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