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Why Intention-Setting Might Be Doing You More Harm Than Good

In the yoga world, the words "intention" and "affirmation" are often used interchangeably. Most commonly, students are encouraged, at the beginning of class, to set an "intention" or "affirmation" to help bring their minds to a one-pointed focus or state of meditation. Some teachers explain intentions/affirmations as your "goal for practice", or a phrase you can come back to when your mind wanders that will help you stay focused. The process of setting intentions/affirmations can be a useful tool to recognize your needs (mental, physical, and beyond) and then honor them by envisioning and manifesting the kind of yoga practice, day, week, or year you want to have. It's a practice that has powerful effects, but only if it's used as a vehicle of transformation to embody your potential rather than a dwelling on what you lack. In my opinion this distinction begins with use of the word "affirmation" or the word "intention". I find that setting affirmations yields more positive results than setting intentions. Here's why...

Let's break down the word "intention". At its core, it’s composed of the word "intent". "Intent" implies future action. The danger of "future-oriented" goal-setting is that it delays the healing and transformation process. Imagine yourself laying down on your mat, at the beginning of a yoga class, taking a quiet moment to acknowledge your current state- in mind, body, and soul. The aches in your body communicate a need for gentleness and the constant barrage of self-judgement in your thoughts begs you to tap into your powers of self-forgiveness and self-respect. Then, instead of taking these important observations, this amazing awareness, and honoring and responding to your needs in that moment, you set an intention, a goal, to "slow down and love yourself". When? Now? When you leave class? Next week? Sometime this year????It's left uncertain. Also, how do you get there? you not love yourself already?

My other major qualm with intention/goal/resolution-setting is that it encourages mere observation to morph into judgement. So you hear those self-critical thoughts in your mind...... and instead of just recognizing their temporary presence, it's easy to label yourself AS a "self-critical" person and to use that label as the driving force behind your intention. So you set an intention to remedy that in the future. You never even stopped to consider that.....

A.) maybe you don't believe the self-deprecating thoughts that have infiltrated the confines of your mind. Maybe they don't belong to you. Maybe YOU aren't self-critical. Perhaps they crept their way in from the never-ending stream of advertisements encountered every minute of the day- on the tv, radio, the side of the road, the labels on your food, while pumping your gas......

B.) self-judgement can be positive and that you can have both self-judgement and self-love within you. You label yourself as something negative and then you set out to become "something that you’re not". You set out to find something you feel you don't have. Instead of looking for the self-love already within you, you “intend” to look elsewhere and find it.

Setting affirmations succeeds in all the ways that setting intentions fails you. Affirmations are phrases or words that repeat, reinforce, affirm what is already inside of you- even if you don't believe it's there. In a yoga class, you repeat them silently to yourself (in your mind). The other major difference is that affirmations are worded in the present moment. For example, "I love myself" or "I am love." or simply, "Love." vs. "I will (I intend to) love myself." Even if you feel as though there's no inch of yourself that you love, if you repeat the affirmation enough, it replaces your thoughts of self-doubt, and you’ll start to believe it. This little phrase re-wires your brain, in a sense, towards love rather than hate. Acceptance rather than judgement. And it starts that process NOW versus later.

So try this:

  • Take 10 slow deep breaths and notice how your mind feels, how your body feels..... and beyond that..... how do you feel? In your soul, your emotions....

  • Take note of any tightnesses, pain, stress, anger, etc.

  • Pick an affirmation that cultivates what you would rather focus on.

  • Here are some examples: "I love myself", "I am kind", "I am content", "Stress does not phase me", "I know who I am" and my favorite......."I am."

  • As you inhale, breathe the affirmation into your body. As you exhale, spread it through your tissues. Repeating as you inhale, resting in the feeling as you exhale.

  • Throughout your day, if you notice stress or negative thoughts creeping in...... REPEAT. AND BELIEVE. Say it as though it is true. And it will be.

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