“You Create Your Own Reality.” ~ Gandhi
In the beginning of my journey on this Path, when the teacher would ask the class to ‘set an intention’ for practice at the start of the class, I didn’t really know what I should say to myself at that moment.
I don’t know! Most days, I would skip that step. But as time went on, and my practice and my commitment to staying on the Path escalated, I would know exactly what to say to—balance, kindness, silence—just a few words that would come into the forefront of my mind. I got skilled at calling upon the intention whilst on the mat when asked to do so by the teacher. I understood that this intention-setting exercise was to bring us back to our hearts.
We all know that it is easy to get caught up in the exercise aspect of the practice—the sweat, the increased heartbeat, the music playing, the good stretch. What was more of a stretch for me was to live my life with that same idea of intention.
For sure, I was working very often to remain awake and mindful in my daily activities, but I was rarely slowing down enough to ask myself: what is my intention for doing this? (whatever ‘this’ was in that moment.)
Now I notice that my practice has changed significantly, and it is not because I can do a forearm scorpion or get my feet behind my head. My progress on the Path is from thinking about intention in almost all that I do and say. ‘What is my intention for saying this?’, I ask myself before I utter words that could possibly harm if I am careless or coming from an unkind place. Words can harm, or they can heal. In living a life that is full of intention, we start to also notice better what serves us and what does not.
We are asked to feel our way through the practice, and not think our way into it—we are asked to notice what arises in our emotional bodies without giving it, as Pema Chodron calls it, a story line. The feelings are not the problem—it’s the paragraphs upon paragraphs that we add on which are. We are invited to take the witness standpoint to all that arises on the mat, and we wrestle with all that percolates to the surface as we inhale and exhale out of all the different shapes. But whatever does come up, we also know that going to yoga class makes us feel good—it serves us on many levels.
Ok, so yoga serves us. This is obvious after taking only one class. But what does not?
We will know when we are progressing in our yoga practice when we take what we learn on the mat, and apply it to our life. If we start with intention, we will see what serves us and what does not. Thinking of how we will feel after (an activity or saying something or consuming more than is necessary) is a great way to gauge this.
Create a reality that you like by doing these things:
1) set an intention for your practice on the mat, and when you feel agitated during the class, you re-direct the mind and are returned to that pure heartfelt intention.
Off the mat, you slow down, pause to ponder your intention before saying mean or hurtful things, having that next drink or going to a hang-out that makes you feel bad afterwards. Breathing, pondering, asking, ‘what is my intention’, could prevent you from feeling really crummy after.
2) In setting that intention, you create a life that serves you. I know yoga, good friends, going to see art, etc., serves me. But what is it in your life that does not serve you anymore? Whatever it is—could be too much Internet, or not focusing on your own goals enough and focusing on other people’s business too much—you must do away with it. Now.
3) Lastly, we are imperfect beings and that is precisely what makes us perfect. Some days we will be really good about intention and instinctively know what serves us. On other days, we might go down a destructive path for a bit. But I assure you, the more you practice this stuff, the more that destructive pattern starts to dissipate.
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Jesse Bezz
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