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Managing intentions

As another year draws to a close, there is a lot of talk about intention setting and what individuals want to see manifest during the course of the year ahead. Never mind that every moment is actually such an opportunity to become aware of our intentions and reset them as needed; the 365-day year is a man-made paradigm based on the earth’s rhythm that gives us a structure to our lives. Similarly, new years resolutions give people the motivation to ‘begin anew’ and put new goals and practices in place.

Most of us in some way or another are grappling with goals we want to meet within a certain time and space. Whether it is a change of some sort in career, relationship or location, improving one’s health or starting a family, we all have transitions in our lives, all the time, for transience is the nature of all living things.

In a yoga class, often there is a space created in the beginning of class for the teacher to ask the students to ‘dedicate our practice’ to someone or something as a way to bring our awareness to a place outside of our self and our daily life. Two ideas that easily become confused in this context are dedication and intention setting, which are actually very different.

Dedication, or devotion, as it is more often referred to in the yogic texts, is about opening the heart and focusing on pure energy, otherwise own as unconditional love or compassion, towards some other being. There is no expectation of receiving something back. Devotion is a completely selfless practice that involves offering up every ounce of one’s potential to the object of devotion. Intention setting is different, for an intention is something in the present that involves our state of mind, but it ultimately up to each one of us to state what that intention is. In one sense, it is about the quality that we go about our daily life, it manages who we are in the present. If the yoga practice is ultimately about cultivating devotion, or love, then what does intention setting have to do with yoga?

The practice of yoga involves listening, or nadam, in Sanskrit; listening and tuning in to one’s vibrations. Chanting and meditation are excellent ways of cultivating the practice of listening, and so is the asana practice. The more we become aware of our thoughts and thought patterns, the more we can let go of the superficial noise and ‘holding on’ to ideas and concepts that may drive our actions in daily life, yet limit us from reaching our highest potential. We may have so much noise in the periphery that we are completely disconnected from our more subtle vibrations. Yet just as whispers are important clues for uncovering puzzles, so are these subtle vibrations; they contain the truth of who we are, or who we may become. These vibrations are our innermost voice. In this way, the yoga practice enables our purest, truest intentions to be heard.

Just as our sadhana (spiritual journey) is a path, so is realising our intentions; it is a process. The more mindful we can be about putting stepping stones in place, the more we can delight in each one of these moments as a contribution to the bigger picture. Part of the problem is that in daily life, we don’t relish the process; we want results quicker, faster, now. This is another important aspect of how the yoga practice can help in attaining our goals; the asana practice is about being available to each moment, savouring the process, throwing away the desired outcome and instead being present to what is.

For more on intention setting or to work on your own vision for the year ahead, join me on New Years Day to tune the inside and outside body at Indaba Yoga Studio, where I’ll be leading a two hour intention setting asana practice. Happy New You.

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