ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
Self-awareness stories: lighting our way to clarity, contentment and resilience in a complicated world.
ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
Self-awareness stories: lighting our way to clarity, contentment and resilience in a complicated world.
An intention, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is: “A concept formed when the mind is directed toward an object.” You can create intentions for all aspects of your life, physical, energetic, mental, emotional or spiritual. Here are some ways to think about creating intentions that will work for you.
New Year’s Resolutions. These have a long tradition on planet earth. Ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year to return borrowed objects and pay their debts. Ancient Romans offered sacrifices and made promises of good conduct for the coming year to Janus (the Roman deity that January is named for). For early Christians, the first day of the New Year was a time to think about past mistakes and resolve to do and be better in the future. Today, New Years Resolutions tend to be grounded in our personal desire to change something about ourselves: our appearance, our behavior or our health. We set big goals and then dedicate the year toward actualizing them. The most common resolutions these days are about losing weight, going on a diet, quitting an unhealthy habit like smoking, making more money etc. Sadly, according to most statistics, our efforts to effect those personal changes are dropped before the year is up.
I confess, I have made New Year’s resolutions like those in the past – made’em and broke’em. They were mostly about losing weight, meeting the National Institutes of Health guidelines for exercise, cutting out sugar etc. The good news is that I’ve found other ways, to create and set intentions for changing my lifestyle, habits and health. They are:
Practical Life Intentions
These can range from short-term personal, work or family responsibilities to long-term strategic planning for running a business, managing personal finances or completing creative projects such as crafts, writing or fine arts. Short-term intentions are usually found on our daily to-do lists if we make them. Long-term planning may start with a big idea that we break down into manageable tasks that can be accomplished on a daily or weekly basis to build a foundation of success over time.
For example, I made an intention to begin a sitting meditation practice. Knowing my habit of getting excited about starting projects and then losing steam over time, I began by choosing a meditation technique suitable for my busy, active, creative mind. I committed to start with five minutes and then add one to three minutes a month. This slow steady pace worked. I am now up to 20 minutes a day. I think I may have skipped a total of four to six days in the past year — not a bad start!
Creating specific intentions for different areas of our lives lends a depth of richness and conscious self-awareness to our experiences. Take exercise for an example. Whether we practice yoga, workout at the gym or on our own to DVD’s or online trainers we can create a specific intention for our experience. We can:
A Heartfelt Intention or Resolve. In yoga speak it’s called a sankalpa. This type of intention is often used for a much deeper dive into self-awareness. This intention practice starts with a basic understanding of the essential truth of many spiritual paths; that we are already whole, just as we are.
What comes next is realizing the meaning of this in our everyday lives to bring us closer to that realization and help us find productive ways to express it in our relationship to ourselves, to others and to our planet. Although this type of intention is directed toward self-realization or self-healing, Thich Nhat Hahn, the revered Buddhist monk says, “When you say something with your whole being…. it can transform the world.”
Here’s the ‘how to.’
Creating a Heartfelt Intention
This starts with a short positive statement made in the present tense. Creating and working with your heartfelt intention will remind you of what is already true so you don’t have to apply ego, willpower or striving. In the yoga tradition, positive statements are said to bring longer lasting results. This perspective is reinforced by the first verse of a song from 1944 titled, Accentuate The Positive:
You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
But don't mess with mister in between
So let’s not put our heartfelt intentions in the negative, such as: I won’t eat sugar, I won’t smoke, etc.
We first want to find the words that ‘feel’ right for us and then let them play out in our lives – long term. It is recommended to work with the same intention until the goal is reached – over a few months, years or a lifetime. Some examples of this type of intention are:
I am awake and aware
I am happy, healthy, and whole
I am calm, peaceful, and relaxed
Notice that the first two words are “I am,” not “I want to,’ “I will,” or “I won’t.” Also notice that the next few words relate to deep self-awareness states as opposed to, “I want to lose weight,” or “I will expand my business by five percent. However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with creating and working with an intention for these goals. If you choose to use this practice for more practical matters like losing weight or expanding your business, you can word your intention this way:
I am a healthy weight
I am a successful business owner
Creating this type of intention requires some time and careful thinking. My heartfelt intention (which I will keep private) is a deeply felt phrase for reminding me of my true nature. I use it when I practice yoga, when I meditate, and off and on during the day when it pops into my mind. I took my time to choose it. I thought long and hard about which words would inch me toward a deeper realization of my place in this huge, amazing, mysterious experience we all share. I’ve been using it for four years now and will probably use it for my whole lifetime.
Here are some steps to consider when creating your heartfelt intention for deep self-awareness and personal growth.
1. Find it. A few lines from a character in one of my short stories will illustrate the process. Over lunch, Miss Millie is sharing wisdom with a young woman seeking help for a mid-life identity crisis. She tells her to, “Ask the important questions. Become quiet. Listen within for the answers. Be patient with yourself. Trust your own process and be brave.” Patience is key because it will take time. However, if you want to start right away, you can use one of the three examples above until you uncover your own.
2. Remember it. You can remind yourself of your intention by writing it on sticky notes and tacking them to your fridge, closet door or bathroom mirror. They will act as daily visual reminders. You can journal about it, noting any blocks, obstacles, thoughts or emotions that arise around it. You can state it, silently or out loud. If you practice yoga, three of the best times to repeat it silently are when you meditate, set up for relaxation after yoga practice or prepare for yoga nidra, in which stating a sankalpa is an important step in the process Relaxed awareness is the key to managing stress. My Yoga Nidra practice is available here.
In this way, we remind our subconscious mind to work on our intention and send gentle reminders to our conscious mind. These reminders may ‘pop’ when we wake up in the morning, drive to work, exercise, cook, clean, or at any other time during the day. Keeping our intention alive enables us to strengthen our connection to our true nature, make mid-course corrections and return to our path if we take a detour and get lost, and we always do – we are works in progress!
When you are ready to dive deeper than practical life intentions or New Year’s resolutions you can try practicing a heartfelt intention. Here’s wishing you success with creating your intentions in one or more ways in 2020!
“Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.” — Albert Einstein
Change requires making a transformation in form, appearance, or character. Knowing how to transform our everyday energy states is key to developing balance and resilience.
For example, if we feel pooped, exhausted and drained, our supply of energy is deficient and we need to find a way to light our fire. If we feel wired, and fired up with a mind that’s racing a mile a minute on overload, our energy is excessive and we need to find a way to slow the burn.
In either case, our energy is out of whack and we need a life hack to get it back into balance so we can function efficiently. If our unbalanced state is temporary, we can use our self-awareness skills to shift our energy into a more optimal state that allows us to feel stable and embodied. It’s important to know the difference between temporary and chronic. Chronic fatigue, or its opposite, may require medical attention. What makes a temporary state varies from person to person. For me, temporary is two or three days depending on what’s going on in my life. More than that, I know something is really ‘off.’
We can start our self-awareness process by asking, “Why is this excess or deficiency manifesting at this time? Sometimes we’ll find an answer and sometimes we won’t but the important part of the process is our inquiry. Then we ask ourselves, “What can I do to deal with the imbalance?” The next step is self-discipline, to implement our chosen technique in a safe and helpful way.
Choosing and practicing specific techniques can help us light our fire or slow the burn.
Here are two from the yoga tradition.
1. Transforming an Energy Deficiency to Light Your Fire
According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly everyone is overtired or overworked from time to time. Unrelenting fatigue is a whole different matter. When fatigue lasts longer, is more profound, and isn't relieved by rest, it’s a sure sign that you need to see a medical professional.
Temporary fatigue, or lack of energy, usually has an identifiable cause and a likely remedy. I occasionally experience a couch potato, empty vessel, sloth-like, lack of energy. This state typically hits after an extended period of long to-do lists, lack of sleep, feeling blue, sad and down-in-the-dumps or overeating carbs – you know, bread, pasta, potato chips and sugar – the ultimate comfort foods.
To light your fire, think, “move, stimulate, and energize.” Here’s a combination breath and movement technique you may find helpful when you sense a lack of energy and need a boost.
It’s called, Breath of Joy. It’s typically done in a standing position but is easily modified for sitting in a chair. It’s from the Kripalu Yoga tradition and the instructions are from a Yoga International article by Amy Weintraub, author of Yoga for Depression, founder of the LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute, and a leader in the field of yoga and mental health.
Caution: This practice may not be appropriate for those with high blood pressure or who suffer from eye or head injuries.
The purpose of The Breath of Joy is to awaken the whole system, increasing oxygen levels in the bloodstream, temporarily stimulating the sympathetic nervous system, and focusing the mind. Here are Amy’s instructions:
Instructions: To practice Breath of Joy, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and parallel, knees slightly bent.
1. Inhale one-third of your lung capacity and swing your arms up in front of your body, bringing them parallel to each other at shoulder level, with palms facing the ceiling.
2. Continue inhaling to two-thirds capacity and stretch your arms out to the side like wings to shoulder level.
3. Inhale to full capacity and swing your arms parallel and over your head, palms facing each other.
4. Open your mouth and exhale completely with an audible ‘Ha,’ bending the knees more deeply as you sink into a standing squat and swing your arms down and back behind you like a diver.
Repeat up to nine times. Don’t force or strain the body or breath; simply be absorbed by the peacefully stimulating rhythm. Return to standing. Close your eyes and experience the effects. Notice how quickly your heart beats; feel the sensations in your face and arms, and the tingling in the palms of your hands."
Chair Modification: For step 4, bend forward in the chair and swing your arms down and back behind your body.
2. Transforming an Energy Excess to Slow the Burn
This state may manifest in one of two ways:
To slow the burn, and reach a balanced energy state, think “cool, calm and relax.’ Here’s a technique you may find helpful when you sense an excess of energy.
Props: a sturdy chair, a pillow or folded blanket for the head, a timer and a music source (optional)
1. Select a carpeted area or use your yoga mat to practice this pose.
2. Set your timer for 10 – 15 minutes and start the music if you choose to use it.
3. Sit down close to the chair, swing the legs up and place your calves on the chair seat.
4. Adjust yourself so that your knees are over your hips.
5. Place the pillow or folded blanket under your head.
6. Close your eyes and breathe normally.
7. When the timer goes off, bend the knees halfway toward the chest and roll to the side, using your arms to sit up slowly.
Chair Modification: Sit with a comfortably straight spine with your chin parallel to the floor. Close your eyes, relax your hands on the legs, palms down. To come out, Stretch the arms and legs in any way that feels comfortable.
I began this article with a quote from a famous physicist because I am fascinated by the intersections between ancient wisdom traditions and modern science. I’ll end with this one:
“Energy is a bit like money: if you have a positive balance, you can distribute it in various ways, but according to the classical laws that were believed at the beginning of the century, you weren't allowed to be overdrawn.” — Stephen Hawking
BETH GIBBS started her yoga practice in 1968, four months after her son was born and she’s been practicing ever since. She currently teaches all levels therapeutic yoga classes for adults, and specialty classes for seniors in the Hartford, Connecticut area. Beth is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is guest faculty at the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. She writes for the blogs, Yoga for Healthy Aging, and Accessible Yoga. Her master’s degree from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA is in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health.