Jameela Belyeu is the new owner of Firefly Yoga Center. We realize that she came on board right before the studio had to temporarily close due to COVID-19, and many of you haven't gotten a chance to meet her. (We think she's amazing and you're going to love her!) We've asked her all about her yoga practice and some of her favorite things. Keep reading to learn more about this luminary!
How did you get into yoga?
I started practicing yoga while I was attending Auburn University (GO TIGERS!) and I signed up for a class at our student recreation center. After graduation, I practiced every now and again at my local YMCA, but it wasn’t until some ten years later when I was going through some pretty traumatic life experiences that I fully committed myself to becoming the best student I could be. During that time, I read a couple of articles on the healing properties of yoga, so I started attending classes at a local gym here in Atlanta. I remember the intense feeling of peace and calm that gradually began to wash over me -- so I kept going back. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Do you remember your first yoga class?
Oh my goodness, yes -- it was so boring!
I took my first yoga class in college, at a time when I was more concerned with passing finals and SEC football! To be honest, the only thing I even remember about that class was staying down on the mat the entire time and doing gentle stretches. I’m pretty sure it was a restorative class, but it certainly wasn't attention-grabbing enough for my bustling college mind.
Thank goodness though that I've never been one to quit something! It might've taken me some years, but once I found the right class, instructor, and style that resonated with me, I was hooked.
In only three words, describe how you feel after a yoga class. (GO!)
Energized. Peaceful. Strong. (Yes, I know those first two are oxymorons, but if you've ever experienced yoga, you know the deal!)
What do you think that yoga does to a person's life?
Have you read my first blog post: “10 Ways Yoga Can Save Us All?” If you haven't (first of all shame on you) it’s a great research-backed summary of how yoga can positively impact someone’s life. The short and sweet of it however is that: yoga can provide profound peace, clarity, physical and mental strength, empowerment, acceptance, balance, and healing.
Do you think that yoga exists outside of the mat?
Of course, it does! Most people only associate yoga with the physical postures or the Asanas, but that’s only one of the eight branches of yoga.
Now, I won’t go through all eight branches here (that my friends, we'll save for a future blog post) but the two that are most prevalent off the mat are the Yamas and Niyamas.
The Yamas are ethical tenets that outline a code of conduct that should be observed when interacting with the world around us. Essentially, it's a full-service guide on how we should be acting towards others, such as practicing non-violence, truthfulness, and honor, just to name a few.
You also have the Niyamas, which are more internally focused on how we can improve oneself. A prime example of this is Santosa or demonstrating contentment with what you have. We can practice this off the mat by expressing gratitude and feeling better about the good things we have in our lives.
What is your favorite kind of yoga?
Do I have to pick just one?! Okay fine — I'd definitely have to say a heated Power Vinyasa. The energy and fire that students create in a Power class literally fuels me like no other! The heat that rises during the Sun Salutations is energizing, and being able to harness that same fire to power through the strength and balancing portion feels so empowering! Add in some deep work and a little upbeat music? I honestly leave every class feeling like Wonder Woman in the flesh!
Was it your dream to own a yoga studio? Tell us more about that.
I wouldn't say it was my dream to own a yoga studio, but I definitely always had aspirations of becoming a small business owning entrepreneur.
The idea of potentially owning a studio became ever-present as I continued to evolve in my teaching over the last few years. I found out a lot about myself, mainly that I was truly energized and inspired by not only my own growth but the transformation of my students as they developed in their yoga practice. I also felt there was a legitimate need for a truly inclusive studio, where people of all shapes, colors & backgrounds could come together and learn the science. Many studios claim to be inclusive, but it’s very rare to find one that truly lives up to it. I always felt that the path to a perfect yoga body comprised of the following:
So my dream is to build upon the Firefly brand to further create that super-inclusive space, no matter who you are or what you look like.
What is your favorite yoga asana?
Okay, this is going to sound really cliche, but it’s actually Tittibhasana or Firefly. No, I'm being so serious right now! It was the third arm balance I was able to achieve a few years ago and its been one of my favorites ever since -- mainly because it helped me battle against the fears I was carrying in my body and mind. It’s also a pose that really challenges growth and patience as it benefits my brain’s ability to release stress, decrease anxiety, and increase self-awareness.
What is your least favorite yoga asana?
Is this a trick question? I'm love them all! (Joke.)
As much as I wish this were the case, I would definitely have to say that my least favorite is the one I need to practice more often — camel or Ustrasana. I always feel so vulnerable in this heart opener, which is a telltale sign I should develop it more and tap into those emotions.
Where did you do your YTT? Tell us about that experience.
I completed my 200 and 300 YTT training at Red Hot in Buckhead with Bethany Vaughn of Bethany Vaughn Yoga & Meditation. I know there are a lot of people across the globe that can say this: but Bethany has literally changed my life! When I was looking for a studio to undertake my 200 hr, her name and program consistently came up as two of my all-time favorite yoga instructors in the North Metro Atlanta area were both her pupils. That was enough to make me sign up for her training without doing too much research anywhere else, and I’m forever grateful that I did. Bethany's experience and depth of yogic knowledge are profound, and through her guidance and instruction, she helped mentor me through the process of tapping into my truest self - the person I always was but suppressed or hid from the world because of the fears and anxieties I'd faced in life.
What do you think you bring to Firefly Yoga?
I’m here because I one-thousand percent believe in the powers of yoga and the profound impact it can have on students' lives. Along with my unbridled passion, I also bring a business background as I worked in product development and strategy, for five years, in the ever-challenging world of corporate America.
Outside of that, I have a mountain high bucket of positive energy and relentless pursuit that will surely take us a long way!
Where are you from?
Well, once upon a time, in a kingdom, far far away there lived a...okay maybe that intro was a little too Disney, but I do think my story requires some detail to tell properly.
My family has deep roots in Alabama and Louisiana, but in the late 1970s, my parents moved to live as expatriates in Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia (which is a kingdom -- see I wasn't lying) where they worked in the oil industry. It was there that I was born and raised, and thus I became a "Third Culture Kid" which is the term used for children who are raised in a culture other than their parents for a significant part of their lives.
But please make no mistake about it, I'm a country girl through and through! Despite the fact that we were living in the middle of the desert on the other side of the world, my New Orleans mother and Alabama father raised me in a very Southern household.
We eventually migrated back to the US, where I finished high school and college in Alabama before living in Denver for a short period, and then eventually finding my way back south to Atlanta.
What’s your favorite movie?
Steel Magnolias. I did mention I’m a Southern girl, right?
What’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever visited?
Aspen, Colorado hands down.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
My babies! I have two young girls that are my pride and joy. They certainly keep me on my toes and I can honestly say I learn something new from them every day.
So here I am at Firefly Yoga Center, sitting with Kerry Quigg (one of our AMAZING INSTRUCTORS) at my very first Yoga Nidra virtual class, when I found myself floating in my mind with the reasons of why I love the practice of yoga, and how it can literally save us!
As a dedicated yoga practitioner, I have sometimes found it hard to explain the countless benefits of the exercise, and why it’s my life’s passion. Like many of my fellow yogis out there, I often find myself blurting out: “It changed my life!” as a response to the benefit question we so often get, which I’m sure falls on deaf ears or gets the occasional eye roll.
However, with our current climate, and being the data nerd that I am, I decided to dig a little deeper into the science-backed ways that yoga is exactly what the world needs right now.
Researchers (you know, the people that are smarter than me and you) reviewed 15 randomized controlled trials to examine whether the regular practice of yoga postures could strengthen the immune system and reduce chronic inflammation.
These brainiacs concluded: yoga reduces pro-inflammatory markers and has a promising anti-inflammatory effect in the body.
Now, you may be wondering: “How long do I have to practice to see these results?” Well, most of the studies implemented the programs between 8 to 12 weeks, with a program frequency that alternated between daily and weekly participation. The classes ranged in duration from 30 to 90 minutes, with the end conclusion being that regular and consistent practice yielded the best results.
2. Eases anxiety.
It is no secret that a vast majority of people are drawn to the practice of yoga as a way of dealing with anxiety. So, it should, therefore, come as no great surprise to find there are many scientific studies to back up this previous statement.
For example, the National Institute of Health detailed a study where 34 women who were diagnosed with anxiety disorder practiced yoga twice a week for a duration of two months. At the study’s end, it was found that those who had participated in yoga experienced significantly lower levels of anxiety than those who had not.
An article from healthline.com also outlined an NIH study that followed 64 women with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) which is a form of severe anxiety and fear following a deeply traumatic event. After 10 weeks of the study, the women who practiced yoga weekly had fewer symptoms of PTSD, and an even more surprising 52% of the women no longer met the criteria for PTSD at all!
Practicing yoga has the ability to make you more present and bring peace of mind, and this is what is attributed to the reduction in anxiety and fear.
And here’s another little nugget for you: the NIH is part of the U.S. Govt Health & Human Resources, which is our nation’s medical research agency made of 6,000 research scientists aiming to improve health and save lives.
3. It can help relieve respiratory ailments such as asthma.
With so much discussion on respiratory issues and ailments during the current coronavirus epidemic, it is worthwhile to sort through some research on the topic. According to a study carried out by the American College of Sports Medicine, there was a 43% improvement of asthma symptoms in participants who practiced yoga regularly for 10 weeks.
Why might you ask? Well as it turns out they did not give an in-depth explanation as to why, however, yoga practice includes an emphasis on deep breath work, with an intentional focus on inhalations and exhalations, which can promote healthy lung function with increased capacity, efficiency, and overall airflow.
4. Can help alleviate depression.
Boston University School of Medicine conducted a study with 30 clinically depressed patients in which they practiced Iyengar-based yoga and breathing exercises. Over a three month period, the group was divided in half, with the only difference being the number of hours each group practiced yoga. One group was labeled the “high-dose group” (practicing for 123 hours) and the other was the “low-dose group” (practicing for 87 hours).
After one month of practice, study results showed that, BOTH groups experienced a significant improvement in:
It is also worth noting that practicing yoga has been found to help decrease levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone that influences serotonin, the neurotransmitter often associated with depression per the NIH.2
5. Yoga is a fitness unicorn!
I can testify personally with this one! I was always active as a kid (soccer, swimming, tennis, racquetball) and I continued this active lifestyle to my adulthood by participating in every form of fitness I could get my hands on (HIIT classes, triathlons, kickboxing, weightlifting, and Pilates just to name a few). That being said, I never saw true gains in physical strength, flexibility, balance, and stamina until I started practicing yoga diligently.
In a study done by the NIH, 79 adults performed 24 sun salutations, six days a week, for 24 weeks. Sun salutations are a series of poses used for a warm-up in many Ashtanga, Power, and Vinyasa style yoga classes. Researchers found that the participants had a significant increase in upper body strength, endurance, and weight loss. Results also showed that women saw a decrease in overall body fat percentage as well.3
Another study looked at the impact 10 weeks of yoga had on 26 male college athletes. Practicing yoga significantly increased their flexibility and balance compared to the other group in the study.4
I can also assure you that it doesn’t take a ton of practice to start seeing results. Per Healthline, practicing yoga for just 15-30 minutes a day can make a big difference for seeing improvements in flexibility and balance. This, in combination with a regular exercise routine (and the practicing of specific poses and/or styles of yoga) can also help increase strength and endurance.
6. Helps you rest and improves sleep.
According to a Healthline article and the NIH, poor sleep quality has been directly linked to:
At the end of the study, the participants in the yoga group were found to: fall asleep quicker, sleep for longer periods, and feel more well-rested than the two other group studies.4 8
7. Makes you more self-aware.
Our bodies hold such a wealth of knowledge and information that we can learn so much just by practicing yoga. Perhaps most importantly, we can learn about our physical and mental limits, such as flexibility and focusing of the mind. Harnessing and mastering this skill of listening to your body and learning from it can help you become more self-aware, thus leading to a more joyful and healthy life.
Scientists have found that high levels of self-awareness have been linked with personal development, healthy relationships, and effective leadership.9
In a study conducted by the American Management Association, of 72 senior business executives, a high self-awareness score was found to be a strong predictor of overall success. It was concluded that those who had a higher sense of their strengths and weaknesses were better able to hire complementary team members to assist in areas they lacked.
Yoga is an essential tool in helping you achieve this higher level of self-awareness.
8. It’s a powerful healer.
I could write a book for this section alone as it’s often one of my go-to responses for the many benefits of yoga, and how it has helped me personally. Simply put, yoga promotes emotional healing from trauma and physical healing from pain, injury, and disorders.
In a 2010 study, researchers followed 42 people with carpal tunnel syndrome. The participants were given either a wrist splint or instructed to do yoga for eight weeks. The end results showed that yoga was more effective in reducing pain and improving grip strength than wrist splinting.
Another study in 2005 showed that yoga could help significantly decrease pain and improve physical function in participants with osteoarthritis of the knees.
According to Harvard Health, yoga can also provide support for those with chronic pain conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine, and lower back pain. A study from the Annals of Internal Medicine was outlined, where 313 participants with chronic lower back pain took part in a weekly yoga class. It was found that their regular participation in the classes increased mobility more than standard medical care for their condition. This increased mobility supported reduced pain.
Another analysis of 17 independent studies (with over 1,600 participants) showed that practicing yoga can improve the physical daily function of fibromyalgia patients that have a curvature of the spine. Furthermore, it was found that yoga also improved their mood and emotional well-being.10
9. Improves quality of life.
Many people are attracted to yoga in order to:
Several studies have been conducted to delve into just how much yoga promotes a better quality of life. One such study, for instance, followed 135 people, who were assigned either six months of yoga, walking, or a control group. Researchers discovered the participants who practiced yoga experienced an overall improvement in their quality of life, along with improved mood and fatigue, compared to the other groups.11
Another study observed how yoga affected the quality of life in cancer patients. Researchers found that a group of women with breast cancer (whom they’d followed for eight weeks) experienced less pain and fatigue with increased levels of invigoration, acceptance, and relaxation.12
10. Can enhance your sex life.
Let’s finish this list with some good stuff! Especially since many of you are locked up with bae, hubby, or wifey.
According to a study in the International Society of Sexual Medicine: practicing yoga for one hour, twice a week, for up to 12 weeks, resulted in increased sexual arousal. According to Dr. Vikas Dhikav, PhD (a neurologist at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in New Delhi, who studies yoga and sexual function) this is due to the fact that yoga reduces stress and increases blood flow, which includes the pelvic region.13
So there you have it, my friends! Research and science have spoken, yoga is a lifesaver, literally! The physical and mental health benefits of the practice are extraordinary in decreasing stress, building strength and flexibility, alleviating depression, and improving quality of life! And remember, this list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all the benefits of yoga.
Incorporating yoga into your health and wellness routine is a must! So, what should you do next? Well, that’s very simple love! Just show up to your mat:
Finding the time to practice yoga, even if for just a few times a week, is enough to make a noticeable difference in your overall health, especially during this time. I look forward to seeing you on your mat!
Love and light,
“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.” -Albert Einstein
I am not good at meditating. This is what I used to believe about myself. I thought that meditation required sitting still in silence with your eyes closed. While I understand the benefits of this type of meditation now, I still find it incredibly hard to do. So I found something that works for me.
Our world is set up in a way that we are always receiving messages. It's estimated that we read a few thousand words every single day, and with the rapid increase in technology over the past few years, this number keeps growing. I have been more and more interested in how to disconnect with what everything is telling me to do and how to tune into the silence.
Eckhart Tolle once wrote, “Pay attention to the gap -- the gap between two thoughts, the brief, silent space between words in a conversation, between the notes of a piano or flute, or the gap between the in-breath and out-breath. ” This idea has stuck with me and had a profound effect on my life. Essentially, what Tolle wrote is that we are not our egos. Let me repeat that: We are not our egos. Your identity- Your name, your occupation, your family, where you live, etc.- is not who you are. You aren't the thoughts that go through your head, those are just a product of our environment. If you peel back the layers and try to connect with your true essence, that is the space between the words. I think of this space as a place that nobody will truly understand, not even those people we are closest with. This gap is the space that I believe we try to connect with through meditation and “yoga”- A union of the body/mind and our true essence. We practice yoga asana (poses) nowadays to condition the body for savasana, which is a state of awareness between being completely awake and asleep. This is the gap.
Now that we're aware of the gap, what are its benefits and how can we access it?
The benefits of the gap are that we dissolve all fear and anxiety and we can feel our place in the world. It becomes a space where we can allow ourselves to be and drop all emotions and tethers that we have to the world around us.
This gap is always accessible, but you have to know how to get there. Some avenues are easier for some than others, and some people could try for years and never arrive. Don't let this discourage you. Below are some methods that work for me, though I highly encourage you to try different things for yourself. Do these as long as you want, it doesn't matter if it's for 5 minutes or 5 hours, either way still has benefits.
Find a quiet space. The dimmer, the better, as you'll have less distractions. Light a candle and place it in front of you. Stare at the fire of the candle as long as you can.
Notes: It's okay to blink. You can also do this with a campfire, bonfire, etc.
This can be done anywhere and is a great exercise when you have a panic attack. All you do is close your eyes (most of our thoughts come from our vision, so shut it off) and focus on your inhales and your exhales. Make them long and drawn out, if possible. Think the word 'inhale' as you inhale, and the word 'exhale' as you exhale.
Notes: This exercise forces us to become rooted in the present. It's an instant access to that quiet space. This is a very common exercise in western yoga classes.
For this exercise, you'll need a set of mala beads. Start with the guru bead (the funky bead near the tassel) and touch your forehead with it to begin the exercise. Use your thumb and middle finger to repeat a mantra and make your way around all 108 beads, repeating this mantra 108 times. When you have completed your round of 108, tap the guru bead to your head again to finish the exercise.
Notes: Try a mantra like 'I am ________' (fill in the blank with what you need) to start. Then you can start changing it up, perhaps using the mantra “So Hum” (I am that/that I am). Some people do not allow their index finger to touch the beads at all, as this finger is considered a “fighting finger” and brings bad luck.
You can do anything creative for this exercise, really. I believe this is why coloring books are so popular nowadays. Sit down with some art supplies and let the creativity just flow. I believe that this is the gap.
Mantra, especially kirtan, is by far my favorite exercise to access the gap. I'd recommend you look up the music of Snatum Kaur or Jai Uttal to start, and pick something simple to begin with. Just sing along with them. The mantras will follow you, become ingrained in you, and it is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Notes: Atlanta hosts Chantlanta every March which is a great place to get started if you want to do this in a group. Everyone is supportive of one another and nobody is shamed for their voice. You have a place here and you matter.
You'll need someone to lead you through a yoga nidra exercise for this practice. Lucky for you, Firefly offers this a few times a week!
Notes: In nidra, you'll lay on the floor and someone will guide you through a meditation. All you have to do is listen.
All of these are a form of meditation. Tell us about which method works best for you in the comments!
Read on: I recommend reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle or The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, both of which explore similar ideas about the gap.
Katie Bush is a yoga instructor and artist living in San Diego, California. She has helped develop Firefly Yoga & Movement Center since it was an idea in owner Lana Layton's mind. She created the logo and murals for the studio, helped develop the brand identity, and currently runs the Firefly social media accounts.
The mental and physical health benefits of yoga are wide-ranging. They include increased flexibility, strength, balance, and even stress reduction. It’s no wonder that for those who haven’t yet begun a practice, yoga is often on many lists of New Year’s resolutions. One of the hardest parts of getting started is just that; showing up willing to try something new. Though it may seem intimidating to step on the mat, or into a silk for aerial yoga, for the first time, there are countless reasons to add yoga to your 2020 goals and then stick with it for more than 30 days. To help, we’ve compiled some tips to ease any worries about getting started and keep your practice going throughout the year ahead.
New Year, New You
A lot of people choose the new year as a time to make changes and start new habits. Not only does it feel like a clean slate, but it’s a marker for reflecting on the previous year and taking note of where to seek improvement. Health and wellness are a common theme for New Year’s resolutions with many resolving to eat better, exercise more and stress less. Fortunately, yoga can help with all of these!
The most important thing to note when working towards any new goal is to make them manageable. Too extreme and you’re likely to fall prey to failure and quit. One way to start off on the right foot is to try a 30 day new student special. After the stress of the holidays, and all of the resolutions, yoga can be a great antidote to the chaos, reminding you to breathe and take time out for yourself. If you start your practice slowly, by the time Spring arrives, you’re already in a routine that you can actually stick to. Don’t stop in January, keep going through February and spend the month determining what your true goals with yoga are, whether they be spiritual, physical or emotional.
What To Know Before You Start
The first step to starting a yoga practice is to set intentions that are about feeling good rather than trying to change something that’s wrong with you. Too often people make resolutions that reinforce a negative perception such as the need to lose weight or stop eating unhealthy foods. Instead, choose goals that support a positive outcome such as gaining more energy, receiving clarity or making time for self-care.
Next, you’ll want to decide what kind of yoga is the best fit for your goals. There are a wide variety of yoga disciplines, but the most common are:
1. Hatha - this is a generic term for yoga that teaches postures. Classes indicated as Hatha are great or beginners and focus on basic postures.
2. Yin - this is a more restorative form of yoga and is great for relaxation and flexibility.
3. Vinyasa - this is often referred to as “power” or “flow” yoga because of the transitions between sequences. It is more fast-paced and focuses on linking breath to movement.
4. Ashtanga - this practice is similar to Vinyasa in that it is more fast-paced sequencing but it uses the same set of postures each class.
Most practices will use many of the same postures, so you may want to familiarize yourself with them before you start. There are countless videos available online that go through various sequences, including Sun Salutations which are core to most practices. Keep in mind that online videos are no substitution for hands-on, in-person classes where you can learn the right form and avoid injuries. Experienced yoga teachers make everyone feel welcome and support all levels with modifications, encouragement and necessary adjustments.
The biggest lesson to learn before starting a yoga practice is that yoga is not a competitive practice. Don’t focus on the person next to you whose Fallen Angel is flawless, instead remember that your pace and practice are truly your own.
How To Create a Habit
One of the reasons resolutions get derailed is because we crave instant gratification, Remember most habits on average take 66 days to stick. The good news is there are probably others who are in the same boat and looking for ways to stay on track, whether they are your friends, colleagues or those who share your studio space. Seek these people out to create a community; not only can you lean on them for support and encouragement, but they can also keep you accountable. You may find yourself showing up to class just because you committed to someone else that you’d join them.
The Benefits Of A Regular Yoga Practice
At heart, yoga is about meditation, time focused on breathing forcing you to focus and clear your mind. Not only that, the movement cultivates a sense of gratitude for our bodies, encouraging us to take heed of how we feel more than how we look (why else do you think most yoga studios don’t have mirrors?). What’s more, mindfulness gleaned from yoga extends to other parts of our lives such as how we eat, choosing to nourish with whole foods rather than satisfy an artificial craving. The physical aspect of yoga also builds strength and endurance which can help manage weight and its cardiovascular benefits can also help lower blood pressure.
Now that you know the benefits of yoga and how to start your practice, you can continue from the New Year, and through Winter, with a commitment to go with the flow and a goal to bring health and happiness to your life for years to come.
Lana Layton is a recovering lawyer and judge who decided it was time to make a change. She began practicing yoga and meditation, which led to her actually waking up, stop miserably going through the motions of life, and move into a career that matches her personality and skill set. Meditation profoundly and positively changed her life, and it can change yours too. Lana is available for corporate and private meditation trainings, coaching and more. You can also catch one of her meditation info sessions and classes at Firefly Yoga Center. Email us for more information or to set up a training or sample coaching session.
For the past few years I have picked a word for the year to symbolize my intention. One word can be easier for me than a long sentence or paragraph. The one word can encompass what I want to bring into my life, or let go of. Past words have been to bring in more passion, purpose and joy. This year’s word is Simplify. For me, I want to de-clutter and downsize to remove distractions and reduce financial stress on me and my family. I spent many years on the hamster wheel of working and acquiring possessions. I didn’t realize at the time, but I spent my 30s trying to keep up with the Joneses. I found yoga at 40 and realized slowly, over time, that my possessions were an attempt to fill a void in my life. A void that is now filled by family, friends, yoga, meditation, dance and being outdoors. Now I look around at a house full of excess stuff, and see it as leftovers from a bygone era in my life when I thought acquiring things equaled happiness. Today, when I go to the studio, it’s free of clutter. I want the same for my home. So this year I’m tackling my whole house, drawer by drawer, closet by closet, to reduce my stuff down to what I truly love or routinely use.
So what is an intention? Until I took a yoga class, I’d never heard anyone talk about setting an intention. As a lawyer, I was familiar with goal setting, and being intentional with my time. But I didn’t understand what an intention was, or how it would lead to living intently, instead of just reacting to the curveballs thrown by life. In English, the word “intention” is defined as “a course of action that one intends to follow, an aim that guides action, an objective.” It’s a word from the Latin intendere meaning to direct attention or to stretch toward something.
In Sanskrit, the word for intention is Sankalpa and it’s a representation of a desire or positive thought that you want to manifest in the world, a promise you make to yourself. Often teachers set an intention at the start of each class. The intention for that day’s class might be developing confidence, or nurturing faith, or discovering strength. It might be cultivating kindness or gratitude or mindfulness.
If setting an intention is about reaching toward something—and that something is almost wordless, residing in the deepest part of your heart—then part of setting an intention involves listening carefully to learn what your heart wants, what you desire deeply. I often find this word is formed first on my mat, and then through journaling. I started journaling in 2017, and find it to really provide clarity for me. What I notice is that a theme usually develops in my journaling. The theme I noticed in my journaling between September and December was a desire to let go of excess stuff that is weighing me down. A desire to slow down, simplify, get rid of excess stuff, so I can focus on what brings me joy.
Setting an intention involves identifying a quality or desire and bringing that thought or desire, that positive value, into your life through actions. So, on some level, our intentions already exist as part of us, and it’s our work on the mat and through journaling, to get in touch with them. Our poses help us feel the first stirrings, and those stirrings evolve from wordlessness into thought, the thoughts are written down, solidifying our hearts desire, which in turn compel us to act.
Setting our intention is, in this way, an evolutionary act in our understanding of ourselves, and evolves over time as we learn to recognize what our heart is asking for. We then can bring that intention into the world and evolve into our fullest sense of ourselves. So, setting your intention is like drawing an arrow from the quiver of your heart. You aim the arrow at a distant target, a reflection of your heart’s desire, and with care and mindfulness release the bowstring. And as the arrow flies toward the target, it draws your heart toward its destiny.
So once you set an intention, how do you sustain throughout the week, month or year? What do you need to do to maintain your intention? And how do you know when it no longer serves you and it’s time to set a new intention? Consider these questions before, during or after your asana practice, then open your journal and write about the intention(s) that you hope to set in the new year. Whilst an intention is different to a resolution, this doesn’t mean it won’t be broken, we’re all human after all….. To strengthen your intention and make it a part of your life, try the following five steps to enhance your intention this year.
When the mind visualises something, this elicits a powerful response in the brain. Simply picturing doing an action can actually trigger these areas of the brain to light up, meaning these neural pathways become stronger even if we’re not actually physically taking part in anything. In the same way, you can enhance your chances of maintaining your intention by visualising yourself acting in alignment with it. Want to be calmer? Visualise yourself calmly going about your daily routine in a peaceful manner. Want to be more powerful and decisive? Visualise yourself making decisions and being confident in them, achieving something you’ve been working towards and feeling proud of yourself.
Change Your Habits
Our habits shape who we are. The pattern of action, reaction and response that courses through the body and mind every time we fall into a habit creates a cycle. If your intention includes changing something or altering a big part of your life, practice observing your actions and keeping a journal. Notice what triggers an unhelpful habit, and why you act upon it. Find a way of creating a gap between the trigger and the response by heading in a different direction entirely. To put it simply, if you find yourself repeating the same unhelpful habits over and over again, do something completely different and disrupt the habitual cycle. This gives you time to realise what you’re doing, and make a conscious choice to change.
Intentions start from the inside out, and even if you’ve managed to change your habits and are practicing your visualisation, the little voice in the mind can still interfere. One reason many of us may find it difficult to maintain an intention is because we simply don’t actually believe we can. Self-doubt is rife throughout most of us, but that doesn’t mean it’s right at all. Living in a way you truly want to and fully owning it is a scary thing. You’re being brave, honest and open, and that’s a vulnerable thing to be. As Brene Brown said in her now famous Ted Talk however, bravery is classified as having four elements, the first being vulnerability. To be who you really are is to peer through the mask of who you feel you ‘should’ be, to turn down the voice that says you ‘can’t’, and step into the courageous light of truly being you.
Tell A Friend
Whether you’re heading to your yoga class, sleeping earlier or eating healthily, it can all be a little easier when you’re made accountable for it. In the very same way, maintaining your intention can be enhanced when you tell someone you’re doing it. This way, if your intention is to be kind to yourself and your friend or loved one notices you’re still working after 9pm and you haven’t had time for yourself, they’ll be able to remind you and keep you on track.
Keep It Simple
If after a week you realise your intention was a little over-enthusiastically made, strip things back and simplify it. Look at what you can bring into each moment, rather than what you’ll achieve at the end of the year, make your intention something you feel you can realistically maintain, and consider an intention that helps you become the true, real and wonderful version of you.
Want some help setting intentions for the New Year? Join Lana for an Intention Setting and Vision Boarding workshop on Friday January 31st from 6-9 pm. We will stretch, meditate and dive into our intentions through guided exercises and then create a vision board as a visual representation of what you want to cultivate more of in your life in 2020.
Workshop cost is $30