Get Real:Take your practice off the mat and into your life: Setting Intentions

Do you love the way you feel when you practice Yoga? Does the practice calm you and help you feel more centered? Do you love the challenge and the balance of gathering your strength  and expanding your flexibility? Would you like to manage your life the way you manage your practice?Well, you can. Yoga provides us wonderful tools that we can take off the mat and into the day.  We can use these tools to clear our minds, manage stress, handle communication challenges, and even manage our time with more comfort.

In this blog series I will cover challenges found in our daily life and how Yoga philosophy and practice can help us meet those challenges. Let’s start by talking about setting intentions. In each class that I teach, I invite students to set an intention at the beginning of class. Intention, in our practice is often spoken of as Sankalpa, which means: conception or idea or notion formed in the heart or mind, solemn vow or determination to perform, desire, definite intention, volition or will. First I ask them “Why are you here? What got you to your mat today? There are so many other things you could be doing right now, why this?” It is my hope that this question will get them thinking about what they would like to develop, nurture, build, let go of, create, etc, in their lives. It could be as simple as wanting to create flexibility in the body to live with more ease. Or to find some quiet time, out of the hustle and bustle of their daily activities and responsibilities. Then I ask them to  say this intention, often  spoken of as “Sankalpa” as if it were fact. For example, “I am at ease” or “I am patient”. Then I remind them that the intention helps to make their practice their own, as it tunes them in to what they would like to manifest, just for themselves.It also helps bring them back to focus when they get distracted or interrupted by their thoughts or by others around them, changes in the temperature of the rooms, the smell of Taco Deli next door, and much more. And, most importantly, it reminds them that it’s not what they do in practice that matters, it’s the “why” they do it and “how” they approach it.  As Donna Farhi says: In truth, it matters less what we do in practice than how we do it and why we do it. The same posture, the same sequence, the same meditation with a different intention takes on an entirely new meaning and will have entirely different outcomes.

Okay, so let’s get real.  How can we take our intentions off our mats and into the world? In a world filled with noise, distractions, responsibilities, deadlines, and more, how do we stay true to our Sankalpa? Here are a few considerations to help you head into the real world with intention:

  1.  Connect to yourself. Take a few minutes at the beginning of the day to let go of everything outside of yourself and tune back in.  Turn off your phone and find a place where you will not be interrupted.  If you feel that you don’t have much extra time, begin with 3 minutes.  Sit or lie comfortably and notice that you are breathing.  Join in with the rhythm of your own breath, without changing it.  You might feel like you are floating on the wave of the breath, or even surfing on it! After a few breaths, scan your mind and body to see what is there.  Check for thoughts, energies, sensations and emotions.  Acknowledge them without trying to chase them away or change them.
  2. Decide how you will approach the day.  At the beginning of the day, think about how you would like to approach the day; not the specific “to do’s” but how you would like “to be”.  Maybe you would like to be creative, or be a rock star at work.  Perhaps you would like to be diplomatic or a thought leader or the one who peacefully resolves conflicts and solves problems.  There is a great little book about this “being versus doing ” approach by James MacMahon and Lauren Rosenfeld called “Your To Be List” “.
  3. Write down your intention. Keep it where you will see it, and see it often during the day.  You might also have a “to do” list if that helps you stay on task.  However, keep in mind that when things don’t go exactly as planned, your intention will keep you on track as you mindfully fulfill it through how you approach the unexpected, the crisis, the interruptions and everything else.
  4. Re-connect to  yourself.  At the end of the day, revisit your intention once more time to see whether you  fulfilled your intention.  If you did, note how that impacted your day.  If you let go of your intention at some point in the day, take note of that so that you can be mindful of the pitfalls in the future and address them.

If you begin a daily practice of intention setting, you may find that you are moving through your days more mindfully, and that over time your intentions lead you in the direction you most want to go.

Yoga is not about touching your toes or standing on your head or folding yourself into a lotus pretzel.  It’s about how you do what you do and how you live your daily life on a moment-to-moment basis.     –Erich Schiffmann

There will be challenges along the way.  Distractions are everywhere, and it’s easy to get caught up in the doing.  However, in just a few minutes a day, you can set the foundation for living more intentionally, and determining the direction in which you want to move.  Anodea Judith, in Creating on Purpose, writes:  If you keep you attention on your intention, then you current reality will be pulled toward your intention.  Your current situation will change in accordance with the vision you have of the future.  Your intention, when held firmly in place, shapes your reality.

Now it’s time to give it a try.  Connect with yourself, and set an intention.  Let me know how it goes!

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