Freedom and aliveness — creating the life and the you, you always dreamed of realizing through deliberate, intentional living.
If you’ve been to a yoga class you’ve heard a teacher offer you a few moments at the beginning of class to set an intention, usually its follow with some examples like strength, courage, patience, stuff like that. Its sounds new age AF and my initial (and longstanding) response was always “how is saying this in my head going to give me these qualities?” Truth is it won’t. Intention setting by itself is more or less worthless. Wishing rarely gets you what you want, if it does, it’s only coincidental.
As a yoga teacher I resisted intention setting for a long time. For me, my physical (asana) practice always had an intention behind it whether it was explicit or not. Something along the lines of making a stronger, more flexible, more capable body. Maybe I’d focus the class around stimulating or calming shapes and breathing.
Of course I have an intention, as do my yogis, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. I still believe this is relatively true, every action has a subconscious intention behind it.
Without deliberately set intentions you either a) won’t follow through with them or b) will act in ways that are unrelated to or inimical to them.
Humans, now more than ever, need explicitly set intentions to guide our actions. The world is too chaotic, too distracting and honestly too painful. In yoga we seek out our discomfort, that’s what we do. We go to the edge of our range of motion, that spot where our bodies start talking back. We go to the limits of our strength and our endurance, where our muscles start to ache. We go to the line where comfort becomes discomfort and we breathe, each breathe we take in that position takes us a little farther. That is expansion, that is growth, and it is always fucking uncomfortable.
The biggest inhibitor to our growth is that we listen to the voice in our head telling us to take a break, to take an easier route or to abandon our goals all together when shit gets difficult. Even if we make it on the mat, we fall back as soon as we get uncomfortable, as soon as it gets intense.
It is in that intensity, those really challenging moments that growth happens.
The poet Khalil Gibrahn wrote “your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding” (or your potential) “even as the stone of fruit must break that it’s heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.”
The world is uncomfortable, it just is, that’s an integral aspect of living which the original buddha discovered. As long as we are alive in these physical bodies, we will experience discomfort, but the key to freedom lies in a willingness to face and to embrace that discomfort. To grow one must seek it their areas of discomfort and challenge them. When we do, something amazing happens, we cultivate that strength, that courage, that patience that we desired when we originally set our intentions.
The importance of intention setting is getting clear about what you want, that clarity won’t give you what you want, but when shit gets real if you can come back to that intention and you can bare the discomfort just a little longer, you grow, you expand, you get what you need.
It is not the intention itself, but the corresponding actions that lead to growth.
The intention is just a reminder of who we are, who we want to be, where we want to go, and that that which we seek is to be cultivated in those challenging moments. The moments that make or break us.
Having intentions, for your day, for your life, for your relationships, for your career, for yourself takes you where you want to go. Without intention we are like ships navigating without compasses, whatever powerful wind comes along will alter our course and 1 year, 10 years, 30 years down the road we will end up wherever we were blown.
With intention comes incredible responsibility, but also freedom.
Freedom to be who you want to be, create what you want to create, to live the life of your dreams. It’s not easy, truly it is a journey only for the brave, it is hard and uncomfortable every step of the way, but each step makes your stronger, healthier, happier and more alive.
You’ve got to become clear about what you value in life, who you want to be, what you want to do, what you really care about. The meaningful activities in life and those that work towards your values. Contrast your life and your daily activities with your values and see what is meaningful and what is not. Trim the meaningless fat from your life that does not give your life and use that extra energy towards your goals.
Write a clear intention for your day, your week, your month, your year (any and all of the above) and re read it over and over again until its imprinted into your brain. Some intentions will be very tangible, things that you truly accomplish (think of a meaningful to-do list). Others will be relative, maybe qualities that you strive to embody. Then at the end of your day (week, month, year), reflect on how true you stayed to your intentions. If your reflection reveals some discrepancies, it’s okay, learn from them and get at it again tomorrow. The self-knowledge of what breaks your integrity is vitally important in the process of living intentionally. You’ll know what to look out for.
In those moments, the ones that normally break you, that deter you from your path to who you want to be, remember this: you are in control. You get to choose how you react, always. In your choosing to react one way versus another you are creating tomorrow’s version of you. You are responsible, that means you and only you are accountable because you and only you are ABLE to RESPOND to the situation. Each resistance to determent, each step towards your goal, will make you stronger.
Breathe, soak it all in, the joy and the pain. Your pain will never break you if you’re willing to greet it, unwrap it and see what gift it has for you.
The only way worth going, is up.
You may also enjoy trying my Best Self Yoga Flow for Flexibility and Relaxation by Carter Miles