What is an intention, anyway? As simply defined by Merriam Webster, it is “a determination to act in a certain way : resolve.” This post comes from an email I received last week:
“How do I set an intention for each daily/weekly practice. Do your intentions vary day to day? I find that its difficult for me to set one and keep it– my head jumps around to so many till my practice has added stress. It seems difficult to let one intention pop-up organically because I have so many. So basically any ideas to help a noob set her intentions naturally and stress free.”
When put that way, it sure does sound stressful! Let’s clarify between setting a goal versus an intention. A goal has a number of steps that are taken in order to “achieve” the goal, kind of like performance metrics at work. And it’s easy to think of these steps and goals as intentions because we are usually taking them to “improve” our lives, our career, our relationships, etc. But, this misses a big point in yoga philosophy which is that these external goals are not grounded within. Whether you follow Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, Patanjali’s Eightfold Path or something else, you learn that ‘right intention’ is an underpinning to all daily activities and thoughts. It is how you respond, how you react, how you choose to participate in this world.
The first Sunday of each month at the Yoga Hive, we meet for a session of “live your yoga,” a series that focuses on a new yama; intentions for how we live our life: nonviolence, truth, non-stealing, self-restraint, non-greed. In the four noble truths, right intention is the second step and essentially states: “Cause no harm, and treat yourself and others with loving- kindness and compassion while seeking true happiness, that which comes from being free from grasping and clinging.” And so where does all of this leave us with intention setting? Having the right intention will help you to achieve your goals because you are grounded in a place of truth and awareness, but the intention is not your goal. Cultivating intention is a way to commit to being present and aware of how your thoughts impact your actions; how your actions impact others and the world. It’s like the downstream effect. Our intentions also impact our karma; most simply cause and effect. Heavy stuff? Not really.
An intention doesn’t have to change for it to work in your daily or weekly practice. It can be as simple as listening to your heart; your inner truth. Or remembering to breathe. Or remembering that how we formulate and use our words is how we are received by others when we speak. If our words have the underpinning of anger and aggression (violence) from within, we are putting that anger and aggression onto someone else and out into the world. If our words have the underpinning of compassion and truth (and truth isn’t always “nice;” it is always honest), then we are speaking from a more grounded and aware space from within. If you have trouble hearing your inner self, set an intention to have the courage to listen; to hear. Intention, like stepping onto your yoga mat, is about coming home. Each time we reconnect with ourselves, realign with our heart and take time to listen to our inner voice, we are setting right intention. Right intention will help to guide you along your spiritual path, career path, life path and relationship path.
About the author:
Kimberly is not a yoga, Hindu or Buddhist scholar. She practices vipassana meditation as often as she can, practices asana daily and teaches yoga classes. Kimberly founded the Yoga Hive studio in Pittsburgh to provide a forum for yoga, community and ongoing learning. Namaste, yinz!