teacher to set intentions for me, I was thinking about the intentions I should set for my students.
I remember before I started I thought I would not be the type of teacher to set intentions, in fear my classes would sound scripted or not from the heart. I found though, very quickly that a class free from intention gave little meaning. Without planning the first intention, the words shot out of me like a bullet in a firing range, but in slow motion. The intention set (or theme I sometimes call it) was ‘courage’. It was something I needed, as I was feeling out of my comfort zone. I doubt my students would have thought this though, being a high school drama teacher I think I have mastered a few tricks on how to act cool when you are feeling completely the opposite.
Huge difference though, I am not playing a role, I am just being me, sharing my practice and I think this is why it made me so nervous. I was able to speak openly about courage. I talked about what courage was and how we all have it and how we can develop it. I talked about going outside of our comfort zones and doing things that make us feel uncomfortable, but ultimately we know is good for us.
I did have moments though, where I doubted my choice of intention, worried I would be benefiting from the process more than my students did. Quickly, I was able to quieten this self-doubt and what came in its place was my understanding of yoga. That being, how intrinsically connected we all are, so much so that my deepest needs and desires would be reflected in them and therefore the meaning would transcend.
At the close of the class, as we moved from savasana into an easy-seated position, I spoke of the courage each member of the class had to come to yoga, to sweat in front of strangers, but most importantly the courage to look at themselves in the mirror for 75 minutes, and reflect on their inner selves. And sometimes this is the hardest part.
This idea of courage led the practice beautifully, it was not me at all, it was the essence of the willingness we all hold in life to face our difficulties. It was the spirit of courage around the room enabling us to move on our mat and hold ourselves when we felt like giving up. This energy is what I do yoga for and why I have fallen so much more deeply in love with it since I was given the gift to teach it. I believe wholeheartedly what we learn on the mat, lovingly exceeds seamlessly to what we require off the mat.
After class, I was driving home and all I could think about was courage. I thought back to my Brother’s wedding only weeks before where I turned down the opportunity to do a reading. I was honest and said I would be too nervous, and would rather just sit and enjoy the ceremony, which is usually the way I prefer rolling. Saying no however, bothered me and yes it is no big deal and no sleep was lost don’t worry! I just wonder how different my answer may have been if I was asked this night, the night where the intention set, was courage. This thinking made me see oh so clearly of the importance of intentions and really got me thinking; why just set an intention for a yoga class, why not have and hold an intention every day.
On one of my teaching practicums, I was at a school where each teacher had to write on the board a learning intention for the students to see, as well as a success criteria. I remember how much I loved this, probably because it really worked and supported one of my main teaching philosophies in regards to behaviour management: prevention rather than intervention. It was such an effective way to steer kids back on task, was great accountability for us teachers, and delivered a real sense of purpose and collective direction.
Now I am not saying that yoga studios should be reflective of this type of classroom setup, I certainly won’t be writing success criteria’s on the mirror and asking my students to remain on task. During my classes though, I will draw the attention back to the intention set, amongst poses and vinyasa flows and before we hold a tree, I will bring our hands to our heart centre and connect back to said intention.
As a collective body, we will breathe life back into the true essence and purpose of our movement, and our emotional bodies will feel as strong and as willing as our physical entities. Intentions can create a shared path for natural flow of thought, they can alleviate the mind of external worries and can elevate the spiritual connection, uniting our energies and deepening our understanding of life, connectedness, and all its beings. Just like the classroom, these intentions generate a focal point for a meditative practice and do keep the focus and drive the purpose.
Over the next classes, I thought about the intention I would set that evening for a good portion of the day. Some days something was made clear right at the beginning, other days I waited for circumstances to unfold around me. The intentions to follow were peace, feeling good, nurture, strength, being soft (in a world that increasingly makes us hard) the ocean, and creativity.
These were all concepts I had never really embraced with yoga before. I especially found I loved the intention of nurture, as the core of nurture is caring for something while watching it grow, so this nurture became the nurture for ourselves, making sure we were caring while we are growing on the mat and off the mat too. I found as the classes went on, the earlier I connected myself to the class’s intention the better. The remainder of the day that intention was inside of me and changed the way my day unfolded.
Regardless of how many sticky notes we fill of goals, ticked or unticked, many of us still feel flat, uninspired, unmotivated and empty. Somewhere back there, amongst the piles of life experiences we understand that there has to be more meaning. Life has to mean more than waking up at dawn to drive to a job that fills our pockets with money, but often leaves us feeling empty.
Intentions could be the answer. Intentions could be effortlessly embedded into our existence, not just in our yoga studios. Setting these daily intentions could hold the power to manifest purpose and meaning beyond the mat. We all feel inspired when we create goals, when we feel as if we have intent and purpose in relation to work or study.
By setting intentions for our day or our week, similar to the themes noted above, these feelings of intent and meaning can flourish in ways we have not shown attention to before. Intentions of essence supporting our spiritual beings could not only restore us (as they have me), but could ultimately connect us to each other. Connecting us to the ideation that we are all really in this thing called life, together, and we all hold such similar needs and desires.
Each day when an intention or theme is set I now feel I have a clearer greater purpose, I have an intention. I have something to focus on, greater than small tribulations and myself. I am forced into the present moment with a new helpful sidekick; offering me strength when I start to doubt, offering me creativity, when I start to colour in the lines, offering me subtleness when I start to feel angry, and offering me nurture when I’m struggling to care for myself or someone else.
When we consciously align ourselves with greater ideas (intentions) we contribute to something greater, we not only enable our soul and personality to mature but we create an energy for the world that is committed to love, harmony and cooperation. How much more purpose driven can we make our lives by setting intentions? Maybe setting an intention each day or even each week, not just in yoga class, could be our united gateway, to maybe not a purple hue, but definitely towards lives worth loving and living, lives full of intention and greater connectedness and meaning.
What’s your next intention?
Join me on my yoga retreat in Bali and perhaps we’ll set some intentions there.