First, some of you may be asking, “What the heck is an intention?” Yoga teachers often prompt students to set an intention for their practice, but do you really know what they’re talking about? Ahlia Hoffman from Mind Body Green explains, “An intention is bringing your attention and awareness to a quality or virtue you wish to cultivate for your practice both on and off of your mat.” If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you may have already noticed that what comes up on your mat, comes up in your everyday life. For example, when you get into a difficult asana (yoga posture), do you try to escape by stopping to fix your hair or towel off? What about when things get difficult in relationships or just in life? Or do you find yourself pushing through a chaturanga as if you have something to prove when your body is telling you to take child’s pose instead? (Guilty!) How does your ego show up in your everyday life? A regular yoga practice can help you begin to notice these little things about yourself and setting an intention can help you cultivate change.
Many times the teacher will offer students a suggestion for an intention, in case one needs some inspiration. The intention I have been offering in light of the new year is self-compassion. Self-compassion is an important message throughout Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, an ancient text that is highly regarded by the yoga community. As a Type A personality and perfectionist I tend to struggle with self-compassion, but this idea resonated with me as I began to think about my intentions and goals for the new year because I noticed I was judging myself a little too harshly.
The new year can be exciting as we ponder the all the potential the upcoming year holds. It’s also a time we feel we can let go of the past and start over, which can be rejuvenating. On the other hand, we tend to focus on those things we didn’t accomplish last year, what we don’t like about ourselves, and things we feel we need to “fix”. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to better ourselves, but our mindset often turns to, “I’ll be happy when…” What have you been telling yourself you need so you can be happy? When you lose 30 pounds? When you get that big promotion? When you travel to that place you’ve always wanted to go? Once you accomplish your “I’ll be happy when” goal, you may feel really good for awhile but soon enough there will be something else you "need" in order to be happy.
This is where setting intentions vs. goals becomes important. An intention is a path that helps us to live in the present moment whereas a goal is focused on the end result. Now, don’t get me wrong, goal setting is still important and intentions and goals can actually work together. For example, setting an intention of self-compassion while working towards a goal can make the journey towards the goal more enjoyable and may even help you accomplish the goal in the long run. Have you ever set a goal, messed up along the way, and then decided to just quit? Perhaps if you’d have shown yourself a little self-compassion and allowed yourself to make mistakes you may have continued onward instead of telling yourself you didn’t deserve it.
Baron Baptiste, an accomplished yoga instructor said, “The prize is in the process.” This phrase can be applied to learning a challenging new yoga posture or even working towards your biggest life goal. The “prize” isn’t finally achieving that posture or getting that promotion, it’s what you learn about yourself along the way. Life doesn’t start when you finally meet your goals. It’s happening right now! So, I encourage everyone to consider making self-compassion an intention for your new year and show yourself some loving kindness as you navigate the ups and downs this year may hold, all while working towards your goals. Know that you are worthy of love, compassion, and all things wonderful.
Techniques for cultivating self-compassion:
- Can increase mindfulness, which can help retrain the brain from negative thought patterns
- Pay attention to your self talk
- What are you saying to yourself? Would you say it to a loved one? If your self talk is negative, just notice, and without judging yourself, replace the negative thought with a positive one
- Daily affirmations
- I am always compassionate and loving with myself.
- Everything I need is already within me.
- I am right where I need to be.
- I am worthy of all things wonderful.
- I am not perfect, nor do I need to be.
- Schedule time each day or week to do something for yourself. Something that you enjoy or that will benefit you in some way, i.e. reading, yoga, exercise, massage, hiking, etc.
Do you have any of your own techniques for cultivating self-compassion that aren't listed above? Please share in the comments below!
Deep Peace to You,