Intention and Yoga
If you have been to more than a few yoga classes, you have certainly by now heard the phrase “set your intention for class”. What does that mean and how do you do it?
Let’s first explore what intention is not. We live in a culture that is rife with expectation. The mantra of business is to exceed customer expectations. The measure of an experience is to have an outcome greater than the expectation that preceded it. We are often disappointed when the outcome of an event, a hope, or a dream is not what we expected.
We are sometimes upset with someone who does not behave in a way we expect them to behave. And for some, continuous unmet expectation leads to depression, anger or anxiety. Expectation is attachment to an outcome. Aparigraha, the fifth ethical observance of the yamas of yoga teaches us that it is important to be non-possessive. This includes thoughts.
Now versus the future
When we have an expectation of an outcome, we are attached to the future. And in that attachment to the future we lose the present. There becomes no now. So the result of unmet expectations is cognitive dissonance in the present moment.
Leaving Expectation for Intention
Setting an intention is like choosing a direction without specific goals. Living intention is being in the moment. It is putting one foot in front of the other. You can climb a mountain without the expectation of reaching the summit. You can work and earn money to live without the expectation of being rich someday. It is finding solace in every journey you take without regard to outcome.
The key to intention is the two word components of “in” and “tend”. It is what we tend to in life that creates our journey. It is what we put in that counts. It is here that we see the dramatic juxtaposition of intention to expectation. In yoga the focus sharpens. Intention means bringing focus to virtuous qualities such as non-harming, truth, love, gratitude. We “tend to life” with these tools. Sankalpa is the Sanskrit word for intention and can be interpreted as forming direction from the core truth of heart and mind.
Bringing Intention to the Mat
Setting intention on your mat may be as simple as saying to yourself that you are grateful for the next hour that you will have to quiet your mind. Or that you will surrender to all that is peaceful in your space for the next hour. By allowing the heart and mind to dwell in the yamas of yoga, you can practice the blissful sensation of non-attachment.
Bringing Intention off the Mat
It is a bit more challenging to live intention. But if all thoughts words and deeds are influenced by the yamas and niyamas, we get on the path. It is not to say all expectations are bad. But it is the attachment to them that gets us in trouble. For example, I may decide to sell my car. I can set the expectation that the car will sell next week for $6000. And if I am attached to that expectation I will be disappointed if it does not happen. On the other hand, if I intend to no longer have the car and do all the right actions to support the process and let it unfold as it may. I could have a buyer tell me a condition of the car I was unaware of and now I must be flexible on the price or maybe even donate the vehicle for a tax write off. Or maybe I just have the right person who wants this car to come along and offer me a fair price that meets the value I have researched. But it may take a week or maybe months.
Intention does not favor time and space for events to happen. It is applying our heart and mind to the process of intention that counts.